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Sounds of the wild are music to Shatin’s ears

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Sounds of the wild are music to Shatin’s ears

Using sounds from the environment, specifically the sounds of wild animals found in Virginia’s Nelson County, Judith Shatin creates the basis of her latest
composition, “Singing the Blue Ridge.”

Naturally, Shatin, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Music and chair of the McIntire Department of Music, loves sound. She hears in the world around her rich sources for her compositions. It’s both the animal sounds themselves — the hum of the river otter, the scream of the mountain lion, the snort of the deer, the howl of the wolf — and the musical quality of the sounds that fascinates her.

“I am intrigued with bringing the natural world into the creative process,” said Shatin. “It’s ironic that I am using technology to get at that nature.”

In “Singing the Blue Ridge,” scored for mezzosoprano, baritone, orchestra and electronics and poetry, Shatin uses the voices of the indigenous animals to create the electronics. (For technically crisp recordings of some of the animal voices, Shatin turned to sources such as the McCaulay Natural Sound Library at Cornell University.) Barbara Goldberg, of Washington, D.C., has written poetry specifically for the composition. s

Judith Shatin
Photo by Tom Cogill
Judith Shatin

This is not just another orchestral piece for Shatin. “There is nothing like this in the literature, nothing that combines orchestra, singers and the live sounds of animals,” she said.

Commissioned by Wintergreen Performing Arts Inc. through the Animating Democracy Initiative, a program of Americans for the Arts, which is funded by the Ford Foundation, Shatin’s composition is part of a unique project, “Preserving the Rural Soundscape.” The goal of the music-based project is to explore issues of growth by stimulating citizens to be aware of the richness of their natural surroundings. It also encourages people to get involved in creating a new county comprehensive plan.

Shatin is participating in other parts of the soundscapes project, meeting and working with civic groups and students, leading sound walks and conversations to help them relate to their environments through sound. She asks local residents to listen closely to their surroundings and then record sounds that express to them the meaning of place. These soundscapes will be available on a community Web site as a way to heighten awareness of the effects of human habitation in relation to growth, land use and preservation issues.

“Singing the Blue Ridge” will premiere July 5 and 6 during the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival, with David Wiley conducting. Shatin will participate in pre-concert talks, as well as post-concert discussions. In late June, Nelson county high school students will hear a small portion of the piece as part of the Soundscapes in the School event. Through Wintergreen’s Summer Academy, a program for orchestral instrument and voice students, ages 16 to 22, Shatin will help participants experiment with the unpredictable relationship between instruments in musical dialogue and improvisation.



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