In this post, I push past what's in my book and speculate an activity a music teacher might attempt to cultivate ecological literacy of local trees.
This past month, in positive news, there was a story about an artist, Katie Holton, who created an alphabet font for the trees of New York City. Each of the 26 letters of the alphabet is a drawing of a tree found in the city, e.g., B for birch; M for maple; and S for sassafras. Though I don't know that it would be practical as a font, unless it were a secret code, it is an interesting way to do ecological oriented art through a common thing in the 21st Century, fonts. My 4-year old son was very interested in the trees, "this [the willow] looks sad, and this one [the crabapple] looks surprised!" Holton suggested that by planting trees, "people will be able to ‘write’ words, poems and short stories around the city." She suggests her font might increase ecological literacy about "climate change, urban conservation, and engagement with nature."
How might a similar model be taken in music classrooms? Though a font might not inspire artistic creation directly, the first seven trees (American beech, Birch, Crabapple, Dawn Redwood, Elm, Flowering Dogwood, and Ginkgo) might be used in connection to the pitch names in a diatonic scale. Perhaps, more musical, might be identifying local trees around your school with children, and then creating melodies inspired by each tree. What might a willow melody, heard by my son as sad, sound like? What melody might a surprised crabapple inspire? Students might compose on glass jars, filled with water to create different pitches, reusing well-worn jars for musical purposes. Obviously the waste bin is the worst place for glass jars, and reusing is better than recycling (the order of the postmodern R's--reduce, reuse, recycle--matters). With modern technology, students could easily record and share their catalogue of melodies.
Students could take photos, and create a slideshow for a concert, in which as each tree is shown, the students play their composed melody. Multiple parts, and beats might be written or improvised to fill-out the composition. And the class can put on an informance (informing-performance); one which reminds their community just what trees are blessing their neighborhood. It may be that students learn (and teach their community) about damaging species they find like the Emerald Ash Borer, or the Fall Webworm, and that knowledge could even help identify outbreaks in time to act. And as the community re-discovers its trees, who knows what old wisdoms elders might remember: You may find yourself gifted with homemade maple syrup, or sassafras root beer!