The art of drumming is foundational to many Native American musical practices, but it’s certainly not all there is to Indigenous musicking. Among the plethora of other traditions includes the use of vocables, which aren’t exactly words, but ways of carrying melodies in a more non-lexical way. Thanks to one composer, in particular, this tradition of utilizing vocables has been enshrined within the contemporary piano repertoire. Hello – I’m Loki Karuna, and on this edition of Noteworthy you and I will honor this Navajo tradition as realized by composer Connor Chee.

Born in 1987, Connor Chee began studying the piano at age 6. By age 12, Connor had won a gold medal in the World Piano Competition’s Young Artist Division, which paved the way for his Carnegie Hall debut shortly after. As his star continued to shine, Connor maintained a love and respect for his Navajo heritage, and wrote this work in 2014, inspired by the tradition of vocables that he’d learned from his elders. Connor titled the work, simply enough, Navajo Vocable for Piano No. 1.

Since writing this piece, Connor has continued honoring his musical heritage, celebrating praise and recognition from the Native American Music Awards, and with live performances of his compositions happening across the country. Connor Chee has created a perspective into the Navajo Nation that few others have, making him among today’s most noteworthy composers. Noteworthy is a production of WDAV classical public radio. Pictured: Connor Chee courtesy of the artist.