“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 for jazz orchestra that will give voice to a cast of characters who dedicated their lives to celebrating and protecting the natural world. These champions of the environment – authors, artists, naturalists, 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 art songs interspersed with extended musical compositions. 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 soliloquies, or jazz ballads.
Each song will be followed by an instrumental jazz orchestra piece that reflects on the text of the letter. 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. The project has also been supported by residencies at The Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts and The Ucross Foundation in November, and The MacDowell Colony in February 2020. The list of completed compositions include:
Song: Dear Virginia
Jazz Orchestra: Domes
Song: Always, Rachel
Jazz Orchestra: Tides
Song: Three Words for Snow
Jazz Orchestra: Boundary Waters
Terry Tempest Williams
Jazz Orchestra: Erosion