Young voices speak (and sing) for the trees, April 16

Pine Park, Dartmouth campus

Free world premiere of environmental-themed sound installation at Dartmouth

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Abenaki land on which Dartmouth College stands was a virgin forest of majestic white pine trees. Now only remnants of that forest remain, in a riverside strip of land north of campus called Pine Park. But on Tuesday, April 16, you can hear an impression of what those lost trees might have expressed, had we been around to hear them.

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The event is the world premiere of Understory, an innovative, interactive performance in the new Russo Atrium of the Hood Museum of Art. The event begins at 5:30 pm and includes two performances of Understory, a Q & A about the work with its composer, Carla Kihlstedt, opening and closing songs by Abenaki father and son poets and performers Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, and an additional work by the 50-member, Grammy-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which performs Understory.

The Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Photo by Kathryn Tornelli.

Understory begins flash mob-style, with chorus members intermingling with the audience in the Atrium before finding their places. Performing a cappella and without a conductor, the kids will come together in groups of threes throughout the Atrium, each trio representing a tree. The audience will be encouraged to walk through this “forest” to hear from the individual “trees” while also perceiving the “forest” as a community. Giving the sense of a forest vibrating with energy and sensation, the performers combine make wordless sounds and speak and sing short spoken phrases, some written by Kihlstedt and some by the Bruchacs.

Understory relates to numerous ongoing themes in Hop programming. For one, it continues the STEMArts series which, since 2013-14, has paired emerging young composers with scholars in the “STEM” disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to create new musical works that relate to STEM concepts. The project also acknowledges that Dartmouth stands on Native land and furthers the Hop’s interest in programming work that foregrounds Native American experiences and history. In addition, the project aligns with a Dartmouth-wide interest in what’s being called the “environmental humanities”—the idea that the arts and humanities are as essential as science and technology in responding to the challenges like climate change.

Carla Kihltsetdt. Photo by Frank Schemmann.

Environmental Studies faculty who helped guide Understory through conversations with Kihlstedt include: Environmental Studies Professor Andy Friedland, on the topic of forest life/evolution as waves of energy; writer and Environmental Studies Lecturer Terry Osborne, on the importance of engaging young people in environmental ideas; and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Native American Studies Nick Reo, whose scholarship blends ecological, anthropological and Indigenous methodologies

Watch the Brooklyn Youth Chorus being featured by Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s in the video they showed on their OTR II World Tour here:



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