- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

AFTON, Minn. (AP) - St. Paul composer Steve Heitzeg was walking toward the Metcalf marsh at the Belwin Conservancy in Afton last week when he heard a sound that stopped him in his tracks.

“Shhh. Do you hear that?” Heitzeg said, holding up his hand and cocking his head. “That’s a sandhill crane. Look, there are two of them! Right there!”

The pair’s deep, chesty squawks echoed across the marsh, joining a chorus of croaking green frogs, whistling red-winged blackbirds and buzzing insects.

“You’ve got the red-winged blackbirds there,” he said. “That’s a wren. They’re very faithful. They always come back to the same spot. You’ve got the textures. You’ve got the solo. It’s a great symphony. (Canadian composer) R. Murray Schafer considers nature to be the first concert.”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/237Zq2u ) reports that Heitzeg is spending the summer listening to and recording sounds at Belwin as one of the organization’s first artists-in-residence. The Emmy Award-winning composer may use the sandhill cranes’ squawks in an upcoming composition.

“It’s almost primeval . a very old, rattling sound,” Heitzeg said. “You can find out so much from their sounds: distress calls, mating calls, songs when they are relaxed.”

Heitzeg is an environmental composer who advocates the “peaceful coexistence of all species through music” and writes music “to promote respect for nature and to preserve the wild.” His music often features natural instruments, such as stones, birch branches and sea-glass shards.

Spending time at Belwin, which comprises more than 1,300 acres in and around Afton, has inspired him.

“It’s like you’re going back in time,” he said during a recent walk through Belwin’s goat prairie. “It’s beautiful. You can feel the pull of the St. Croix River. I find it very serene. It’s like a little oasis or sanctuary within the city.

“Nature connects us. It expands our consciousness,” he said. “It’s the same with the arts. Any experience with the arts - it really makes a person a better person. You become empathetic. You understand other cultures, other ways of viewing the world. And also by being in nature, it gets you out of yourself. You realize that humans are not the end-all. You realize the vastness and the power of the cosmos and the beauty.”

–—

HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS

Belwin’s artist-in-residency program started in March with poet and environmental writer Laurie Allmann. The program, currently open only to invited local artists, could eventually expand to include environmental artists from around the world, said Susan Haugh, Belwin’s program director. Funding for the pilot program came from Arts Midwest and the David Winton Bell Foundation and other private donors.

Artists could eventually stay in the house and retreat center owned by the late George and Mary Metcalf, which Belwin acquired in 2009 and is renovating.

“We want to integrate the arts and help amplify our message of the importance of the ecosystems and protecting the watersheds,” Haugh said.

After spending time in the nature conservancy’s bur oak savanna near Lake Edith, Allmann wrote a poem titled “Open Grown.”

“It is a real privilege to take inspiration from Belwin’s remarkable land,” said Allmann, who lives in Marine on St. Croix. “What a wonder to see that such a place exists and that such care has been taken over the years to restore and protect it.”

Haugh said other artists could include photographers, potters, sculptors, sound artists, dancers, writers, textile artists or culinary artists. She is currently looking for an artist who specializes in outer space; the Minnesota Astronomical Society’s Joseph J. Casby Observatory is on Belwin land.

The artists are given complete freedom to explore Belwin, Haugh said. “I want them to embed themselves in the land for three months,” she said. “They have keys to all the gates, so they can just come and go.”

Each artist receives a $3,000 stipend and is expected to put on a program for the public in the middle of their residency.

Heitzeg will lead a sound walk and listening journal session at Belwin on Saturday.

Among the questions he’ll ask participants: What is the first sound you remember? What is your favorite sound?

Heitzeg, 56, who grew up on a dairy farm near Albert Lea, said the first sound he remembers is the crunch of gravel under his feet as he walked with his mother to the mailbox. He was 5 years old.

His favorite sound is “stones being tumbled about by waves on the shores of Lake Superior.”

“I find the best composers, the ones who are most successful, are really good listeners,” Heitzeg said. “They’re always interested in textures, sounds or quirky things, or it sparks an imagination for an idea for them.”

–—

WHAT HEITZEG DOES

A graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., Heitzeg received his doctorate in music theory and composition from the University of Minnesota. He has taught at Gustavus and at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and has served as a composer-in-residence at the University of St. Thomas. He and his wife, Gwen Pappas, live in St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood with their 10-year-old daughter, Zadie.

Heitzeg has written more than 100 works, including compositions for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensemble, ballet and PBS films. His music has been performed by leading orchestras and ensembles, including the Atlanta and Detroit symphonies, the Minnesota and Philadelphia orchestras, Auckland Philharmonia, Dale Warland Singers and James Sewell Ballet.

One of his works - perhaps one inspired by the sandhill cranes at Belwin - may eventually be played at a new outdoor amphitheater, which Belwin is planning for a site near the Lucy Winton Bell athletic fields.

He said he has been visiting Belwin at different times of day - early morning, afternoon, evening - because the soundscape changes throughout the day.

“The ultimate gift that an artist can be given is the freedom to be themselves, to hear themselves, to hear the larger culture in nature,” he said. “Artists are usually people who are open-minded and are listening to other voices, and they are saying that their voice is not the only voice.”

___

Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide