With songbirds trilling in the treetops and bamboo stalks knocking rhythmically with every subtropical breeze, the Food Forest at FGCU composes its own symphonic score.
But on April 29, its winding trails will come more alive with the sound of music during The Music Forest, a free celebration of nature and the arts marking Arbor Day, FGCU’s 25th anniversary and the Bower School of Music & the Arts’ 15th anniversary.
About 40 musicians will be “planted” in various spots around the half-acre botanical garden performing continuous sets from 3-6 p.m. as soloists or ensembles. Guided tours will stream through the winding paths shaded by fruit trees and other native vegetation, informing visitors about the permaculture design and FGCU’s commitment to environmental sustainability. A concert will follow at 7:30 p.m. in U. Tobe Recital Hall in the Music Building.
As a prelude to the Arbor Day festivities, a new group of 14 student musicians assembled as the Bower World Music Ensemble will perform ancient music that originated in the Bolivian rainforest at 7:30 p.m. April 27 in the Music Building’s U. Tobe Recital Hall. The ensemble’s music director, piano performance major Fernando López Flores, has chosen to feature this music from the town of San Ignacio de Moxos as part of his senior recital. He also is artistic director of Music Forest.
Like the decade-old Food Forest itself, Music Forest is a student-driven project organizers hope will grow and flourish. It represents a collaboration among the Food Forest, the Bower School of Music & the Arts and The Water School.
“The Food Forest has never hosted an outdoor performance of this kind before,” said López Flores. “Classical musicians are used to performing chamber music in elegant and traditional concert halls. However, with this project, we wanted to get in touch with nature.”
After all, music is often rooted in the natural world, he pointed out. Many instruments are fashioned with wood from trees, for instance.
“One day, there’s a tree giving shade, and a century later, it becomes a piano and gives another type of relief through music,” López Flores said.
What’s more, countless composers across the ages have been inspired by nature; think Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony,” Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” to name a few. His connection between music and nature was cultivated in the “University Colloquium” course, which inspired López Flores to do service-learning in the Food Forest.
Zeanna Graves, who helped López Flores develop the Music Forest proposal and serves as project manager, plans to play Debussy’s “Syrinx” – inspired by the myth of the titular nymph who was transformed into a marsh reed to escape the amorous god Pan. A sophomore environmental studies major, Graves plays saxophone for her enjoyment but was eager to represent the science field in this interdisciplinary collaboration.
“I’m really hoping people can see this event and FGCU as examples of sustainability and kind of start to make their own sustainability journey and become more aware of the environment and their impact on it,” Graves said.
She’s been tackling a lot of the logistical challenges related to live musicians (including pianists) performing on acoustic instruments (with some electronic amplification) in a garden (with irregular paths). Additionally, Aubrey Garcia has coordinated multiple service-learning days to help make the Food Forest wheelchair accessible.
Somewhere amid the canopy of papaya and banana trees, Cadence Bakker will perform her brand of “indiecoustica,” a blend of musical styles, including folk and pop. Not all musicians will be playing classical works, but they are encouraged to dedicate their sets to nature-inspired themes.
A junior business management major, Bakker is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist; she added the ukulele to her repertoire during the pandemic. She has been writing songs since she was about 6, she said. For Music Forest’s closing ceremony, she wrote the lyrics and chords for “A Breath of Fresh Air” and collaborated on instrumentation with López Flores and producer-musician Nory Aronfeld, violinist Natalia Rosen and cellist/composer Matthew Vigil.
“We wanted to come up with some sort of anthem to be played toward the end,” Bakker said. “We wanted to explore themes of nature and freedom, so it’s organic and authentic. We want to communicate that but also leave people with a sense of hope. With everything going on in the world, it’s so stressful. Turn your phones off and go for a walk in the forest and hear music. It’s very much a breath of fresh air.”
- Watch/listen to a WGCU report by FGCU student Samantha Romero