It rained during most of his hike across the Grand Canyon's North Rim, so Garrison Gerard ('19 M.M.) carried his less costly recorder to capture the ambient tones emanating from the park's spectacular expanse. In the distance, he heard the polyrhythmic harmony of insects, the kind of organic ensemble that begged for a better mic. He rushed to his car to grab the necessary equipment, but once returned, the bugs were mum.
And then, as if on cue, a tree cracked and fell, rolling its way down a nearby hill.
"It was just the perfect time and place to record that sound," says Gerard, a doctoral student in UNT's music composition program. "And then, of course, there's the joke that if a tree falls in the forest and no one's there to record it, does it make a sound?"
In his quest to combine nature and the 12 traditional musical notes in his compositions, Gerard has been witness to many sounds, from the frequencies in rivers and wind rustlings to the collaborative vibrations of animals and insects. That quest to reflect and provide perspective into natural experiences -- inspired by his lifelong love of hiking -- led to Gerard's inclusion in this summer's Composing in the Wilderness program, a one-of-a-kind creative experience for composers. During the program, Gerard explored Alaska's Denali National Park, composed music about it and had it premiered by top performers, all in a two-week period.
Gerard composed music for flute, clarinet, violin and cello. The goal of his six-minute piece, he says, was to explore the idea of perspective -- what kind of complex sound combinations are different listeners attuned to at different moments?
"Every time I write a piece, I'm learning something different about the way I compose," says Gerard, who at just 3 years old asked his mom for a cello. "What I learned this time, even in such a compressed timeline, was to really consider what I wanted to express and to have the audience experience -- to really consider the trajectory of the piece."
Listen to Gerard's composition below: