Sage Bond has rocked for ten years on stages across the country. But she had never thought to trade her metal wailing for the demanding rigors of opera—until she started her degree at Northern Arizona University.
“I’d never had a music class before starting with the School of Music. I had to teach myself before the audition how to sing opera,” she said. “I feel like I barely made it through.”
Professor Todd Sullivan, Director of the School of Music, encouraged Sage to attend NAU after he heard her sing at NAU’s Prochnow Auditorium and watched her YouTube videos. Sage, who is Navajo and Apache, performs independently and with a heavy-metal band called Lozen, named after an Apache warrior woman. She calls her voice a “Cookie Monster” scream.
“My teacher is finding ways to utilize my energy from that metal vocal style and putting it into opera,” she said. “We’re both just learning about all these new things about me.”
My teacher is finding ways to utilize my energy from that metal vocal style and putting it into opera.
Being new to NAU and new to performance education, she has appreciated encouragement from her music school peers. “Opera is really hard,” she said. “There’s so much technique that I am still learning, but yeah, it’s great being alongside my peers. They’re so encouraging.”
She also feels fortunate that she has been able to share her music and heritage with her classmates.
“Starting my semester with my world music class and being able to collaborate on topics that involved Native American people, I helped the class with their education,” she said, “not by reading a book and being interpreted by someone non-native, I was there to help them understand.”
For Sage, coming to NAU meant not only a culture shift but also a two-hour commute from her home near Monument Valley. Her mentor and advisor, Deborah Raymond, School of Music Associate Professor, who is retiring, provided guidance and a place to stay so Sage wouldn’t have to commute the long distances. “She’s been so patient with me,” Sage said. “She’s the one who decided to take me under her wing and teach me everything that I would need to know about opera and to get me ready to take on next semester with the new voice instructor.”
Sage also found other support resources during her first semester at NAU. The Native American Cultural Center helped her transition from the quieter Navajo Nation to the NAU campus. The Transfer and Online Connections lounge provided Sage a place to study and lockers for books so she didn’t have to carry books back and forth to her car in the commuter parking lot.
Sage is now negotiating being an online voice student during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had moved into campus apartments for her second semester but moved back home when courses moved online. Her voice lessons use online apps, and she uses recorded tracks for piano music. “We’re getting through it,” she said. “We’re finding better quality sounds for the videos, and we still get to see each other—kind of—through video.”
For her, the extra effort she has put into her education is worth it. Sage wants to continue performing, of course. But she aspires to be a music educator and provide music therapy. “I plan to come back to the Reservation and teach here because that’s something that wasn’t available to me as I was growing up,” Sage said. “I want to be able to give other youth that experience because music is just a great outlet.”