May 25, 2022
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On the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, when the world round him turned quiet and nonetheless, the composer Raven Chacon went to work.

Impressed by the silence of days spent in lockdown, he started writing “Unvoiced Mass,” a 16-minute work for ensemble and pipe organ. Chacon, 44, a member of the Navajo Nation who lives in Albuquerque, got down to use the sounds of the organ, accompanied by winds, strings and percussion, to discover themes of energy and oppression.

“Through the pandemic, we had been in a position to deal with some of the cries of individuals who had been feeling injustices round them,” he mentioned in an interview. “Lockdown was this time of quietness the place there was a chance for these sounds and cries to emerge.”

On Monday, “Unvoiced Mass” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music. It was an sudden honor for an artist who has labored throughout genres — music, video, printmaking — to shine mild on the struggles dealing with Indigenous folks.

Chacon mentioned he didn’t understand he had received the prize till shortly after the announcement on Monday, when pals began texting him.

“Apparently they don’t name you,” he mentioned.

“Unvoiced Mass” had its premiere on Nov. 21, 2021, on the annual Thanksgiving live performance of Current Music, an ensemble devoted to up to date music. It was commissioned by the ensemble and by the Wisconsin Convention of the United Church of Christ and Plymouth Church within the United Church of Christ.

Chacon has described the work as an exploration of the “areas wherein we collect, the historical past of entry of these areas, and the land upon which these buildings sit.” He wrote “Unvoiced Mass” particularly for the Nichols & Simpson organ on the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee.

“In exploiting the structure of the cathedral, ‘Unvoiced Mass’ considers the futility of giving voice to the unvoiced, when ceding house is rarely an possibility for these in energy,” Chacon has mentioned.

The Pulitzer committee praised the piece as a “mesmerizing, authentic work for organ and ensemble that evokes the load of historical past in a church setting, a concentrated and highly effective musical expression with a haunting visceral impression.”

It’s the newest in a collection of works by Chacon exploring the injustices suffered by Indigenous folks. He has produced graphic scores devoted to Indigenous feminine composers; recordings of silent standoffs between Indigenous ladies and the police throughout protests close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in 2016; and a video set up, filmed on Navajo, Cherokee and Seminole lands, that includes ladies singing the tales of websites the place massacres or removals have taken place.

He additionally wrote the music, together with Du Yun, for the opera “Sweet Land,” a meditation on colonialism that premiered in 2020.

Chacon mentioned he hoped the prize would assist give “Unvoiced Mass” a broader viewers.

“I hope it will get carried out extra,” he mentioned. “It’s all the time been a problem to make this type of work accessible to individuals who can’t enter these areas, both as a result of of financial obstacles, or simply as a result of they really feel they aren’t the viewers for classical music.”

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