For Fall 2021, we’re excited to bring you Earth Singing Part 2 with the mastermind behind this brilliant eco-awareness music travelog, mezzo-soprano Katarzyna Sądej. This classically trained singer is filling the air with beautiful songs inspired by the very places in nature where she is singing!
What is Earth Singing? In case you missed it, the first Earth Singing blog installment was celebrated earlier this summer. Please enjoy the read. Be sure to click on this new synopsis for the latest updates, below.
Catching up with Katarzyna was such a pleasure. I’m pleased to share her recent adventures singing in Switzerland and dodging dangerous wildlife….
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LRW: I’m excited to share your second Earth Singing installment with my readers. I understand Switzerland was your country of choice for this project. Why Switzerland? Why now?
KS: I have been brainstorming locations that would be perfect for my project over the last three years. Switzerland was an obvious choice because I had been living there for several months, and it’s such a beautiful country, with spectacular landscapes!
I needed to go back during the summer for business, once COVID was at a more controlled status. So, I decided to make an adventure (a mountain-scaling adventure!) out of it, and I made a few music videos in the gorgeous Swiss Alps.
LRW: Nice office view! Sounds like a dream job to me. Exquisite landscapes, indeed. Good strategy. Were there any other factors that clinched the choice?
KS: Switzerland is a bit more environmentally friendly for this kind of project, since you can take the train to most places. It’s also a very safe country, without much crime or dangerous wild animals, so I felt it was a good choice for what I wanted to do. I felt safe hiking alone, exploring alone, and even camping alone. A good “stepping stone” and learning experience if I choose to explore places that are more wild.
LRW: Switzerland sounds ideal for your project. So, how long did this segment take, from start to finish?
KS: This was a non-stop 6-week adventure through more areas in Switzerland than I think most Swiss people visit!
LRW: Wow! No doubt! I understand your videos were shot in the Engadin Valley and the canton of Glarus. (A canton is a Swiss territory like a township.) What’s the story behind your choices? How did you physically get there? Was obtaining permits to film required?
KS: Engadin and Glarus were just two of many regions I visited and filmed in. I chose public land areas so I wouldn’t have any issues making music videos on private lands. I would hike considerable distances and heights for some of these videos, so I can say that I explored Switzerland in great detail! But I was definitely exhausted after those six weeks, and rested for a couple weeks after my hiking extravaganza.
LRW: Good to know. I’m excited to share your video performances with my readers later on in the story. That’s very generous of Switzerland to allow filming on public lands. Ah, to be that young again. You must have had a good compass and maps so as not to get lost in the wilderness. Glad you were able to rest after that full on physical exertion. Please go on.
KS: Well, in any Western country it’s a given that you can film on public land. It’s National Park territories that are generally more protected, where you need permits. I may consider National Park lands in the US for future projects.
In Glarus, where I filmed one of my music videos, I was introduced to the glacier lake by a local geologist Katja Duerst.
I learned the lake was formed by the melting Clariden Glacier. She graciously showed me the glacier lake on a map and gave me the local information about getting there. This is a newly-formed glacier mountain lake, so not many people know about it. It’s a relevant location for today’s climate endangered planet because of the extremely rapid melting of Switzerland’s glaciers. I thought it was a great landscape to showcase, not only for its obvious beauty, but for the important message that this lake brings to humanity.
LRW: Amen to that. How fortunate to have received the location tip from a local geologist. BTW, how do you test the acoustics of a location? How do you decide which music to sing in the selected locations?
KS: I test it by simply warming up in it! Actually most locations which serve as good backdrops will have good acoustics, because of the depth of landscape – without depth and varying objects, locations can appear flat on film.
LRW: Very cool. Interesting. Can you please explain further?
KS: Wherever we find tall trees or rock formations (or mountains!) we will find great acoustics!
LRW: Neat. I promise not to try singing in my nearby canyons. Wouldn’t want to frighten the wildlife, if not fellow hikers. LOL. Speaking of wildlife, do you have any funny stories with which to regale our readers?
KS: I suppose the funniest, or even most shocking stories I have, has to do with cows! Switzerland is full of them.
LRW: Ah, yes. Swiss cheese and chocolate. Now I’m hungry…Wait, what’s that about cows being shocking?
KS: The nature is certainly spectacular, but it’s also “molded” in a sense by thousands of years of farming. The mountain land is very much shaped by the grazing of cows and other farm animals, including on very high areas of the Alps. Aside from the highest peaks and glacial formations, most of the Swiss Alps are affected by cows, which graze at high altitudes, changing the soil there and influencing what grows there.
