A man who grew up in Corrales, Raven Chacón, has won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for his composition “Voiceless Mass.” The piece uses a church organ, computer-generated sounds, percussion and wind and string instruments. Chacon is thought to be the first Native American to win a Pulitzer Prize. He is Navajo on his mother’s side, while his father’s family is from Mora. His father, attorney Lorenzo Chacón, died last year; his mother, Gayle Dineyazhe Chacón, a physician, still lives in Corrales.
In his remarks in establishing a memorial fund with the UNM Foundation to honor his father, Raven Chacón traced the family’s connection to Corrales as follows: “Our dad was born in Mora Valley, New Mexico, and found himself years later at age 20 being arrested at the Chicano moratorium in East Los Angeles.” The judge was persuaded to release the youngster on condition that he “never set foot in California again. All this did was force my dad to confront the injustices he found in New Mexico, further aligning with other Chicanos and Native fighters and defenders of the land, while building a home from mud in Corrales.
“He then met our mother and moved us all to the Navajo Reservation so that my sisters and I could be born. The family then moved back to the Albuquerque area so he could go to law school.”
Raven Chacón’s Pulitzer-winning music was commissioned by the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ, specifically for the organ in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. “Voiceless Mass” was supposed to debut at the cathedral’s annual Thanksgiving Day concert.
“As an indigenous artist, I make a point not to present my work on this holiday, but in this case, I made an exception,” he explained. “This work considers the spaces in which we gather, the history of access of these spaces and the land upon which these buildings sit.
“Although ‘mass’ is referenced in the title, the piece contains no audible singing voices, instead using the openness of the large space to intone the constricted intervals of the wind and string instruments.
“In exploiting the architecture of the cathedral, “Voiceless Mass” considers the futility of giving voice to the voiceless, when ceding space is never an option for those in power.”