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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

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Musician Diane Moser says, “Six of my bird song compositions [were] originally created back in 2008 during a 5-week residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.”

The more we lose from nature, the more we’re stunned to discover what we’ve lost. As National Public Radio (NPR) reported recently, “Over the past half-century, North America has lost more than a quarter of its entire bird population, or around 3 billion birds. … Researchers estimate that the population of North American shorebirds alone has fallen by more than a third since 1970.”

Maybe it’s not too late to do something. People are waking up. And artists, as usual, are at the forefront of raising consciousness. In this story, a composer is bringing the music of birds to the attention of concert audiences.

Diane Moser writes at New Music USA, “For the past 11 years, I have been working on incorporating bird songs into my music. When I say ‘my music,’ I am talking about my improvisations, because all of the music I compose starts with improvisation, which I then sculpt into compositions. To me, this is a more ‘natural’ way to go. … Six of my bird song compositions that are currently in my repertoire were originally created back in 2008 during a 5-week residency at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. …

“I was completely seduced by the bird songs around my studio and decided to play around with them for just one afternoon, then get back to work. One afternoon turned into the entire residency; I just had to play with those birds! When would I ever get another chance like this, to have a piano in the middle of the woods, and to play freely? …

“My designated studio was Delta Omicron, and inside was a beautiful Mason and Hamlin grand piano. I had a digital recorder and was able to put the microphone in a small window, covering it with a curtain to have a little separation from the piano, which enabled me to hear the birds clearly through my headphones. In this way I was able to adjust the volume I played on the piano so that the birds and I were balanced. I never saw them, so I was never sure who was singing what.

Every day for five weeks, I improvised with songbirds and any other creatures that made their voices heard, and recorded each session. My goal was to become a member of their band. …

“We had a standing jam session time at around 10 a.m. each morning until lunch. Then they would retreat, and I would do some reading and listen to our recordings. They would come back out to sing with me around 4 p.m. until I left them for a swim in the local pond. …

“The first bird I began improvising with was the American Robin. In fact, the most well known song, Cheerily, Cheerily, seemed to creep into all of my improvisations. I slowed down the song just a bit, and lengthened the motif, and played around with it in Garage Band. …

“Just before sunrise, the first bird I heard singing was the Hermit Thrush. The landscapers at MacDowell referred to the hermit thrush as a deep woods singer, and told me it was the first one singing at the break of day, and first one back into the woods just before sunset. Commonly known as the Nightingale of the Americas, this bird has an amazing set of songs and calls. It’s no wonder that Amy Beach composed two piano pieces based on these songs. …

“The bird I had the most fun with was the chipping sparrow. His dry trill and constant singing at regular intervals of time provided tempo and an ostinato for my improvisations. I used the age old technique of a repetitive note as an imitation of the chipping sparrows dry trill, and that became a “thread” for the composition, tying it together. …

“One of the benefits of being a performer-composer are the ensembles that I lead, and other people’s ensembles that I perform with, where I can arrange the music I compose for any combination of instruments. … Thankfully, the musicians I performed with had a wide range of musical experiences and could untether themselves from the standard go-to licks, as we say in the jazz world.”

More at New Music USA, here. Listen to the birds and the compositions there.

Photo: Dennis Connors
Mark Dresser (bass) and Diane Moser (piano) perform Moser compositions that incorporate birdsong.

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I haven’t shared photos for a while. Some of these are from my last sad visit to New York, others are closer to home.

The first one makes me think of how hopeful I was on September 24th, when I arrived in New York and stayed with my sister’s devoted friend. I learned that my sister was doing better than the day before although she was still in the hospital. She was talking again and saying she wanted to carry on with treatment. We allowed ourselves a flutter of hope.

The bed is a Murphy Bed, made famous in old, silent movies, where someone like Charlie Chaplin might accidentally get closed up in it. This one was comfortable and not at all recalcitrant.

My hosts’ balcony had a glorious view. I sat there and had a cup of tea. I also took an early walk around their neighborhood, which features a statue of the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland (now New York), “Peg Leg” Peter Stuyvesant. I couldn’t help wondering what the descendants of the Lenape natives thought of the statue.

Alas, the next day my sister took a dramatic turn for the worse and died the day after that. Miraculously, our brothers arrived in time from Wisconsin and California.

On days that followed, my sister’s husband, her friend, Suzanne, and I wandered around the city trying to enjoy nature and art and focus on good memories.

Then I took a bus back to Rhode Island, where I had left my car in a hurry. The rooster is in Rhode Island.

The concluding set of photos embraces art and nature back home in Massachusetts, where a long-life sympathy plant from my niece and nephew holds pride of place in the living room.

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Photo: Matthew Perlman
“Pamplona has the running of the bulls; the Upper West Side has the running of the goats,” says New York’s West Side Rag.

I’m in need of a silly story today. The kind of silly that just makes a person feel better about things. This story concerns a nature-friendly initiative to get the grass cut in Riverside Park while entertaining the locals.

