'Music is good for our soul'

Music camps offer strong tonic for alienated Native youth

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

GALLUP, February 9, 2012

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(Courtesy photo - Shawna Lee)

TOP: Students listen to instruction during a guitar clinic at the music camp sponsored by Music Is Medicine Inc. Students of all ages learned to play their electric and acoustic guitars during the Jan. 28 event at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock.

CENTER: Students listen to instruction during the guitar clinic at the Jan. 28 music camp sponsored by Music Is Medicine Inc. at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock.

BOTTOM: Students demonstrate their drumming skills during a performance at the Music Is Medicine Inc. music camp Jan. 28 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock.

M usicians Chucki Begay and Richard Anderson Jr. have started a new organization to encourage Navajo youth to learn and explore the world of music.

Since its start last year, Music Is Medicine Inc. has been offering free one-day music camps filled with workshops and hands-on activities that are instructed by the couple, along with other music professionals and consultants.

The camps are designed to teach students how to play instruments and about music fundamentals and appreciation.

"We want a healthier community so we want to connect music with healthy communities," Begay said. "We want our children to be healthy, not just physically but mentally too, and music can do that."

Both Begay and Anderson know first hand the power of music.

They are familiar around the region as Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues Band, with Begay on vocals and Anderson on lead guitar.

In addition to teaching music fundamentals, the camps provide a chance for students to learn about making positive choices in life.

"You use rock 'n' roll, you use hip-hop, you use metal, you use all these different forms of music that they love and teach them to use it in a positive way," Anderson said.

Each camp begins with the instructors sharing personal stories about how music impacted or, in some cases, saved their lives.

"You have to hear their stories," Begay said. "You have to hear all these musicians' stories and hear what saved their lives."

Vocals, guitar, bass and drums are the camp's core classes. Additional classes may be offered depending on teacher availability.

At the Dec. 28 camp, Levi Platero, lead singer and guitarist for The Plateros, stopped by. In January, Loren Anthony of Bloodline and musician James Bilagody attended.

"You never know who's going to show up," Begay said.

In addition to shaping the talent, the program helps the community learn the benefits of music education, especially since there is evidence that music can significantly strengthen a student's academic performance, Begay said.

"We shouldn't be convincing, we should already know what music does," Begay said. "We already know music is healthy for us. Music is good for our mind, for our body, for our soul."

Clare Hoffman, artistic director of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, shares Begay and Anderson's understanding that music education is important to a student's development.

Since 2001 the festival has offered the Native American Composers Music Program, an outreach dedicated to teaching Native American students how to compose concert music.

Among the program's goals are to develop musical literacy, enhance critical thinking and decision-making skills, and introduce students to classical music techniques.

Hoffman said it is "empowering" to watch students learn how to compose music then to watch their reaction when they hear a string ensemble play the finished piece.

"They just need exposure," she said. "It is as simple as that - opening a door."

The idea for Music Is Medicine stemmed from a conversation Begay and Anderson had with friends at the Coal Street Pub in Gallup.

It was also inspired by a conversation that Anderson had with the late Navajo Code Talker Keith Little.

Over the years, Anderson has been collecting the signatures of Navajo Code Talkers on his 1974 Fender Telecaster guitar.

"He told me that I can't sell this guitar because I had to use it to teach, to teach kids and people about the code talkers and to teach the kids how to play and that's the only way he would sign it," Anderson said.

That was five years ago.

Music Is Medicine was incorporated on the Navajo Nation in October and its nonprofit status is pending, but it is umbrellaed by the Navajo-Hopi Honor Riders Inc.

For nearly a decade, the honor riders have provided escorts for welcome-home events and funerals for military personnel on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Larry Noble started the honor riders and they became involved with Music Is Medicine after helping Begay when her nephew, Army Spc. Christopher Moon, died in 2010 from wounds received in Afghanistan.

The riders decided to endorse Music Is Medicine because they believe in the goal the organization is trying to accomplish, Noble said.

"I know there are a lot of kids out there who are interested," he said.

Music Is Medicine is looking for donations of money, food, event facilities, volunteer time, music equipment and supplies, and used musical instruments for students who cannot afford their own.

The next music camp is scheduled for Feb. 25 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock. There will also be a fundraising event March 17 at The Juggernaut in Gallup.

Information: warpony70@hotmail.com, chuckifour@yahoo.com or on Facebook by searching for Music Is Medicine Inc

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