The ensemble's songs take root through 'collective germination.'
It's not unusual for nature to inspire songwriting, but few musicians call their work eco-friendly. A score can be printed on recycled paper, but a melody can't stop global warming.
But maybe we're not having enough faith in music's power. Just ask Graminy, a local band that fuse bluegrass and classical music. They think music can have a concrete impact on the environment. That's one reason they're participating in the Loving of the Land benefit at the UW on April 13. They hope their music inspires people to contribute to the university's graduate program in sustainable agriculture.
"Our number-one goal is to play great music, the kind that taps your toes and also taps your mind," says mandolin player Michael Bell, the band's founder and driving force. He also teaches agro ecology at the university and leads the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the main sponsor of the event.
The Handphibians, a Brazilian percussion group, will also perform, and Wisconsin Public Radio's Stephanie Elkins will emcee.
"We're going to finish the show with both groups coming together to do a kind of environmental anthem I wrote called 'Loving of the Land,'" Bell says. "Fiddle, mandolin, guitar, viola, cello and Brazilian drums. Pow! It's going to be a first."
Graminy also illustrate the symbiotic relationships of the natural world on Germinations: A Bluegrass Symphony in D, a new album that strives to put many styles of music in conversation.
"Graminy features the classical flavor of the string trio - violin, viola and cello - merged with the core bluegrass sounds of the mandolin and steel-string guitar," says guitarist Chris Powers. "[On] Bluegrass Symphony in D, each of the three movements features a tune that could hold its own as an instrumental in a bluegrass band."
Bell describes the group's collaborative songwriting process as "collective germination." Powers, meanwhile, uses musical terms: "We start with a basic melody and chords, and someone has a brilliant inspiration.... We try it, and maybe it works. Then someone else has a brilliant inspiration, and we try that. We expand it, we harmonize it, we shake and rattle and knock it around until we have a completed piece."
The band created their symphony as part of the D-Composition Project at the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg, which Bell says "highlights the creativity of the world through the metaphor of decomposition."
"Bacteria and worms and other tiny, wiggly things break the old down so we can grow something new," he says. "So, of course, our symphony had to be in D: a D composition."