LRW: I had no idea cows would even be able to graze at high altitudes. Mountain goats, yes. But cows?
KS: Yes. Because of the climate change crisis, the Swiss also have the problem of methane produced by their huge cow population, and it’s a subject of much debate over there.
LRW: I’ve heard about the methane problem with ranches in the US, too. But how were cows actually “shocking” as you mentioned?
And besides the manure accidents, which can happen regularly (especially to me apparently!), I also learned a hard lesson while hiking in Switzerland. Cows can be quite dangerous!
LRW: Yikes! Funny, not funny. I know bulls are potentially dangerous, but cows?
KS: Yes – I was actually charged by one, while hiking in a remote area of the Ticino province, but where there were still lots of tourists, and I was on the hiking trail. She was one of the largest cows I’d ever seen and with the longest horns I’d ever seen, to make matters worse! Many cows approach you and watch you, so I didn’t think much of it, and was just trying to continue along the trail, which she stood in the middle of.
LRW: OMG. What did she do?
KS: She began charging me just a few feet away and hit me on my upper arm. I managed to jump onto a little hill to get out of her way, but I’m certainly glad she didn’t knock me down – because cows can trample you too. And let me tell you – the force of one of these big animals when they hit you is enormous! I had a giant bruise on my arm for weeks, and I still have pain there if I press the area, nearly 2 months later!
LRW: I’m going to say it, don’t hate me, but “Holy Cow”! How frightening that must have been. So sorry to learn you were injured and grateful it didn’t get worse than that. It sounds like she was guarding her turf.
KS: I was definitely wary of cows after that experience and would avoid them if they were standing in the middle of the trail on subsequent hikes. It’s important to respect all animals’ boundaries and territories. I had just thought previously that cows were more used to humans simply walking by. And that is true for Switzerland, but there are always outliers to be careful of. Just like humans, even cows can have anger management issues, right? So if there are cows standing on the trail, in your way, it’s better to veer off the trail slightly to go around them, rather than pass by at a close distance.
LRW: Cows with anger management issues. Sounds like a cartoon from Gary Larson’s comic strip, “The Far Side“.
Thank you for the sobering story and good advice for fellow hikers. Did you hear about others having a similar experience?
KS: Later during my trip, one of my friends in Switzerland told me a story of her friend, who got trampled by a large group of cows while hiking and spent a month in the ICU, nearly dying! So you see… there’s a dark side to that image of seemingly peaceful, grazing cows in the Swiss mountains that we so often see.
LRW: How awful! I hope your friend is doing okay. It sounds like not such an uncommon occurrence after all. Glad to pass along the warning.
KS: On a lighter note, a funny issue while filming any sort of sound in Switzerland is the presence of cow bells throughout the alps. It’s actually difficult to find areas where you CAN’T hear those bells! In my project I want to focus primarily on natural and pure nature sounds (behind the singing), so cow bells technically don’t fit that mold, as they are human created methods of controlling the natural world, and cows are not technically wild or natural there in those numbers!
LRW: Cow bell cacophony, courtesy of RovingRog. I guess the cow bells serve as a warning to hikers? lol In any event, I’m impressed with your stalwart bravery in carrying on with your wonderful project.
KS: Any kind of adventure like this will leave a person with so many stories and experiences. I’m so grateful for all of them – even the dangerous ones – even the disgusting ones! Because we learn from all of them! And the higher we are willing to climb (appropriate metaphor), the more we will get out of it – and in my case – the better landscapes!
LRW: Cheers to baddasserie! In addition to the physical exertion, how did your voice hold up?
KS: Singing at high altitudes, after physical climbing exhaustion, and in colder temperatures, is very difficult, so sometimes it would take me a while to warm up, but I’m glad I didn’t give up, and proved to myself how much I could handle. All of this also came after a very difficult year emotionally, so this was my way of creating something unique and difficult, and not backing down in the face of hardships.
LRW: I love that! Your beautiful singing is proof of your resilience. Thank you for sharing your adventure stories with my readers. Back to the creative side of your project, how did you go about choosing the music to set to the selected landscape?
KS: As far as music choices are concerned, I will sometimes relate landscapes with the words in the poetry. And sometimes I choose songs because I find that the overall feel of a song matches the particular landscape.
For example, with the music video shot at the glacier lake, I chose a song by Reynaldo Hahn, “L’Heure Exquise”, which is a French art song, its title translating to “The Exquisite Hour”, which describes several metaphors in nature so beautifully, including the moon, which I related to the silvery expanse of the glacial formations. The simplicity of the accompaniment with the gorgeous, yet also simple melody reflected well to me, with the crisp emptiness of the glacier landscape. It just somehow fit so well. It came to me in my head as I was falling asleep, brainstorming video ideas.
