Trees That Sing

Never did pine trees seem so dear. How sweet was their breath and their song, and how grandly they winnowed the sky!  naturalist John Muir, from “Steep Trail”

It seems fitting at this time of year, when we bring pine and holly into our homes to celebrate the holidays, to give some thought to trees. I have been in love with trees my entire life, spending hours in the woods as a child, walking among them, climbing them, reading beneath them. Not surprisingly, I was married in a grove of plum trees on my parents’ farm; the night before the wedding, the trees on the farm came to me in a dream and promised me that they would be there as witnesses. Then they sang the most beautiful song, with voices deeper than the deepest Russian men’s choir. That song, untranslatable into earthly song, has always stayed with me.

Trees figure large in the human imagination, in myth and archetype, in holy writ. The notion of the sacred tree is present in most cultures. The idea of towering giants whose roots are as deep as their heads are high is profound and symbolic, even as they feed us, shelter us, transport us and hold us in their arms. After reading Julie Moir Messervy’s “The Inward Garden” which uses an archetypal approach to garden design, I created my lower garden around the idea of a cosmic tree at its center. It is a small weeping cherry surrounded by a tall hardwood forest, a still point in the center of the swirl of trees and flowers and birds.

Surrounded by these same trees as I was sitting on my deck (and perhaps remembering my wedding eve dream,) I was inspired to write Trees of Righteousness, a three movement choral work commissioned to celebrate the 125th anniversary of our university.

Here’s a brief clip from the first movement: (Text: They shall be called trees of righteousness, planted by the Lord)

Many musical instruments, including guitars, cellos, pianos, and wooden flutes, are constructed from the wood of trees, perhaps extending the voice of the tree in another way. It is conjectured that Antonio Stradivari used the wood of very slow growing trees (see the Maunder Minimum hypothesis) that ultimately became his celebrated violins.

And finally, here is a link to an unusual video of a man, Diego Stucco, who chose to make music with a living tree. Enjoy.

All images (except wedding photo), audio and text of “Trees That Sing” ©2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

15 thoughts on “Trees That Sing

  1. Pingback: Wild Sounds | composerinthegarden

  2. It’s hard to give you any compliments that have not already been said, but I greatly admire your creativity and artistry. Bravo!

  3. The clip from Trees of Righteousness was inspiring! And your garden is so amazing. The peace and magic of it wings right out of the photos. You are a mighty conduit for some beautiful energy, Lynn.

    • Ah, Elizabeth, thank you so much for your generous comments. I was so moved by your ” tree fairy tale” – I am honored by your response to this post. Trees never fail to inspire me, and it seems I am not alone in this.

  4. Well, I am not sure whether to say thanks or not for putting me onto Diego Stocco – I just “wasted a perfectly good hour” listening to his music when I should have been editing a book chapter. What a revelation his music is – putting those tiny microphones into nature and listening to sounds magnified that we would never hear otherwise. It is very much like using a macro lens, or a microscope, in nature to reveal otherwise unseen beauty. So, I guess that is a ‘thanks’, and now back to the ms.

    • 🙂 I love your comparison to using a macro lens – I never thought of it that way but I think you are exactly right. There is a software synthesizer company, Spectrasonics that uses the term “psychoacoustic sampling” to describe how they manipulate some of the upper frequencies of sampled sound. I’ll include a link to them next week, when I write a post about “sound”

  5. Read this. Then went from window to window looking at the tree’s which live and grow on my property. The sun glistening on the hoar frost clinging to their twigs this fine morning. All is good. I am reminded, trees are the lungs which keep this earth puffing. On behalf of ‘my’ trees, we thank you.

    • Hudson Howl, I love your description of this beautiful morning, it was frosty here as well. As I walked through our woods, I thought of your words and paid closer attention to the frost. So I thank you back, while I think how important it can be to share moments and insights.

  6. I enjoyed this enormously – your words, images and sounds. Thanks for directing me towards ‘The Inward Garden’ – I’ll give it a further look. Bowled over by the tree video – astonishing and moving at the same time.

  7. I am so like you! I’ve got to be around trees all the time, wonder if there’s a spiritual reason for this? I’m going through my blog roll, haven’t commented in a long time so today’s the day I pay you a visit! ;o)

    • Dorothy, how serendipitous that you visited today. I almost didn’t post this for various reasons, until I had a dream that the trees were pushing at me with a big wind (in a strong but friendly manner!) – it was a rather spectacular dream. I woke up, said “OK, OK, I get it!” and finished the piece. 🙂

  8. What a great tribute to our branching friends – especially the way you linked trees to various moments in your life … and another reminder that our surroundings influence us in more ways than we imagine.

    … and thanks for the last video – which I will use a future Monday Morning Entertainment to start the week.

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