“Having seen and experienced the devastation of fire in my native California — burned homes and crops, and grim fatalities — and knowing the power of composers as cultural witnesses, the second half of my life will be dedicated to impelling societal acceptance of the difficult changes needed for earth's survival. Although I have a substantial career built on harmful air travel, I can commit to dramatically changing my lifestyle. And I can compose my stories of environmental carnage and hope with the accompanying requisite high-level performers and publicity. Yet, the message increases exponentially with the quantity and variety that my talented, diverse, and deserving alums can provide.”
— Gabriela Lena Frank
An essential component of the Academy's Climate Commitment, Composing Earth is a uniquely robust commissioning program for Academy alums who recognize that climate change — climate disruption — is a bona fide civilizational emergency.
Scientists have long toiled to convince humankind to live within the planet's ecological means, or face a full suite of environmental, social, and economic disasters. Yet, they have not been able to sufficiently move the needle towards general cultural acceptance. There are stories to be told that would connect to science in ways that impel response, and the planet is in desperate need of its charismatic storytellers.
These storytellers are the artists. Protests songs since the beginning of civilization have galvanized entire political movements. Novels such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle helped abolish slavery and address worker abuse. Vibrant and fantastical murals capture a community's spirit for racial justice. Artists who witness the events of their time can not only document them vibrantly through word, music, and paint, but do so in ways that invite empathy, discussion, and action. And artists can employ their hard-won skillsets and overactive imaginations to message a future that is just and green, again and again, to hasten cultural acceptance of the hard realities facing us all.
To that end, Composing Earth is conceived. As part of the Academy’s Alumni Support Initiative, Composing Earth also provides selected Academy alumni composers with a lengthy, accessible, and idea-generating study period, complete with a study stipend, before composing commences.
A full two-year program, members of each season's Composing Earth cohort spend the first year in a supportive monthly discussion group with fellow alums, Gabriela, and renowned scholar/communicator of climate science (and music lover) Dr. Rob Davies. These meetings provide an opportunity to review articles, books, documentaries, and online resources regarding the climate crisis. Additionally, mentorship by Gabriela encourages each composer to embark on artistic research to develop stories that are personal and revelatory. In this way, through the marriage of scientific knowledge and artistic imagination, a composer can become climate-aware, beginning to inform themself and stirring their creative psyche.
Going into the second year of Composing Earth, each composer receives a paid commission, commensurate with the size of the project, to create music inspired by their study. These commissions range from solo to chamber orchestral works, with and without electronics, with and without voices. Performers paired with composers provide readings of the works in progress before their eventual premieres. With a great range of genres and instrumentations, Composing Earth will achieve a broad dissemination of these necessary stories of protecting our earth, avoiding cultural and socio-economic niches that limit exposure.
Ultimately, while Composing Earth commissions only one work from a composer each season, the goal of this program is to help the composer find many stories that they will tell for years after as they move through their careers.