close
History organization

This composition performed for the first time in Milwaukee was honored with a Pulitzer

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Raven Chacon created Mass without voice in Milwaukee. Usually, Chacon — an indigenous artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation — wouldn’t perform on Thanksgiving, but for this Present Music concert that gives a “voice to the voiceless,” he made an exception. And on May 9, he received a Pulitzer Prize for Music for this piece.

Chacon specifically composed Mass without voice for the Nichols & Simpson organ of the Saint-Jean-l’Évangéliste cathedral. And although the word “mass” is used, there are no vocal parts in the 16-minute piece. Instead, Chacon used the organ and a set of wind and string instruments to fill the cathedral.

Performance “Mass without voice”; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music

“By exploiting the architecture of the cathedral, Mass without voice considers the futility of giving voice to the voiceless, when ceding space is never an option for those in power. Chacon writes in the concert program. The Pulitzer Prize jury described the concert as “an original and compelling work for organ and ensemble that evokes the weight of history in a church setting, a concentrated and powerful musical expression with a haunting visceral impact”.

Mass without voice was commissioned by the Milwaukee Present Music organization—with support from the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ and Plymouth Church UCC—as part of the ensemble’s 40th anniversary season. The music organization has always been known for its imaginative performance experiments – once putting musicians on boats for a gig that floated down the Milwaukee River.


GET YOUR VOTES FOR OUR 2022 READERS’ CHOICE AWARDS!

This year’s survey covers over 60 categories, including restaurants, retailers, salons, financial advisors and more. Vote often – polls reopen every day, and every time you vote, you’ll automatically be entered into a draw to win one of five amazing prizes!


“We spoke to him [Chacon] and we’d give him just about any gig of the year, and we’d walk around the Thanksgiving gig very timidly,” Present Music co-artistic director Eric Segnitz said. “But once he heard about the large space of the cathedral and the organ, he wanted to do it in November. He was very attracted to the instrument.

The piece itself is a contemporary work. Chacon uses non-traditional techniques to obtain new sounds from the instruments. For example, the cellist used many percussive techniques – which is not common on a string instrument – ​​and even the organist used subsonic base tones, which Segnitz says is quite unusual. OMoreover, the concert was not the usual enfilade with the public and the instrumentalists face to face. For Mass without voice the artists surrounded their listeners.

Performance “Mass without voice”; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music

“I think that particular performance experience was unique because the audience really, they’re in the middle of it all, and they were a part of it,” Segnitz says. “It didn’t feel like 12 musicians, but more like 512 musicians.”

Segnitz says it’s pretty rare that such a contemporary piece — especially one like this that takes imagination to comprehend — receives an immediate, warm response from audiences. Mass without voice received a standing ovation on Thanksgiving Day. “We should have known,” Segnitz says of the Pulitzer.

“It certainly surprised me! I was thrilled that his work was recognized,” says Jessica Franken, president of Present Music. “The level of public recognition for this composer and this work will allow us to kind of reinforce that this is an important part of our mission to support artists who are creating new music, both on the composition than on the performance side. .”

Along with Chacon, Present also collaborated with the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education at UW-Milwaukee and Ho-Chunk Nation artist Sky Hopinka for the concert. Chacon was also very involved beyond the concert hall. He visited Present Music’s educational partners, led sessions for local students, and gave a pre-concert talk to provide pre-show insight.

Raven Chacon and David Bloom addressed the audience before the show; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music

The victory brought national attention to Chacon and current Milwaukee music – even though some national publications covering the groundbreaking concert incorrectly stated that the band was based in Minneapolis. It is the first of more than 80 commissions in Present Music’s 40-year history to win the award. Chacon also made history as the first Native American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music.

“We did this because we love Chacon’s work and perspective, and it’s something we wanted to see, support and bring to our community,” said Present Music co-artistic director David Bloom.

And while Bloom is glad Present Music was able to bring this piece to an audience in Milwaukee, he’s thrilled that Mass without voice will now have an even greater reach. “It’s the kind of award that guarantees that,” he says.


Performance “Mass without voice”; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music
Performance “Mass without voice”; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music
Performance “Mass without voice”; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music
Performance “Mass without voice”; Photo by Samer Ghani, courtesy of Present Music






comments

comments

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.