Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Finding The Music

In May of 2007 while the Always Becoming Sculpture Project was underway, short podcasts documenting the construction were also being filmed for internet access. The idea behind the podcasts was to share information with anyone who was interested in seeing the building process and learning more about the concept and people involved. Dax and I discussed the where and how of getting music for the podcasts, we wanted music that would work with the concepts and imagery of the project, how to get that became the question. Requesting music from recognized musicians and their labels is time consuming, expensive and often times legally complicated. Always Becoming needed sound and music that played fresh, reflecting the diversity of land, contemporary Native people and others.

I asked my friend, Mary Gorhm who works at NMAI if she knew of staff members at the museum who could sing and or play instruments, Mary put me in touch with Arevivia Amos from the NMAI's Accounting Department. Later that same day we met in the main theatre at NMAI so Arevivia could sing for us. Ms. Amos was backstage when we arrived, she walked center stage, her high heel clicking on the wooden floor - the clicking of her heels was recorded and eventually included in a podcast. Arevivia cleared her throat, opened her mouth and sang opera. Yes, opera. Arevivia sang, "Oh what a beautiful city, oh what a beautiful city". And at that moment, with each note, clear, moving and purposeful the auditorium was instantly transformed into a theatre of grand opportunity where sound mixed with ideas and art transcended earthly doubt, achieving a perfect pitch. My heart soared because I knew I was not only hearing a beautiful voice, I was also hearing a solution. This was it, the question of where to find music was solved, we would use the Always Becoming's formula of community to identify musicians and utilize their talents for the podcasts.

Since then, many musicians and their music have found their way into our awareness in the most serendipitous ways, that's how I met Dawn Avery. Dawn and I attended a small foundation's retreat an hour outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the middle a wheat fields. Dawn performed at the gathering and the instant I heard her play,I knew she needed to be apart of Always Becoming.

This month we look at a few of the musicians who will become apart of the Always Becoming film:

Dawn Avery:

Grammy nominated Mohawk composer/cellist/vocalist, Dawn Avery, has been visiting the Always Becoming site and project since its inception and is currently composing a piece for 7 Cello, pow-wow drum, rattles and voice for the documentary. In working with sounds capes and vibration, the tempo is set to 60 - referring to the pulse of mother earth, and the cello with its lyrical depth is reminiscent of clay, while the electric cello solo reminds us of life in the city.


Olmeca was born in the city of Los Angeles, although Olmeca considers himself from Mexico. Olmeca's mother traveled from Mexico to California while pregnant and gave birth to her son in California. He continues to migrate between Mexico and the United States. This migration has shaped his world view and his music. Olmeca's recent album, "Semillas Rebeldes" articulates his deep understanding of bi-national conflict and his commitment to sharing this understanding through his music and words.

"Olmeca, an early 20's prophet might evolve into Southern California's most articulate musical spoke person since Zack de la Rocha".
-- OC weekly

Don Juan:
Don Juan Morales was an important crew member in the construction of Always Becoming. Don Juan comes from Obregón, Mexico and recently spoke to us about his experience working at the Smithsonian on Always Becoming. Don Juan sang a song during the interview which is born from the people and land he knows so well.

Tewa Children Singers:
San Ildelfonso Pueblo is a quiet Tewa village tucked along the cottonwood trees near the Rio Grande some 30 miles Northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. There's a small elementary school in the pueblo where my sister, Dolly Neikrug is a principal of 65 children, grades first through six. When Dolly heard I was looking for children singers, she told me,
"Sometimes during recess, the children sit under a large cottonwood tree and sing traditional Tewa songs".
Since speaking with Dolly, arrangements have been made with the school and parents to have the children recorded once school starts again in August.

Don Juan's song transitioning into Olmeca's rap and the inclusion of Tewa children singing for the film, examples that traditional songs are influencing a new generation of indigenous peoples, wherever they live. Cultural knowledge is channeled and reflected through languages, architecture, art, song and ceremony and because of this, people like Olmeca and the Tewa children from San Ildelfonso continue cultural relevance while infusing it with their own signature.

More music is being made and selected some, like in Dawn Avery's case, specifically created for Always Becoming. As the music arrives we hope to be previewing it with all of you.

Next Month:
"Strong Women" Part 1


  1. There is always Jeff Ball, he is local, lives in MD and works in DC. The gift shop carries his music.

  2. I am a musician and your description of the feeling when she was singing: "And at that moment, with each note, clear, moving and purposeful the auditorium was instantly transformed into a theatre of grand opportunity where sound mixed with ideas and art transcended earthly doubt, achieving a perfect pitch." is such a beautiful description and statement of the uplifting power of music.