By Jacquelyn Letizia Staff writer
On Nov. 15, Robert Mirabal and ETHEL joined students, faculty and staff in the Shearer Dining Rooms for a “Let’s Talk” lunch.
Mirabal is a celebrated Native American musician, who has twice won the Native American Music Awards Artist of the Year.
Mirabal teamed with ETHEL, a string quartet, for the lunch and for the performance later in the day.
The talk started with a piece that incorporated Mirabal playing a traditional Native American flute and ETHEL playing their string instruments.
At points in this song, Mirabal would stop playing the flute and would instead tell stories of his heritage with the strings lightly playing in the background as he talked.
After the first piece, Dorothy Lawson, the cellist and an artistic director of ETHEL, described the group and how they came together.
They then proceeded into their next song, which was a piece based off a Hawaiian children’s song composed of two notes.
The group then added their own lives and relationships into the piece to make the song their own.
Following this song, Mirabal told parts of the story of his life and his heritage. One of the most important things in his culture is food.
Mirabal explained that everything his culture has done somehow revolves around the consumption and production of food. He said, “We are a corn society. When it dies, we die.”
Mirabal also revealed the two main ideas of his culture: trust and belief.
“Trust and believe and you will walk forwards,” he said. Mirabal added that there is no use in going backward, and it is too difficult.
One of the main points that Mirabal made was that he felt his culture was being forced into mainstream American culture, which is causing it to die.
The language that he learned from his elders is not written but is passed down from generation to generation.
With more and more elders passing away, only a small population of people know the language, he said.
“Our metaphorical world is forced into this world,” he continued. “It’s my world, man, and it’s still here.”
Mirabal also explained that he dresses differently than most people in America do because he follows the traditional dress of his family.
For instance, he cuts the tops of his jeans and wears a loincloth over them.
Mirabal also showed that he cuts the soles out of the boots he buys and replaces them with buffalo skin.
He said, “I am a complete juxtaposition. My shoes tell a story.”
Senior Morgan Green enjoyed the performances.
“I really liked how they all meshed so well together,” she said. “You wouldn’t think that they would because of their differences, but they fit so well together.”
“Something cool is how much you can get out of a performance when the group is that connected,” Green continued. “Hearing Mirabal talk about how connected he felt with the earth and his tribe and everything else and then seeing it come into play was inspiring.”
Green was not the only one impacted by the unity of an otherwise diverse group.
Ralph Farris, the artistic director and viola player for ETHEL, talked about how he felt a similar way. “[Mirabal] reconnected me to why I do what I do,” he explained.
Farris said their groups work well together, and they give meaning to all of the music that he produces.