Composing in the Wilderness ’13 Part 1
PART 1- DENALI
7/9 I am back in Alaska with nine other composers to explore Denali National Park and Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve as park of a joint venture with the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival and Alaska Geographic. It is tremendously exciting to get a chance to see these parks in ways that the ordinary visitor may not, and to translate the experience into music. Taking the train from Anchorage to Denali is breathtaking (after leaving the environs of the city) Wildlife is abundant and we saw a moose galloping across a marshy meadow and huge white Trumpeter swans on a distant lake. Nature rules here. We cross Broad Pass – Alaska’s continental divide – the waters south pour into the Pacific and waters north empty into the Bering Sea. The mountains of the Alaska range surge higher. I think my piece will be about the mountains this year.
7/11 We’ve spent two days with Davyd Bechtkal Denali’s soundscape scientist. We explore the river gaining an understanding of the flow of the river translates into energy and how our ears can discern the variation of energy. We take measurements to measure the decibel levels close to the water and further away. At mile 58, our Alaska Geographic guide leads a hike up several hundred feet (we guess 1800) to get a 270° view of the park. We see the ice covered peaks to our southeast the valley of the Tolkat River to the northeast and the ribbon of road heading west. Our instrumentation set (mine is 2 violins, oboe and piano), we all begin to sketch out ideas for our pieces.
7/13 TWO days of cloudless mornings! We cannot believe our good fortune. A bit colder, the mosquitos have temporarily abated. The park geologist Denny Capps joined us yesterday for an in depth day of understanding the geological history of central Alaska. In other words the rocks, ice, how it got here and how it formed the landscape. We hiked along polychrome mountain overlooking the valley below and he helped us hone our observation skills to interpret what we are seeing. We saw the great mountain in its full glory.
We all had ah-ha moments as we ventured close to mile 70, at the convergence of two ancient glaciers. Back at Polychrome, we found fossils. I’m definitely composing about the rocks.
Today, our guide Timmy Hintze rounded out our knowledge by taking us on two hikes to study park plant life. Following Tattler Creek, we saw tattlers, harlequin ducks, a lynx –capturing a magpie lunch, and heard, but couldn’t locate, a pica. At the convergence of three hills, we climbed up, spending 2 glorious hours pondering the tiny plants that make up the tundra carpet. I’m making good progress on the piece, determining the layers that I want to convey in the piece. After lunch we drove over to Cathedral Mountain. We’d seen a bear with cubs near the trail in the morning, but they seemed to have moved on. About a mile through the willows and creek-side bushes, prairie grasses emerge. A lone caribou stands on a rocky ledge, and we come upon an isolated lake. The clear water proved too tempting; our afternoon concluded with skipping rocks and a chilly swim.
NEXT: Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve