Ser­e­nades for the Glades

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

Bari­tone John Boehr, a Santa Fe Opera alum, per­forms an “en­vi­ron­men­tal or­a­to­rio” on Thurs­day, Feb. 25. The other mu­si­cians for Pa­hayokee: A Plea for Life, pre­sented by Santa Fe New Mu­sic in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute, in­clude the singer’s fa­ther, pi­anist David Boehr, and the birds, bugs, and other crit­ters that in­habit the Florida Ever­glades. The con­cert ben­e­fits the Santa Fe Con­ser­va­tion Trust.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal back­ground mu­sic was cap­tured in field record­ings by lawyer and con­ser­va­tion­ist James T. Miller, who con­ceived the project and wrote the li­bretto. The mu­sic was com­posed by Jack Ta­mul. “It’s writ­ten so in­ge­niously, and it’s im­pro­vi­sa­tional, but it’s also about the tech­nol­ogy,” John Boehr said in a con­ver­sa­tion from New York. “I have this lit­tle box with let­ters and num­bers that I press to cue dif­fer­ent sounds. The piece is writ­ten very min­i­mal­is­tic. Jim Miller wanted it to be just like the Glades. The way he de­scribed it to me was as a very peace­ful place, but then there are ex­plo­sions of sound, like an al­li­ga­tor pop­ping out to grab some­thing.

“I took a trip there, and it’s very beau­ti­ful, but it’s also very calm. The way the wind hits the grass looks like waves. So the way this is writ­ten, some things I can say over and over again, and I can sing them in dif­fer­ent ways, then I have the box. If I press A1, let’s say, it might be the sound of an al­li­ga­tor or an ibis.” There are five prin­ci­pal songs in the Pa­hayokee cy­cle. In be­tween those songs, Boehr has op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­pro­vise vo­cally and to cue par­tic­u­lar sounds from the field record­ings or recorded seg­ments of his fa­ther’s pi­ano.

Boehr said that Pa­hayokee is his first new mu­sic/elec­tronic mu­sic ex­pe­ri­ence. He has per­formed with opera com­pa­nies in Austin, Fair­banks, Palm Beach, Pittsburgh, and Santa Fe. He sang with the SFO as a mem­ber of its ap­pren­tice-artist pro­gram in 2006 and 2007. In 2007, he was cast as Carlo in the pre­miere of Trin­ity by Santa Fe New Mu­sic’s John Kennedy, com­mis­sioned by the SFO. Boehr re­cently com­pleted work with the Austin Lyric Opera, per­form­ing the role of Tapi­oca in a pro­duc­tion of Em­manuel Chabrier’s opéra bouffe L’Étoile. In April, he be­gins work with the New York City Opera on Han­del’s Partenope.

David Boehr, who has been a mem­ber of the Seat­tle Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra since 2004, fre­quently does con­certs with his son. The two made a record­ing of Pa­hayokee: A Plea for Life in 2007. Ta­mul was mu­sic di­rec­tor for JTM Stu­dios in Florida from 1976 to 2003, dur­ing which time he cre­ated mu­sic and sound for mu­seum ex­hibits and the mass me­dia.

Miller, whose writ­ings in­clude an ar­ti­cle about the ex­tinc­tion of a Florida na­tive, the dusky sea­side spar­row, for the jour­nal Snowy Egret, was raised near the Ever­glades. Dur­ing the last sev­eral decades he has jour­neyed hun­dreds of times into pa­hayokee, which is the Semi­nole word for “grassy wa­ters.” The saw­grass marshes are a chief fea­ture of the Ever­glades Na­tional Park.

The Ever­glades, which Miller says is ac­tu­ally a slow-flow­ing river, has been un­der threat for many years, long be­fore cli­mate change was even talked about. “In south Florida, there are thou­sands of miles of canals and dams and lev­ees con­structed to al­low de­vel­op­ment, and more than half of the Glades has been drained,” he told Pasatiempo. The idea of Pa­hayokee is to use art to raise con­scious­ness about the plight of the Ever­glades. “We love art for art’s sake and we know that some peo­ple are against us­ing art with a mes­sage, but we re­ally be­lieve in this.”

De­spite dev­as­tat­ing bird losses from the 19th-cen­tury trade in the feather plumes of herons, egrets, and other birds and from habi­tat

al­ter­ations, the na­tional park (es­tab­lished in 1947) is a des­ti­na­tion for bird-watch­ers from around the world. More than 360 avian species have been recorded in the park. Among them are the man­grove cuckoo and the nearly (or pos­si­bly) ex­tinct ivory-billed wood­pecker, the greater flamingo, the huge Amer­i­can white pel­i­can, and the slightly car­toon­ish brown booby.

The Ever­glades is also home to the en­dan­geredWest In­dian man­a­tee as well as Florida pan­thers, ot­ters, the Ever­glades mink, five species of bats, sala­man­ders that can grow more than 3 feet long, and the Amer­i­can al­li­ga­tor and Amer­i­can croc­o­dile, both of which can grow to 15 feet and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

Many of the im­por­tant an­i­mal species in the Ever­glades are de­pen­dent on lo­cal pine lands and on theWestern Hemi­sphere’s largest con­tigu­ous stand of pro­tected man­grove for­est. Both habi­tats are in dan­ger of oblit­er­a­tion through in­un­da­tion from warm­ing sea wa­ter and melt­ing glaciers, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional Park Ser­vice study called “Cli­mate Change and South Florida’s Na­tional Parks.”

Miller’s am­bi­ent record­ings of the Ever­glades were labors of love, but the process wasn’t ex­actly a breeze. “I recorded this mostly at night,” he said. “What’s so amaz­ing is that it takes hours and hours to record some­thing that ends up be­ing use­able for just a few min­utes. And there’s so much hu­man sound. Even though I was deep in the Ever­glades, and I’d go out at 4 in the morn­ing, there would be a damn jumbo jet go­ing over.”

Miller said he that has been frus­trated with the slow pace of the Com­pre­hen­sive Ever­glades Restora­tion Plan, which Congress ap­proved in 2000. “Noth­ing ever gets done, and the Ever­glades are slowly dy­ing.”

“The Pa­hayokee piece is very pas­sion­ate,” Boehr said. “When we did it in Philadel­phia at the Elec­tro-Mu­sic Con­fer­ence, I was very sur­prised how much it took out of me to do it for 45 or 50 min­utes. It is very in­tense. Jim’s pas­sion for the Ever­glades, and the toll it takes on him see­ing it kind of dwin­dle away, re­ally comes out in this piece and es­pe­cially in his li­bretto. Jim wanted the mu­sic to be in a place where peo­ple could see the sim­plic­ity but with this un­der­cur­rent of des­per­a­tion.”

Pan­thers and cuck­oos and Boehrs: bari­tone John Boehr is joined by his fa­ther, pi­anist David Boehr, in a per­for­mance of Pa­hayokee: A Plea for Life.

Flamin­gos in flight over the south­ern end of Ever­glades Na­tional Park; AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy New­man

Im­per­iled par­adise: the Ever­glades

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