Scenes of Woods and Wind (2021)

music and photos by Nathan Cornelius

Shenandoah National Park Artist-in-Residence, October 2021

I. Kettling

II. Upslope Fog (2:46)

III. Meadow Dreams (7:36)

IV. Stony Man (10:37)

Alicia Córdoba, oboe

William Moersch, marimba

In October 2021, I had the privilege of being artist-in-residence in Shenandoah National Park. Each of the four movements in this piece depicts a scene or mood in the park. The movements are linked by a melodic gesture which they all share: three notes ascending, followed by one note turning back down. In each movement, the space between the notes expands (both in pitch and in time), as the perspective on the landscape shifts and widens. The title, Scenes of Woods and Wind, references two elements that are virtually ever-present in Shenandoah, as well as the instruments of oboe and marimba for which I wrote.

On particularly windy days, I was fascinated to watch groups of large birds (usually crows, occasionally vultures or eagles) hover kite-like, motionless in midair, by facing into the wind and holding their wings out—a phenomenon known as kettling. On other days, a gentle breeze pushed a layer of fog up from the Shenandoah Valley to the top of the ridge, leaving the windward side of the mountain wet and socked-in, while the opposite slope was below the clouds. The last two movements depict two of my favorite spots in the park: Big Meadows with its resident hawk and deer families, and Stony Man with its sweeping view up and down the ridge. I particularly remember stopping at Little Stony Man overlook one morning on my way down from the peak. As I enjoyed the view, a falcon took off from its nest below me and traced sinuous loops and swoops in the space between the cliff and treetops. These beautiful contours inspired the melodic runs in the final movement.

Special thanks to the Shenandoah National Park Trust for their hospitality and support of the Artist-in-Residence program.

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