It started with a piece of birch bark.
Composer Eve Beglarian considered how the bark's markings could act as the score for a piece of music and created a work for 24 upright basses called "A Murmur in the Trees" that asks an audience to proceed down a wooded pathway lined with bowing bassists.
Beglarian often has looked to the natural world for inspiration. For "BRIM: The River Project," the composer kayaked down the Mississippi River and recorded sounds to use in her music. And for "Wonder Counselor," an organ piece about spiritual awe at the miracle of nature, she incorporated the sound of a woman having an orgasm.
This time, she's looking to the trees, and St. Paul-based new music ensemble Zeitgeist is helping realize her vision. Zeitgeist presented the work Aug. 5 at the Wisconsin farm of the group's co-artistic director, Heather Barringer. Now it will offer the experience again at Eagan's Caponi Art Park on Friday evening.
"I knew that bass players were going to dig this piece," Barringer said last week. "I knew, when I saw it, that I had a really good idea of what that experience was going to be like for both performers and audience. And that there really wasn't a line between those two. That's what really thrilled me about the piece."
The 30-minute work takes its title from an Emily Dickinson poem. After the Eagan performance, Emilio DeGrazia, author of 2020's "What Trees Know," will read poetry.
While Barringer isn't a bassist, she was able to rely on the expertise of a few of them. Nick Gaudette, a music teacher at Edina High School, became "bass wrangler," recruiting various players from the classical, jazz and musical theater worlds. Acting as a conduit between Beglarian and the performers was Robert Black, a renowned new music bassist. And the composer went to Wisconsin to share ideas on where to place the players.
"Robert Black created sound files for everyone's part," Barringer said. "So they're listening to an earpiece that instructs them as to what harmonic they're supposed to play and when."
As Beglarian explains on her website: "We are creating the music by treating a piece of birch bark as a musical score, where the lines on the birch bark are notes that are read at the rate of one-third inch per minute, which is said to be the speed at which plant signals travel."
The piece was premiered in a Vermont forest in 2021, but Beglarian's vision quickly changed.
"They were originally doing it in a field and the basses were supposed to represent trees," Gaudette said. "But there was this other area next to it where it was all wooded. And they decided to move all those basses in the field into the woods. When they moved there, they said that you could hear everybody's instrument as you were walking. The way the sound waves were going, they stayed beneath the trees. And it's mesmerizing. It's not so much a performance as an experience. For both the player and the person walking. It's spiritual."
"The line between the noise that the trees make and these instruments made from trees is blurred in this really awesome way. Is it a leaf? Is it a bass player? Is it the wind? What are we hearing? And that connection of human being, instrument, earth, tree. It's a very spiritual piece."
Zeitgeist will perform a run-through of "A Murmur in the Trees" at 4:30 p.m. Friday before rain is forecast to arrive, and the audience is welcome. If the 6 p.m. performance is canceled because of rain, Zeitgeist will notify the public by 5 p.m. at zeitgeistnewmusic.org and @ZeitgeistStPaul
Zeitgeist's "A Murmur in the Trees"
When: 6 p.m. Fri.
Where: Caponi Art Park, 1220 Diffley Road, Eagan.
Tickets: Free, information at zeitgeistnewmusic.org.
Zeitgeist will perform a run-through of "A Murmur in the Trees" at 4:30 p.m. Friday before rain is forecast to arrive, and the audience is welcome. If the 6 p.m. performance is canceled because of rain, Zeitgeist will notify the public by 5 p.m. at www.zeitgeistnewmusic.org and on Twitter @ZeitgeistStPaul