An interview with composer Glen McClure, and footage from a rehearsal of “Fascinating! Her Resilience”, by Elizabeth Holden ’11.
Celebrate the Earth this Friday and Saturday night at Wesleyan! Two free events will bring science and art together through multi-dimensional live performances that tackle questions about global environmental issues.
As a poet/performance/multimedia artist, Professor of Anthropology Gina Ulysse is dedicated to performing anthropology through spoken word. As a member of the College of the Environment think-tank, she will be performing as part of the Earth Day Celebration on Friday, April 22 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall. The multimedia performance project Fascinating! Her Resilience will explore the multiple significations in the word “resilience”, and how it has been used in different narratives about Haiti, especially since the earthquake of January 12, 2010. In collaboration with Val Jeanty, percussionist and sound engineer, the project will be expressed through both a live and electronic remix (using DJ techniques) of different theories of resilience from a range of disciplines. There will be bits of history, personal narratives, theory and statistics in spoken word, with Vodou chants interwoven with quotations from subjects interviewed in Haiti and other experts in this country. Moreover, it will explore how in dominant narratives, such meanings keep Haiti in a liminal state somewhere on the border between dehumanization and superhuman.
The next night, in collaboration with the inaugural year of the College of the Environment, the Center for the Arts will present the world premiere of Dear Mother Earth: An Environmental Oratorio by composer Glenn McClure on Saturday, April 23 at 7pm in Crowell Concert Hall. I sat down with Glenn McClure to discuss his commissioned piece for Wesleyan’s Feet to the Fire initiative.
As part of Feet to the Fire, which seeks to explore the topics of global climate change, Dear Mother Earth began as an extracurricular art activity with school children across the world, including Middletown’s MacDonough Elementary. Mr. McClure, composer of the oratorio and an arts integration specialist, asked school children in Ghana, Nicaragua and Middletown to write letters to the Earth. “While each letter is unique, they all share the central themes of celebrating beauty, thankfulness, compassion and a call to action,” said McClure. “Just as a flock of individual birds turn together in the wind without any discernable leader, these children have expressed these themes in their letters and illustrations.” Mr. McClure then integrated the themes of the letters with a musical model of the bio-mathematics concept of “emerging complexity” to create a series of musical movements centered around the common environmental hopes of the children.
The resulting piece uses sections of the children’s letters along with a mixing of musical forms, such as a traditional string orchestra with the dynamic percussion of Ghana. McClure states that “by bridging gaps between the different dimensions of music, we are establishing a creative process that brings people together.” McClure fuses the Wesleyan University Orchestra, the Middletown All-City Grade 4 and 5 Chorus, and Caribbean steel drummers together in the first movement to open the overall themes that emerged from the letters.
Barry Chernoff, Professor of Biology and Director of the College of the Environment, believes that Wesleyan will be the place for students to solve climate change issues. Designed to seek solutions to the greatest environmental challenges of our time, Dr. Chernoff stated “we are not afraid of failure, we only fear no one will try.” By thinking creatively and collaboratively, we are one step closer to finding solutions to these complex issues. The remaining movements of McClure’s work range from woodwind quartets and Ghanaian drummers to the full orchestra, painting a soundscape through the flowing stream of data collected by Chernoff’s student lab since 2006.
The message of this performance is universal in its approach towards understanding the complex layers of climate change. Through its practical idealism, Dear Mother Earth is intended to spark a conversation about what we can do about the environmental issues that we face. The project will continue after the world premiere on April 23 through the website www.letterstomotherearth.com, encouraging other classrooms to engage with the project and to continue the process of submitting letters addressed to the Earth.
Because of Mr. McClure’s combination of childrens choir and orchestra in his composition, the sound of the music is approachable in terms of being a traditional oratorio, but he also adds into the piece a diverse layer of unexpected ensemble sounds, such as Taiko and Ghanaian drumming. I am excited to see the full composition performed because of its consciousness of Wesleyan’s power as an innovative engine for creative solutions. I am sure Dear Mother Earth will foster a sense of communal experience between the performers and the audience.
Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration
Including the performance of “Fascinating! Her Resilience”
Friday, April 22, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Wesleyan University Orchestra and
Wesleyan Ensemble Singers Concert
Featuring the world premiere of “Dear Mother Earth: An Environmental Oratorio”
Saturday, April 23, 7pm
Crowell Concert Hall