21 SepA NACAP Graduate Goes on the Road With ETHEL
By Rik Fairlie
If you wanted an example of how ETHEL and the Grand Canyon Music Festival’s annual NACAP tour can inspire Native American youth, you only needed to look in the back seat of the band’s rental car this year.
There you would have found Russell Goodluck, a freshly minted high school graduate who was a student of NACAP in 2008 and 2009. Russell went on the road with ETHEL this summer, not as a student but to help the band work with the kids and to perform his original pieces on guitar and native flute with ETHEL at concerts.
I caught up with Russell during the tour, and he said ETHEL continues to motivate him-even though he’s no longer (officially) a student. “Every time I hear them perform, it’s like hearing them for the first time again,” he says. “They taught me inspiration and when I hear them rehearse it makes me want to play more.”
Russell, a Navajo who lives right outside of Chinle, Ariz., plays tenor sax, guitar, and some piano. He says he’s now trying to teach himself violin. “Learning violin is kind of hard,” he admits. “You want it to sound elegant but you get a screeching sound.”
Russell says he has written seven classical pieces in the past year, a wellspring of creativity that originated at last year’s NACAP workshops. He would have liked to write more, but senior year of high school proved more hectic than expected.
He also plays tenor sax in a Navajo Nation marching band, and I asked what sort of music the band plays. To my surprise, he said John Philip Sousa.
I asked why the band doesn’t play Native American music when it marches in parades.
“We don’t have Navajo marching music,” he deadpanned.
Which makes total sense, if you think about it. I laughed at my own witless understanding of Native American culture (even though I have enough Choctaw in me to join the tribe).
Russell says he plans to go to pursue a degree in education and afterward become a teacher, composer, and performer. I asked where he planned to teach, and his response illustrated something very fundamental — and graceful — about what it means to grow up Navajo.
Russell said he plans to return to Chinle immediately after college. “I want to give my knowledge to my people,” he says. “The elders always told us when we were children that we should make sure to return to the reservation to share what we have learned.”