The moment I had the idea of putting together the Mother Earth program, I knew I had to include one of the sets from Karen Tanaka’s Children of Light. This delightful work is comprised of over 20 short pieces, each one based on and inspired by a different animal on the endangered species list.
Karen Tanaka, who at a young age wanted to become a veterinarian, later was able to find a way to show her passion for animals by shedding light on threatened species through her music. Children of Light is organized into five sets and I’ve chosen to include the fifth and last set on the Mother Earth album. Following Northern Lights (the prelude piece to the set), the subsequent movements feature animals from North and South America: Galapagos Land Iguana, Marsupial Mole, Florida Panther, and Polar Bear.
Several criteria are evaluated to determine whether a population of animals should be included on the Endangered Species list, including whether the habitat of the species has been damaged or destroyed, and whether the species has been over-exploited by commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational uses. The good news is that once a population of animals are given the specification of “Endangered Species,” they receive a number of special federal protections and in numerous cases the protected species has been successfully rejuvenated. One of the more prominent success stories is the Bald Eagle. In the 1960s the number of breeding pairs dwindled from just 500 to under 400. Today, after years of concerted effort to aid the eagles’ recovery, we now have over 7,000 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states! Another success story is of the Florida Panther—one of the animals featured in Tanaka’s set. Although the Florida Panther’s comeback has not been quite as dramatic as that of the bald eagle (there are still fewer than 100 individuals in the species), its seemingly inevitable extinction seems to have been staved off. Undoubtedly there is still more work to be done for the Florida Panther as well as other threatened species.
So what can we do about it? For further reading about the issue, I recommend this article from the National Wildlife Federation. To find a list of animals that are currently on the Endangered Species List as well as an opportunity to donate, visit the site for the World Wildlife Fund.
Lastly, (and—I’m not going to lie—I really love this one!!) you can BUY CHOCOLATE to help support endangered species. Yep, you heard that right! Endangered Species Chocolate can be found in many mainstream retail stores such as Target, Whole Foods, and others. You can find a retailer near you or find an online retailer through this website.
I’m thrilled to help raise awareness for endangered species through playing these charming pieces by Karen Tanaka. I want the world that I pass along to my children and grandchildren to be as richly biodiverse as possible. The loss of species impacts more than just the individual animal populations and habitats directly surrounding that species--the changes often ricochet out to have prominent effects on the bigger picture due to food chain shifts, and changes in the environment.
And let's face it--a world with no polar bears in it would indeed be a sadder place.
Walking Alone in the Forest -- Germaine Tailleferre
I live just a few steps away from Schenley Park, a sprawling urban park in the heart of Pittsburgh’s East End separating our Squirrel Hill neighborhood from the Carnegie Mellon and UPitt campuses in Oakland. The bulk of the park is comprised of urban forest, through which numerous trails twist and wind. These very trails are featured in my new short video, Seule dans la forêt (“Walking Alone in the Forest”) by Germaine Tailleferre.
While creating this video, I got a chance to discuss with my daughter Evelyn (who was helping me shoot the film) why our forests are so important to us—why they are important for her, and the generations that come after her. We are lucky to have a forest a stone’s throw from our doorstep, but there are places in the world where the forests are disappearing at an unprecedented rate.
It turns out that deforestation accounts for the loss of around 18 million acres of trees every year (roughly the size of Panama), according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It’s hard to fathom how this sort of devastation can continue without a second thought to the impact on the global environment. I guess it’s easy to think that someone clearing away a rainforest on the other side of the world doesn’t really impact my life right here. But nothing could be further from the truth. To learn more about why our forests are important and what we can do to protect them, watch this beautiful brief presentation by National Geographic.
In addition to the work being done to preserve forests globally, I’m so encouraged about what is going on right in my own neighborhood. Our Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has an ongoing project to help our urban forests retain their resiliency. You can read more about the project here.
Consider supporting the global and local efforts to preserve our green leafy friends. It’s one way to reduce our carbon footprint, preserve the natural beauty around us, and provide our kids with a better future.
ABOUT THE MUSIC VIDEO
I had a lot of fun creating the music video Seule dans la foret (“Walking Alone in the Forest”). I wasn’t actually alone while making the video because my daughter Evelyn came along to assist. We had a delightful time throwing leaves up in the air together, catching falling leaves from trees, and we even had an unexpected adventure when Evelyn was bounding down a narrow path and suddenly left her shoe four feet behind her stuck in the mud!
The music by Germaine Tailleferre is a sneak peek of my Mother Earth album--Walking Alone in the Forest is the opening track on the recording . There’s not a lot of background information about the circumstances of Tailleferre writing this little gem of a piece. There’s not a lot of biographical information about Tailleferre in general, which is unfortunate. It’s clear she was writing a whole raft of large-scale works around the time Seule dans la foret was published and I’m so curious how she came to set this down on paper. It seems so out of proportion with her other projects at the time. Did she jot it down for a student or friend? I haven’t been able to find anything out about Michele Desgraupes-Giraudeau, to whom the piece is dedicated. Was she just simply bored one afternoon and decided to dash off something quick and delicious? Did she have a particular experience that inspired it? None of my sleuthing has turned up any clues.
Tailleferre did have a special friendship with Ravel for a time in the early 1920s before this piece was published. Tailleferre would visit him at his beautiful estate Montfort-l'Amaury and in addition to hashing through music together, they would take long walks through the countryside. Perhaps she would occasionally walk through the woods there on her own. This is the setting I imagine when I play Seule dans la foret—Tailleferre taking a break from writing to go out and gather inspiration in the fresh air.