Environment
6:00 am
Thu September 5, 2013

Getting Your Head Around Climate Change Through Music

"Year of the Reef" is the last of four movements in Carson Kievman's symphony "Biodiversity."
"Year of the Reef" is the last of four movements in Carson Kievman's symphony "Biodiversity."
Credit Peter J. Maerz/WLRN

It’s often said that life influences art. And for composer Carson Kievman, life in low-lying South Florida led to a symphony about climate change.

Kievman was composer-in-residence for the Florida Philharmonic during the 1990s, and he now runs the SoBe Institute of the Arts in Miami Beach. But the idea for his symphony, titled “Biodiversity,” came from a scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

In the late ‘90s, marine geologist Robert Ginsburg was part of organizing the International Year of the Reef, an event to raise awareness of coral reefs and their fragile state. He asked Kievman if he would be interested in composing music on the topic.

“This is a way for people to reflect on these issues without hammering them in the head,” said Kievman. “It’s not preaching, it’s not lecturing, it’s not hard to take, it’s easy to take. It’s music.”

“This is a way for people to reflect on these issues without hammering them in the head,” said Kievman. “It’s not preaching, it’s not lecturing, it’s not hard to take, it’s easy to take. It’s music.”

Although Ginsberg’s proposal fell through due to lack of money, the idea stuck with Kievman. Over the years he continued to compose around the idea of how a changing climate affected delicate ecosystems. His work grew from one movement about coral reefs into four movements that included sections devoted to disappearing swampland and melting glaciers.

Turning a complex idea like climate change into music-- especially music without lyrics-- may sound far fetched until you hear Kievman explain his thinking behind his composition.

For example, in the first movement “Glaciers, River of Ice,” Kievman says he reflected on what it would sound like to speed up the process of a glacier melting, “and I create this long string glissandi which is this movement of strings moving up or down, sort of these fluid string patterns.”

To portray coral reefs musically, Kievman says he uses multiple instruments playing hundreds of notes in rapid sequence. “[It’s] very legato, darting in and out and around the main theme, almost like water rushing by and through and around the reef system.”

Although Kievman has finally finished his symphony inspired over decade ago, money remains an issue. He is in the process of raising funds into order to have his work recorded by an orchestra in Poland and then distributed.

All proceeds from music sales will go to Sobe Institute of the Arts