New Mexico musician Bonnie Schmader attempted to capture the sounds of Canyons of the Ancients in a concert at the Anasazi Heritage Center on Saturday.
Schmader, the national monument’s artist in residence this year, spent about three weeks recording the sounds of birds, wind, thunderstorms and even airplanes from among the ruins in places like Lowry Pueblo and Sand Canyon.
In Saturday’s concert, she incorporated those sounds into a five-part suite called “Soundscape of Canyons of the Ancients” with flute, harp and other instruments. Like many national monuments run by the Bureau of Land Management, Canyons of the Ancients hosts at least one artist-in-residence per year, but according to program supervisor David Kill, Schmader is only the second musician to be chosen for the role.
About 40 people attended the concert in the Heritage Center auditorium. Kill said he and Schmader had considered holding it outdoors, but the rainy weather in Dolores on Saturday made that less palatable.
Schmader said she wanted her suite to immerse the listener in a wide range of sounds from the national monument.
“My objective ... was to create a musical composition that celebrates the unique qualities of Canyons of the Ancients and how they inspired me as a musician,” she said.
Each movement, Schmader said, was meant to highlight something different about the monument. For example, the first movement, “Canyon Eclipse,” was based on the sounds she recorded there throughout the day of the partial solar eclipse on Aug. 21. The third, “Meditation,” was a simple Irish harp piece accompanied by quotes from famous public lands advocates like John Muir. One movement was almost entirely made up of the human-created sounds, such as airplane engines, that Schmader said she couldn’t escape while exploring the monument.
“It’s here; it’s not going away,” she said. “But I think we can try to achieve that balance, and we’re all going to be better.”
For the most part, she described playing her flutes among the ruins all over the monument as a peaceful experience that brought plenty of inspiration. In addition to the sound recordings, she said she used rocks and branches to create much of the music’s percussion in an attempt to immerse the listener in the wilderness.
Most of her music was prerecorded, but she played along with several sections on the bass flute and harp during the concert. Much of the suite was accompanied by slide shows of her husband Matt’s photography in the canyons.
For the last movement, she was joined by Marilyn Miller and Brian Kelley, a fiddler and guitarist from a Mancos-based Celtic band in which Schmader often plays the harp.
Although she said she invited them at the last minute, Miller said she and Kelley have enjoyed playing with Schmader ever since they met earlier this year.
“We were really lucky we found each other,” Miller said.
In her hometown of Albuquerque, Schmader not only performs and teaches music, but also plays “therapeutic music” to hospital patients and people in hospice care. She thanked the Canyons of the Ancients staff who chose her for the artist in residency program, which she called “an amazing experience.”
The BLM artist in residency program will begin accepting applications again in the spring of 2018.