by Joshua Roman
It’s no secret that some of the greatest composers in history have sought inspiration, solace, and rejuvenation in nature. Beethoven loved to escape Vienna to walk through the countryside, and Bartok was an avid collector of insects in addition to folk melodies from the countryside. And they certainly weren’t the only ones.
So good for them, right? Now we’ve got the (insert superlative) music they wrote, and we also get a glimpse into the natural world as they experienced it. At least, that’s what I would guess is the attitude of many of us based on our general (if not total) lack of engagement with the great outdoors. Myself, I’ve always loved being outside, and felt frustrated by the fact that my cello does not acclimate very well to wind, rain, heat, cold, or humidity. So being outdoors, which is a natural part of much of my life, has been largely separated from my artistic endeavors. A few multimedia projects – like some of the videos I shot outside for the Popper Project or my Everyday Bach videos – have hinted at a connection, but it’s only really this summer that I’ve begun to feel a tangible and powerful, even primal, creative force arise when out in nature.
It started with a hike near Seattle. I was so ready to do something non-digital, something peaceful, that took me away from the demands of this life that start out joyful, but can easily pile up and become overwhelming due to their sheer volume. Here’s a picture from the summit – I was already feeling a calm but directional energy throughout the ascent, but upon reaching this view it exploded into a force of deep, resonant sound that was surprising and exciting. It was a sound that I couldn’t identify, except that it had a rolling momentum and begged to be orchestrated. Someday, it will. In the meantime, I cannot forget how it came from the peak next to ours, and though the grandeur was bigger than I knew how to express, the desire to share it was so very strong.
At that point, I immediately knew I needed to do more of this. Luckily, my summer has taken me to such strikingly beautiful places as Banff to perform for TED in a collaborative concert I curated with other TED Fellows, Boulder for a series I curated (as well as for the Colorado Music Festival), and Maine for the Bay Chamber Concerts summer festival.
Looking at photos of stunning views is always nice, but for me they are most powerful when they serve as a reminder tied to a real experience. I’ve had more music come to mind in these places–a result of the inspiration and the sense of release we feel when we connect with our physical bodies and engage with the natural world around us. I think it’s about centering – a rich tapestry of experiences can certainly help us to learn about human expressiveness and the essential parts of our existence, but it’s important to find a way to stay grounded. Connecting with nature is a great way to achieve this balance.
Sometimes, if you can pull it off, a day or three away from everything goes a long way towards clearing the mind and allowing natural creative energy to flow. But even if that’s out of the question, finding a quiet park for a stroll, or a trail just outside of the city, can make a difference in the flow of artistry. If you can manage it, get outside–whether near or far–and allow yourself to be open to that special source which has inspired so many of our heroes – nothing is better than tapping into that directly.