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Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP)

Native students study composition in an immersive experience, their original works premiered and recorded by professional ensembles.

The Latest Update

NACAP at Salt River High School

Posted on May 24, 2018 by Grand Canyon Music Festival

Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP) students at Salt River High School located on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona.

We see them working with teaching composer Raven Chacon and members of The Catalyst Quartet, and speaking about their experiences in the program.

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NACAP apprentice composer Zoe Burden’s string quartet, “Scatterbrained”

Posted on January 12, 2018 by Grand Canyon Music Festival

NACAP apprentice Composer Zoe Burden (Tuba City High School, Navajo Nation), introduces her piece “Scatterbrained” to the Tuba City High School community. At this point in the process, she has finished her studies with teaching composer Michael Begay and has work-shopped her piece with the Catalyst Quartet.

An important part of the composer experience is speaking about your music to the public. NACAP apprentice composers are expected to introduce their music and tell the audience something about it; their inspiration, experience in the process, etc. For some students this is the most difficult part of the project. This is Zoe’s first opportunity to do that.

The Catalyst Quartet then performs Zoe’s piece for the Tuba City High School community.


Caleb Tsosie, Greyhills Academy High School NACAP apprentice composer

Posted on January 10, 2018 by Grand Canyon Music Festival

After composition studies with NACAP teaching composer Michael Begay, Caleb Tsosie (Greyhills Academy High School student) workshops with the Catalyst Quartet at Greyhills Academy. The Catalyst Quartet visited the school for workshops and a performance of NACAP student works for the school community. Michael Begay assists with the workshops (to Caleb Tsosie’s right). Other Greyhills apprentice composers await their turns.

After the quartet leaves, the apprentice composers continue to hone their works, based on what they discovered during the workshops,  in preparation for the world premiere at the Grand Canyon Music Festival.

At 4:30 on the video: The final workshop, held at Grand Canyon Community Building, with other NACAP apprentice composers in attendance, with Mr. Tsosie and Mr. Begay, performed by the Catalyst Quartet.

Native American Composer Apprentice Project

Posted on January 9, 2018 by Grand Canyon Music Festival

Chinle High School senior Tyler Esquivel introduces his fourth and final NACAP string quartet, “Lost in the Golden Age,” inspired by nostalgia for his high school career as it come to an end. Performed by the Catalyst Quartet on Sept. 3, 2017, at the Shrine of the Ages, Grand Canyon Music Festival. As a NACAP student Tyler studied with Raven Chacon and Michael Begay.


The Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP) is an intensive music composition immersion program in which Native American composers tutor Native students on the Navajo, Hopi, & Salt River Pima-Maricopa Reservations in all aspects of composition from inspiration to notation. NACAP students’ works are presented at the Navajo Nation Museum, Scottsdale Community College, & Grand Canyon Music Festival (GCMF), & recorded by Central Sound at 8, Arizona’s NPR affiliate. Teaching ensembles have included ETHEL, The Catalyst, Calder and Miro Quartets, and Sweet Plantain.

2016 projects with the Arizona Opera and Heard Museum resulted in NACAP composers and students creating mini-operas with texts drawn from traditional stories and contemporary Native life, performed and recorded by Arizona Opera artists.

New. Since NACAP’s inception in 2001, a culture of composing has developed in the small, vibrant town of Tuba City on the Navajo Nation. Beginning in 2017, a pilot program will explore developing NACAP as a year-round program.

Outcomes. Native composers give back to their communities as teachers and mentors to students from rural Reservation communities. Native students participate in a complete composer experience, with intense one-on-one tutoring in composition & workshops with professional ensembles resulting in each student creating original works which are rehearsed, performed, recorded, and toured to the students’ communities.

7/1-8/31/17 INDIVIDUAL INSTRUCTION. Composers-in-residence with reservation student composers in a minimum of 4 two-hour private lessons & 2-hour group classes.

8/28-9/1/17 WORKSHOPS/TOUR. Students work one-on-one in workshops with ensembles-in-residence. Student works are performed at students’ schools, Navajo Museum, Scottsdale Community College.

9/3/17 NACAP at GCMF: Workshops with composers & ensembles, world premiere performance & recording of student works.

Fall 2017. Year-round pilot program begins in Tuba City.

Awards. The President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award, the highest award given to youth programs; NewMusic USA New Music Educators Award; Governor’s Arts Award.

WHY: There aren’t enough Native voices in the American music mix. NACAP students’ authentic, vital voices need to be heard. NACAP provides them essential skills and outlets. NACAP communities are poor, under-served, rural. In 2001 Michael Begay was struggling to graduate high school. After participating in NACAP’s first season he said, “This experience changed my life.” Michael (Navajo) has gone on to study recording & compose music for independent films. In ’07, he joined NACAP as an assistant, receiving a grant from the American Composers Forum’s First Nations Composer Initiative. He has noted that people often comment that they didn’t know “Natives composed music.” He says, “NACAP gave me discipline, not just in writing music but overall. I come from a land that is beautiful & always shimmering with broken dreams, broken bottles.” NACAP students have been featured on “From the Top,” invited to the Songs Unlimited Festival in AK, & Fort Worth. NACAP students’ compositions have been performed on stages worldwide and aired on national radio programs.

Partner schools include Tuba City High, Grey Hills Academy, Chinle High School (Navajo Nation, AZ), Whitehorse High (Navajo Nation, Utah), Salt River High School, and the community organization NavajoYES.

Project Media

NACAP: An overview
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A short film takes you inside NACAP, its students, teachers, communities and schools.

NACAP student Rodney Yazzie’s “Possessed by Obscurity” is performed by ETHEL, The Catalyst Quartet, and Clare Hoffman, recorded by Omnisound at the Grand Canyon Music Festival.

NACAP apprentice composer workshop with the Catalyst Quartet
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The Catalyst Quartet workshops NACAP apprentice composers’ works with them at Whitehorse High School, Navajo Nation, Utah.
NACAP apprentice composer Kathy Edaakie was inspired by the Chinese erhu.
Kathy studies composition with Raven Chacon.

Additional link and NACAP student Trenton Begay’s score

The following link brings you to “Voices That Need to be Heard” a program about NACAP produced by Performance Today. We weren’t able to embed it here, but it is worth a look, with interviews with our students, Whitehorse High School partner school teacher, and Raven Chacon. https://performancetoday.atavist.com/voices-that-need-to-be-heard

Every year there is one NACAP composition that becomes the audience favorite. 2015’s was Trenton Begay’s “Forest Fire” inspired by a devastating fire. Trenton studies with Michael Begay (no relation).

Start and End Dates



Various locations, Arizona

4 updates
Last update on May 24, 2018

Project Created By

Grand Canyon, Arizona
Vision. A pioneering chamber music festival with innovative programming and education projects in a magnificent world heritage site. Mission. It is the mission of the Grand Canyon Music Festival to enhance the Grand Canyon experience by presenting world-class music in Grand Canyon National Park and in outreach programs to schools in rural and Native American communities. Awards.…

In Collaboration With

Teaching composer
Teaching composer
Tuba City, Arizona
Teaching ensemble
New York, New York


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