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A Playlist for Earth Day

For Earth Day 2021, I polled our staff for music that they associate with nature or the environment. Here are their picks, and why they think we should listen. Enjoy, and let us know in the comments what you’d recommend!

Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”

This is a song that I listened to in Walkman days. It was a constant on my mixtape as I walked around New York City, and became inextricably linked with the sights and rhythms of the city. When I walk along the streets of New York now, or wish I were, in covid times, I hear Tracy Chapman singing… – Anne Adams, Senior Music Cataloger

Aaron Copland, “Nature, the gentlest mother,” from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

The opening piece in this beautiful song cycle. Listen because it’s Emily Dickinson’s words and the composer at the piano. – Peter Laurence, Librarian for Recorded Sound and Media

Thierry Pécou, L’Oiseau innumerable

I have been working from home for over a year, making sporadic and very brief visits to the Music Library but otherwise installed at an improvised standing desk (my dresser). Sometimes my apartment is noisy with the happy chaos of family life. When the pod convenes elsewhere, though, it is quiet. It is then I am reminded that I am never really alone as there are many birds in my neighbourhood, far more than I’d noticed before the pandemic. Their songs change as the day progresses, from the gentle dawn chorus to the merry chirps at lunchtime, and a few hoots from the local confused owl mid-afternoon. There are woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays and of course chickadees. – Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger

Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, “What a Wonderful World” (Original spoken intro version)

It’s the great Louis Armstrong. It’s a classic, and ALWAYS brings a tear to the eye. – Rhona Freeman, Library Assistant, Archive of World Music

Gabriel Faure, “Paradis,” from La chanson d’Eve

To me this song is the first rays of dawn; a pristine, untouched earth; burgeoning spring growth; all the beauty that can be found on this globe. – Anne Adams

Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” (1974)    

During the early years of mainstream environmentalism, the American group Sparks (far more appreciated in the UK than in their homeland) released this baroque pop piece that warns of the dangers of not showing reverence and care for the planet. – Josh Kantor, Assistant Keeper, Isham Memorial Library

Antonín Dvořák, “Song to the Moon,” from Rusalka

I know it’s Earth Day and not Moon Day but the Moon is technically part of nature. This is the only thing I can think of right now. Wherever you go in the world and whatever else is going on in your life, you can look up at night and watch the Moon getting bigger and smaller and bigger again as it moves through the sky. It gives us the tides and lights our way at night. The Sun goes away at night, but the Moon is there during the day if you look for it. If you’re on one side of the world and someone you love is on another, you can both share the Moon. – Sarah Barton, Circulation Supervisor

Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, and Panaiotis, Deep Listening

As I think about how music intersects with Earth Day, the concept of “deep listening” as coined by Pauline Oliveros comes to mind. Deep listening is based on the principles of meditation, the art of listening, and responding to environmental conditions when combined with sound created by performers. This recording is the result of descending 14 feet into an underground cistern in Port Townsend, Washington while performing minimal live electronics, vocals, trombone and accordion as ambient drones. – Liz Berndt-Morris, Reference and Research Services Librarian

Carole King, “I Feel the Earth Move”

Although the references to the earth in this song are metaphors for a romantic relationship, I feel it applies to the state of the world today, socially and environmentally. Sometimes when the weather starts to “mellow” as in the upcoming month of May, instead of simply enjoying it, I am reminded of the stark contrast compared with the crises of the world. As the earth moves and warms and the sky tumbles down around us, nature reminds us of what we stand to lose. – Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant, Archive of World Music

John Harbison, The Natural World. Prelude

This movement of “The Natural World” reminds of me of the kinds of patterns of sound I hear when taking walks around Horn Pond– Sandi-Jo Malmon, Librarian for Collection Development and Interim Richard F. French Librarian

Marvin Gaye, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (1971)

Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On was named by Rolling Stone magazine in 2020 as “the greatest album of all time.” At the time of its release 50 years ago, it was an immensely innovative effort to fuse Gaye’s impeccable R&B arrangements with pointed contemporary social protest lyrics, all without compromising commercial viability. Though some lyrical themes on the album such as the injustices of poverty, war, and police brutality had previously been explored by other composers in sporadic fashion, What’s Going On was the first popular LP to address such topics extensively, and the album’s second single, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” released one year after the inaugural Earth Day, was the first hit song to frame the urgent need for cleaner air and cleaner water as an issue of racial justice. – Josh Kantor

