Create a language people can connect with

Create a language people can connect with

In Conversation with Pulitzer Winner Henry Threadgill and Naga songwriter Senti Toy Threadgill


Morung Express News


A live conversation with Sentienla Toy Threadgill, Naga songwriter and vocalist, and her husband Henry Threadgill, an American Composer, Saxophonist, and Flautist who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music 2016, was held on January 25 at Hotel Japfu, Kohima.


Hosted by Khyochano Ngully, Director, Music Academy Kohima the conversation brought young Naga musicians and artists together to learn and discuss about originality in music, creating art, on the music scene in Nagaland, promoting artists as well as music outside the State.


“It takes a really long time to find your own self or your own voice. You have to create a world, a language that have its own laws and behavior and when people hear it they can connect with it,” said Henry while talking about being an original composer, mentioning further that what a person learns is just an imitation of something and therefore it takes a long time to find one’s originality.


Pointing out that musical notes have behavioral patterns, behaving in certain ways, Threadgill viewed “When you create a literary character, you think you have them under control but you don’t. All of a sudden the character starts doing what it wants to do. Notes behave the same way like literary figures behave. You have to let it go and do what they want to do until it comes back to you.”


What makes a musician an artist?

“You are a musician or an artist. Being a musician does not make you an artist. It can make you a tactician. You serve to people’s musical whims but artists express themselves individually. They don’t necessarily do what someone else wants them to do. There painters that are not artists, writers that are not artists. Artist speaks through their journey of personal expressions and historically what they have done have a major effect on humanity or civilization or society. The work of artists always affects civilizations or societies,” said Threadgill on a question raised by a young musician.


Maintaining that artists have the power to communicate, Threadgill encouraged the gathering to learn the power that can be released through one’s art. The artist, who taught himself the piano when he was three years old, stated that at a very young age, he was curious to know how music was made, and that that curiosity continues.


“You never get to the place where you say, ‘I know’. I want to know everything that I don’t know,” he said. Threadgill also viewed that music is temporary, which a person can only express what is going on in one’s own time and era. He further impressed upon the importance of live music and the need to have the living experience, mentioning that the power of an individual performing can change life.


Stressing on the essence of studying music outside one’s own culture or interest, and the need to travel to explore the music of other cultures, Threadgill viewed that there can be no advancement in a society unless somebody steps up and steps out. To become a part of the international music community was also highlighted.


How do you make Naga music in the world of music circle? Was another question raised to which Senti Toy replied that a lot of networking is required to bring the Naga music to rest of the world and further encouraged the young musicians to get involved in world music festivals.


The fact that not many know about Nagas also makes it more unique, according to Threadgill who urged musicians to find their audience, and produce it to the world. Threadgill also pointed the need to get a support group which can provide scholarships for young musicians to study outside.


Senti Toy Threadgill has a doctoral degree in Ethnomusicology from New York University. In 1993, she was featured on MTV Asia sponsored by Pepsi as one of the top 20 singers of India.


Born in 1944, Henry Threadgill studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago majoring in piano, flute and composition. He was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for music for his album ‘In for a Penny, In for a Pound.’