At first, I felt awkward when asked to write a column for the Missoula Current’s Sustainable Missoula. Who am I to write about the environment? I’m just a music teacher. That thought quickly transformed into, “Why not!” The climate crisis is global and impacts all of us, so the more of us who talk about it and share our voices, the more we can build momentum for action, here in Missoula and beyond. And I want everyone to know about Project Earth, an April 22 event.

Over the last few years, I’ve been actively working to channel my own skills and passions to help address the climate crisis, and for Earth Day this year I am thrilled to share with the Missoula community some of the fruits of that effort. On April 22, Earth Day, we will present Project Earth, a combination of music, science, ethics, and action distilled into two hours. In three vignettes, non-profit activists and UM professors in forestry and philosophy will share presentations, each followed by related works of music.

The genesis of this event comes from three main sources of inspiration. First and foremost, I was raised in a family that deeply values the natural world. Our family vacations were spent exploring washboard forest service roads to the smooth rusty ribbons of abandoned railways (my father developed and patented a mountain bike that could also ride on abandoned railroads). He attended church to connect with people, but he openly admitted that nature was his evidence of a greater being. We prided ourselves on leaving no trace of our travels. 

I have also always had a sincere interest in specialties outside of my own. This curiosity, (which I also owe to my parents) has led me to seek interdisciplinary collaborations wherever possible. These events have not only helped deepen my understanding of other disciplines, but also of my own. These types of cross-boundary, collaborative experiences have given me greater appreciation for the complexities of our world, than if I’d stayed in the comfortable, yet insular, domain of my own specialty.

Lastly, I am a music teacher. It is my duty to ask questions, present ideas, and search for beauty. With my students, I work to develop experiences that are purposeful; that offer non-verbal commentary on contemporary life. The arts are a critical avenue for individual and communal expression in a world that seems to have less time for it. I believe the pendulum will swing and we will begin to understand how important expression is to our social fabric. Music also spurs action. In 1957 American composer, Aaron Copland conducted his own Lincoln Portrait for narrator and symphony orchestra in a packed arena in Caracas, Venezuela with despotic ruler, Marcos Peréz Jiménez in attendance. When the narrator spoke the words, “the government of the people, for the people, and by the people shall not perish from the earth,” the crowd cheered and shouted so loudly that Copland could not hear the remainder of the piece. An American foreign service officer later told Copland that the concert inspired the first public demonstration against Peréz Jiménez leading shortly thereafter to his ouster.

My goal in pairing climate change presentations with music for Project Earth is similar: to fuse information and emotion, creating an alloy of actionable determination. At this point in history, we have the tools we need to address the climate crisis – we just need to step up and each do our part, bringing our own stories and skills to climate solutions. There’s no denying the challenge before us can feel overwhelming, but the opportunities to be part of envisioning and building a livable future are everywhere, and all of us have a role to play.

Project Earth offers reflections on this message from various voices and perspectives. UM composition faculty member Bryan Kostors has taught me a great deal about the marriage of music, video and environmental activism. Project Earth features the world premiere of his Standing Dead for wind ensemble and video, a work that addresses the ravages of wildfires in the American West. He and Los Angeles-based cinematographer, Danny Corey, captured video of the charred remains in burn areas in Montana. Climate Smart Missoula’s Abby Huseth and Amy Cilimburg, Winona Bateman of Families for a Livable Climate, Solomon Dobrowski from the College of Forestry and Conservation and UM philosophy professor Christopher Preston have also generously given their time and expertise to create engaging presentations. My music faculty colleagues will share their artistry during the event. Most importantly, the students of the UM School of Music will be showcased. This group of the next generation has not only labored to prepare much of the music that you will hear, they also worked behind the scenes to produce and market the event. 

Project Earth fuses science, music, ethics and local activism into one impactful evening. Partly inspired by UM’s mission to engage with our community and to explore intersections between disciplines, faculty and students from the School of Music, College of Forestry, Department of Philosophy along with local non-profits Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate combine to present an evening of poignant conversations interspersed with large-scale multimedia musical performances. Project Earth seeks not only to evoke thoughts, but to inspire action in addressing today’s climate change crisis.