John Luther Adams, Lines Made By Walking

After a year+ of travelling the neighborhood on foot while missing the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, I enjoy the fluid grandeur of this three-movement string quartet, performed by the JACK Quartet: up, around, and back down the mountains. – Kerry Masteller, Reference and Digital Program Librarian

Raffi, “Big Beautiful Planet”  

For little ones—and NOT-so-little ones—the beloved children’s entertainer, Raffi, sings this wonderful song at a live concert.  There are other URLs for it, but this one is Raffi, live. – Rhona Freeman

Liza Lim, How Forests Think: IV. The Trees

The forest is a place I feel safe and one that is always evolving—we must preserve them! Liza Lim bases this composition on the work of anthropologist Eduardo Kohn, who writes about forest ecologies. It is precisely what is interesting about listening to this movement. – Sandi-Jo Malmon

XTC, “Summer’s Cauldron”

The opening sounds of crickets, birds and bees signal this is no ordinary brilliant pop song. – Peter Laurence

Tom Lehrer, “Pollution”

Now in his 90’s, the satirical songwriter (and mathematics professor!) Tom Lehrer wrote “Pollution” in 1965. Pre-Earth Day. – Rhona Freeman

Lei Liang, A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams

This work is inspired by a Chinese painting by legendary artist Huang Binhong. Liang composed the music using unique sources and methods to imply that natural heritage is danger, and cultural heritage is as well. He writes, “The world we live in today is dangerous. Our very existence is threatened by global warming, which is causing violent disruptions to the living things on our planet and being made worse by human irresponsibility.” We must be alerted! Liang won the 2021 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for this work; view his acceptance speech here– Lingwei Qiu, Library Assistant for Print Music

Michael Friedman, The Great Immensity

The late composer/lyricist, Michael Friedman, wrote an Off-Broadway musical titled The Great Immensity,  dubbed a “thriller”, and centering on climate change. Here are 2 songs from it: “We Are All Panamanian” and “Climate Change Suite: Stockholm 1972, Rio 1992, Kyoto 1997, Copenhagen 2009, Warsaw 2013.” All the songs are really something! – Rhona Freeman

Olivier Messiaen, Le Merle noir

Last spring, the birdsong seemed particularly vigourous, possibly because I’d never spent so much time here, ready to listen for it. All year I have found myself reminiscing almost daily about the pleasure of discovering, at university, the music of Olivier Messiaen, a composer and ornithologist who wove birdsong into his works. “What I love about Messiaen,” my classmate Brigitte once said, “is how the birds don’t really sound like birds. You know, like, the piece is called Le merle noir and it’s all, BLAP BLAP.” I know, Brigitte, I know. And yet, who’s to say what birds sound like to other people? Perhaps the blackbird really did sound sort of blappy to Messiaen. Or could he be trying to nudge us to recall that birds, however beautiful and ethereal, are technically flying dinosaurs. It’s subjective, like everything about nature and the world. It’s in how you live and hear and remember it. I miss the library (and other adults) terribly but I’ll miss my bird companions. – Christina Linklater

Deborah Silverstein, “Draglines”

Performed here by the New Harmony Sisterhood Band, this song responds to the devastation of livelihoods and landscape caused by Appalachian strip mining. (I first learned it from the Reel World String Band’s version on Rounder Records compilation They’ll Never Keep Us Down: Women’s Coal Mining Songs, and highly recommend the entire album.) – Kerry Masteller

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, “The Hills Are Alive,” from The Sound of Music

For many the song evokes the images of glorious mountain tops and powerful reminders of the ways in which the earth sings to its occupants. Take a minute to listen and bask in the hope of pristine mountain tops! – Patricia O’Brien, Administrative Coordinator

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Happy Birthday, Jenny Lind!

In commemoration of renowned Swedish soprano Jenny Lind’s 200th birthday on October 6th, we’re taking a look at her time in and around Boston during her 1850-1852 U.S. tour. Lind came to the United States soon after her European opera career ended, at the invitation of infamous impresario Phineas T. Barnum. Starting in September 1850, she gave ninety-three concerts under his management, traveling to cities including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Havana, and Cincinnati over the course of nine months. A combination of Barnum’s publicity and Lind’s much-admired voice and charitable giving made her hugely popular across the country – indeed, “Lind mania” swept the nation.

