Music is like a best friend for New Mexico Tech student Joelle Chee-Arviso.
“I always turn to it when I’m confused or stressed out,” Chee-Arviso said. “It’s always been there for me. It’s helped me travel the world. It’s something I can depend on.”
Music is also helping Chee-Arviso make a little history. In just a few short weeks, she’ll become the first New Mexico Tech student to graduate with a minor in music.
“It’s an honor,” Chee-Arviso said. “I’m excited to pave the way for future students. I’m excited for Tech to be offering this. Science and engineering has always been part of my background, but music has always been there too, for me.”
It was for that reason Chee-Arviso was forced to make a choice between majoring in music at the University of New Mexico or majoring in engineering at Tech.
“I was actually in contact with a professor at UNM to study music,” Chee-Arviso said. “And I decided I wanted to do engineering. It was really tough at the time, because I know UNM really has good music programs.”
Chee-Arviso didn’t know she had a music option when she decided to enroll at Tech.
“When I found out they had a community orchestra, I knew I’d be okay,” Chee-Arviso said. “I knew I’d be happy here.”
New Mexico Tech Music Director Gaby Vocello Benalil said she knew Chee-Arviso was a high caliber music student because she was All-State in high school.
“She came here with very good technique,” Benalil said. “She has the desire to play and to sing. She does a lot of things to help here. She works hard to improve her musical skills.”
Chee-Arviso said she was drawn to New Mexico Tech because she thought she wanted to be an engineer.
“I wanted to do engineering,” Chee-Arviso said. “And they had an explosives program that was the hot thing to do. They showed us a video of it. And I thought that’s what I wanted to do.”
Chee-Arviso has since shifted gears. She will be graduating with a biology degree.
“I want to work in marine ecology,” Chee-Arviso said. “I always wanted to be a marine biologist when I was younger. I’m looking forward to working with marine animals.”
Chee-Arviso admits balancing her biology studies with her music has been somewhat of a challenge.
“Class-wise and time-wise it is,” Chee-Arviso said. “But I guess studying and learning, I incorporate music into my learning.”
Music has been a part of her life since about the age of 12. That’s when Chee-Arviso started learning to play the viola.
“I always remember from a young age, music classes were always my favorite,” Chee-Arviso said. “The Farmington school district always had a really good music program. I know for a while they thought about getting rid of it. I was part of the group that helped fight to keep it.”
“I’ve actually played the violin for about two years now,” Chee-Arviso said. “And I sing. I’ve only been performing singing for maybe two years now. I always knew I could sing, but I was hesitant because I know how to play the viola really well, and I know how to play the violin pretty well. But singing is, I don’t know, it’s a different type of instrument to me. It’s a different form of confidence you need to have within yourself. I’m still trying to work on that confidence.”
Chee-Arviso has been part of the opera New Mexico Tech and part of the choir. She also participated in chamber music and chamber orchestra, Benalil said. Benalil said Chee-Arviso has also helped with the outreach program with local children.
“She talked about playing the viola with the kids,” Benalil said.
When it comes to playing the viola and the violin, Chee-Arviso likes playing music from movie soundtracks.
“I have a lot of pieces from my favorite movies that I like to play,” Chee-Arviso said. “Some of my favorite pieces are from Schindler’s List and John Williams is one of my favorite composers. If I can get my hands on anything that he’s done, that’s what I like to play.”
Chee-Arviso said she finds the music department at Tech a comforting, welcoming place “I could call home away from home.”
“The professors and fellow musicians are so kind and helpful,” Chee-Arviso said. “The outreach programs and concerts have helped this department grow, and I hope it continues to do so.”
Chee-Arviso is not the only trailblazer in her family when it comes to attending New Mexico Tech.
Her mother was the first Native American to earn a mining engineering degree from Tech, Chee-Arviso said in her biography.
It is a Diné heritage she is proud of.
“I try to teach as many people about my culture and about my people as I can,” Chee-Arviso said.
It’s a heritage that has helped her travel the globe as an athlete and as a musician.
“I went to Farmington High School and had to opportunity to compete representing the United States of America and the Diné Nation,” Chee-Arviso said. “The first opportunity was as a swimmer for Team New Mexico in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Denver, Colorado. I competed with other Indigenous peoples from all over the US and Canada. The next opportunity was as a People to People Ambassador in Austria to compete again in swimming with other students from countries across the world in a pseudo-Olympics format. I was then nominated again to compete as part of Team Colorado, since New Mexico didn’t have a team that year, in the North American Indigenous Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.”
The summer after Chee-Arviso graduated high school, she was nominated to be a music ambassador for New Mexico.
“We were part of the orchestra and choir that performed in seven different countries in Europe over the course of two weeks,” Chee-Arviso said. “This past summer I was fortunate enough to apply and be accepted into the School for Field Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We studied the ecology and ecosystems around South Caicos for nine weeks, and I had an amazing time. We were able to interact with the locals of the island and see how they live their day-to-day lives. All of these experiences helped me gain a greater perspective on life, see how other cultures interact and learn more about people in other parts of the world.”
Chee-Arviso said she hopes to continue playing music after she begins her career in marine ecology.
“I hope to continue playing with either small community groups or an orchestra,” Chee-Arviso said. “If not, I’ll still play at home.”
Chee-Arviso will be performing in a recital on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the recital hall in the Jean Macey Annex Building at New Mexico Tech.