CONCERT PREVIEW: Music in the American Wild

by Seth Tompkins

Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

You may be aware that this year is the centennial anniversary of “America’s best idea,” the national park system. Created in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) currently manages 411 sites in the United States and its territories. The national parks themselves, however, predate the NPS, with Yellowstone (the world’s first national park) being founded in 1872, and the land that would become Yosemite National Park being set aside for protection even earlier, in 1864. But, this August, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service itself, which not only protects and manages the parks, monuments, shorelines, historical areas, and myriad other sites in its care, but also serves to makes these sites accessible to the public.

If you are in need to a way to celebrate, check out the NPS’s centennial page. Or better yet, attend one of the upcoming concerts in Washington state by Music in the American Wild! And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.

Music in the American Wild is the brainchild of Emlyn Johnson and 17 of her colleagues, all of whom have a connection to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. This project started with a group of musicians hiking. While hiking at Letchworth State Park in upstate New York (which is awesome, BTW), this group of musicians found themselves with a desire to play music, but they were tragically devoid of instruments. Regretting the oversight, the group began thinking of a way to connect their passion for the outdoors with their love for (and vocation of) classical music. The end result of that thought process is Music in the American Wild.


Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

This year, Music in the American Wild has been touring the country, playing fresh new music in national parks.  The music they are performing is all new, and has been written specifically for this celebratory tour. Some of the pieces, in fact, have been performed in the very locations that inspired them, such as Chris Chandler’s The View From Here. This piece was inspired by the Big Meadows location inside Shenandoah National Park, and was recorded there in June of this yearClick here to learn more about the composers featured on the tour.

So far, Music in the American Wild has performed on tour in several of the high-profile national parks in the Eastern U.S., including Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, and Shenandoah, with additional performances at the Smithsonian, The Theatre in Washington, Virginia, and at the Locust Grove Historical Landmark in Louisville, Kentucky. Some of these concerts have occurred in unique venues, including underground in “The Rotunda” at Mammoth cave National Park!

Video highlights from the eastern portion of the tour

Now that their eastern tour is complete, Music in the American Wild is coming to the Northwest!  This month, the ensemble will perform at North Cascades National Park, Olympic National Park, Mt. Rainier, National Park, and San Juan Island Historical Park. If you’re in the Northwest, attending one of these concerts in the national park setting for which it was intended is highly recommended. Check out their tour dates for dates and details.  However, if you cannot make it out of town, the ensemble will be playing a preview concert at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, Seattle on Saturday, August 6 at 8pm (tickets $5-$15).

Second Inversion will be in the house at one or more of the Mt. Rainier shows (August 12-14), experiencing this music in its “natural” environment. Stay tuned for a review of that performance, and then for a wrap up of the project. In the meantime, check out the Music in the American Wild website to learn more about the project, or go further and support their Northwest tour on Kickstarter!  In any case, with this fresh new music happening in the parks, attending one these upcoming shows is a perfect excuse to get out there and soak in the majesty of “America’s best idea.”


Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

Stay tuned for two more blog installments by Seth Tompkins related to Music in the American Wild, including a review of their performances in Mt. Rainier National Park and an overall reflection on the omnipresent relationship between music and nature.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Break of Reality’s “TEN”

by Maggie Stapleton


Break of Reality is a quartet composed of 3 cellists and a percussionist who perform music ranging from Tool to Radiohead to Bach to their own original compositions inspired by rock, classical, folk, and pop music.

There are a lot of attempts at this genre cross-pollinization these days, but BoR REALLY does it well.  This music is genuine and it doesn’t try too hard.  Percussionist Ivan Trevino says, “Rock is as much in our blood as classical music. Our music is organic; we’re not doing it as a gimmick to play rock music on the cello. We want our instruments to be respected both in the classical and rock worlds.”  Success, I say!

“Ten,” their latest release (buy it here!), is the band’s proudest and most mature record to date.  All of the songs are original compositions by cellist Patrick Laird and/or Ivan Trevino and their sound has transitioned from “heavy metal cello band” to a more mellow, classically influenced sound, which comes across very authentically.  They also experimented with different microphones and recording techniques and invested in a lot of their own equipment with this album.  The result is well-balanced, nuanced, yet totally grooves.

I had the pleasure of talking to Ivan and Patrick about a few of the tracks and learned the following tidbits:

“Star” was written for Patrick Laird’s wife, Marnie, who makes a guest piano appearance on the track.

“Helix” is one of their favorite tunes to perform, with a winding cello riff that travels through all different types of time signatures, leaving one wondering if it’s in 7 or 4.  Can you figure it out?

“Six” is the only track on the album that Ivan Trevino wrote all on his own.  It was a originally a mallet sextet composed for the Eastman Percussion ensemble.  This arrangement is for three cellos, piano, 2 percussionists and features marimba, piano, glockenspiel, and drumset. It has a cinematic, mellow, indie rock flavor, “kind of like Bon Iver meets Steve Reich,” as Ivan puts it.

BoR independently releases all of their records.  Trevino recognizes that as a cello band with no singer, their sound doesn’t appeal to a pop music demographic.  Rather, they use their niche genre to be 100% in charge of the art.  They can take complete control of record sales, keep all of the income from record sales, and have all of the say in the sound and recording process.

Oh, and the sweet cover artwork?  It was done by Lauren Yandell, one of Ivan’s high school marching bandmates!

Keep an eye on BoR’s tour schedule and check them out live, if you get a chance.  Percussionist Ivan Trevino says Break of Reality’s shows have the energy of rock concerts; the music is memorized which helps communication and interaction with the audience and there are elements of improv.  The cellists have more articulate, aggressive, vertical types of bow strokes to get the “rock sound,” while playing with a drummer.  However, they always try to bring the unexpected and keep their classical roots at heart and keep the audience guessing what’s going to come next – rock or Bach.

Cheers to you, Break of Reality, for a fantastic new album!  We can’t wait to hear what’s next to come.