I hope you will join us for an evening of learning, listening and building momentum, and lend your voice to the chorus for climate action this Earth Day and beyond.

James Smart is Professor of Music and Director of Bands at the University of Montana School of Music.  

Project Earth is April 22, 7:30 PM

Pre-Concert Discussion @ 6:30 PM with composer, Bryan Kostors

Dennison Theatre, University of Montana  


Full Event Information

Contact: James Smart, james.smart@umontana.edu

Note: Some sudden lighting and music may be uncomfortable for some viewers.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – most weeks by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings - lots going on this Earth Month!

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, sign up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter via their homepage here, and sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Happening all month: Mountain Line's Spring Shift. Gear up for spring in Missoula by making sustainability part of your everyday routine. Get rewarded for doing what you can, when you can, and make the sustainable shift. Participate in challenges, ride the bus "Amazing Race" style, or take part in the family-friendly Scavenger hunt. Participants entered in raffle for epic prize bundles, worth over $250 each. Learn more and jump in HERE.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues in Southgate Mall, Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23.

April 18, 12 - 1:15pm: Climate Conversations skills workshop, hosted by Families for a Livable Climate, via zoom. Details and register here.

April 18, 5:30pm: Making Sense of the latest IPCC Report. UM Regents Professor Emeritus and Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist Steve Running will speak about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) most recent assessment and NorthWestern Energy's flawed "net zero" plan at 350 Montana's action committee meeting. Public welcome. At First United Methodist Church, 300 E. Main St. 

April 19, 11am-1pm. Earth Day on the Oval at UM. Local sustainability organizations will be tabling, plus yard games, free snacks, and live music from 12-1pm.

April 21, 6:30pm. “A Conversation with John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.” Details via Griz Hub and register via Zoom. Facebook event link here.

April 21, 24, 28, 30 - Mt Jumbo trail work days with Missoula Parks and Recreation. Signup to help build new and improved trails in the saddle area of Mt Jumbo, one of Missoula’s most-loved and used trail areas. Details via Volunteer Missoula.

April 21 – 24 – Clark Fork Coalition’s annual River Cleanup – this year is a four-day, DIY cleanup covering over 30 miles of river. Choose the place, day, and time that works best for you.

April 22. 7:30pm – Project Earth, a multimedia fusion of art, science and community engagement around the climate crisis, featuring UM Music ensembles, TED-style presentations and inspiration for action. At the Dennison Theater on the UM campus. Tickets are “pay as you can”. Join us for this unique event!

April 22 – 23The 53rd Kyiyo Pow Wow. At the University of Montana Adam’s Center.

April 23. 10am. 30th annual Run for the Trees. Celebrate Missoula's urban forests with Run Wild Missoula and Missoula Parks & Recreation at the 30th annual Run for the Trees! 10k, 5k or FREE 1-Mile, un-timed, Family Fun Run. Various volunteer opportunities are also available

April 23. 12-4pm – MUD’s Earth Day Celebration, at the MUD/HomeResource site. The festival will feature an environmental expo, activities and workshops for children and adults, and educational programs, as well as food, drinks, and local music. 

April 23. 11am-2pm –  WildWalk & Wildfest, in connection with the International Wildlife Film Festival.

April 23 – May 7 – International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula – both online and in-person! 

April 28. 6:30pm – The Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment: a panel discussion with Held v. Montana youth plaintiffs, the first youth climate case to go to trial in the US. Hosted by Montana Interfaith Power and Light and Families for a Livable Climate. Via Zoom – register here.

May 1-14. Missoula in Motion’s annual Commuter Challenge - register your workplace team and compete by logging sustainable commute trips to win team and individual prizes. 

Missoula County Public Schools is embarking on a journey toward Zero Waste and would appreciate your support! Sign up here to volunteer as a zero waste cafeteria coach.

Don’t forget – Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.