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Tuba City High School Students Benefit From Visiting Art Scholars
by Rosanda Suetopka - Navajo-Hopi Observer
Michael Begay, NACAP laureate (left) and Lance Henson, renowned visiting poet scholar (right) work with Tuba City High School students in classical music instruction (Begay) and poetry and creative short stories (Henson). (photo by Rosanda Suetopka - Navajo-Hopi Observer)

TUBA CITY, AZ — Poet and writer Lance Henson, a member of the Cheyenne, Oglala and French nations, along with Michael Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation who works with students creating and writing classical music for public performance, worked with Tuba High School students last week.

Henson shared his writing talent with students throughout the week in the areas of poetry and short stories. Henson, who was raised on a farm near Calumet, Oklahoma by his great aunt and uncle, showed students how to gather personal experiences and turn that into something creative that can be shared with a larger audience.

Henson's great uncle was the groundskeeper for Chapter One of the Native American Church of Oklahoma. He was one of five boys raised by his great aunt and uncle and he grew up immersed in the southern Cheyenne culture.

Henson also served this country as a Marine in the Vietnam War and eventually came back home to graduate from the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts in Chickasaw. He earned an Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the University of Tulsa.

Henson spent the past 10 years conducting poetry and creative writing workshops for students and adults through the Artist-in-Residence programs of the State Arts Council of Oklahoma in the United States and in Europe.

Henson has written more than seventeen books of poetry that have been translated into 25 languages and has lectured in more than nine countries.

As a successful poet, Henson also has written two plays, one of which is titled "Winter Man," which had a successful run at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Company. His other play titled "Coyote Road" played to sell out audiences in Versaille, France in December 2001.

In April 2006, Henson's work "Words from the Edge" was featured in a mini-tour in Italy of indigenous poets from endangered tribes that he organized.

Henson encouraged and worked with students on their short story and poetry writing submittals, helping them smooth out phrasing, thoughts and organizing their creative expression on paper and showing them how to make their creative writing work more powerful and descriptive.

Michael Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation and a home grown product of Tuba City, was originally one of the mentees of the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Program (NACAP) that he now mentors and is the 2015 Artist-in-Residence working with the Grand Canyon Music Festival throughout the year.

Begay, who was a high school student in 2003, was deeply motivated and inspired by classical acoustic guitar and wanted to take his talent to a larger audience but didn't have the formal training or contacts to make that happen on his own.

Begay was selected by the librarian at his former school as a prime choice to benefit from a musical mentorship program like NACAP at Tuba City High School.

It wasn't long before Begay was singled out as someone with much discipline, humor and the willingness to work hard to see a fine arts program through to its completion. Now, Begay is working on his own Bachelor of Fine Arts undergraduate degree in music.

Begay had a lot to say about how NACAP helps students on the reservation who might not be able to find creative arts programs close to home.

"After my original high school level mentee-ship with NACAP, I did ask if I could ride along with the varied composers in residence who were with the Grand Canyon Festival Program," Begay said. "I learned so much from them. How to present a program, how to utilize varied teaching techniques, I had the chance to work daily and up close with three of the composers in residence, Jerod Tate (Chickasaw), David Mallumud and Raven Chacon (Navajo)." Begay originally wanted to find a program for acoustic guitar at the high school level, so he enrolled at Peoria High School, which had an outstanding guitar program.

"But I was wait-listed and by the time I was able to get to the program, it was already being shut down due to lack of funding," Begay said. "I came back home to Tuba and was told by my school librarian, who was also a percussionist, that there was this special NACAP program and that I should sign up. This librarian also allowed me to borrow his personal sheets of classical music and to sit in one some of his music lectures. Once I got into the NACAP program, I basically never left. I have gone from one of the student mentees to now a full-blown artist-in-residence taking new students from the starting level that I was at in 2003 to now, which is traveling and writing music for classical performance. It's my own past struggles and experience that motivates to help and spark some inspiration for my students who are on the reservation in our high schools."

Begay said the NACAP program gives students a real classroom experience like a larger more urban environment.

"Also for our Native students to see a real composer who is also tribal is a positive role modeling example," he said. "It lets them see and experience that a professional music career is really possible for them. They can relate more easily and quickly to someone who is tribal and is more familiar with their own lifestyle and culture."

Begay said students sometimes feel like it is impossible to write and create music compositions, because it is intimidating at first.

"But I just tell them its all a form of expression and everyone has a story to tell, this is just a different way to express that personal story," he said.

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