Drawing Inspiration from Nature in a Time of Ecological Collapse

Image: “Wildfire” by Annie Bissett. Courtesy of the artist. More information.

Editor’s Note: Landscape Music composer Ryan Suleiman contributes his first essay to LandscapeMusic.org.

This Saturday I’m looking forward to hearing the premiere of my new orchestra piece, Burning, commissioned by Pete Nowlen and the Symphony d’Oro in Rancho Cordova (Sacramento). The collaboration has been such a joy for me. The concert is billed as a celebration of the Earth, programmed alongside Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6 (one of my favorites) and James DeMars’ Lake That Speaks, two other works that engage with nature. The concert is also fundraising event for Whisker Warriors, a nonprofit that helps animals displaced by fires.

What does it mean for our art when the natural balance of the environment is in a state of crisis?

Beethoven, like many creative people, was deeply inspired by the natural world, talking walks through nature and retreating to the countryside to escape city life, recharge himself, get ideas. Scientific research has shown, as most artists have long known intuitively, that doing this is essential for one’s health and creativity. To state the obvious, there is so much fantastic music and art that is inspired by the wonder and beauty of nature. The clearest aspect of the beauty one finds in nature could be said to be the surface level. During a sunset, the sky is filled with vibrant colors. Mountains and trees in a forest create a striking form.

But of course, it is not just color and form that inspires us. It is the awe one feels looking at something so momentous as a mountain or an ocean and knowing that it has been here for millions and millions of years. It is knowing that it is part of a delicate balance and complex and dynamic web of life and death. Something bigger than oneself. It is also knowing that, as old as the mountains and the valleys are, they were literally completely different at one time, since they’re always changing. Or knowing that as seemingly timeless as the formations of California’s Central Valley are, they used to be an inland sea. It is the fact that nature provides nourishment and healing for us, but also can destroy us – it doesn’t care about us. It is the sublime. The reason we find inspiration in nature is because it contains both surface level beauty and these much deeper meanings because of our physical and spiritual connection with it. Continue reading

Landscape Music is a network of musical artists. Our mission is to deepen public appreciation of the natural world by providing a platform for contemporary composers and performers whose music engages with landscape, nature, and place. Learn more.

Photograph of coastal cliffs with ocean and bay

Projects

Olmsted 200 Celebrating Parks for All PeopleLungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music
A concert series of new chamber music celebrating public parks and commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted. In a cross-regional collaboration amongst a consortium of ensembles and presenters, concerts will take place in several cities across the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest U.S. throughout 2022. Learn more.

EarthEarth Year
The composers of Landscape Music commemorated Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary with activities taking place throughout the year 2020 and up to Earth Day 2021. This initiative was a catalyst for new works, digital performances, public conversations, and music videos showcasing new music that reflects environmental themes at the forefront of our global consciousness. Learn more.

National Trails 50th Anniversary LogoLandscape Music:
Rivers & Trails

A nationwide series of concerts in Fall 2018 that commemorated the 50th​ Anniversaries of the National Trails System and Wild and Scenic Rivers Acts. 12 new works of chamber music were given World Premieres on concerts engaging 35 musicians in five different regions across the U.S. Learn more.

Past Projects