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Earth Music for Earth Day

Earth Day 2023, Philadelphia

Ready for something totally different?

Friends know me well for my penchant to seek out novel activities, to sample new experiences. (I remember once going to L.A. for a Noh performance - a Japanese art form, sort of like Kabuki meets opera...) Thus, the article in the Philly paper about an outdoor concert for Earth Day struck a chord in me.

Not just any concert. The two compositions for this concert, put on by Network for New Music, were anything but traditional. The first, Touching Leaves Woman, comes from a composer of Native American heritage (her lines include Lenape, the original occupants of this area, and Mohican). The score calls for four voices (call it singing, if you like) and 'bird roars' - think of a whistle tied to the end of a strings, that makes chirping noises when you twirl it. Okay, no mere description can match hearing it:

The featured piece, A Murmur in the Trees, grew out of a notion of having 24 double basses - 'tree-like instruments made out of wood', according to the composer Eve Beglarian - perform in a grove of trees. But perform what?

Eve solved that problem when, on a hike, she came upon a 10" wide piece of birch bark. While reading a book about trees, she found out that trees communicate by sending electrical pulses traveling at 1/3" per hour - which meant the bark could represent a 30-minute score. I won't pretend to understand all that she said about defining the y-axis and undertones, and how to give bassist their own musical lines. When I wandered through the grove, with the 24 bassists arrayed among the trees, I heard different tones based on which bassist was nearby. The sound was ethereal - mysterious - atmospheric - call it earthly!

A truly diverse crowd showed up for this pay-what-you-like event. Dress ran from tie-dye to Hawaiian shirts to pant suits and everything in-between. All ages attended, though the average age skewed older. People listened attentively, with at least one woman letting the sounds move her. Standing and walking inches away from the musicians is an experience unlikely to be repeated soon. Again, words alone cannot adequately describe it:

A note about the venue: it took place at The Farm at Awberry Arboretum in the Germantown district of Philadelphia. Nestled in the wooded grounds

were an arboretum, a community garden, a few buildings, and an enclosure where they raised chickens (and where people could volunteer). Attached to the coop fence were interesting facts about chickens:

* The most eggs laid by a chicken in a day is 7; one chicken laid 371 eggs in a year

* A chicken can run up to 9 mph

* Chickens are the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurus Rex (I can only report what the sign said!)

That last factoid could explain the other sign posted in the area: "BEWARE OF CHICKENS! We are not responsible for your injury or death. You've been warned!"

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