Sophie Davis, Ashwood’s strings teacher, will be off on an exciting adventure for the next several weeks. Her travels will take her to a schooner traveling through the Caribbean, while she collects water sound recordings later be integrated into a musical piece to performed by he Halcyon String Quartet. While Ms. Davis is away, Hannah Miller, Ashwood’s previous strings teacher, will be substituting. It will be a special treat for the older children to reunite with Ms. Miller and for class 3-4 to have the opportunity to work with her for these next few weeks. Below is a letter from Ms. Davis. — Jody Spantlet

Dear Ashwood Friends:

I will be spending the next three weeks recording underwater sounds aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, a 134-foot brigantine schooner.
While aboard Cramer, I will collaborate with students and crew to collect sound recordings along the cruise track which stretches from Grenada to St. Martin in the Caribbean. We will deploy a hydrophone at science stations, and I will analyze and interpret this data with the hopes of identifying marine mammals (whales) and other marine organisms.

When I return, I will select sounds from these recordings that are representative of both the natural and unnatural soundscapes typical in our oceans. These sounds will be integrated and arranged (both unedited and sound-engineered) into a multimedia presentation and performance that includes live music (performed by the Halcyon String Quartet), imagery and video footage from the voyage, whale song, and artwork by Massachusetts-based artist Peter Stone, that depicts the reliance of whales on sound communication and the impacts humans are having on their ability to communicate effectively. The performance will combine music and imagery to share new information with audiences while celebrating the resilience of an ecosystem, species, and community.

In addition to raising awareness of marine sound pollution and its impacts on whales and other marine organisms, this project seeks to show audiences how complex and rich the underwater soundscape is—introducing the public to sounds and communication methods that they have likely never heard before. 

Ocean soundscapes are complex, diverse, and dynamic. The underwater sound world is fascinating and largely unexplored, consisting of sounds from humans, animals, geophysical activity, ships, ice, wave motion, and many other natural and unnatural processes. Sound waves refract quickly underwater and can travel thousands of kilometers without losing any significant amount of energy. Many marine organisms rely on sound over sight and smell to communicate. Baleen whales such as humpbacks repeat their songs for long-distance communication that impacts reproduction, Caribbean spiny lobsters emit raspy sounds to escape from their prey, and many other marine animals use sound to attract mates. Increases in shipping, drilling, and seismic activity are creating background noise that disrupts the communication patterns and ecosystems of many species in the marine world. 

This project is inspired by my work with Halcyon, a Maine-based string quartet that collaborates with artists and scientists to create multimedia performances where live music accompanies projections of art to better tell the story of our changing environment. We focus not just on promoting awareness of the challenges we face, but also on fostering a culture of stewardship, appreciation, and action. This project takes our mission to a new level by incorporating sound and elements of sound engineering into the live performance. Our goal is to educate without preaching and to raise awareness of often controversial issues in innovative, empathetic, and creative ways.

Sophie Davis, Strings Teacher