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

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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

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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.

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What’s New? Summer 2016

Cadillac Moon Ensemble performs the World Premiere of "Refuge" by Nell Shaw Cohen, with video projection of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

Cadillac Moon Ensemble performs Refuge by Nell Shaw Cohen, with video projection of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, at the Parrish Art Museum.

With the Fall Equinox fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to get caught up on everything that’s been happening here at Landscape Music over the summer: a collaborative concert production, new Composers Network members, and new articles!


Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum

Last Friday, September 9, our concert with Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum on the East End of Long Island received a great audience turnout and response. The program, which celebrated the 2016 National Park Service centennial, featured two World Premieres of works written for Cadillac Moon Ensemble and four works for solo instruments. All of the music was composed by members of Landscape Music Composers Network—Nell Shaw Cohen, Stephen Lias, Justin Ralls, Alex Shapiro, and Stephen Wood—four of whom were in attendance.

Stay tuned for videos from this special event, including a conversation with the composers and clips from the concert itself.

A group discussion with the composers at the Parrish Art Museum. Left to right: Stephen Lias, Stephen Wood, Justin Ralls, and Nell Shaw Cohen.

A conversation with the composers at the Parrish Art Museum. Left to right: Stephen Lias, Stephen Wood, Justin Ralls, and Nell Shaw Cohen.


Libby Meyer and Oliver Caplan Join Composers Network

Two exciting composers have joined the Landscape Music Composers Network!

Libby MeyerLibby Meyer‘s music is fueled by her interest in natural soundscapes, conservation of special places, and curiosity about the relationship between the arts and the natural world. A composer, fiddler, co-founder of the Keweenaw Soundscape Project, and former Artist in Residence at Isle Royale National Park, Libby hails from Houghton, MI.

Oliver Caplan
Boston-area composer Oliver Caplan creates music in which the geographies of people, places and ideas intertwine to become tales of transformation. Oliver’s inspirations have included Jane Goodall, Frederick Law Olmsted, and the landscapes of New England.


Recent Articles on Landscape Music

Stories of Wildlife Conservation in “Refuge” by Nell Shaw Cohen — What do the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, Mission blue butterfly, and American bison have in common? The National Park Service! Nell explores how each of these species’ conservation stories connect to the NPS in Refuge, her piece for Cadillac Moon Ensemble.

Exploring “Of Wolves and Rivers” by Justin Ralls – The wolves of Yellowstone National Park are a powerful symbol of wilderness and demonstrate how one species can alter an entire ecosystem. Through his piece for Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Of Wolves and Rivers, Justin references and sanctifies the relationships between wolves and rivers and between humans and their environment.

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Exploring “Of Wolves and Rivers” by Justin Ralls

Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note: “Of Wolves and Rivers” by Justin Ralls receives its World Premiere on our upcoming Landscape Music Composers Network concert. In this essay, Justin explores the inspiration behind his piece.

I am honored to be a part of Landscape Music’s upcoming concert with Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons, NY on September 9, 2016, celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service and our common natural heritage. In creating a piece for this very special concert, I looked to Yellowstone for inspiration. Not only was Yellowstone the nation’s first national park, dedicated in 1872, but the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is a living portrait of wilderness: filled with free rivers, rugged mountains, thick forests and wildlife. Yellowstone exemplifies what much of North America, both east and west, was once like only generations ago. Nell Shaw Cohen’s Refuge also draws inspiration from Yellowstone, with a movement exploring a musical narrative of the bison’s once and future home in the American landscape and consciousness.

Along with the bison, the wolf has become an emblem of such primal wilderness. Continue reading

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Stories of Wildlife Conservation in “Refuge” by Nell Shaw Cohen

Bison Bison

Bison in Yellowstone. Photo © 2010 Douglas Bowen. Made available under CC BY 2.0 license. Source.

Refuge (2016) for flute (piccolo), percussion, violin, and cello is a 16 1/2 minute narrative suite following the conservation stories of three wild animals and their habitats. Each of these species offers a different perspective from which to reflect upon the National Park Service’s role in wildlife conservation and the diversity and fragility of life on Earth.

I composed this piece for an upcoming World Premiere by Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons, NY on September 9, 2016, presented by the Landscape Music Composers Network, to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service. Learn more about this exciting concert, which also features a World Premiere by Justin Ralls and four other works by members of the Landscape Music Composers Network.

In the following essay, I explore each of the three species and national parks that serve as the focus of Refuge and relate how I’ve approached telling their stories through music. Continue reading

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Concert Preview: New Music of Our National Parks

Linda Chase performs on the rim, August 2012. Photo by Autumn Chase-Dempsey.

Linda Chase performs on the rim of the Grand Canyon, August 2012. Photo by Autumn Chase-Dempsey.

This Spring, the epic landscapes of Zion, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite will be brought to life in Boston. New Music of Our National Parks is a concert of new chamber music inspired by nature, honoring the national parks in the centennial year of the National Park Service. I’m delighted to be involved with this project, produced by Rachel Panitch in affiliation with the Landscape Music Composers Network.

The concert, which will take place on Friday, April 15, 2016 at 8:00pm on the monthly Advent Library Concert Series at The Church of the Advent in the heart of historic Beacon Hill, Boston (suggested donation is $10), brings together works by three members of the Composers Network—Rachel, Linda Chase, and myself—and features performances by Cardamom Quartet, vocalist Burcu Gulec, flutist Alicia Mielke, guitarist Devin Ulibarri, and the vibraphone/violins trio Thread Ensemble.

