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A jazz musician began performing his new song in November. It'll last four more years

DON GONYEA, HOST:

In New Mexico, jazz musicians are performing a really long piece - really long. It started in November and will last, total, about 4 1/2 years. Clark Adomaitis with member station KSUT explains what it's all about.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Playing horn).

CLARK ADOMAITIS, BYLINE: In a small art gallery in the Navajo reservation border town of Farmington, N.M., surrounded by scenic photographs of the southwestern desert, five musicians gather to perform a single note - a concert D.

DELBERT ANDERSON: Alrighty, let's go ahead and get ready - one, two, three, and...

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Playing horn).

ADOMAITIS: Delbert Anderson, a Navajo jazz musician, is leading this performance of a piece he wrote and calls "The Long Walk." It's in memory of the long walk of the Navajo, the forced removal of native people from their homeland in Arizona and New Mexico in the 1860s by the U.S. government.

ANDERSON: You have, like, a contemporary composition that's accommodating something that happened a little over 150 years ago. You're creating this sort of gap between the two times of old and new.

ADOMAITIS: The performance is 1,674 days long, which mirrors the length of time of the actual long walk of the Navajo, part of the U.S. government's scorched earth campaign against the Navajo.

JENNIFER DENETDALE: To remove them as obstacles. They were imagined as savages and threats to American occupation of the southwest.

ADOMAITIS: Jennifer Denetdale, who is also Navajo, teaches Native American studies at the University of New Mexico.

DENETDALE: Kit Carson and his men had destroyed their corn fields and slaughtered their sheep, and so they were starving. Navajo people were literally, like, naked, except for a piece of cloth covering their private parts. And they were hungry. And then they were organized into caravans and force marched.

ADOMAITIS: Over the next 50 months, Delbert Anderson and other musicians will perform a single note every month or two, with weeks of silence between each note.

SAM BADER: When I played that concert D on my trombone, I just felt echoes of, like, generations of ancestors.

ADOMAITIS: Sam Bader is a Native Hawaiian and a trombone player who's playing with Anderson tonight.

BADER: It was spiritually very grounding, and I think I really felt it in the silence after I played. I had to close my eyes and just kind of sit and think with it for a little bit.

ADOMAITIS: Delbert Anderson says his piece was inspired by avant garde 20th century composer John Cage, famous for his use of silence. One Cage piece currently underway is supposed to last more than six centuries.

ANDERSON: It's, like, 600 years long. And I thought, whoa, that's, you know, pretty cool. I never knew about that. I want to do a piece that's long, but within someone's lifetime.

ADOMAITIS: The most recent note in Anderson's "Long Walk" was performed in February. The next is planned for April, with the final one to be played June 1, 2028.

For NPR News, I'm Clark Adomaitis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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