Donations help ASU Music Dept. dance to a different drum


Renowned percussionist Valerie Naranjo (left) helps Adams State music student Isaiah Pierce adapt to the West African gyil, which she recently donated to the ASU Music Department.

Internationally renowned percussionist Valerie Naranjo has not forgotten her Alamosa roots. On visits home, she shares her passion for music and percussion with Adams State students and performs as a guest artist. She recently donated a West African gyil to the ASU Music Department. In addition, the department will benefit from an  anonymous donor's creation of the Valerie D. Naranjo Endowment. It will fund performances and workshops by professional musicians, instrument purchase, and other department needs, with a preference given to percussion.

Dr. James Doyle, Adams State assistant professor of music, said, "We have been incredibly fortunate to have such a beautiful relationship with Valerie Naranjo. Not only is she a world-renowned percussionist, but a wonderful educator and mentor to my students and me. She's been incredibly generous with her time and always inspiring."

A percussionist for NBC's Saturday Night Live Band, Naranjo's has recorded and performed with Broadway's The Lion King, The Philip Glass Ensemble, David Byrne, The Paul Winter Consort, Tori Amos, Airto Moreira, and the international percussion ensemble, MEGADRUMS, which includes Milton Cardona, Zakir Hussein, and Glen Velez.

A percussionist, vocalist, composer, and clinician, Naranjo is known for her pioneering efforts in West African keyboard percussion music. In 1996, she and kuor player Barry Olsen became the only non-West Africans ever to win a first place award for their playing of the gyil's traditional repertoire in Ghana's Kobine Festival of Traditional Music.

In a recent interview with Allegro Magazine, Narnajo explained the gyil is the grandparent of the modern-day marimba. "It, like the marimba, is a series of wooden bars that is suspended over a frame from which are hung resonators. The gyil is tuned by hand with bars suspended over a frame that sits very close to the ground."

According to Naranjo's website,, the gyil is the national instrument of the Lobi and Dagara people of Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. People throughout West Africa believe its "woody" sound results when percussion vibrates the water in the resonators, which physically balances the water in the bodies of humans and animals. The gyil tradition has set the tone for the "melody-improv-melody" form common in jazz.

An Alamosa H.S. graduate, Naranjo moved to New York City after completing studies in vocal and instrumental music education at the University of Oklahoma and percussion performance at Ithaca College. She began playing percussion at an early age. "I wanted to play flute, but my mother, Pauline, suggested that I try the drums. I adore my mother, so I took her suggestion to heart. My parents felt the calling to music to be an honor and supported me all the way," she said.