The West Side Rag reports, “Twenty-four goats from the Hudson Valley were released into the not-so-wild [recently] and ran from their truck onto a weed-choked hill in Riverside Park that will be their home for the summer.

“There were more than 1,000 people there to greet them.

“It was like the Fresh Air Fund in reverse (maybe the dirty air fund?). The goats immediately started snacking on weeds. …

“Mildred Alpern sent photos and the following account: ‘Cheering and clapping crowds and luminaries were on hand to [welcome] the 24 goats into Riverside Park at Riverside Drive and 120th Street this morning. Riverside Park Conservancy employees guided the goats as they strutted and galloped along the path to the grassy and hilly enclave where they will reside until the end of August. Beribboned and numbered, the goats behaved like New Yorkers – confident, casual, and cool.’ ” More here.

The Riverside Park goats even eat the poison ivy. I wouldn’t mind having friends who do that! You can search this blog on “goats” to find other examples of four-footed weed control. I also posted here about the Basilica of St. Patrick on New York’s Prince Street, which used sheep as lawn mowers last year. If you know of similar examples, do share the details.

Hat tip: Gloria K.

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Photos: The Hu/YouTube
The Mongolian heavy metal band the Hu, which combines traditional instruments with Western sounds, has attracted a following on YouTube. “If lions come, we’ll fight until the end … If elephants come, we’ll fight in a rage … If you come as snakes, we’ll become Garuda birds and fly over you.”

I don’t know the first thing about heavy metal, although I have always supposed it was a rebellion thing, like punk. But as I’m always interested in cultures that are foreign to my own, I was intrigued by a National Public Radio [NPR] story about how a band in Mongolia has adapted heavy metal iconography and sounds for its own purposes.

Katya Cengel wrote, “A band from Mongolia that blends the screaming guitars of heavy metal and traditional Mongolian guttural singing has picked up 7 million views for its two videos.

“Leather jackets, skull rings and bandannas alongside intricately carved Mongolian horsehead fiddles are just some of the images in the first two music videos the Mongolian band The Hu released on YouTube this fall. Excited listeners from around the globe have posted comments like: ‘This makes me want to ride a horse and shoot people with a bow’ and ‘This sounds like ancient mongol rock of 1000 b.c.’ …

“As the Soviet Union crumbled and Western influence flooded in during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mongolian musicians chose to preserve Mongolian culture while also adapting new influences, explains University of Chicago ethnomusicology doctoral student Thalea Stokes. …

” ‘Mongolians are not just taking elements from Western music and just copying and pasting,’ says Stokes. Instead, they’re using some of these elements and making their own authentic music. ‘So it’s not rock music performed by Mongolians. It’s Mongolian rock music,’ she says.

 

“Mongolian rock combines traditional Mongolian instruments … It also involves singing in a guttural way known as throat singing while throwing heads back and forth reminiscent of the headbanging of ’80s heavy metal bands.  …

“The Hu call their style ‘hunnu rock’ — from the Mongolian root word for human being: ‘hu.’ The band spent seven years putting together its first album, which it expects to release this spring. They plan to call it Gereg, the name for a diplomatic passport used during the time of Genghis Khan. [The] idea was to find, study and incorporate as much of Mongolia’s musical culture as they could into a rock style, says the band’s 52-year-old producer and songwriter, B. Dashdondog, who goes by ‘Dashka.’ …

” ‘We wanted to come up with our own thing that we can offer to this big music family. Make something new,’ says Dashka, who spoke through a translator via Skype.

“It is not just their instruments that incorporate traditional elements. In the band’s first song, ‘Yuve Yuve Yu’ (What’s going on?), they mention Genghis Khan and how he was fated to bring nations together. The video begins with images of people inside playing video games, watching television and looking at their phones. A door is opened and the band’s four members step into different natural settings: cliffs, desert, forest and lake. The message they hope to convey through their lyrics and imagery is that people need to pay attention to nature and their history and culture, explains lead singer TS. Galbadrakh, known as ‘Gala,’ 29.”

More at NPR, here.

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I finally got to this year’s Art Ramble in Concord’s Hapgood Wright Town Forest — site-specific creations from the Umbrella artists planted among fallen logs and leaves.

There were quite a few other visitors on the cold, sunny day. One couple shared a laugh about their madly yapping dog, who had been spooked by the recumbent figure of Thoreau in the woods. Another couple discussed with me the best way to avoid a shadow on the chicken-and-egg-sculpture. And a friendly woman who was a United Church of Christ minister and artist herself joined me for half the walk. We helped each other spot pieces that blended in so much with the surroundings that at first, when you saw a descriptive sign but no art, you would think the work had already been removed.

I particularly liked the tiny people — one hermit in contemplation under a root, others peeking out of the bark or cavorting on a dead log.

A man with a top hat and frog face was standing next to the pond — a Slavic water spirit and trickster that I am happy to know about.

My favorite this year was the spirit emerging from the earth at the base of a tree. At first I thought, Caliban, but then looked at his gentle face.

My report on the 2016 Art Ramble is here, and the one on the 2017 Art Ramble is here.

