Retracing the Anza Trail

Mission San Antonio de Padua, Jolon, CA

Mission San Antonio de Padua, Jolon, CA. Photo © 2018 Nell Shaw Cohen. See more photos.

My composition Retrace for flute, violin, and cello commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act of 1968, and was composed in response to the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. It will receive four co-World Premiere performances during Fall 2018 in locations around the country—presented by Citywater and the Visions of the Wild Festival (9/23, Vallejo, CA), Michigan Technological University (10/4, Houghton, MI), Cascadia Composers (10/7, Portland, OR), and Juventas New Music Ensemble (11/3, Boston, MA), respectively—as part of Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails, a nationwide initiative I am directing for the Landscape Music Composers Network.

The Anza Trail stretches 1,200 miles, weaving through desert and city from Nogales, Arizona to San Francisco, California. It follows the path of the Anza Expedition of 1775-76, which traveled indigenous routes from modern-day Mexico through Arizona and California to settle the San Francisco Bay Area for Spain. A narrative mapped onto the land rather than a “trail” in the usual sense, the Anza Trail is an ongoing project of cultural and historical preservation through outreach, education, and recreation. Continue reading

Colors, Contrasts, and the Spaces Inbetween


Video: “Snow Caps” from High Desert Panoramas by Brent Lawrence

Editor’s Note: Composer Brent Lawrence writes his first essay for LandscapeMusic.org about finding inspiration in the high desert of eastern Oregon.

Although I live in Oregon now, I am not from Oregon. My blood runs from the cool mountain streams of Appalachia, where crystalline brook-babbles froth over the stones of mountains older than I can comprehend. It is in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia, and the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont, where I made my old friends. The ragged, old, and wise mountains that cradled me in my, even more youthful, youth. It is no surprise then that I was taken (and still am) by the grandeur of the Cascades as my Red Mazda whisked through the mountain highways flanked by peaks adorned with snow. For many, and to me, the forest is a magical place, especially here in Oregon. Where one can lose themselves in the clear pools of mountain brooks, the silence perpetuated by unspeaking firs, or the occasional whisper of the wind. But to me, many of Oregon’s mysteries lie in the east. Continue reading

Announcing Fall 2018 Concert Series

Landscape Music Composers Network logoWild and Scenic Rivers 50th Anniversary LogoNational Trails 50th Anniversary Logo

Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails is a nationwide series of concerts in Fall 2018 commemorating the 50th​ Anniversaries of the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Coordinated by the Landscape Music Composers Network, and presented in collaboration with organizations, venues, and performers across the country, this initiative highlights and celebrates the significance of our national trails and rivers through the creation and presentation of new music. Landscape Music: Rivers & Trail concerts will feature World Premieres of works for small chamber ensembles, created in direct response to the remarkable places protected under these two landmark acts.

Concerts will be presented in Vallejo, CA (9/23); Atlanta, GA (9/29); Houghton, MI (10/4); Portland, OR (10/7); and Boston, MA (11/3). These events are being coordinated by members of the Landscape Music Composers Network, and presented, performed, and promoted in partnership with: U.S. Forest ServiceVisions of the WildNational Park ServiceSierra ClubJuventas New Music Ensemble, Michigan Technological University, Cascadia Composers (NACUSA), Atlanta Contemporary EnsembleCitywater, and Sustain Music and Nature.

The Landscape Music Composers Network is a group whose music engages with landscape, nature, and place. Including artists both established and emerging, writing in diverse styles, this network is a platform for collaborative projects aiming to increase appreciation and awareness of the natural world through music.

The Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails initiative has mobilized the network’s composers to compose eleven new works in response to our Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Scenic, Historic, and Recreation Trails for World Premiere on this concert series. Five rivers (Sudbury River, Klamath River, Owyhee River, American River, and Chattooga River) and six trails (Juan Bautista de Anza Trail, New England Trail, North Country Trail, Carson Trail, Oregon Trail, and Florida Trail) will be highlighted. Two of the concerts will also feature pieces by guest composers, chosen by Juventas New Music Ensemble and Cascadia Composers through competitive Calls for Scores. Highlighting a diversity of compositional voices and inspirations from nature, each event offers a different selection of works.

To learn more about the concerts, composers, and works being featured, visit the Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails page.

Call for Scores: Juventas New Music Ensemble Presents Landscape Music

Juventas New Music Ensemble logo
Juventas New Music Ensemble seeks chamber music and art songs inspired by American Landscapes.

DEADLINE: APRIL 3, 2018
Application Fee: $10
Learn More & Apply!

The selected works will be performed by Juventas New Music Ensemble at their Fall 2018 concert, Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails, a partnership with the Landscape Music Composers Network. The program will commemorate the 50th​ Anniversaries of the National Trails System and the Wild and Scenic Rivers acts.

One or more composers may also be invited to join the Landscape Music Composers Network: a group of composers and musicians from across the United States whose music engages with landscape, nature, and place. Membership includes a featured profile at http://landscapemusic.org/composers-network, opportunities to participate in the group’s collaborative projects, and consideration for programming on future concerts. Continue reading

Fall 2018 Concert Series – Call for Partners

Landscape Music Composers Network is excited to announce that we’re seeking partners for Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails, a nationwide series of concerts in Fall 2018 commemorating the 50th​ Anniversaries of the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Organized by the Landscape Music Composers Network, and presented in collaboration with venues and performers across the country, these concerts will highlight and celebrate the significance of our national trails and rivers through musical expression. Continue reading

Landscape Music Concert at Michigan Tech on December 10, 2017

This Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 3:00pm, Michigan Technology University in Houghton, MI, in affiliation with the Landscape Music Composers Network, presents a concert of new music inspired by national parks and other remarkable landscapes.

