NACAP participants (L-R): SRHS music teacher Rhonda Bowen, Keith Taylor, Shinaya Dawes, Peter Salcido and SRHS music teacher Chris Wakley. Not pictured, Sarah Melendez and Carlos Delma.

SRHS Composers Showcase Their Talents in Concert

By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

On Monday, August 25, five Salt River High School students participated in a world premiere concert at the Scottsdale Community College Performing Arts Center. This concert gathered family, friends, faculty and the Community for a night of music and new sound provided by the young, talented Native American composers and ETHEL, a New York–based string quartet.

All five SRHS students are participants in the Native American Composers Apprentice Project (NACAP). The NACAP is an outreach program that stems from the Grand Canyon Music Festival and is dedicated to training and developing musical literacy, critical thinking and decision-making through music composition.

“We want to hear more Native American voices in the American mix. This might be one way to get their voices out there, or [NACAP] could give them the training they might need if they are indeed interested in going forward with music,” said a NACAP representative.

In 2002, NACAP was introduced into Salt River High School. The program became inactive in succeeding years but made its appearance again at SRHS in 2013. NACAP allowed the students to challenge themselves as Native American musicians and compose their own musical pieces.

Over the course of a week’s time, students compose all of their own music from scratch. They each composed a piece to be played by a quartet, which includes writing music parts for a viola, a cello and two violins.

Here are the SRHS student composers and the names of their musical compositions that were performed by ETHEL at the concert:

Shinaya Dawes (Navajo), Ee’e’aah (The sun goes down)
“[Dawes] happens to be very fluent in music which is very beautiful,” said Tema Watstein, a violinist with ETHEL. “She has also suffered tragedy, losing both a sibling and a friend in the last year. She wrote this piece to commemorate [them], and it’s about the experience of watching the sun go down, which is something they did together all the time.”

Carlos Delma (San Carlos Apache), Waves (duet)
“He named his piece today after hearing it, which I think is a good idea; I think all composers should hear their pieces before they name them. He named it ‘Waves’ because it sounds like waves. His inspiration was a video game he’s passionate about, Assassin’s Creed II,” said Watstein.

Sarah Melendez (Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community), Lily
“This piece was named after [Melendez’s] nine-month-old sister. My read on it was that she was exploring a lot of ideas, and it’s lovely. She has done a wonderful job,” said Kip Jones, violinist with ETHEL.

Peter Salcido (Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community), Kites
“[Peter] is joining us for the second year in a row, and this second piece is definitely a lot harder than the first,” said Watstein. “I think that he’s understanding and learned a lesson that [as a musician] you can make the [instruments] do anything that you want. This is a lesson well learned. This piece flies.”

Keith Taylor (Tohono O’odham), Before the Future
“When I was writing this song, I thought about what’s going on right now and being aware of your surroundings,” said Taylor about his piece. “One of my teachers told me that everything is connected in the world—the past, the present and the future. Everything that happens in the past affects the future. I was thinking about that, and if you know what you want in the future, then you know what to do now. That’s how I created the mood for this song.”

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students to get to work with such professionals. The composer-in-residence [Raven Chacon (Navajo)] and his bio is world renowned and to get the string quartet [ETHEL] to be able to play it, it’s an amazing experience. We would like to get more student involvement next year. Music students and even non-music students [will be able to] join,” said SRHS music teacher Rhonda Bowen.

For more information about the NACAP program, visit or call Chris Wakley, SRHS music teacher, at (480) 362-2000.


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