MAN OF THE MOUNTAINS is one of a few secular cantatas I wrote with my father who provided the words.
I scored it for very modest forces, envisioning it as a small community theatre production:
French horn (Muir), piano, violin, and choir.
For as long as I can remember, John Muir has been a hero to me. In fact,
I often feel that the great Scotsman actually saved my life long before I was even born!
As a solitary, sensitive, and rather idiosyncratic lover of the natural world,
I quickly found solace in learning of Muir’s similar character.
This piece is also important to me on a sentimental level since it was the last thing I
wrote before leaving my childhood home in Marin County, California. In my mind,
I can still taste the sweet air, smell the bay leaves, feel the carpets of thick green moss and
flesh like skin of the madrone tree, hear the music of nature's eternal choir,
and see the countless scenes of glory that surrounded me as I walked the trails to and
through my favorite haunts onward to the high cliff rock where I used to compose music,
read poetry, and dream. That realm was so extensive that one might easily think himself
to be the only person on earth. Oh, for one moment more of that ephemeral bliss!
MAN OF THE MOUNTAINS
(Based on the life and words of John Muir)
JOHN MUIR (tenor)
FRENCH HORN (Muir)
(A video of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, especially Yosemite. Stage darkens.)
(A spotlight shows JOHN MUIR in black like a priest. A mature man with a beard, he is standing alone upstage and facing the audience.)
Come an' see,
come an' see--
Come an' see,
my fellow sinners,
come an' see
I know o' altars
high in the wilderness
where faith is in the rocks
an' beauty in the trees.
Come an' see,
come a' climb ae tree wi' me
to find salvation in the sky.
(The image of a vast forest projects across MUIR and onto a wide screen mid-stage. He looks at the projected image and speaks in the Scottish dialect.)
MUIR (gesticulating): The way to paradise is thro ae forest wildness. Come an' see, m' friends. Come an' see.
(As MUIR walks toward the screen, it rises, revealing a mountainous structure downstage.)
Come and see.
(MUIR begins climbing the mountain to the peak.)
I listen to the wind
singin' thro' the peaks.
I breathe the fragrance
o' the deep green forest.
O Mountain! My Mountain!
(MUIR kneels, joins his hands as if in prayer, looks down, then stands, raises his hands above his head, and looks to the sky.)
I shall be baptized!
I'll climb up thro' the firs an' pines
an' ride the wind waves
o' er the mountains.
Then I'll dip my soul into the sky--
an' I shall be baptized.
(The stage darkens.)
Ye must be born again!
(Behind the mountain a panoramic projection of a sunrise as seen from high. MUIR is standing on the peak, his arms outspread.)
MUIR: Will ye gaze at the glory!
Gloria in excelsis!
(The stage brightens as if in full daylight.)
MUIR: Guid news! Guid news!
(He sits upon the peak and regards the audience.)
MUIR (cheerfully): Howdy, folks! I am John Muir o' planet Earth. The mountains are my hame. They are fountains o' glaciers an' rivers an' the fertile soil.
There one can spend hours w' his head up in the sky, soaring among the stars. I might ha' become a millionaire but I chose to become a tramp. An' I found a new haeme.
I wandered far away frae haeme,
free o' roads, people, an' towns.
Soon I began to sing
in harmony wi' Nature
in tune to the Divine--
built o' rock, clothed in flesh,
decked w' leaves,
bathed in sunlight.
I found ae haeme.
An' I was born again.
MUIR: The whole wildness is alive an' familiar. The very stones seem to talk. An' naethin' is wasted there. Nae particle is wasted but eternally flowing from use to use
like the great River o' Mercy. But now man hae gone astray. Souls starve amid abundance, for everybody needs Beauty as well as bread, places in the wild to play an'
pray, where Nature may heal ye an' cheer ye to strengthen your body an' yer soul. We a' need Beauty for Beauty is God!
Beauty is God!
MUIR: Wherever we gae, the groves vanish. But any fool can destroy trees. An' soon 'twill be dark--unless before too late we a' come haeme an' know the news.
Come an' see the mountains,
the magic of the wildness,
where Nature heals ye,
where human beings
can satisfy thir souls.
Come an' see.
MUIR: Guidness shall prevail. Evil canno' last. Guid must always come in the end.
Good will always come.
MUIR: Come to the mountains to know the news.
(CHORUS files onto the stage and encircles the mountain with MUIR on top. He stands and spreads his arms again.)
MUIR & CHORUS
Come and see,
m' fellow sinners,
come and see m' mountains.
Kneel at the altars of my God
to find your faith
among the trees
and salvation in the sky.
Come, m' friends,
and see the glory!
(The projection of the Sierra Nevada Range plays across MUIR, the CHORUS, and the mountain. While they continue singing, the screen drops down in front of them as a
curtain reflecting the entire projection of the mountains.) (The stage darkens.)