Five students in Salt River High School’s music program recently had the opportunity to work with the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Program (NACAP) to compose music.
Founded in 2001, NACAP is an outreach program of the Grand Canyon Music Festival that helps Native American high school students compose concert music. Grand Canyon Music Festival Artistic Director Clare Hoffman and her husband started NACAP with the belief that Native American composers needed to be a bigger part of the American music scene. They brought the idea to tribes and came up with a way for students to work with a world-class Native American composer and string quartet. As a result of the program, many Native students have written some interesting music.
“I started working with NACAP back in 2004. They were new and introduced the students of Salt River High School to the violins and strings,” said Chris Wakley, music director at Salt River High School.
The program lasted for two years, then it became dormant due to funding shortfalls. This year, funding has returned, and so SRHS was notified and the music department acted quickly to get the program back to the school.
“We were very excited to be put back on the circuit and have the program work with us again,” said Wakley.
Five SRHS students were selected to participate in NACAP this year, and they learned to write music. “They gave [the students] an assignment to write 32 measures. Some of the students write by hand and others get on the computer and do the assignment,” said Wakley.
The music composed by Native American students working with NACAP from tribes across the country, including the SRHS students, will be performed by a string quartet at exhibit openings this season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
“Their string quartet will be playing [the NACAP students’] music constantly throughout the year, which is kind of exciting,” said Wakley.
The students who write the music don’t have to play string instruments; they also can be choral singers or play the piano.
Wakley said this was the students’ first attempt; next year there will be three returning students in the music program, and the music will be greater after building on this year’s experience.
In 2002, NACAP expanded its reach to Maricopa County through partnerships with the Heard Museum to bring the program to Scottsdale Community College and Salt River High School.
The students seemed very excited to have the chance to collaborate on writing music with NACAP.
“It was my first time I’ve ever written a string-quartet piece,” said SRHS student Isabella Dockerty, who is learning to play the piano and also sings. “It was exciting. I wrote my section in little pieces and I also heard what I needed to work on,” she said.
“I was honored to write music,” said Jacob Juan. “I play percussion, which I learned at both the elementary and high school.”
“We composed a piece of music for the string quartet, and I really enjoyed it,” said Joy Manuel, who has played the alto saxophone for six years. “For me, [writing music] was nerve-racking because I wasn’t familiar with the instruments that we were writing for. But it was fun because it was something you never would have thought you’d be doing.
“The instructors were real nice and helped us a lot, and the people that played our pieces were real nice. They listened to our suggestions and even gave us some tips to help us improve our music,” continued Manuel. “I think [NACAP] is a really great opportunity for people who play music or who are interested in music to give it a try.”
“They only gave us four days to write our pieces, and I didn’t really know what to write, but they helped us,” said Peter Salcido Jr., who plays the clarinet and worked on the music for the string quartet. “I never wrote music before, so I just wrote little tunes that I did know, and we got to hear all of it.”
SRHS freshman Malcolm Masten, a piano student, said he felt very accomplished having composed a song himself.
“I really enjoyed the whole experience. The musicians were all really nice and really good with a beginner like me,” said Masten.