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