In this installment of the Mullen Music Studio blog, two members of the Navajo Nation Band share some of their experiences with the band and what it was like to participate in the 2013 Inaugural Parade. Joining us for this blog post are Navajo Nation Band Coordinator, Valerie Harrison and saxophonist and former Mullen Music Studio student, Ronette Yazzie.
@MullenMusic: Can you tell us a bit about your background in music?
VH: Speaking for myself, I taught myself guitar in 2nd grade, then progressed to piano about 4th, then joined band beginning in 5th grade with the clarinet. While in high school I learned the oboe. I joined the Navajo Tribal Band in 1976 during my last year of high school. The band was huge and included many older members some of whom were also an inspiration to me... Jean Fredericks and Ron Benally. The notes of the music looked confusing at first but I saw a challenge. I worked my way up from 3rd to 1st in no time. Later, although I did not go on to a university I had a job that left me free to pursue activities directly involved with the Navajo Nation Band. But I have not limited myself to just NNB. I've learned other instruments and have participated with the Play It Again Band, Phoenix, AZ and have coordinated and participated with TubaChristmas, Tuba City, AZ. I've been marching and playing with NNB for 37 years officially as of February 17th and have held every position from member to Director.
RY: I started to learn how to read and play music since I was in the fifth grade, in Coolidge, AZ. I always continued to play music until I was finished with High School where Mrs. Mullen taught us. After graduation, I didn’t really know what to do with my music. I didn’t want it just to lay there collecting dust. So I decided to continue somewhere and somehow.
@MullenMusic: How did you get involved with the Navajo Nation Band? What is the audition process like? How often do you rehearse?
VH: Auditions at that time were by invitation and whether you'd come back. We had once a month rehearsals at that time. I had two fellow clarinet players who were already members of the NNB and they bugged me to join saying that I was good enough. I have been 1st Clarinet, 1st Chair most of high school, so I went to the rehearsal and have been hooked ever since. My friends were Virgil Davis, Alto Sax (now) and Ernest Ross, the youngest NNB director ever and I was the Assistant Director.
RY: I started with the Navajo Nation Band in the summer of 2010. Right after graduation, I began to miss playing music. That year Valerie Harrison, band coordinator, contacted me because I was interested in joining. She invited me to come to a rehearsal that following weekend giving me details on who I would meet, who our director was, etc. That day, I met Virgil Davis who befriended me right away, took me under his wing, and helped me get all the music I needed and shared with me stories of adventures and information on upcoming parades. When I first joined we didn’t really have an audition process. I was told to just play with the band when I had that first rehearsal. But that was under a different director. There after NNB received some requirements which we all had to go through. We were told that EVERYONE needed to audition, so we had the audition process throughout different areas like Chinle, Gallup, Window Rock, and even Phoenix. At that time we just were told the dates and time slots and set up an audition that fit best to us. Requirements included scales, excerpts (mine was "Old Comrades" by John Philip Sousa), and sight reading. The audition didn’t take more than 30 minutes. We don’t really rehearse a lot especially during the winter. Mostly the band members are asked to practice on their own. However, there are times like before a large performance that we are required to attend a mandatory rehearsal. We all have our own choice to attend or not, but if you're definitely going to the performance you need to be there because that’s where you’ll receive the information needed on when we’re leaving, where, and what time. Most of the band members have jobs and are from all over the reservation so not all can come to rehearsals when asked. The Navajo Nation Band is pretty much lenient and works with you.
@MullenMusic: How was the NNB chosen to participate in the 2013 Inaugural Parade in D. C.?
RY: Well I’m not entirely sure. Our band director, Darwin, was the one that was in contact with the people that got us in the parade. From what we were told, the band was gaining recognition because of the Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City, OK, The America's Freedom Festival in Provo, UT, First Light Federal Credit Union Sun Bowl Parade, El Paso, TX. These major parades that we did this year got us recognized, when our band application was submitted we didn’t need to send additional information because they had been watching us for a while, and right away we were told that we were in but all the members that were going to go needed to have a security check in order to participate in the parade.
