Dr. Jen Blyth, Music

Current, A First Year Seminar

With the support of the 2021 Summer Valley and Ridge program, I wanted to design a First-Year seminar entitled “Current” that examines environmental degradation through the lens of music performance and helps students to track historically shifting attitudes and approaches to activism through music. Until very recently music composition largely ignored environmental degradation in place of iconic scenery. Masterpieces such as Debussy’s La Mer, Smetana’s The Moldau or Ravel’s Ondine offer hues of idyllic scenery and evoke images of a tension free nature. I have long believed that those who uphold and honor beauty at its finest will likely recognize injury or harm. But when does that belief devolve into willful escapism, a strategy that fails to do justice to the complexity of human interactions with the natural environment?

Music provides a context for advancing an understanding of damaged ecologies, of injured worlds (literally and metaphorically) when we deliberately position our audiences within them. To that end I wanted to prompt my students to listen to waterscape as history, as an exhibit of consequences. Utilizing a variety of compositional styles, I plan to ask students to seek and explore musical images and narratives of water from multiple perspectives. Rivers, Oceans and Waterways as nature, habitat, artifact, system, problem, wealth, ideology, history, place and aesthetic. The class will culminate in designing a performance that will stand as a cumulative record of nature and man, of how we shape water and it us. My hope is to commission a new work to include in the performance that will involve all students in my seminar. This could be a versatile performance that will take place on campus, in Carlisle area schools, Open mic nights at the Tree House or Student Music Society events or in the HUB on Campus Sustainability Day or even on the road for Alumni or prospective events.