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Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP)

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

The Latest Update

“Higher” Uriah Villa

Posted on January 25, 2020 by Grand Canyon Music Festival

Chinle High School NACAP apprentice composer Uriah Villa introduces his composition, “Higher,” to his classmates prior to the Catalyst Quartet’s performance of it for Chinle High School students.

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“The Great Flud” by Arika Morningstar

Posted on January 25, 2020 by Grand Canyon Music Festival

Hopi High School student Arika Morningstar is a 2019 NACAP apprentice composer, working with teaching composer Michael Begay. During a workshop with The Catalyst Quartet on August 29, they discussed dynamics and syncopation.
At the assembly program later in the day, Arika explained the title of her piece, “The Great Flud.” A beloved writing teacher, Mr. Flud, recently left Hopi High after just a couple of years on the faculty, “as they all do,” she said. Teacher turn-over is a major problem at reservation schools, as Arika’s touching tribute to Mr. Flud testifies.


Mission: To give Native American students – isolated through geography and marginalized by the dominant culture – voice through the challenging, empowering hands-on study of music composition, giving them the tools they need to express their unique voices as 21st century Native citizens, and a platform to disseminate those voices.

Maximum arts involvement effects on young people come from direct involvement in the performing arts. NACAP students have the most direct involvement in the artistic process: They are the creators of the works performed and studied. Composer-in-residence Raven Chacon noted, “The students were usually not aware of the possibilities of the program and of themselves. They were surprised when they realized their own potential talent as well as that of their classmates.”

NACAP is an intensive music composition immersion program in which Native American composers tutor Native students attending schools on the Navajo, Hopi, & Salt River Pima-Maricopa Reservations in composition. NACAP students’ works are presented at venues like the Navajo Museum, Scottsdale Community College, & Grand Canyon Music Festival (GCMF), & recorded by Central Sound at 8. Teaching ensembles have included ETHEL, The Catalyst, Calder and Miro Quartets, and Sweet Plantain.
2016’s partnership with Arizona Opera resulted in NACAP students creating mini-operas with texts drawn from traditional stories and contemporary Native life, performed and recorded by AZ Opera artists.

New. A  year-round NACAP program developed in Tuba City on the Navajo Nation in 2017.

Outcomes. Native students participate in a complete composer experience, with classes & workshops resulting in each student creating original works which are rehearsed, performed, recorded, and toured.
7/1-8/31/19 INDIVIDUAL INSTRUCTION. Composers-in-residence tutor reservation student composers in private lessons and group classes.
8/28-9/1/19 WORKSHOPS/TOUR. One-on-one workshops with ensembles-in-residence, tour to students’ schools.
9/19 NACAP at GCMF: Workshops with composers & ensembles, world premiere performance & recording of student works.  Performances at other venues, including the Heard Museum, dates TBA.
Spring ’20. Year-round program in Tuba City continues.
Awards. The President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award; 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 are voices that need to be heard. NACAP provides them the skills and outlet. 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, joinig NACAP as an assistant in ’07, 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.”

NACAP students have been featured on “From the Top,” invited to festivals in Arkansas and Fort Worth, their compositions performed worldwide.
NACAP has been featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today, and broadcast throughout the southwest on Arizona Classical PBS.

An exhibition and performance of NACAP student works at SITE Museum in New Mexico expanded NACAP’s reach to Santa Fe.

Project Media

Workshop with the Catalyst Quartet, Michael Begay, and apprentice composer Caleb Tsosie
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Greyhills Academy high school student and NACAP apprentice composer Caleb Tsosie has been studying composition with Michael Begay.

In the first half of the video, we see Caleb with Michael Begay going over his score with the members of the Catalyst Quartet during the first workshop of his piece, “You,” his first attempt at composition, at Greyhills Academy.

At 4:33 the quartet plays through his piece once more during the final workshop at the Grand Canyon Music Festival, prior to the world premiere performance.

Workshop with Catalyst Quartet member Karla Donehew Perez and NACAP apprentice composer Lisa Robbins.
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Catalyst Quartet member Karla Donehew Perez offers notation advice to NACAP apprentice composer Lisa Robbins, a student at Greyhills Academy, during a workshop of her piece, Tsedeeshgizhnii Ashkii” (Boy of the Rock Gap People). This is Lisa’s second composition. Like many NACAP students Lisa lives in a home with no electricity. She worked on her piece outside by moonlight, after finishing her chores at home and caring for an invalid mother.

The video is 1:12 minutes long.

NACAP at Salt River High School
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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 during workshops with teaching composer Raven Chacon and members of The Catalyst Quartet, with interviews of the apprentice composers, speaking about their experiences in the program.

The video is 3 1/2 minutes.

Start and End Dates



Navajo Nation, Arizona

2 updates
Last update on January 25, 2020

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

Tuba City, Arizona
Teaching artists/Performers
New York, New York


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