Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. ”

— John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901

This Rock We're On:  Imaginary Letters

“This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters” is an extended work that will give voice to a cast of characters whose lives were driven by the need to protect and preserve the natural world.  These champions of the environment – authors, artists, and adventurers – will “speak” through the device of imaginary letters that will provide the basis for extended musical compositions.  

The work will be structured like an oratorio, with the solos being replaced by art songs in chamber settings.  Each art song will be in the form of a letter to or from the protagonist and will range in style from 20th century art song (such as Samuel Barber Hermit songs) to recitative passages, to singer/song-writer soliloquys, to jazz tunes.   The orchestrations will be small and use a variety of chamber settings. 

Each song will be followed by a full ensemble instrumental piece reflecting on the text of the chamber piece.  The jazz orchestra pieces will be through-composed and feature improvised solos.  There will be approximately 16 compositions with a single act length of 80 minutes.  

The work will have a historical trajectory, starting with early naturalists and adventurers, and culminating in the present day, when scientific awareness of climate change has irrevocably altered our relationship to nature.  The piece will conclude with a final imaginary letter in which a young person contemplates an earth denuded of Muir’s “good tidings.”

In 2017 Mike was named the inaugural Stuart Z. Katz Professor of Humanities and the Arts at the City College of New York, which provided funding for research for the project.  Writing for the project is well underway, and in November 2019 Mike will be a resident at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, where he hopes to complete the work.