Gabriel Fauré’s “Après un rêve” sung live in the Swiss Alps
“Le Spectre de la Rose” sung live in the Swiss Alps
“Von Ewiger Liebe” sung live in the Swiss Alps
LRW: Fascinating. Beautiful performances accompanied by exquisite scenery. It’s as if those ideas that float into one’s consciousness without overthinking are often the best. Glad you went with it. I understand you are the sole producer, photographer and videographer. (You Go, Girl!) Why did you decide to produce these videos independently? Will you be taking on sponsors or partners for future Earth Singing projects?
KS: What I am doing is quite different from what most opera singers or classical musicians would undertake. You also have to be willing to put the time into this, put less focus on gaining other gigs and projects, and have faith that what you are doing will garner an audience.
I can do this on my own, but it’s a hard task to ask of someone else – the physical exertion, time away from home, and not-to-mention pumping their own money into this kind of traveling art project. So, I am lucky to have a wonderful pianist collaborator presently who records the piano parts I need from her home, but the travels and wild recordings I do on my own.
I would be thrilled to have sponsors, yes. If that happens, it would obviously be a huge help for my continuation of this endeavor.
LRW: Your project as an opera singer is quite unique, indeed. Your strong faith has already produced remarkable films. Keep going and keep the faith! May I share with my readers the name of your pianist collaborator? Thank you.
KS: Yes, of course. The wonderful Canadian pianist Nadia Boucher has recorded the piano parts for me thus far. She has been a long-time collaborator, great friend, and is also a lover of animals and wildlife – so obviously a perfect fit!
LRW: Thank you for sharing. Perfect fit. How could my readers and I help support your current and upcoming Earth Singing projects?
KS: I do have a patronage option on my website for anyone who is interested in supporting this project. Sponsors will be specially mentioned on my website.
LRW: Thanks for the link. Creative spirits are often multi-passionate, meaning they excel in more than one field of the arts. I’m intrigued that in addition to being an accomplished opera singer, you are also a photographer and videographer. Can you tell us more about this?
KS: As far as the videography goes, I am actually thrilled to be producing it on my own and putting together the music videos. I am a visual artist, I love photography and cinematography. I actually got into it a few years ago when I became passionate about photographing animals and wildlife, so this opportunity to create “art videos” with my own footage is a dream to work on.
In the future, we will see how my project evolves as far as collaborations go. It is of course very time-consuming to be creating everything on my own, but it’s so gratifying as well.
LRW: That’s fantastic. As a fellow creative spirit who has authored several piano instruction books for my school rather than teach from other books, I can vouch for that feeling of satisfaction from creating something on you own. Now, for my techie readers, may I ask what equipment and microphones you used for photos and filming?
KS: I had to be able to hike to most locations and then sing (and still sound professional! LOL), so carrying the least amount of weight was key. I use my Samsung S21 Ultra and DJ Mavic Mini drone – both smaller, but brilliant alternatives to the huge camera equipment we see used in Hollywood!
LRW: I was thinking about that, myself. Glad you found equipment that worked so well with your projects. Will you be making an album or CD of your Earth Singing collection?
KS: That is a great idea for the future! I think for now I am focusing on having a collection of music videos on YouTube and on other social media sites. We shall see how everything progresses.
LRW: We’ll look forward to watching your music videos on YouTube for now. As concert venues reopen and touring resumes, will you be performing these pieces live, perhaps in an outdoor venue in nature?
KS: Again, we shall see how everything progresses. I am focused on one step at a time to allow this project to flourish. I am in talks to do a concert with this repertoire, with images and videos from my wildlife travels projected on a large wall behind me as I sing. This is still in development, so you will have to follow me to see news of that!
LRW: Baby steps are the secret to long-term success for any projects. Glad you are taking your time and relishing each moment as they unfold. Would you please remind me of how may my students, readers and I be kept informed of your future concerts?
KS: I always post updates about all my endeavors on my website and on my Facebook page, so please feel free to follow me on my social media to keep up to date.
LRW: I will and look forward to blogging about them as they come to fruition. Best wishes to you on your wonderful Earth Singing project and hope it brings the attention to the arts and the environment that you envision and that is greatly needed for our culture and future on the planet.
To learn more about Katarzyna Sądej, click on Linktree for her website and social media platform pages.
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