The Central Platte River area among Wood River, Alda, Hastings, Juniata, Doniphan, Kearney, Grand Island and Phillips, Neb., is an inspiration for artists, not only because of its cranes but for the Platte River itself. My work as an ecologist studying the migration of the sandhill and whooping cranes for the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust (PRWCT) has sent me on the road—I have been in contact with the people in many different towns, farms and organizations while studying the ecology, behavior and use of this habitat by the cranes.
Every sunrise and sunset are in my schedule, and the observation/contemplation of the river and adjacent areas with and without the cranes is also part of my duties. Meeting volunteers from all over the state of Nebraska for the Whooper Watch Program has been another source of inspiration. I am passionate about communicating to them the importance of the endangered whooping crane population and why it’s vital to report sightings and how to act or follow protocol when sighting these birds. It’s also important to me to convey how passionate my dedication is to the study of this species.
I put all of these daily experiences into melodies, in the same way as painters put colors on a canvas or photographers take the best picture capturing the essence of the moment and the place. As the poet writes words describing feelings that everyone can identify with because of the meaning of the word, so I write music.
For me, to be in Nebraska is melodic; to put the tips of my fingers onto the keyboard and convey what I see and feel during my days, producing melodies that describe these feelings in the same way as other artists do, is my passion. It has been two years since I began my postdoctoral position at the PRWCT as population ecologist specializing in cranes. Since I came here, I have composed 11 beautiful melodies, and the one I composed before I arrived here, named “Migration,” was inspired by Nebraska without having yet seen the place.
I would like to place my compositions on a CD, in partnership with regional sponsors. And I would like to have every part of the CD made in Nebraska, and have that be the theme for my “grassroots” project. All my songs were composed here in Nebraska, inspired by events, scenes and feelings from Nebraska, and then recorded in a piano studio in Papillion.
The melody titled “Sounds of the Platte River,” for example, describes the perspective and contemplation of the river from the edge, at the Platte River Whooping Crane Trust (PRWCT) property, where I see the river almost daily. When I’m not in front of the river, I can see it on my computer using http://www.eyesonthewild.com. (Eyesonthewild.com is available to everyone. The PRWCT has a camera installed so you can listen to and watch the river, zooming in and out with your mouse to almost one mile of the river with a 360-degree perspective. Your subscription helps this organization.)
The image of a cleared sandbar in the middle of the river, a favorite roosting spot for the cranes, shows the water moving on both sides of the sandbars at different speeds. These two branches of the river inspired me to create two melodies for two hands, in perfect harmony but at different speeds (using arpeggios and scales simultaneously).
The presence of two great blue herons and a small flock of killdeers were another source of inspiration. Great blue herons don’t produce sounds, but the slow movement of their wings makes waves that can be translated into eighth notes, because their wings move up and down four times as they fly away from the river. The killdeers respond to the movement of the herons, making their typical “peep peep peep” call several times; their clear and distinct sounds were copied exactly on the keyboard.
These elements—the river, the water, cleared sandbars due to the PRWCT river management effort, and the great blue herons and killdeers on a peaceful afternoon during my fall migration surveys—inspired me.
Though the exact moment of inspiration happened when I was away from them.
On the only day I couldn’t survey because of the bad weather, that feeling, that inspiration pushed me to visualize the place where I wanted to go. I was by my keyboard and the vision came to the tips of my fingers, and I played the melody. I took a pencil and wrote the composition—directly from my heart, my memories and my wish to be at my favorite place by the river to the staff paper.
In the same way, many other melodies have been inspired: “Meditation” (inspired by unbelievably gorgeous sunsets on the Platte River), “Friendship” (the meaning of friendship and making new friends in the region), “Nita’s Garden” (at the beautiful garden of a friend in Grand Island), “I Need You Alive” (a very important word to say to people that we love when they are at risk), “Deep Happy Thoughts” (for my teenage friends), “Christmas with Jesus” (composed for a Hollywood CD production, “The Glory of Christmas,” by Hilltop Records), “Walking with Scotty” (after a walk with my friend’s pet dog), “Memories and Wishes” and “Pleiades” (stars seen in the beautiful sky from here).
“Migration,” composed before I came to Nebraska, will also be included in this “made in Nebraska” CD project. Written during my Ph.D. dissertation in Texas, the song was inspired by my imagining of the life cycle of the whooping cranes and their migration, flying from Texas to Nebraska, continuing on to Canada, and returning during fall migration to Nebraska, then back to Texas for the winter, before beginning the annual cycle again. This is how I visualized stopping in Nebraska to gather food and energy for the remainder of the long journey of 2,500 miles, and I was not wrong!
Additional material will accompany the CD, such as a video that I have done titled “Sounds of the Platte River,” an insert with photos that inspired my work and a music sheet book that includes all the songs for use with beginning, middle and advanced piano students.
Three of the songs are being arranged for other instruments. “Meditation” will be adapted by Tim Tyler from Papillion for orchestra, “Friendship” is being arranged for high school band by Juan Navarro, and “Christmas with Jesus” is being arranged for chamber orchestra, soloist and children’s choir in Grand Island.
This Nebraska musical suite project is my third such production, and it is what I would like to give in repayment for all that the state has brought to my professional and spiritual life. This is my last year as a postdoc, and I will be applying for an academic position elsewhere. I would like to contribute to this region not only with my scientific publications about the cranes but also with the other things that came along during this stopover in my own life’s journey.
Volunteers with Whooper Watch are “citizen scientists” on the lookout for the rare whooping cranes as they migrate south each fall. To volunteer or for more information, call Gil at (308) 384 4633, ext. 208, or 1-888-399-2824 (1-888-3WWATCH).
For more information about Gil’s Nebraska musical suite project, call (979) 220-3956 or visit http://www.karinegil.com.