Virgin Islander Alton Adams Sr. believed that music was a catalyst for social change, and today his legacy continues with a new Navy Band composition award.
The Alton Adams Sr. Award for Emerging Composers was announced in November.
“It makes sense that we combine the Navy’s diversity efforts with our desire to have a songwriting contest,” said Oboist First Class Joshua Arvizu, who designed the award and now leads the program for the award. “The next logical step was to name him after Alton Adams.”
Adams, born in 1889 in the Virgin Islands, was the first black bandleader in the US Navy and led an all-black Navy band during a time of racial segregation.
Adams played flute and piccolo and composed songs such as “The Governor’s Own” and “The Virgin Islands March”.
In 1924 Adams toured the country with his band and won the esteem of fellow bandleaders, but his nomination for membership in the American Bandmasters Association was denied in 1936.
Almost 70 years later, Adams received this honor posthumously in 2006 and was recognized for his contributions to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Arvizu noted that he contacted the Adams family, who granted him permission to use their name.
Arvizu has been playing oboe with the US Navy Band since 2009, but discovered the instrument by accident when he was 16 years old.
“When I moved to Louisiana, they didn’t have a string program and I was playing the violin,” Arvizu said. “My mother decided that I should play the oboe, because not many people play this instrument, and it worked.”
In addition to the new program honoring Adams, Arvizu runs a competition for high school musicians and said the idea for the Emerging Composers Award came to him about a year ago.
He was further inspired by the Navy’s new guidelines on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Having a team, inclusion is everything,” Arvizu said. “We want everyone on the team to feel important and valued.”
Personally, diversity and inclusion are important to Arvizu.
“I’m a gay Mexican-American, and there aren’t many places I could have made a career out of it. [in music] in such a way, it’s a hard thing to do,” Arvizu said. “I am very grateful that the Navy gave me this opportunity. I feel like I have a vested interest in helping move forward and that’s part of why I wanted to be so involved in this competition,” Arvizu said.
The contest is open to US citizens between the ages of 18 and 39. Original compositions will be accepted until August 1st.
The musical work may reflect the life of Adams or a core value of the United States Navy; honor, courage and commitment.
Arvizu notes that all submissions will be judged anonymously, which is typical of auditions to join the US Navy Band.
“Even when we do auditions, we have a screen,” Arvizu said. “There should be no doubt that it’s based on something other than the way they play. We want the best possible musicians, so that also translates into the competition.
The winning composition will be premiered by the US Navy Band and the composer will receive a professionally produced recording.
Providing a platform for an emerging composer is an invaluable experience, Arvizu noted.
“It’s a fantastic thing, to have a recording of your track, and a performance of your track by the US Navy Band is quite an honor,” Arvizu said.
Last week, Arvizu reported that he had already received two submissions and looked forward to seeing Navy competition continue for years to come.
“It’s something special, and I want it to be big,” Arvizu said. “There is value in the fact that we try to spread the story of the Navy and also of this man, showing that we appreciate everyone.”