Pulitzer Prize for Music awarded to Native American composer Raven Chacon

(Photo credit: Adolphe Pierre-Louis)

Diné composer, performer and installation artist Raven Chacon is a member of the Navajo Nation and is currently based in Albuquerque.

At the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, Chacon began writing the 16-minute work”Mass without voice” for pipe organ accompanied by strings, wind instruments and percussion. The work was co-commissioned by the contemporary music organization of Milwaukee Present Music, the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ and the Plymouth Church of the United Church of Christ.The piece received its world premiere in Milwaukee in November 2021 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist – which housed the pipe organ for which the piece was specifically written.

Exploring themes of power and oppression, the Pulitzer Prize The organization wrote that the piece is “an original and compelling work for organ and ensemble that evokes the weight of history in a church setting, a concentrated and powerful musical expression with a haunting visceral impact”.

“This work considers the spaces in which we gather, the history of access to those spaces, and the land on which these buildings sit,” the indigenous composer wrote in the prize’s entry questionnaire. “Although the ‘mass’ is referenced in the title, the piece contains no audible singing voices, instead using the openness of the great space to perform the tight intervals of the wind and string instruments. By exploiting the architecture of Cathedral, Mass without voice considers the futility of giving voice to the voiceless, when ceding space is never an option for those in power.”

The piece is one of many projects by Chacon that explores the struggles of Indigenous peoples. Her creative output includes recordings of the silent 2016 clashes between Indigenous women and police near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, as well as a video installation filmed on Navajo, Cherokee and Seminole lands, featuring women singing songs. stories of massacres or displacement. With Du Yun, he also wrote the music for the opera “Sweet Land”, a meditation on colonialism which premiered in 2020.

Raven Chacon is the first Native American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music, which has always been awarded to white male composers. However, in the past decade, five women have won it besides African-American rapper Kendrick Lamar.

A graduate of the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts, Chacon was composer-in-residence for the Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP) since 2004. In this role, he taught composition to Native American high school students living on reservations in the Southwestern United States.

Member of the American Indian Arts Collective Postconveniencehe is a recipient of the United States Artists Fellowship in Music, the Creative Capital Award in Visual Arts, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation artist fellowship, and the American Academy’s Berlin Prize for Music Composition.

Chacon has presented his work in international venues such as The Kennedy Center, Vancouver Art Gallery, ABC No Rio, REDCAT, La Biennale di Venezia – Biennale Musica, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Chaco Canyon, Ende Tymes Festival and 18th Biennale of Sydney.

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