Youth orchestra uses music to shine light on climate change

Feb 7, 2018

Rosy Kauffman plays violin at Grewingk Glacier during the music video.
Credit "Blue Ice" music video

The Homer Youth String Orchestra Club is performing Wednesday night at a fundraiser to support music programming. Those in attendance will hear one of its latest pieces, “Blue Ice.” The song is about one of the most popular sites across Kachemak Bay, Grewingk Glacier. Written by Johnny B., the students have worked hard on the song. They even recorded a music video at the glacier, which was selected by three film festivals in Alaska, Colorado and South Carolina.

At a Homer Youth String Orchestra Club rehearsal for the Paul Banks Preludes fundraiser, each student was concentrating on the notes for the song “Blue Ice.” But this piece wasn’t introduced just for the students to master challenging music. It also shifted the orchestra’s attention to outside the music room. Seventeen-year-old viola player Theodore Handley was one of the orchestra’s members who played in the music video at the glacier.

“We were able to come down over the top of the hill and down to the glacier where we set up all our instruments and cases on the beach, up to shore and we rehearsed a little bit," Handley said. 

The video shows the students hiking and performing as well as historical pictures of the Grewingk Glacier changing over time.

“I had known that it was receding but I hadn't really understood the gravity of it until I started doing the 'Blue Ice' project,” Handley said.

He said it helped him think about climate change in a more tangible way. He isn’t the only one who has trouble grappling with what that change looks like.  Johnny Bushell, who goes by Johnny B. wrote the song and said the "goal was to show people that there is a climate change." He catered the composition to the skills of the youth orchestra.

“We just rehearsed and I kept rewriting it and rewriting it and rewriting it,” Bushell said.

They made the video last August. Climate change can be a depressing topic but Bushell said the kids added joy to process.

“They also loved having the fun and adventure of hiking up to the glacier and seeing how a video was put together,” Bushell said.

The video was filmed with an iPhone and drone camera but the historical photos of the glacier and its recession are sprinkled in as the song speeds up.

“So, to me there's lots of color, there's lots of movement slow movement, but an urgency,” Bushell said of the song.

Back at the rehearsal, conductor Daniel Perry reminds students of the glacier and the emotion of the video as they work through the piece.

"Think about when we hiked over there what Johnny B was thinking about, when it goes fast he’s thinking about the glacier caving off this giant iceberg and kind of this anxious feeling," Perry said.

Even though they hadn’t practiced the song for a while, it’s still clear they know it well. Fifteen-year-old Rosy Kauffman, a violinist said she felt the song not only expressed what she’s seen in the glacier but also expresses the youth orchestra. 

"Taking (music) watching it change, progress, and fit each of us as people is fun, "she said.

The orchestra will be playing "Blue Ice "on Wednesday at the Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser for Paul Banks Preludes from 5-7 pm at the elementary school. The music video of "Blue Ice" will play over the next three months at various festivals.