Environment as experience

Composer David Amram performs at eTown to advocate for water awareness

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David Amram and Matt Moseley come to Boulder to talk swimming, aquatic sing-alongs and water stewardship.
Courtesy of Matthew Moseley

Music is spontaneous and very much alive. It is a type of experience. That is, according to David Amram, a prolific composer who has worked with a variety of performers, writers and artists over his 50-year career, from Dizzy Gillespie to Hunter S. Thompson to Willie Nelson. The 85-year-old musician holds this view of music, whether conducting an orchestra or improvising pieces accompanying long distance swimmer and activist Matthew Moseley.

Amram will be one of three presenters, along with adventure swimmer Moseley and conservation organization American Rivers, featuring powerful water-related stories and music at an upcoming event at eTown Hall to inspire attendees to become stewards of Colorado’s rivers.

The event, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 28, will focus on drawing attention to Colorado rivers through American River’s film, The Important Places, and a short film about Moseley’s historic swim through Canyonlands. Clips of Moseley’s other swims will be shown, and Amram’s music will serve as an important flashback to one of Moseley’s past swims.

Amram was an integral part of the documentary, Dancing in the Water, which follows Moseley’s nearly 15-hour journey across Lake Pontchartrain in southeastern Louisiana to publicize its cleanup. While Moseley swam the entire time, Amram played music without rest on a small boat traveling alongside the swimmer. Amram describes the Pontchartrain crossing as his “first aquatic sing-along.”

“The boat ride seemed to go on forever,” he says. “But then suddenly I got this big burst of energy meeting these two musicians.” New Orleans musicians Papa Mali and Uganda Roberts joined Amram and together the three performers kept Moseley going.

Moseley’s swims, and Amram’s accompaniment, are a means of raising awareness for the cleanup of different bodies of water while inspiring other people to create positive change. This message focuses on how people can help rather than place blame.

“Rather than making a film demonizing people, it was a film about one person taking on a lake,” Amram says.

The film, which many have called an exciting Mardi Gras of a crossing, emphasizes the beauty of nature through a celebration of music and inspirational company.

“Music is extremely important for storytelling,” says Moseley, who is working with American Rivers to organize the event at eTown. He says the collaboration with Amram is integral in telling stories that feel more human, rather than talking in strictly scientific terms that disinterest people. The goal of the event is “getting people to understand, through stories, about water,” Moseley says.

And the spontaneity of Amram’s music is part of that storytelling. He describes the on-the-spot nature of his music as “trying to reflect what that one-time-only experience felt like to me.” He has a unique perspective on the music that he plays, choosing to think of it as an experience rather than a standard means of advocating for change.

Amram will perform some of the pieces from the Lake Pontchartrain swim at eTown, and the music, meant to encourage Moseley back then, is still meant to motivate audiences today. “The music is not about me, it’s about the rivers,” he says.

Amram says the music he plays is reminiscent of the jazz masters’ philosophy of music. “We make it (music) as accurate and meticulous as possible, but make it appear to the audience as spontaneous,” he says. “The spirit has to be in what we do.”

In other words, the spontaneity of the music, whether practiced or not, is meant to evoke the feelings of a moment. Amram believes that even events such as the evening inspired by water, though focused on advocating for environmental restoration, is still a moment that should be people-oriented.

“Events like these are done with the idea of enhancing the community in Boulder,” Amram says. He goes on to say that many of the documentaries normally featured at such events are depressing because they put the blame on the viewer, rather than encouraging them to make a difference.

Amram, who has performed at eTown before, is excited to be returning to Boulder for his upcoming show — one he hopes will invigorate the audience.

“I hope they’ll go home and feel really good.”

On the bill: A Special Evening inspired by water with David Amram, Matt Moseley and American Rivers. 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 28, eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., Boulder, 303-444-8696.