Education

A Look At Musicians Who Have Brought Aldo Leopold's Words To Life Through Song

Aldo Leopold at the Shack with his dog, Flick.

People will be celebrating the “Father of Conservation” and his influential vision of a “land ethic” over the next few days during Aldo Leopold Weekend.

As an educator, forester, philosopher, and lover of the outdoors, Leopold has inspired generations of conservationists and authors — as well as a number of musicians. Stephanie Elkins, host of WPR’s Morning Classics and Simply Folk, said that part of the reason for that is many musicians are inspired by nature in general.

“It feeds them. It feeds their spirits, it feeds their muse. Leopold’s writing — ‘A Sand County Almanac’ in particular — is something that has touched a lot of musicians,” she says. “From folk musicians, to classical to pop, these are musicians who have become so inspired that they felt they needed to bring the words to life through music.”

Here are a few of those musicians that have been inspired by Aldo Leopold:

Tim Southwick Johnson

After singer-songwriter Tim Southwick Johnson read “A Sand County Almanac,” his life was changed. He wrote an album called “Sand County Songs,” inspired by Leopold’s writings.

The Wisconsin native was also lucky enough to spend a night in Leopold’s famous shack on the farm near the Wisconsin River. Speaking about that overnight stay on a 2013 appearance on WPR’s Simply Folk, Johnson said:

“I opened the door over there around 9 o’clock at night, just as it was getting dark. I found the kitchen matches and lit the oil lamps and started a fire out front. I just tried to make myself at home being by myself … I went down to the river and of course, right on cue, at sunset here’s two cranes flying right over the Wisconsin River. They land on the other side. It’s just like, ‘Oh yeah, here I am.’ That’s what’s supposed to happen here.”

Jean Belmont Ford

Kansas City-based choral composer Jean Belmont Ford was commissioned by The Festival Choir of Madison in 1999 to write music for the 150th anniversary of Wisconsin’s statehood. Belmont Ford wrote a three-part piece, “Sand County,” that featured Leopold’s own words, as well as Belmont Ford’s interpretations.

Elkins said Belmont Ford will not write a piece until she’s emotionally connected to the words — and that’s what happened to her with “A Sand County Almanac.”

Susan Werner

It likely came naturally for Susan Werner to write “Ode to Aldo Leopold.” The Iowa singer-songwriter is an environmentalist and conservationist and Leopold’s ethics fit into her own life and music.