I have developed an obsession with the Mississippi River: especially the impact of the river on the development of American culture. I am interested in how our relationship to the nature, geography, and ecology of the river is manifested in music, literature, and all the arts. Just as the Mississippi River is one of the defining natural features of the North American continent, so it has also been one of the defining features in the development of American culture: and of music in particular.

At this particular moment in American history, I have decided that I need to spend a year traveling the whole length of the Mississippi River starting from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota, meeting and interviewing people I find along the way, recording the sounds of the river, writing music as I travel, performing with and for members of the communities I find.

The journey down the Mississippi has been made and written about by many compelling travelers, from Mark Twain more than 120 years ago, to more current journeys by Jonathan Raban, Nick Lichter, C.C. Lockwood, Eddy Harris, and Byron Curtis, to name just a few.

I share some of these writer’s various reasons for undertaking the journey, and am delighted to have their memoirs as company, but as a composer and musician, and as a woman also, I imagine my journey down the same river will be very different.

I will embark on my journey in August of 2009. I plan to make a musical and sonic journal of the places and people I encounter on my way down the river; this journal will be annotated with written entries and published online as a blog as I travel. I will be making a real-time interactive sonic memoir: the people I meet in Minnesota at the beginning of my journey can travel with me online, commenting, responding, arguing, laughing, talking with me as I go. I will collect and give voice to the sounds, stories, and songs of the people and places I encounter; my goal is for my physical journey to be the catalyst for a shared conversation and shared music-making, a metaphorical journey for those I encounter on my way.

I will travel all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. I imagine reaching New Orleans by the end of calendar year 2009. In calendar year 2010, I will write music at a series of artist colonies and retreats, and form a new touring band to perform the music I write in response to the first journey. In the fall of 2011, I will return to Louisiana and begin journeying back up the Mississippi River. I envision retracing my steps, re-encountering the people I met in 2009, with a new perspective and a thread of stories, songs, and sounds that weave together the many individual voices I have engaged with along my way.

Those I encountered as a stranger in the summer and fallĀ  of 2009 will now be friends and collaborators who will have traveled with me online for almost two years. In the course of that time, I will have made music that can be performed by members of the communities themselves: school bands, church choruses, student groups, retired people. I will create a collection of artworks of, by, and for the people I have met on my journey, which can become part of the repertoire of the communities that have engendered them.

Down and Up the Mississippi