Photographs from the 2014 Wilderness Act Performance Series at the Outdoor Activity Center in Atlanta, GA. Proximity to Nature by Shawn Taylor and Proximity Viz, LLC. Left to right, middle: Stephen Wood, composer/director; Marti Keller, poet. Bottom: Tim Crump, saxophone; Jessica Sherer, flute; Nick Johns, piano/Corey Denham, percussion; Eric Fontaine, saxophone.
Stephen Wood is an Atlanta-based composer, performer, and naturalist who creates classical and jazz music in conversation with wilderness advocacy and environmental education.
Stephen Wood in Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area.
I asked Stephen, who is a member of the Landscape Music Composers Network, to share some of the ideas and experiences behind his innovative concerts and educational programs, in particular, and to elucidate his vision of how music acts as a catalyst for reconnecting us to our environment.
Stephen writes: “My current work as a composer, educator, and environmentalist is concerned with advocating for our National Preservation System and awakening our human connection to Earth. I do this first by composing music in different genres inspired by these natural themes. Additionally, I participate in and create Artist Residencies for our National Wilderness Preservation System, producing site-specific concerts and “Art Hikes” celebrating human connections to Nature, and presenting my educational workshop “Inspiring Stewardship” in music and science classes.” Continue reading →
Editor’s Note: Justin Ralls, guest author and Landscape Music Composers Network member, writes his first essay for Landscape Music.
Last summer while I was hiking in Kings Canyon National Park, I had much on my mind. Walking the trail—admiring the craggy, breathtaking views of granite and pine, listening and following the rush of cold streams and the calls, near and far, of birds, squirrels, and nameless others—there is much to inspire the composer. As a musician, sound is at the forefront of my awareness. But what about the immensity and awe—even terror—one may feel in these intimidating, yet intimate landscapes? Potential metaphors and meanings hide behind every cloud and tree, gust of wind, or mysterious chirp. Of course, it is up to us as composers to relate these experiences in our musical statements and aspirations. This can be a daunting task as we parse out the myriad cultural contexts and perspectives each of us brings to every piece of music and every excursion in the mountains. Informing ourselves about how other cultures draw upon the landscape in their music gives us new perspectives and helps us to clear the air of our usual conceptions. In this essay, I invite you on an adventure to another culture and another landscape.
The musical culture of the central Asian steppe possesses an embodied connection to landscape. Here, every musical utterance is imbued with place: whether it is the metaphorical feelings of place, the contour of mountains and valleys, or the subtleties and nuances of timbre and sound in the environment itself. Theodore Levin’s Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond explores how a sustained, nomadic herder lifestyle creates mutually supportive, cultural links to the natural world. Tuva is a Russian republic in southern Siberia, nestled within the northwest border of Mongolia. Tuva is famous for its biodiverse landscapes of grassland steppes, deserts, and tall mountains, where traditionally nomadic tribes have lived for centuries. Levin describes “a sonic journey through a landscape and soundscape whose inhabitants preserve what is arguably one of the world’s oldest forms of music-making.”1Levin, T., & Süzükei, Valentina. (2006). Where rivers and mountains sing: Sound, music, and nomadism in Tuva and beyond. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pg. 3Continue reading →
I recently read Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Frazier Nash‘s influential landmark survey of the intellectual history of wilderness in the U.S. In the Epilogue of the fourth edition, Nash muses on possible futures for wilderness and explains why the attitudes and rationales that led to the preservation of wilderness in the past may not hold up going forward.
“Ecocentric” arguments for wilderness preservation, which are rooted in ethics—rather than aesthetics, politics, or economics—are becoming increasingly important. Such a shift in conversation necessitates an intellectual and moral transformation of attitudes about nature. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and Nash’s ideas have stimulated me to further contemplate how music might support the ecocentric perspective. Continue reading →