@Mullen Music: How long was the parade route?
RY: The parade route wasn’t too long. I think It was 2 or 3 miles. We’re used to marching that length of parade. However, it was a long wait just to get where we needed to be. Everything was time consuming and not everything was planned out. This event was a little different because it was all depending on the President and when he was going to be walking in the parade.
@MullenMusic: What did you enjoy about marching in this historic event?
VH: It was just an honor to be there. Then finding out later that President Obama did actually pay us an honor as well by giving us his attention. I missed my opportunity to see him. That's how devoted I am to doing my job. A highlight I enjoyed was the pizza at Union Station... Vittorio's. It is the best pizza I ever had in my life! Another one was checking out the viewing box for the president the day before the parade. Actually just being there was an awesome feeling. Another more subtle one was the fact that everyone got along so well during the long bus ride. It was the bus' inaugural trip too! Brand new bus - never used!
I've been to Washington, D.C. twice before - once for the 1985 Presidential Inaugural and parade which was the only parade ever cancelled but got to attend the Indian Ball as chaperon for Miss Navajo, Lorene Lewis. Then again, that same year for the 4th of July Pow Wow held on the Mall as chaperon again for Miss Navajo. Met Mike Love of the Beach Boys.
RY: It was fun; I think the most memorable thing on the trip was actually seeing the president stand up as we walked by. That night there wasn’t many people there as we marched because it was late, getting cold with a bit of wind. Just seeing his respect as we were there I felt we did represent our Nation as we passed by.
@MullenMusic: Can you share with us some of the highlights of your trip? Were you able to visit other sites while you were there?
VH: Only where the tour guide had us go I went... Mount Vernon, Lincoln Memorial, The Wall, Iwo Jima, Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History. Missed out on Museum of the American Indian.but was in the Voice of America building for a meeting. VH: Wish we had gone to Arlington Cemetery. I've seen it from the surrounding freeway but the experience is way more awesome to be there.
RY: The meeting of new people from all over was pretty neat. While we were out there on the trip we had a traditional day where we all wore our native attire throughout the day as we went to most of the Smithsonian museums. While there, I wore my traditional turquoise attire, my fiancé wore his Navajo Code Talker with his grandfathers that were in the war on it. People all over as we were walking wanted to know who we were and others were proud of us too. There were some fellow Navajos that we ran into at the museum. They actually traveled there just to see us perform. They were so proud of us and what we were doing that they wanted to support us. So it was a really great experience doing this, and representing out Nation, and Heritage. Really we did so many things I wished every person could experience it the way I did. Overall, it’s a completely different experience than just sitting in a history class looking at a book. Actually seeing and looking at different museums was so incredible.
@MullenMusic: What would you say to young people out there who a considering joining band?
VH: Do it! Music is everywhere, music is life. Do it for yourself! To quote, rather badly, a friend who has passed on, "Sports are limited. Music is lifelong!"
RY: I say go for it! There are so many opportunities that come as you join. Like this year were looking for more exposure and we got it. We were able to represent our nation everywhere we go. We see incredible things and meet amazing people. In the band it’s like you're already considered family. Everyone jokes with one another; we take care of each other. We even get to meet Miss Navajo, and our Nations President. Most people don’t want to join in the first place is because of how far we have to travel, or how much investment we have to put into our attire just to be a part of it. We're usually reimbursed for mileage.
@MullenMusic: Any last thoughts?
RY: In closing I’d like to say one thing. It’s not about the money. It’s about having fun. Playing for those you love and gaining the experience, so that one day you can tell your grandchildren what you did for our great nation. It’s incredible to hear the stories that are shared from the elders of the band. They have been dedicated their whole lives to this band, and still going strong. It’s an opportunity that every person should experience. Thanks! A’he’hee
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