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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Living, Breathing Earth

Air Date: Week of April 27, 2007

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Meira Warshauer (Courtesy of Meira Warshauer)

The call of cicadas, butterflies winging, and a nighttime canoe ride on a hushed lake in Peru inspired composer Meira Warshauer to write the symphony “Living, Breathing Earth.” The piece just debuted with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Aileen LeBlanc spoke with Warshauer and produced this sound portrait.

Transcript

YOUNG: The layered sounds of insects on a warm late spring evening have often been compared to a symphony. Well, now they really are. Composer Meira Warshauer’s first symphony was inspired by the sounds she heard in the rainforest of Peru, and in her own backyard in South Carolina. And it just had it’s debut performance by the Dayton Philharmonic Producer Aileen LeBlanc has this profile of the composer and her new work: called "Living Breathing Earth."

[SOUND OF CICADAS ]

WARSHAUER: I had been recording the cicadas and the backyard sounds and was listening really carefully to them I wanted to see what were the natural rhythms – what were the sounds that were around us. I was playing those over and over again the recordings of the cicadas and the birds and the water and the rhythmus of the cicadas really caught my ear. They have like a 21 second or so span or phrase – on the shaker it goes like….

[SHAKER AS CICADA]

Warshauer: Or with my mouth it’s just…

[MOUTH AS CICADA]

WARSHAUER: I was interested in the shape of that phrase - how it starts slowly and gets faster and then builds to the crescendo and then it has this glissando at the end. So I took that length and that kind of the energy rising and the minuendoing getting softer and let that be the arch of the phrasing of the first movement which is called The Call of the Cicadas.

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

WARSHAUER: Actually I asked myself – “What would Mr. Cicada do? What would he sound like if he had a whole orchestra like I have to play?” It wouldn’t just be high pitches and it wouldn’t just be those rhythms. What would it be? It certainly would be a broader pitch range from low to high and so I was able to bring in the bases and the low brass and. But I also wanted to give a sense of the summer air and the humidity and the thickness of that summer heat and so I had the oboes and bassoons.


Meira Warshauer (Courtesy of Meira Warshauer)

[MOUTH AS MOSQUITOS]

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

WARSHAUER: Maybe it’s a mosquito, I don’t know but its one of those insects that kind of comes out when it’s really hot in the south and I associate it with this really thick wonderful hot air which I love - I’m from North Carolina and I love the summer heat.

The recordings in Peru were not as dramatic as the ones I had in my backyard. But what those recordings have is a richness of layers - so many different animals making their quiet contributions to an incredibly rich soundscape.

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

WARSHAUER: My family and I, when we went to Peru we stayed in a lodge right on the Tahuayo River and one night we went on a canoe ride down this the Tahuayo River. And it was a night with no moon – so all the stars were really bright –and not only the stars were twinkling in their dark background but along the sides were the fireflies. So we had the stars twinkling and then the fireflies connecting the heavens really to the earth and then since we were on the river it didn’t stop at the earth because it was it was all reflected in the dark water below and it was so peaceful.

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

WARSHAUER: The third movement captures the energy of the butterflies as they are swirling around. By the side of the river there were these yellow butterflies that were in a pattern and of course the sun was shining on them and lighting up the water glistening there and it was really, um, kind of sparkly sounding and I put it in the strings and just had them move really fast and very lightly.

So I mean I hate to proselytize but, in this time, I feel it’s so important for us to reconnect with how much we love this earth. I know everyone loves the earth. Who’s ever seen a child that doesn’t love to play outside?

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

WARSHAUER: We all come into life loving the earth and we need to wake up. So I hope this wakes us up. I hope it gives us comfort. I hope it gives us joy. I hope it lulls us to sleep in the second movement. I hope it wakes us up with wings in the third movement. I hope the first movement just make us want to go outside and listen to all the weird and great stuff that there is and I hope the last movement just inspires us and carries us forward.

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

YOUNG: Meira Warshauer’s new symphony “Living Breathing Earth” was commissioned by the Dayton and South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestras and the Western Piedmont Symphony. We heard the South Carolina Philharmonic, conducted by Nicholas Smith, and recorded by engineer Jeff Francis. And our piece was produced by Aileen LeBlanc.

[MUSIC: Meira Warshauer “Living Breathing Earth (various selections)” from ‘South Carolina Philharmonic (conducted by Nicholas Smith)’ (Engineered by Jeff Francis – 2007)]

 

Links

Meira Warshauer's website

"Music & Vision Daily" interview with Meira Warshauer

 

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