Another View: Music and Wilderness



photo by Dennis Keeley

In addition to my wife Cynthia and our son Sage, there are two great loves in my life: music and wilderness.

At first blush, these two things may not seem to have much in common. Music is among the most social of human experiences. Wilderness is where we sometimes go to experience solitude.

Yet almost thirty years ago when I left music school in southern California and gradually found my way to Alaska, my intuition was telling me something it’s taken my intellect all this time to understand: Both music and wilderness are grounded in community.

Community is a network of relationships. Whether a community of land, plants, and animals or a community of music and people, two essential qualities of healthy communities are diversity and integrity.

Like music and wilderness, diversity and integrity may seem to be opposites. But as we’ve learned from the science of ecology, they’re really one and the same. Integrity is wholeness. And wholeness comes from diversity.

Diversity is both a biological imperative and a cultural necessity. Today more than ever, our world needs as many unique species of life and as many distinctive voices and cultures as possible.

Sixty-three years ago Aaron Copland, Marion Bauer, Otto Luening, and other American composers joined voices together to create the American Music Center. Today the AMC is a community rich in its integrity and diverse in its wholeness.

Over the past decade it’s been my honor to play a small role in the service of this community—as a Board member and for the past three years as president of the AMC. As I pass the baton to my friend and colleague John Kennedy, I want to express my sincere appreciation to our members, our staff, board, funders and everyone who has contributed to creating and sustaining this musical community.

As the old Chinese curse has it, we live in interesting times. Perilously interesting times.

We human animals have become an unprecedented force of nature. We’re literally changing the climate of the Earth, threatening the entire biosphere—that miraculous network of connections that sustains all life on this planet, including ourselves.

Ecosystems all over the world are in imminent danger of losing their integrity and diversity, their capacity to sustain themselves. Amid the expanding monoculture of global commerce, the same is true for diverse human cultures.

If we’re going to survive we have no choice but to expand our sense of interdependence and obligation to all human cultures and to all forms of life with which we share this beautiful stone spinning in space.

We will do this through dedicating ourselves to the work of our individual lives and to our work together as communities. We will do this through preserving wilderness. We will do this through creating music.

Our courage for the present and our hope for the future lie in that place in the human spirit that finds solace in wilderness and finds voice in music.

It’s my hope that sixty-three years from today the great Porcupine River caribou herd will still freely roam the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a wilderness ecosystem undivided by roads and undamaged by oil wells.

And it’s my faith that sixty-three years from today the American Music Center will still be here—even stronger and more visionary than it is today—serving a new music community that is more vibrant and more diverse than ever before.