If you live in Massachusetts or are visiting Walden Pond, which is nearby, the Art Ramble is up until Nov. 30 this year. It will make you feel like creating some art yourself — especially with leaves and sticks and mud.

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Photos: Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry
Children on the island of Bangka in Indonesia receive free goggles in a bid by the maritime affairs minister to engage them early in caring for endangered reefs.

It’s never too early to get children interested in nature. And anyone who has contact with young children can help provide experiences that will one day make them want to protect the environment. I’m sure reader Will McM. does that in his Making Music Together classes, and I know my kids and their spouses do that.

Meanwhile across the world, a maritime affairs minister sees hope in her country’s very youngest. Kate Lamb reports for the Guardian, “Indonesia’s maritime affairs minister has come up with an unconventional way to help preserve precious reefs from marine pollution: distribute boatloads of free goggles to children in the archipelago’s remote coastal regions.

“An avid snorkeler who is known for blowing up illegal fishing boats, minister Susi Pudijastuti said she wanted to give the next generation of Indonesians ‘the eyes’ to fully appreciate their marine environment.

“During visits to Indonesia’s remote eastern areas, home to the ‘Coral Triangle’ and some of the most diverse marine life in the world, the minister said she noticed Indonesian children watching tourists snorkelling for hours, not fully understanding what they were doing.

“ ‘I just realised in one moment: how can we ask them, how can we push them to take care of the beauty of the underwater world if they don’t even see how beautiful it is,’ she said, ‘I realised, what we see, they don’t see.’ … Visiting Banggai Laut in Sulawesi, one area where goggles had been distributed, the minister said children were swimming and jumping around, amazed by their reefs. …

“In a country suffering from chronic maritime waste, the minister hopes the initiative will encourage young Indonesians to appreciate their reefs, and in turn inspire them to protect their marine environment. Indonesia is the world’s biggest marine polluter after China, discarding 3.22m metric tons of waste annually. …

“Susi said she was angered when she saw plastic ‘at the beach, on the shore, on the reef, everywhere,’ and took measures to reduce usage in her own ministry. Single-use plastic is banned at Indonesia’s maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, and at all its ministerial events.

“Susi told the Guardian she looked forward to the day when Indonesia could ban single-use plastic altogether.” More at the Guardian, here.

Speaking of single-use plastic, I have recently learned that straws are dangerous to sea turtles and intend to stop using them. But recently at an earthy-crunchy juice bar, plastic straws were all they had. Disappointing. Everyone needs to do their bit.

Indonesian students on the island of Belitung receive free goggles.

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Photo: Bethesda Magazine
New research finds some children are more attentive after experiencing a class taught on the lawn.

As the fourth snow event of March 2018 decorates my yard, I’m finding it hard to visualize academic lessons on a lawn, but I know they do happen.

Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “A carefully designed 10-week study found outdoor lessons ‘boost subsequent classroom engagement, and boost it a great deal,’ writes a research team led by Ming Kuo of the University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign. ‘After a lesson in nature, teachers were able to teach for almost twice as long without having to interrupt instruction to redirect students’ attention.’

“In the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Kuo and her colleagues note that, while many European nations have incorporated classes in nature into children’s education, the idea has not been embraced in the United States. This may reflect ‘concern on the part of teachers that outdoor lessons will leave students keyed up and unable to concentrate,’ they write. Their findings debunk that notion.

“The study featured third-graders (ages nine and 10) at an environment-oriented magnet school in the Midwest. The kids were predominantly African American, and 87 percent qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch.

“Two teachers — one keen on the idea of teaching in nature, the other somewhat skeptical — each ‘delivered 10 pairs of lessons over 10 different weeks.’ On five of the 10 weeks, the first lesson of the pair was taught at a grassy spot just outside the school, adjacent to some woods.

” ‘For any given pair of lessons, both the treatment lesson (in nature) and its indoor counterpart were delivered by the same teacher to the same students, on the same topic, in the same week of the semester,’ the researchers write.

“The students’ engagement in the lesson taught immediately afterwards—which was always indoors—was measured in a variety of ways, including the teacher’s perception; the judgment of an independent observer who examined photographs of the classroom; and how often the teacher needed to stop teaching to attend to a student’s inappropriate behavior.

” ‘Classroom engagement was significantly better after lessons in nature,’ the researchers report. … Most striking was the reduction in ‘redirects,’ which are defined as ‘instances where a teacher interrupted the flow of instruction to redirect students’ attention.’

” ‘Normally, these occur roughly once every 3.5 minutes of instruction’ in a third-grade classroom, the researchers write. But after a lesson in nature, ‘teachers were able to teach for 6.5 minutes, on average, without interruption.’ …

“The five-minute-long walks to and from the outdoor learning area may have played a positive role. It’s also possible the kids were responding to rejuvenated instructors.” More here.

In college, I found the occasional springtime lesson on the lawn distracting, but there is no doubt it could perk up a teacher. And I know that both kids and adults benefit from just getting up and moving.

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