Classical 91.5

Why You Should Go For a Walk in the Woods: Music in the American Wild

Oct 10, 2018


Like all great adventures, Music in the American Wild started with a walk in the woods. In 2014, Eastman School of Music graduates Emlyn Johnson and Dan Ketter visited New York’s Letchworth State Park and were struck by the park’s magnificent, but silent, beauty. Inspired, Johnson and Ketter decided the beauty of Letchworth should be heard—and thus began Music in the American Wild.

Music in the American Wild aims to reconnect the world of classical music with that of nature and the environment. To do so, the Music in the American Wild initiative has commissioned eleven composers, asking that they use their music to express the wonders of the American landscape. In 2016, the American Wild Ensemble toured seven national parks, premiering these compositions in the midst of the wilderness.

Video footage from the ensemble's Washington concert tour of San Juan Island, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks in August 2016.

“We had this vision of a new band of musical pioneers, trekking off into the wilderness,” says Johnson. Certainly, one of Music in the American Wild’s greatest accomplishments is braving the almost-forgotten frontier between music and the environment. In the past, composers relied heavily on the natural world for inspiration. Just think of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Debussy’s La Mer, or Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. And yet, in our digital age, communing with nature becomes more and more rare, and classical music is too often banished to a cramped concert hall. Music in the American Wild provides a solution to all these difficulties by getting composers, performers, and—perhaps most importantly—people outdoors, where they can both see and hear their country.

Since 2016, the American Wild Ensemble has performed throughout the country in parks such as North Cascades National Park, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The ensemble has recently released both an album and a video album, which captures live footage from the ensemble’s in-park performances, and the group continues its mission of making the American landscape heard even now. And it all started with a walk in the woods. 

You can find out more about Music in the American Wild and support their work here.