Roughly one month ago I was approached to do a student thesis film. I had previously worked with this director and I’ll be the first to admit that I was not particularly excited to accept their offer. In the past, we had butted heads on the most fundamental of creative levels. And in the end, to be honest, it led to a frustrating experience that had me very hesitant to work with student filmmakers again.

[Now: to be fair this feeling was not the result of that experience itself, which would be absurd, but the amalgamation of many similar experiences over my time as a musician.]

Needless to say I took the job, because work is work. If I’ve learned anything over the last three years, it’s that when an opportunity presents itself just say yes. Just. Say. Yes. With that being said, I’m glad I did. Let me tell you why:

  1. If you read my last blog, about Found and Lost, then you know that I found a few friends in the sound department. This film saw my networking pay off, as I was able to work with one of those very same sound technicians again.
  2. In the short three days that I had to compose for this film I was able to hold my first recording session with a student flutist. (Whom I am so grateful for, especially when considering the fact that they were unpaid and willing to dedicate their skills in the middle of a school week).
  3. Then there was a very new experience for me; compromise. For this film it took the form of having to write and cut music (or even just parts of the music) throughout the entirety of the scoring process. An experience that I would have had trouble with, say a year ago, but was able to embrace with a positive attitude this time around. In fact, I found myself more and more willing to limit the amount of music in the film.

This film is called Amásáni; it is about a young girl whom is suspended from school and has to spend the day with her grandmother, learning from her the disciplined traditions of her ancestors. Immediately I knew that I wanted to focus on the traditional aspect of this film, which plays out a lot more like a documentary then a short film. The director and I talked frequently about how we wanted to keep the music reserved for only the most important parts of the story, when the young girl is playing with her grandmother’s things and when the grandmother consoles her granddaughter in the Hogan. Likewise, my ensemble consisted of solo flute, piano, and a string quartet (which only made it into the end credits).

Somehow I managed to scale down my melodic writing from the exuberant academic to the simple kindergartener. It was a difficult change after having written pieces like I have in my Reveries. Yet, it was a very welcome change, because I was forced to use only the notes that really mattered. These notes formed the C major pentatonic scale and I am pretty confident that nearly all of the flute material is some combination of those five notes. In a similar fashion, I refused to let even the piano reach any form of chromaticism and firmly planted it in the key of C major. Other than the occasional log drum or string quartet this is really all there is to say about the score itself. There is something else though that I would like to talk about!

The music for this film was inherently Native American and to be more specific it was based on the traditional music of the Navajo people. When I turned to the Internet for help in understanding this music I was extremely frustrated to find that there was nothing really TO find. At first it was a musical issue for me, after all how am I suppose to imitate the musical styles of the Navajo people authentically if I couldn’t find any music? Then it turned into a more general frustration towards the Internet itself. All ‘Native American’ music was somehow fused into this indiscernible and frankly unidentifiable identity that was labeled as ‘native,’ ‘Indian,’ or ‘spiritual.’ It bothered me.

After hours of following link after link of suggested videos nominated ‘Navajo music’ I did find a piece or two of music that was authentic enough for me. However, these videos were so hard to find and not nearly as high of a quality as I thought that they deserved to be. That doesn’t sit right with me for some reason.

Maybe it’s best that this portion of North American culture is so seemingly off limits to the digital era. Maybe it means that these people have kept these things for themselves. Or maybe it doesn’t mean much; all I am saying is that it would me nice to see this sort of thing ironed out in the future. I, for one, am sure that these cultures have so much more to give and are equally so important to our country as a whole. I hope that you enjoy the music, have a nice day!

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