Lind gave seven concerts in Boston under Barnum’s management, third to New York (where she gave thirty-five) and Philadelphia (where she gave eight). After an amicable break with Barnum, she continued touring the northeast, giving five Boston concerts in June 1851 and returning for another short series in November-December of that year. Boston at this time was known for its sacred music ensemble, the Handel and Haydn Society (est. 1815); the Germania Orchestra, a touring group from Berlin which accompanied Lind on several occasions, would establish their home base in Boston in 1851. In addition to the city’s musical life, this Jenny Lind Promotional Newspaper held at the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut, reasons Boston’s allure was also environmental.

Jenny Lind Promotional Newspaper clipping

Jenny Lind Promotional Newspaper. Published by F. Gleason, Museum Building, Tremont Street, Boston, p3

1850 September 23 Jenny Lind elected Honorary Member, by acclamation, of the Boston Musical Fund Society, a musicians’ cooperative. (She was not present to accept.)

1850 September 27 First performance in Boston at the Tremont Temple. The Boston Daily Evening Transcript reported that even with muddy streets, “every seat in the Tremont Temple was occupied before eight o’clock.” Her portion of that first program included operatic favorites by Rossini and Weber, as well as an audience favorite, the “Herdsman’s Song,” a Swedish melody. Lind took up residence in a four-room suite at the Revere House, an upscale hotel that was destroyed in 1912.

etching of Tremont Temple

“Tremont Temple” The Boston Directory for the year 1851

1850 September 28 Lind received many visitors, including politician and former Harvard president Edward S. Everett, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Massachusetts governor Colonel George N. Briggs. Lind visited the Harvard Observatory a few nights later on Everett’s invitation, during which time a comet reportedly flew overhead.

1850 October 1 Second performance in Boston at the Tremont Temple. The second program included additional operatic standards by Rossini, Meyerbeer, and Mozart.

1850 October 6 Fourth performance. The first half of the program featured sacred music, including selections from Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Creation.

1850 October 10 Charity concert. Lind raised over $7,000 (over $200,000 today) which she donated to organizations including the Boston Port Society (later the Boston Seaman’s Friend Society), the Musical Fund Society, and the Association for Aged and Indigent Females.

1850 October 12 Concert in Boston at the Fitchburg Railroad Hall. The crowd became rowdy when some ticket holders reportedly could not access their seats and several windows were broken to improve the ventilation, but the concert eventually went on as scheduled. The Jenny Lind Tower, relocated to North Truro, MA in the 1920s, was originally part of the hall; Lind reportedly climbed the tower during her visit.

1851 June 18 First concert in Boston since her break with Barnum. Historian Robert Gales notes that Lind made a June visit to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at his home on Brattle Street in Cambridge.

1851 summer After concluding her concerts in Boston, Lind traveled to Springfield and Northampton, where poet Emily Dickinson heard her sing on July 3.

1851 November 22 Concert at the Melodeon in Boston. The New York Times mentions it was a sold out performance. The Boston Morning Journal noted that the Melodeon was acoustically superior to the Tremont Temple and Fitchburg Railroad Hall, allowing for “the full extent, the richness and purity of her magic voice” to be heard.

1851 November 25 Sold out concert cancelled on account of illness.

1851 November 28 Lind returns having “recovered from her indisposition.”

1851 December 1 Another concert at the Melodeon. On this occasion, the New York Times reports Lind was experiencing hoarseness due to a cold and chose to forego her first piece.

1851 December 6 Final Boston concert.

1852 A new Music Hall (now the Orpheum Theatre) is dedicated by Jenny Lind.

newspaper clipping from New York Times announcing Lind’s marriage

Lind marriage announcement in The New York Times.

1852 February 5 Lind marries her accompanist, Otto Goldschmidt, at a friend’s Beacon Hill home. The New England Historical Society writes about the private ceremony. The event – which had been organized in complete secrecy – astonished press and fans alike (“Jenny Lind Married–The Nightingale Flown Into the Nest of Matrimony” read one headline in Vermont). The couple honeymooned in Northampton, Massachusetts for three months.

Boston Marriage Register

Boston Marriage Register from February 1852 featuring Lind and Goldschmidt. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988)

For more information about Jenny Lind, see these online and digitized collections:

Europeana Collection of Jenny Lind Paper Dolls

Stanford University Jenny Lind Collection


Gale, Robert L. A Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Companion. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Holland, Henry Scott, & Rockstro, William Smith. Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmid: Her Early Art-Life and Dramatic Career, 1820-1851. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Ware, W. Porter and Thaddeus C. Lockard, Jr. P. T. Barnum Presents Jenny Lind: The American Tour of the Swedish Nightingale. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

This post was written collaboratively by Liz Berndt-Morris and Katie Callam (PhD ‘20).

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