Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland (2021)

Flute, clarinet, horn, percussion, violin, viola, and cello. 5 ½ minutes.

Commissioned by American Wild Ensemble, Juventas New Music Ensemble, Landscape Music, and Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts to commemorate the 2022 bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Score

This score will become available for purchase on January 1, 2023. If you’d like to be notified at that time, please inquire with Nell Shaw Cohen at nell@nellshawcohen.com.

Program Note

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted described urban parks as “the lungs of the city.” My music responds to Olmsted & Calvert Vaux’s expression of this metaphor through the iconic meadows and woodlands of New York City’s Prospect Park (1867) and Central Park (1858).

A lyrical theme, accompanied by sustained chords held against the flow of undulating triplets, opens and closes the piece. This music evokes the parks’ meadows, where the human body and the body of the landscape are connected through shared “breath.” Stepping off a busy sidewalk into these wide open spaces, the sensation of my lungs filling with fresh air feels like the echo of a gentle breeze blowing through treetops and grasses.

A middle section of syncopated rhythms and sinuous counterpoint recalls the parks’ winding woodland interiors, which reflect the “heart” of both visitor and landscape. These woodlands are spaces for contemplation and intimate conversation, where dense forest gives cover to an enigmatic network of footpaths.

Even as I cherish these two parks, I find their present-day terrain obfuscates a complex history. Seneca Village (1825-1857) was a vibrant Black community, which New York City’s government forcibly vacated in order to build Central Park. Both parks continue to occupy Lenapehoking: the unceded homeland of the Lenape.

The concept of parks as “lungs” may have come from Olmsted’s work in public health during the Civil War. Yet this idea feels strikingly poignant in our own time of pandemic and climate crisis, and has given inspiration and impetus to my music.

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Performance History
  • Juventas New Music Ensemble (Wei Zhao, flute, Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet, Anne Howarth, horn, Jesse MacDonald, violin, Lu Yu, viola, Minjin Chung, cello, Tom Schmidt, percussion), Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA, 6/04/22.
  • American Wild Ensemble (Emlyn Johnson, flute, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, Joel Ockerman, horn, Lauren Cauley, violin, Molly Goldman, viola, Daniel Ketter, cello, Colleen Bernstein, percussion), CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture, New York, NY, 5/28/22.

  • American Wild Ensemble (Emlyn Johnson, flute, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, Joel Ockerman, horn, Lauren Cauley, violin, Molly Goldman, viola, Daniel Ketter, cello, Colleen Bernstein, percussion), Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 5/28/22.
  • Juventas New Music Ensemble (Wei Zhao, flute, Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet, Anne Howarth, horn, Ryan Shannon, violin, Lu Yu, viola, Minjin Chung, cello, Tom Schmidt, percussion), Multicultural Arts CenterEast Cambridge, MA, 3/26/22.