Renata Yazzie has been playing the piano for as long as she can remember. Her mother played, so she would sit by her and watch. As a toddler, she played by ear. When she was around four, her mother began to teach her, then Renata took private lessons with a piano teacher for the next six years. Music had begun to shape her life and it would continue to do so as she grew to adulthood.
When her family moved from Flagstaff, to Teec Nos Pos, then to Albuquerque, Renata continued to play piano, but without a teacher for several years. Her mother helped her, and she learned to do her own thing with her music. She did have a music theory teacher in high school, but it wasn’t until college that she started taking lessons again. Renata minored in music in college, while majoring in chemistry. It was a unique combination that has served her well.
Today Renata is at the University of New Mexico, working toward her Master’s in Music with a dual concentration in piano performance and musicology. Her plan is to apply to a PhD program in Ethnomusicology. She wants to study how 19th -20th century classical composers incorporated Indigenous music into their compositions, and how Indigenous composers today, create music.
Renata continues to be an advocate for Native women in STEM as well. It is her hope to provide resources for Indigenous students in both music and chemistry. She understands from her own experience how difficult it can be to move between cultures, particularly in the academic realm of music study. As she puts it, “You get thrown into this whole new society, [a] new environment of western theory and western thought. It takes some time to get used to it.” And time to find their voice in challenging those classical music constructs. Renata hopes to encourage Indigenous students not to lose their voices and their culture because they choose to study classical music.
Another resource she provides is information. Many Indigenous students go into programs unaware of things they will need, such as an accompanist. Such services can be expensive, so she offers her own musical skills to fellow students when needed. She also offers those who need it tutoring in chemistry. One of her deepest desires is to be an advocate for Indigenous students, whether it’s through helping them with their studies or assisting them in navigating interactions with faculty who may not be culturally aware of how to interact in positive ways with Indigenous students.
Originally a pre-med student, Renata remains involved in health education. She works as a coordinator with Native Health Initiative. The organization provides health education that “builds on the strength of Indigenous communities”. She also remains involved with her music, performing at student recitals and other venues. Her future plans include recording a selection of children’s pieces. Perhaps there is another master pianist out there whom she can inspire.
Renata’s adventures can be followed on her Facebook Fanpage, and on her blog “She Who Went To Play Piano”.