“Music means everything to me; it’s the only thing that I know that can break the silence,” said Celeste Lansing.
John Cage, a scientist, or the inventor of earplugs might argue that silence doesn’t exist. But for Lansing, sounds, or the absence of them, are more than just measurable waves. As a result, silence is much more of a force than its dictionary definition gives it credit for. And music is much more than merely something to fill the air.
Lansing is a 16-year-old composer from Montezuma Creek, Utah. Lansing didn’t start composing for performance until she was a freshman in high school; now, on November 18, her string quartet “Pink Thunder” will be played by members of the New Mexico new music group Chatter as a part of the “New Work-Old Traditions: Pushing the Boundaries of Classical Music” concert focusing on Native American composers.
Along with Lansing’s piece, music will be played by other Native American composers: Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, Louis W. Ballard, and New Mexico native Raven Chacon. Tate’s “Taloa’Hiloah” or “Thunder Song” for timpani is on the program. “Kachina Dances” for cello and piano by the legendary Ballard will be played as well.
Chacon is a local artist and musician who often experiments with noise music, and he will be premiering his piece “Biyán” for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and percussion commissioned by Ensemble Music New Mexico.
Listeners might have their own preconceived notions about what Native American music is like. But to a composer, heritage can inspire many aspects of music, from the specific instrumentation to the sources of the rhythms.
“My Native American heritage inspires my music the most because everything I do, hear, or see I can make music with! It surprised me because most of the rhythms I have in my pieces were inspired from tapping a pencil, how the trees moved, or hearing an odd sound in the hallway or at home,” said Lansing.
Lansing’s “Pink Thunder” for string quartet was her first project with the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Program. Lansing had the opportunity to have ETHEL, the superstar contemporary string quartet, play her piece at their annual music festival at the Grand Canyon.
I got to hear “Pink Thunder” a few months ago when Church of Beethoven, a branch of Ensemble Music New Mexico, played it on a Sunday morning.
The piece is like a nugget of bundled brainwaves—ranging from quasi-Xenakis to a serene, almost lonely melody that flows from one instrument to the next, the piece is filled with a range of inspiration that bind together through calm, settled moments. The piece reaches a climactic pile of glissandos, but the piece is so clear and decisive that they never become trying.
“I got the inspired by from listening to a lot of METALLICA, mostly songs from the Black Album! I loved how they used the double foot pedals and they had that dark, heavy, and mysterious sound,” Lansing wrote in an email. “I came up with the cello part first and then worked around it. I used the piano to make up rhythms, sounds, etc. Before I knew it, it sounded like thunder.”
Descriptions like this make me eager to hear next generation’s composers’ music. Knowing of inspiration coming from organic, real areas creates music that soaks into the brain as easy as water into a sponge, or like natural food to the body. Lansing told me of a piece she wrote and dedicated to her art and basketball teacher Michael V. Porter/Cheii Porter. “Cheii” means grandpa in Navajo.
“He got sick during the summer, and he really moved me while I was writing; this was the first piece that I actually wrote and incorporated what I was feeling at the time. I’ve never done that before. He always told me to finish strong so I twisted it and named the piece ‘Worth Finishing.’”
Here’s a place where the name of the November 18 concert comes in—“New Work-Old Traditions.” Lansing’s work, as well as Chacon’s, Tate’s, and Ballard’s, is contemporary. But in a world where new pieces of music get churned out and released almost every minute online, it’s nice to be able to look at pieces like “Pink Thunder” or “Worth Finishing” and see the places they came from, places that everyone can understand.
Lansing has heard “Pink Thunder” played twice, both by ETHEL, but she is excited about it being performed by Chatter.
“The people that will be there that night will get a little taste of what Celeste has to bring to the table.”