Music takes her on a journey to ends of the Earth — literallyWhile River Falls might resemble the South Pole, with its current snowy and bitterly cold weather conditions, one former area resident is experiencing that frigid climate in person this week during a trip to Antarctica.
By: Vera Roy-Stoeberl, River Falls Journal
While River Falls might resemble the South Pole, with its current snowy and bitterly cold weather conditions, one former area resident is experiencing that frigid climate in person this week during a trip to Antarctica.
Musician Cheryl Leonard, who was raised in River Falls, is working on a project sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.
“I am working on this project because I want to search out and hear Antarctica’s hidden voices,” says Leonard in an e-mail she sent shortly after arriving on the southern continent at the end of December. She’ll be living at the Palmer Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula until mid February.
“I wonder what curious sounds I will uncover here and I look forward to incorporating them into new musical pieces so that others can hear and appreciate them.”
Leonard, the daughter of Janet and Bill Leonard of River Falls, spent most of her life here, “…from elementary school up through high school,” she said. Cheryl graduated from River Falls in 1987. She now lives in San Francisco.
“I have been interested in playing and writing music for as long as I can remember,” said Cheryl. “Even when I was first learning to play piano, starting in second grade, I wrote my own songs. Sometimes this was because I didn’t like the ones I was assigned to learn, and sometimes because I just wanted to hear something I was imagining.”
That love of composing and experimentation took her to Hampshire College in Amherst, Ma., where she earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in music composition, and on to Mills College in Oakland, Calif., where she continued her musical studies. She graduated from there in 1996 with a Master of Arts in music composition.
“Often I have an idea of something I’d like to experience that doesn’t exist yet, and I really want to hear it,” said Leonard. “I look around and it doesn’t seem like anybody else is going to create it, so I just figure it’s up to me to make it happen.”
Leonard says she sought a career as a composer, “…because playing with sound is one of the things I love to do most.”
In addition to piano, Leonard is also accomplished on the viola and the flute.
However, “These days,” she says, “I mostly play instruments that I find or construct from found natural objects.”
For a detailed explanation of how that works, Leonard says to go to: http://musicfromtheice.blogspot.com/2008/12/how-to-play-natural-objects-as.html.
Leonard was asked: What inspired you to create a musical piece in such a remote location of the world?
Her answer: “I wanted to do a piece in this remote part of the world partly because I have always been drawn to wild, inaccessible places, and, let’s face it, Antarctica is just about as wild and inaccessible as one can get on this planet. Also, I like the idea of working with sounds that very few, if any, humans have heard before.
“Finally, I just really like glaciers and ice.”
Leonard has embarked on her musical mission basically on her own. She said the grant she received does not supply monetary funds. Instead, “It provides travel and logistics support only for my time in Antarctica.”
But that hasn’t deterred her from pursuing and attaining the materials she’ll collect for her not-yet-composed piece.
“By creating this work, I hope to share Antarctica’s unique voices with people who would otherwise not have the chance to hear them,” said Leonard. “I also hope my project can be a window into some aspects of the scientific research that is happening down here and the Antarctic experience in general.”
Each piece that she’ll compose will have its own unique subject matter and instrumentation.
Taken from a news release, the following explains a bit more about Leonard’s tasks: “Sounds for this project will come exclusively from natural sources. While onsite in Antarctica, Cheryl will play amplified natural materials such as ice, rock, water, moss, feathers, shells and bones as musical instruments.
“She will record compositional elements and improvisations created with these instruments onsite, collect field recordings on the peninsula’s islands and in the surrounding seas, and gather a few Antarctic natural objects to use as instruments in live performances.
“The musical structures, sound sources and development process of each piece will reflect that work’s specific subject. Individual compositions will explore sea and lake ice, the Antarctic circumpolar current, wind and storm patterns, geological and paleontological histories, human exploration and exploitation, adaptations of life to environmental extremes and changing terrestrial and marine ecosystems.”
When she returns from the southern continent, Leonard says she will concentrate on “…creating musical compositions from the materials (she collects) in Antarctica, recording and releasing them in late 2009, (and preparing for a) music performance this May…in Oakland, Calif.”
On her resume, Leonard describes herself as a “Composer. Performer. Improviser.” And a person who delves in “Acoustic and electronic music, exploring sound and noise, collaboration, relationships between artist and audience, and the integration of art and life.”
Leonard explained her philosophy on life, which reflects her out-of-the-ordinary mission: “Do what you love. When you decide to do something, do it wholeheartedly. Taking a chance is usually better than regretting something not done.”
She also added, “I believe that you should spend your life doing something that you are passionate about.” And in conclusion said, “Try to do some good in the world.”
For Leonard’s music Web site, go to: www.allwaysnorth.com.
She also has a blog site those interested in her journey can log onto: www.musicfromtheice.blogspot.com.