Alumni take home a Grammy and a Pulitzer for music
And the Winner Is…
Grammy Award For Best Immersive Audio Album
When the Grammy award for Best Immersive Audio Album was presented in April, the winning recording — The United States Army Field Band’s “Soundtrack of the American Soldier” — rang up several firsts. It was the first time a concert band had won a Grammy; the first time a military band had won a Grammy; and, as far as anyone at UNM can recall, the first time an alumnus has won a Grammy.
Col. Jim R. Keene (’88 BA), a native of Albuquerque’s South Valley who graduated with a degree in piano performance, conducted all of the music on the album.
After graduation, Keene received a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and then was accepted into the Army bands program as a band officer and conductor. Keene’s Army career took him to Heidelberg, Germany, and West Point, and in 2015 he was named commander of The U.S. Army Field Band based at Fort Meade in Maryland.
“It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I believe the U.S. Army Field Band is the best band in the world,” Keene said. “The reason is the number of performances they do, performing more than 100 concerts per year, each one on a different stage, often in a different city or town across the nation and around the world.”
In Keene’s career he has performed for U.S. presidents, led music for funerals of three presidents, and conducted at numerous performances at the White House.
The album, recorded during the band’s 2018 tour, includes music chosen from movies, video games and new commissioned pieces to honor the American soldier.
Pulitzer Prize For Music
In April, when the distinguished Pulitzer Prizes were announced, another UNM graduate made some music history. Raven Chacon (’01 BA) a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation, was the first Native American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.
Chacon, who is originally from Fort Defiance, Ariz., and lives in Albuquerque, describes himself as a “noise musician,” who often uses homemade electric instruments. A graduate of UNM’s College of Fine Arts with a degree in composition, Chacon received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Chacon has appeared on more than 80 releases on various national and international labels.
“Voiceless Mass,” Chacon’s winning entry, is an ensemble work commissioned by the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ, the Plymouth Church United Church of Christ and Present Music. Chacon composed the piece specifically for the Nichols & Simpson pipe organ at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. The composition was a site-specific commission to utilize the organ for Present Music’s annual Thanksgiving concert.
“As an Indigenous artist, I make a point not to present my work on this holiday,” Chacon told the Pulitzer judges, “but in this case I made an exception.”
The piece intones wind and string instruments in addition to the organ and, contains no audible singing voices.
“In exploiting the architecture of the cathedral,” Chacon said, “Voiceless Mass considers the futility of giving voice to the voiceless, when ceding space is never an option for those in power.”
Judges called the work “mesmerizing” and “a concentrated and powerful musical expression with a haunting visceral impact.”