On the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, when the world round him turned quiet and nonetheless, the composer Raven Chacon went to work.
Impressed by the silence of days spent in lockdown, he started writing “Unvoiced Mass,” a 16-minute work for ensemble and pipe organ. Chacon, 44, a member of the Navajo Nation who lives in Albuquerque, got down to use the sounds of the organ, accompanied by winds, strings and percussion, to discover themes of energy and oppression.
“In the course of the pandemic, we had been in a position to concentrate on a few of the cries of people that had been feeling injustices round them,” he mentioned in an interview. “Lockdown was this time of quietness the place there was a possibility for these sounds and cries to emerge.”
On Monday, “Unvoiced Mass” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music. It was an sudden honor for an artist who has labored throughout genres — music, video, printmaking — to shine mild on the struggles going through Indigenous individuals.
Chacon mentioned he didn’t notice he had gained the prize till shortly after the announcement on Monday, when buddies began texting him.
“Apparently they don’t name you,” he mentioned.
“Unvoiced Mass” had its premiere on Nov. 21, 2021, on the annual Thanksgiving live performance of Current Music, an ensemble devoted to modern music. It was commissioned by the ensemble and by the Wisconsin Convention of the United Church of Christ and Plymouth Church within the United Church of Christ.
Chacon has described the work as an exploration of the “areas through which we collect, the historical past of entry of those areas, and the land upon which these buildings sit.” He wrote “Unvoiced Mass” particularly for the Nichols & Simpson organ on the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee.
“In exploiting the structure of the cathedral, ‘Unvoiced Mass’ considers the futility of giving voice to the unvoiced, when ceding house isn’t an choice for these in energy,” Chacon has mentioned.
The Pulitzer committee praised the piece as a “mesmerizing, unique work for organ and ensemble that evokes the burden of historical past in a church setting, a concentrated and highly effective musical expression with a haunting visceral influence.”
It’s the newest in a collection of works by Chacon exploring the injustices suffered by Indigenous individuals. He has produced graphic scores devoted to Indigenous feminine composers; recordings of silent standoffs between Indigenous girls and the police throughout protests close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in 2016; and a video set up, filmed on Navajo, Cherokee and Seminole lands, that includes girls singing the tales of web sites the place massacres or removals have taken place.
He additionally wrote the music, together with Du Yun, for the opera “Candy Land,” a meditation on colonialism that premiered in 2020.
Chacon mentioned he hoped the prize would assist give “Unvoiced Mass” a broader viewers.
“I hope it will get carried out extra,” he mentioned. “It’s at all times been a problem to make this type of work accessible to individuals who can’t enter these areas, both due to financial obstacles, or simply as a result of they really feel they aren’t the viewers for classical music.”