When it came time to make plans for November’s Native American Heritage Month, Ken Zoll, executive director of Verde Valley Archaeology Center, had an idea. Ken sits on the advisory board for Verde Valley Sinfonietta, and he’s always been intrigued by a recording he owns that features world-renowned Navajo-Ute flutist R. Carlos Nakai performing with the Canyon Symphony Orchestra. What if R. Carlos, a legend in Arizona, partnered with the sinfonietta for the ultimate concert performance? The Verde Valley Sinfonietta was intrigued by the concept, and from there a program began to take shape that would incorporate music, dance and visual elements. Nakai in Concert, being billed as “a cultural celebration intersecting the performing and visual arts,” happens Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. at Phillip England Center for the Performing Arts in Camp Verde and again on Nov. 19 at 2:30 p.m. at Sedona Performing Arts Center.
The first half of the program will feature flutist R. Carlos Nakai and percussionist William Clipman performing with the 34-piece Verde Valley Sinfonietta, led by the orchestra’s new conductor and music director Kevin Kozacek. (This will be the first of three concerts presented by the sinfonietta during its 2017/18 season.) All six pieces of music, which have been entirely composed by R. Carlos, will be accompanied by a video showcasing archaeological sites from the Southwest including rock art images from the Verde Valley. The photos were captured by Sedona photographer Larry Lindahl, and the montage was produced locally by Trailhead Video. During the second half of the show, Emmy-winning Chickasaw composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate will take the helm. The sinfonietta will perform two of Jerod’s compositions including Spider Brings Fire, which will be narrated by Sedona’s own Shondra Jepperson. Jerod will play piano during the second piece, Indian Spirit at Mesa Falls. Throughout the two-hour performance, professional dancers with Indigenous Enterprise from Phoenix will take to the stage in traditional dress.
After both shows, VIP ticketholders will have the opportunity to meet the performers either backstage at Phillip England Center in Camp Verde or at REDS at Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa in Sedona. The VIP package also includes a CD. VIP tickets are $50. The two backstage meet and greets serve as fundraisers for the nonprofit Verde Valley Archaeology Center (Camp Verde concert) and the Verde Valley Sinfonietta (Sedona concert). General admission tickets for the concerts are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Reserved seats are $60 in advance or $65 at the door. (Reserved seats include reserved parking and complimentary beverages and snacks during intermission.)
For those of us who’ve spent much time in northern Arizona, the Native American flute has been the soundtrack to our life. The ethereal music pours out of shops in Uptown Sedona, plays through the speakers at local spas and can be heard in the background at restaurants. But chances are, you’ve never heard the flute performed with an orchestra. That doesn’t surprise R. Carlos Nakai, who was born and raised in western Arizona. R. Carlos went to high school in Parker where he joined the band and learned to play brass (primarily trumpet). He moved to Flagstaff to attend Northern Arizona University where he planned to study performance with a minor in music education but was drafted into the U.S. Navy. During his four-plus years of service, he took night classes and performed in marching bands. When he arrived back in Arizona, a car accident that damaged his embouchure (the way a musician applies his mouth to his instrument) completely changed his life. “I thought it was the end of my career,” says R. Carlos.
As it turns out, it was just the beginning. The accident prompted him to experiment with the wooden flute. “I approached it from a technical perspective with a western European discipline,” says R. Carlos. “And I began composing new pieces with the instrument – I still got to do what I would have done as a brass musician. I learned to read music in high school and at NAU, so I was able to pick up music composed in a concert key, break it down and play it on the flute.”
R. Carlos’ first album, Changes, was released by Canyon Records in 1983. Since then, he has released 40 albums with Canyon Records and has been nominated for a Grammy award 10 times. He earned his master’s degree in American Indian Studies from University of Arizona, received an honorary doctorate from NAU in 1994 and in 2005, R. Carlos was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame. He has performed in the U.S., Europe and Japan with more than 30 symphony and chamber orchestras including Chamber Music Sedona in 2012. Nakai in Concert will be the first time he has performed with Verde Valley Sinfonietta. “I don’t perform in Sedona very often – maybe once every five years,” says R. Carlos, who divides his time between Tucson and Colorado. “I think it’s going to show the audience another perspective of indigenous instruments.”
R. Carlos first performed with an orchestra in 1987, and he maintains a busy concert calendar. He says he’s not interested in retiring. “I don’t know many people who’ve been onstage who can leave that behind,” he says. “Performing is part of my own personal landscape.”