Marta Churchwell: American Wild Ensemble is coming to an outdoor space near you | Lifestyles

Imagine hiking in a national park and hearing classical music in the distance, blending harmoniously with the tranquility of nature.

Following the music, you come across a group of musicians playing in a clearing. Chances are the group is American Wild Ensemble, a septet of music professionals led by Emlyn Johnson, flautist and executive director of Pro Musica Joplin.

The ensemble performs original music in unconventional settings to help people see contemporary classical music from a different perspective. His music celebrates the places, people, and stories that shape American history and culture.

The ensemble got its start through a commission to perform in National Parks as part of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016. The group has performed contemporary works in parks from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Smoky Mountains , from the Volcanic National Park in Hawaii to Mammoth Cave. Kentucky National Park.

Since then, the ensemble has performed concerts that celebrate outdoor spaces, American history, conservation, and related topics. Last year he performed along Shoal Creek in Wildcat Park.

His National Park Commission was behind the development of “Wild Imagination: The Magic of Musical Storytelling,” which combines newly composed music and storytelling with live performances to promote literacy and artistic engagement. children.

The project won the first Johnson Prize in the National Flute Association’s CREATE 2022 competition. The artistic enterprise competition, Creating Resources through Engagement, Art, Teamwork and Entrepreneurship, is designed to reward innovative musical projects led by flautists. The award was presented in August at the association’s convention in Chicago.

“It was really nice to be recognized by this organization because it’s been such a part of my life, even as a precocious flautist,” said Johnson, who has performed as a flautist in many ensembles and was a member of the music faculty of New York State University and Missouri State University at Springfield.

Johnson sees the Wild Imagination project as a tool to engage young people with contemporary music by presenting it to them in unconventional venues, far from the formality of concert halls. Such informal settings help people connect better to music, Johnson said.

“I think the main thing is about the bonds that we forge,” she said.

As part of the Wild Imagination project, the American Wild Ensemble will present concerts of new musical adaptations of children’s stories. The performances will include music and spoken word, supported by visual projections, and they will be preceded by an introduction to the type of music being played, Johnson said. Audiences will receive written summaries of the story to take home, she said. The program will include three works, two of which are in progress. They include adaptations of Leo Lionni’s ‘Pezzettino’, a classic fable about the search for identity, and Arnold Lobel’s ‘Owl at Home’, a story of loneliness, disappointment and longing told with good heart. A third adaptation will be a new collaborative work.

The adaptation of “Pezzettino” premiered virtually last fall at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amhurst, Massachusetts. The adaptation was written by Johnson’s longtime friend, composer Daniel Pasca, a professor of music at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County.

All three works will be performed next April and May at libraries, bookstores, museums, art centers and festivals across Missouri and Kansas. It will include performances at the Joplin Public Library and at local schools through Pro Musica’s educational outreach program.

Johnson said the works will also be performed where the adaptations’ composers reside — in Baltimore in the case of Pasca, and in South Bend, Indiana, in the case of University of Notre Dame professor John Liberatore, who has composed the adaptation of “Owl at Home”. There will also be a performance in Lawrence, Kansas, where the composer of the new work, Ingrid Stolzel, is a professor of music at the University of Kansas.

Stolzel collaborates with MSU English professor Jennifer Murvin, who provides the text for the book. It will revolve around inspiring children through reading. The theme was spurred by the recent controversy over banned books, Johnson said.

Wild Imagination children’s programming is an extension of the American Wild Ensemble’s specialty of presenting music in unconventional venues to foster an appreciation of contemporary music and a sense of community among performers, audiences and audiences. spaces. Its programming is designed to be site-specific.

Johnson organized the group with her husband, Daniel Ketter, a cellist who teaches at MSU. In addition to Johnson and Ketter, the ensemble – a mix of musicians from Missouri and beyond – includes Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet; Lauren Becker, horn; Hanna Hurwitz, violin; Alexandre Pena, viola; and Colleen Bernstein, percussion.

His performances across the country included a tour, Missouri Music 200, which was commissioned as part of the state’s bicentennial last year. It included performances at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Brush Creek Amphitheater in Kansas City, Springfield Botanical Garden and Peace Park in Columbia with a virtual performance at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. Last year’s performance at Wildcat Park was part of this tour, as well as Pro Musica’s performance season.