One of the most rewarding parts of my work at Friends has been the chance to collaborate with a wide array of community partners—from the Portland Timbers to Love Is King—on joint public education efforts to explore pressing conservation challenges facing the Gorge and other treasured natural places around the Pacific Northwest.
This has included working with local community partners on several projects designed to elevate youth voices—including students in White Salmon and Hood River—concerned about the impact of climate change and threat of wildfires to the Gorge. Now, we're excited to build on these previous efforts with a new partnership with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony.
On March 6, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony (MYS)—as part of its Spring Concert, "In Characters of Fire"—will be presenting a special piece, Smoulder, composed by Portland composer Andrea Reinkemeyer. Written in years following the devastating Eagle Creek fire, the piece "evokes the devastation of forest fires and other ominous signs of climate change," and underscores how fragile treasured Pacific Northwest natural places can be in an age of increased wildfire danger and growing climate change impacts. The March Concert is the second to feature the Youth Symphony Orchestra live and in-person since pivoting back from online programming during the 2020-21 season.
In the weeks running up to the concert, Friends has been working with Youth Symphony musicians and staff on a joint digital communications campaign to underscore how we all—no matter our age—have a role to play as active, everyday stewards of the Columbia Gorge, and other natural places, in support of regional wildfire and climate residence efforts. Following the concert, we'll be working to take the student musicians out for an on-the-ground educational opportunity in the Gorge.
We recently spoke with Dr. Raúl Gómez-Rojas, the music director and conductor with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony about our new community partnership, the connection between art and nature, and why it's important for youth to have an active voice on pressing environmental challenges such as climate change.
Tell us more about the music the students will be playing on March 6 and how it relates to threat of climate change and wildfires.
Dr. Gómez-Rojas: MSY always likes to present music that lends itself toward meaningful, relevant discussion and contemplation. This Saturday will be with the world premiere of Smoulder—a commissioned piece for orchestra.
Composed by Dr. Andrea Reinkemeyer in years following the devastating Eagle Creek fire, Smoulder evokes the devastation of forest fires and other ominous signs of climate change. The piece is a powerful reminder of the devastating effects of the wildfires that continue to cause great destruction across the Western United States, exacerbated by climate change.
Dr. Reinkemeyer wrote Smoulder to honor the young performers who will deal with these complex issues for the rest of their lives. And it's exciting that our students want to use their musical platform to challenge listeners to action over issues meaningful to them.
Why did the students ask to add a public education component to their concert?
Dr. Gómez-Rojas: MYS students know that playing music together is fun and exciting, but they also understand it is a powerful way of raising your voice for important issues. I've learned that their generation deeply cares about racial equity and climate activism as keys to a better future. And we're looking forward to the chance to get the students out into the Columbia Gorge for an on-the-ground educational opportunity after the concert.
At MYS, we always use music as a tool to educate. It is so important for our students to share what matters most to them. Finding a partner to voice these concerns is thrilling; our students love their community, they love the Gorge, they love that they can use music to inspire audiences to action.
Getting the students later this spring out to the Gorge will be a great opportunity for them to both experience nature and learn more about the challenges climate impacts may present. It also will be a great reward for all of their hard work and dedication for the concert.
Why is it important for youth to have a voice on issues like climate change?
Dr. Gómez-Rojas: MYS students know that playing music together is fun and exciting, but they also understand it is a powerful way of raising your voice for important issues. … I've learned that their generation deeply cares about racial equity and climate activism as keys to a better future.
We are so proud of the excellence and talent of all the young artists who will be performing on Saturday, and their passion on issues like climate change is inspiring. It's important that we work to support tomorrow's future leaders in expressing themselves and we're glad Friends of the Columbia Gorge is partnering with us on this effort.