Pulitzer Alumnus Raven Chacon Wins New Composition, Performer: UNM Newsroom

Pulitzer Prize-winning Diné composer and sound artist Raven Chacon, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of New Mexico, will debut a new composition in performances and make a rare personal appearance as a performer this month.

Chacon recently won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Music with his composition Mass without voice.

“I’m honored. I’m happy to be recognized,” Chacon said.

Raven Chacon, photo by Jamie Drummond

The new composition, old songwas ordered for Chatter ̶ A bedroom setwhich was created in Albuquerque to give concerts of contemporary repertoire and promote the use of unusual instrumentation. old song was written for cor anglais, bass clarinet, cello and percussion.

“It will be the world premiere,” Chacon said.

old song will make a double premiere this weekend in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Both performances also include compositions by Chacon (Bury me) Where the lightning [Will] never find me and horse notations.

The first show, scheduled for Saturday, August 13, will take place at Meyerson Auditorium at SITE Santa Fe 48. Doors open at 10 a.m. Tickets are available online.

The Sunday, August 14, 10:30 a.m. show will take place at 912 Third, Chatter’s new home located in downtown Albuquerque at 912 Third Street NW. Rarely does a city have a venue for contemporary classical music, Chacon noted, adding that 912 Third is a spacious venue with a large stage. Tickets are available online.

Chacon himself will perform live in Santa Fe’s San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in North America, when his new album is released. Inhale Exhale Sunday August 21 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online or donations are taken at the door.


The album is a collaboration between Chacon, who plays guitar and electronics, and his friends, percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani and bassist Carlos Santistevan, and was recorded in the chapel in 2020.

The show will be improvised.

“We show up, we play,” Chacon remarked.

Born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, Chacon grew up in Albuquerque. He began playing music as a child for three years under the tutelage of piano teacher Dawn Chambers, herself a UNM alumna whose own compositions were performed at the UNM Robb Composers’ Symposium. .

“She gave us free piano lessons when we were kids. It changed my life obviously,” he recalls.

From these musical beginnings, he learned to play the guitar and the cello before enrolling at the UNM to study musical composition. He also credited UNM Emeritus Professor Emeritus Christopher Shultis, who taught composition, and Professor Manny Rettinger, who taught recording and sound art as influences.

“They were huge sources of inspiration and motivation, people who believed in my work and taught me a lot about the field I was heading into,” Chacon said.

Chacon studied composition with Shultis from 1998 until graduating in 2001.

“What I remember most clearly from our time together, now over 20 years ago, is that Raven always knew what he wanted to do and he did it. it took to realize what he wanted to do, including the necessary preparations, he did all this work by himself and brought it to his classes with me.From the moment I met him for the first time until now, he has been uncompromising in everything he does and with a principled integrity that I greatly admire,” Shultis said.

Chacon experimented with sounds, “what I call noise music”, and calls the type of music he writes “contemporary classical music”.

“I still use traditional Western music notation because it’s a shared language among people who play music. However, I’ve expanded to other symbols and added my own notations.

Mass without voice premiered on November 21, 2021 at Saint-Jean-l’Évangéliste Cathedral, where Chacon received a standing ovation. The work for large ensemble was commissioned by the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ, Plymouth Church UCC and Present Music and composed specifically for the Nichols & Simpson organ at Milwaukee Cathedral.

“This work considers the spaces in which we gather, the history of access to these spaces, and the land on which these buildings sit. Although the “mass” is mentioned in the title, the piece contains no audible singing voice, instead using the openness of the wide space to intone the constricted intervals of the wind and string instruments. By exploiting the architecture of the cathedral, Mass without voice considers the futility of giving voice to the voiceless, when ceding space is never an option for those in power,” Chacon told the Pulitzer committee.

The Pulitzer Committee called the piece “a fascinating and original 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.”

Mass without voice will be played for the second time on September 30 in Toronto, Canada, the second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

Raven Chacon with high school students

Raven Chacon with high school students

When not writing his own music, Chacon performs, builds his own instruments, works and improvises with other musicians. He also works with high school students on the Navajo reservation, teaching them to write string quartets across the Native American Composer Apprentice Project.

“All of us at UNM’s music department are thrilled for Raven. Personally, I’ve been intrigued by her work since I met her my freshman year at Albuquerque in 2013,” said Michael Hix, professor associate and acting director of the music department at UNM. “I remember attending an experimental sound-to-noise music event at a downtown gallery that spring and meeting him after his performance. Besides being a brilliant performer, he is a warm and friendly person. It has been fascinating to watch the rapid trajectory of his career, which has included a collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, major commissions with bands such as the Kronos Quartet, and now this incredible honor. As the first Native American winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, he will inspire future generations of Diné musicians. Likewise, he will serve as a shining example for our UNM Music students. possibilities that i expect them after graduation.

“Raven’s extensive collection of work over the past 20 years has taken me to places I’ve never been before and to many experiences I otherwise would never have had,” Shultis remarked. “Only the greatest artists are capable of this. And it is too rare for these artists to be properly recognized for their work. In this celebratory moment since Raven received a Pulitzer Prize, what has impressed me most is how the prize recognizes and honors her creative work and uncompromising integrity. It’s a well-deserved honor and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Raven at the very beginning of her life as a creative artist.

Comments are closed.