Composing in the Wilderness: On Distant Hills

This piece originally appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch on August, 27th, 2017 as part of series in which three Oregon composers recounted their Alaskan experiences from Composing in the Wilderness 2017.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that three Oregonians happened to participate in this year’s workshop. In fact, I chose to participate in Composing in the Wilderness at the recommendation of three other Oregon composers that had been in years prior.

I’ll admit that I’m a pretty new to Oregon; I’ve only lived here a year. But one of the things I love about this state is the deep connection people have with the outdoors, our public lands, and the existence of wildernesses. Don’t get me wrong, Alaska is impressive no matter who you are, but from my view, as a new Oregonian, this trip gave me a lot of perspective on why people feel so connected to the wilderness. True wilderness, not something I experienced growing up on the east coast, where there are less protected areas.

People seek out wilderness for a variety of reasons. Being a musician, I’m always interested in how things sound. What I found most striking is the silence. Upon moving to Oregon, the first time I got out of the car near the McKenzie Pass, I was shocked at the quiet—and also realized how noisy daily life is.
I found the experience in Alaska to be similar. Although this wasn’t my first wilderness experience, it was my first time traveling to Alaska. But as we spent more time in the wilderness, the silence began to fade. Not because of outside noise like planes, cars, or even voices. But because the wilderness invites you to listen. The wilderness is alive with an entire system of plants and animals that all breathe and exist together. It isn’t a busy sound, like a city. Rather, it’s layered, yet intricate and subtle, and composed into perfect polyphony.

While we were composing our pieces, I was bothered that I didn’t have a specific inspiration in mind. There were almost too many inspiring things to write about, but I felt I wanted to try and capture the essence of my Alaskan experience. The piece I wrote, On Distant Hillswas mostly a reflection on the vastness of Denali, how small it makes me feel, and the innate desire I feel to climb every single mountain I see.

Read the original article here.