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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Living, Breathing Earth

Air Date: Week of

The call of cicadas, butterflies winging, and a nighttime canoe ride on a hushed lake in Peru inspired composer Meira Warshauer to write the symphony “Living, Breathing Earth.” The piece is now featured on CD. Aileen LeBlanc spoke with Warshauer and produced this sound portrait.



GELLERMAN: The sounds of insects on a warm spring evening is music to the ear of composer Meira Warshauer. Warshauer's first symphony was inspired by insects and other sounds she heard in the rainforest of Peru, and her own backyard in South Carolina. The symphony has just been released on CD. Producer Aileen LeBlanc has this profile of the composer and her composition called "Living Breathing Earth."


WARSHAUER: I had been recording the cicadas and the backyard sounds and was listening really carefully to them I wanted to see what were the natural rhythms – what were the sounds that were around us. I was playing those over and over again - the recordings of the cicadas and the birds and the water and the rhythms of the cicadas really caught my ear. They have like a 21 second or so span of phrase – on the shaker it goes like….


WARSHAUER: Or with my mouth it goes


WARSHAUER: I was interested in the shape of that phrase - how it starts slowly and gets faster and then builds to the crescendo and then it has this glissando at the end. So I took that length and that energy rising and diminuendoing getting softer and let that be the arch of the phrasing of the first movement which is called Call of the Cicadas.

[MUSIC: Living Breathing Earth was performed by the South Carolina Philharmonic, conducted by Nicholas Smith, recorded live by Jeff Francis.]

WARSHAUER: Actually I asked myself – “what would Mr. Cicada do? What would he sound like if he had a whole orchestra to play like I have to play?” It wouldn’t just be high pitches and it wouldn’t just be those rhythms. What would it be? It certainly would be a broader pitch range from low to high and so I was able to bring in the basses and the low brass and… But I also wanted to give a sense of the summer air and the humidity and the thickness of that summer heat and so I had the oboes and bassoons…


WARSHAUER: Maybe it’s a mosquito, I don’t know but it's one of those insects that comes out when it’s really hot in the south and I associate it with this really thick wonderful hot air which I love - I’m from North Carolina and I love the summer heat.


WARSHAUER: The recordings in Peru were not as dramatic as the ones I had in my backyard. But what those recordings have is a richness of layers - so many different animals making their quiet contributions to an incredibly rich soundscape:


WARSHAUER: My family and I, when we went to Peru we stayed at a lodge right on the Tahuayo River and one night we went on a canoe ride down this the Tahuayo River. And it was a night with no moon – so all the stars were really bright –and not only the stars were twinkling in their dark background but along the sides were the fireflies.

So we had the stars twinkling and then the fireflies connecting the heavens really to the earth and then since we were on the river it didn’t stop at the earth because it was all reflected in the dark water below and it was so peaceful.


WARSHAUER: The third movement captures the energy of the butterflies as they are swirling around. By the side of the river there were these yellow butterflies that were in a pattern and of course the sun was shining on them and lighting up the water glistening there and it was really kind of sparkly sounding but I put it in the strings and just had them move really fast and very lightly.


WARSHAUER: I mean I hate to proselytize but, in this time, I feel it is so important for us to reconnect with how much we love this earth. I know everyone loves the earth. Who’s ever seen a child that doesn’t love to play outside?

Meira Warshauer’s cd is “Living Breathing Earth” on Navona Records.


WARSHAUER: We all come into life loving the earth and we need to wake up. So I hope this wakes us up. I hope it gives us comfort. I hope it gives us joy. I hope it lulls us to sleep in the second movement. I hope it wakes us up with wings in the third movement. I hope the first movement just makes us want to go outside and listen to all the weird and great stuff that there is and I hope that the last movement just inspires us and carries us forward.

GELLERMAN: Meira Warshauer’s symphony “Living Breathing Earth” was performed in this piece by the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Smith, and recorded by engineer Jeff Francis. Warshauer’s new CD is on Navona Records. Our sound portrait was produced by Aileen LeBlanc.



Slideshow: Living Breathing Earth Slideshow produced by Aileen LeBlanc

For more information on the “Living Breathing Earth” CD, including how to order, go to Meira Warshauer’s website


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