Water music

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(Host) Commentator Nick Boke says that a new book about water combines images and words with an unusual vision of stewardship.

(Boke) I want to talk about a book that’ll be released next week. It’s called Water Music. But to talk about Water Music, we must first consider what it means to be driven by a vision of beauty.

Marjorie Ryerson was driven by such a vision. Back in 1995, you wouldn’t have imagined that this modest Castleton State professor of communications was about to spend seven years pulling together the project that became Water Music. And a project it is. Water Music interweaves two aesthetic threads as Ryerson juxtaposes her own photographs of water with commentary about water provided for the book by sixty-six world-renowned musicians.

So, next to the remarks of jazz-great Dave Brubeck is a photo of white water bursting over rocks. Next to a photo of a turquoise sea classical giant Vladimir Ashkenazy compares his first sight of the ocean to the first time he heard a symphony orchestra. Soprano Renee Fleming’s remarks about the timelessness of music are illustrated by a wave at its peak. Folk singer Gordon Bok offers song lyrics that begin, You set your clock by the tide, and in the accompanying photo, waves roll relentlessly toward the shore.

A wide range of musicians participated in this project: from Bobby McFerrin to Taj Mahal to Eugenia Zukerman. The book begins with Paul Winter. It was to him that Ryerson first appealed for a written contribution. The afternoon they spent amid her photographs spread throughout his living room led him to agree to write the introduction. This set in motion Ryerson’s process of reaching out to other musicians, sending a sample of her photos and a request for their thoughts.

Along the way, Ryerson has had a lot of help. It began with the gallery curator at Castleton who invited her to show her photos, and a gallery visitor who suggested that there was a book hanging on those walls. A sabbatical from Castleton gave her the time to do the work. Vermont author Joe Citro put her in touch with the University of Michigan Press that agreed to publish the book.

But the publication of Water Music is just the beginning. Ryerson wants the fruits of her labor to protect the world’s waters, so she has persuaded the United Nations Fund to establish a special Water Music Fund. Royalties from the book will go into this fund, as will any subsequent donations. There’ll be an opening event at the UN Interfaith Center, and lots of readings and gallery exhibitions throughout Vermont and beyond.

Ryerson recalls sitting on the floor of Castleton’s Gallery, looking at the pictures of water that had come to dominate her photography. She asked herself, “What am I doing?” She realized she was trying to discover the full mystery of water. Gradually, she realized that she could never explore it completely on her own. Her solution was to take what she could find and enlist others who might contribute to her understanding. The result is Water Music.

This is Nick Boke in Weathersfield, Vermont.

Related link:
Marjorie Ryerson’s Water Music Project

Nick Boke is a reading consultant and free-lance writer who lives in Weathersfield. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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