I’ve previously posted a brief announcement and a press release about the event. Below, I dig a bit deeper into the works featured on the program and explore how each of the composers drew inspiration from national parks. Continue reading

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This April in Boston, Landscape Music Composers Pay Tribute to National Parks

The Watchman, Zion National Park - Flickr - Joe Parks

New Music of Our National Parks
Presented in affiliation with the Landscape Music Composers Network

April 15, 2016, 8:00pm
Advent Library Concert Series
The Church of the Advent
30 Brimmer St (corner of Brimmer and Mount Vernon)
Boston, MA 02108
$10 suggested donation

Rachel Panitch has joined forces with Linda Chase and myself to present the first-ever concert of music by members of the Landscape Music Composers Network!

New Music of Our National Parks will feature new chamber music inspired by National Parks. Several of these works emerged from Rachel’s residency at Zion National Park, which she discussed with me at length in an interview for Landscape Music, as well as Linda’s residency at Grand Canyon. My own piece, Dai-Shizen (Great Nature), is a reflection on the Yosemite-inspired artworks of Chiura Obata and how he carried this inspiration with him to the internment camp where he was imprisoned during World War II.

The program will be performed by Boston-based string quartet, Cardamom Quartet, vibraphone and violins trio Thread Ensemble, vocalist Burcu Gulec, and the flute and guitar duo of Alicia Mielke and Devin Ulibarri, and presented as part of the monthly Advent Library Concert Series in the heart of historic Beacon Hill, Boston.

Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of this event on this website, including explorations of the pieces featured on this exciting program. Read the full press release.

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Composing Landscape Music

Editor’s Note: Christina Rusnak, guest author and Landscape Music Composers Network member, graces us with the second essay of her two-part series written for Landscape Music. Read the first essay here.

Tears welled up in the US Forest Ranger’s eyes when an audience member responded, “Hearing this piece [The Life of Ashes] has changed how I will experience the Wilderness going forward.” That moment is one of the highlights of my compositional life. Part of a competitively curated month-long exhibit for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the exhibit was originally limited to visual artists—but after hearing music I composed for our natural landscapes, the ranger procured the funding for the performance.1See Columbia Arts Center http://www.columbiaarts.org/more-arts/2014/8/rusnak- performance.html and Oregon Live http://www.oregonlive.com/performance/index.ssf/2014/08/a_musical_tribute_to_mt_adams.html

the individual landscape, the breadth of its scope, and the specificity of its details actually morph the approach and process I take in composing about one place or another.

So how do composers endeavor to express the essence of the grandeur and the minutia…of our natural and wild places2Rusnak, Christina, “Landscape as Advocacy.” http://landscapemusic.org/essays/landscape-music-as-advocacy/ Those of us who are inspired to create music about landscape feel a strong connection to the natural world that we’re writing about. While one may infer that we all begin with the same palette of musical choices, as an artist I bring my unique experiences, values and perspectives to the work. Thus, the individual landscape, the breadth of its scope, and the specificity of its details actually morph the approach and process I take in composing about one place or another. What are some common threads when I compose pieces for our national parks and wilderness areas?

Mount Adams Wilderness 2014. Photo by Christina Rusnak.

Continue reading

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References   [ + ]

Landscape Music as Advocacy

Editor’s Note: I’m delighted to present the first of a two-part series of essays penned for Landscape Music by guest author, composer Christina Rusnak.

Composing in Denali

Photo courtesy of Stephen Lias, 2012.

If you research “Music” and “Advocacy” together, invariably your search will bring up articles, scholarly and otherwise, about Music Education Advocacy: why to, if to, when to, and how to advocate for music in the schools. Add to the search “Landscape”, and up pops essays on ethnomusicology. While I certainly agree that landscape shapes culture, I contend that our environment—the physical landscape—undoubtedly has influenced musical creation for eons.

“Sound is one of the original elements of the Earth’s ecosystem.” Like us, sound and music require air. “Music breathes; giving it breath and beauty is what we call music making.”1Kennedy, John. “On the Nature of Music”, New Music Box, January 1, 2004. http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/On-the-Nature-of-Music/ Music is what composers create to reflect our human experience.

Music is, has been, and always will be transitory! Whether we are hiking, biking, riding a horse or driving, the nature of experiencing the landscape is also transitory.

Research is mounting that getting outside and experiencing nature is essential for our health.2Metger, Chloe. Scientific Reasons Getting Outside is Good for You http://news.health.com/2014/09/29/health-benefits-of-nature/ I myself am a product of the transformative power of wilderness. A field botany class in college, during which we hiked over 60 miles in Big Bend National Park, literally changed my life.

There are those who consider composing new music about place, whether urban or wilderness, problematic—“primarily because of its transitory nature.”3Siepmann, Daniel. “Who is Creative Placemaking? New Music, Integrity and Community”, New Music Box, July, 9, 2014. http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/who-is-creative-placemaking-new-music-integrity-and-community/ Really? Music is, has been and always will be transitory! Whether we are hiking, biking, riding a horse or driving, the nature of experiencing the landscape is also transitory. Continue reading

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References   [ + ]

1. Kennedy, John. “On the Nature of Music”, New Music Box, January 1, 2004. http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/On-the-Nature-of-Music/
2. Metger, Chloe. Scientific Reasons Getting Outside is Good for You http://news.health.com/2014/09/29/health-benefits-of-nature/
3. Siepmann, Daniel. “Who is Creative Placemaking? New Music, Integrity and Community”, New Music Box, July, 9, 2014. http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/who-is-creative-placemaking-new-music-integrity-and-community/