This concert, curated by Libby Meyer, features music composed by Libby and several other members of the Landscape Music Composers Network: Nell Shaw Cohen (World Premiere), Stephen Lias, Christina Rusnak, and Stephen Wood, alongside works by Jesse Budel and Corinna Hogan.

Continue reading to explore each of the featured works by Landscape Music composers, then check out MTU’s event listing for venue details or tune into the livestream to listen online! (The livestream is available Sunday, December 10 at 2:30pm EST; concert starts at 3:00pm.) Continue reading

Evoking Aldo Leopold’s Wildlife Ecology through Music and Poetry

Mi Casita with boulders

“Mi Casita,” Aldo and Estella Leopold’s home in Tres Piedras, NM, now the site of the Leopold Residency Program. Photo courtesy of Andrea Clearfield.

Conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is considered the father of wildlife ecology. Leopold underwent a transformation in his perspective on wildlife through a life spent in engagement with the natural world. Leopold writes of one such pivotal moment in essay “Thinking Like a Mountain,” in which he and his friends shot at a mother wolf and her pups:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Leopold would come to understand wolves’ crucial role in the health of ecosystems, which was proven by the successful reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park decades after Leopold’s time. (Justin Ralls explored this topic in an essay and composition for Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Of Wolves and Rivers, for Landscape Music’s National Parks centennial concert last year.)

Andrea Clearfield, left, and Ariana Kramer, right. Photo courtesy of Andrea Clearfield.

Leopold’s legacy lives on through the Aldo and Estella Leopold Residency Program: a monthlong retreat at the Leopolds’ first home in northern New Mexico, owned by Carson National Forest and hosted by the Leopold Writing Program. This past August, the residency program—usually reserved for environmental writers—hosted an unusual project: Transformed by Fire, a collaboration between renowned Philadelphia-based composer Andrea Clearfield and poet and freelance writer Ariana Kramer from Taos, NM. Their song cycle for baritone and chorus takes Leopold’s writings as a jumping-off point for a musical and poetic exploration of wolves and their role in our ecosystems.

Last June, prior to their residency and the subsequent concert performance of their work-in-progress, I sat down with Andrea and Ariana in Taos to discuss the origins and goals of Transformed by Fire. The following excerpts from this interview offer a snapshot of the formative, early stages of their collaboration—a glimpse into their creative process. Continue reading

Commissioning Landscape Music

Cellist Marilyn DeOliveira performs Christina Rusnak’s Glacier Blue. Photo courtesy Jacob Wade and Third Angle New Music.

Editor’s Note: Composer Christina Rusnak, a member of the Landscape Music Composers Network, writes her third illuminating essay for Landscape Music.

Christina Rusnak

Christina Rusnak

While composing a recent commission for the new music ensemble Third Angle, I began to consider how the requirements and aesthetics of the commissioning organization impact the creation of landscape music. In a pre-concert talk I attended a few years ago, Steven Stucky pointed out that frames are a good thing; otherwise, our choices would be limitless. For most of my years as an emerging composer, however, I worked without frames—except for the contexts of landscapes themselves. As I hiked, researched, and experienced the various facets of a particular place, the scaffolding of a piece would emerge. Continue reading

Listening to Tell the Tale (With Wilderness Comes Wonder)

Shipwreck at Pictured Rocks

Shipwreck at Pictured Rocks. Photo: Steve Brimm Photography.

Editor’s Note: Composer Libby Meyer, a member of the Landscape Music Composers Network, writes her first essay for Landscape Music about her NEA-funded project “Listening to Parks.”

Apostle Islands Rain in a Pressure Cooker. Recording by Libby Meyer.

I found myself in a tent during a thunderstorm on Ironwood Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on a Thursday evening in August eating rice and beans with my husband and recording the sound of rain falling into my pressure cooker with a hydrophone. That evening, we would later find out, a young man had drowned in 8-foot waves off of Stockton Island about ten miles east of our campsite. We had listened to the rescue attempt on our marine radio: helicopters in the background and reports of sightings. We learned from a ranger, who had come to clean the outhouse on Otter Island where we camped the next day, that his body had been found. While we were listening to rain and enjoying our dinner, safe and warm in our tent, someone was losing his life. Vulnerability is relative.

* * *

“We have work to do.”

Four months earlier, a late night text from my colleague and sound designer, Chris Plummer, announced that we—along with designer Kent Cyr—were awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the National Park Service Program Imagine Your Parks. My initial reaction was one of elation. This was quickly followed by something closer to panic: “Now we really have to do this.”

For our project, entitled “Listening to Parks,” we are recording soundscapes at Isle Royale National Park, The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP). I will be composing a piece based on these recordings and my impressions of the Parks to be premiered by the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra in December 2017. Our team will design a multi-media sound installation utilizing collected images, music, video, and audio recordings, which will tour to locations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. We will work with with K-12 students and teachers in our region, utilizing our project to promote enjoyment, stewardship, and lifelong learning through the National Parks. In addition to our funding from the NEA, we were subsequently awarded funding from the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation to include another two national parks on Lake Superior: Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore and Grand Portage National Monument. Continue reading

A Conversation with Landscape Music Composers

Nell Shaw Cohen, composer and Director of the Landscape Music Composers Network, was joined earlier this month by fellow Landscape Music composers Justin Ralls, Stephen Wood, and Stephen Lias for a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation about bringing inspirations from nature into music. It was filmed on the occasion of Landscape Music’s National Park Service centennial concert with Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum, and includes a discussion of the works on that program with clips from the performance.