Music and Nature – two different worlds?
A dancing song from Justin Timberlake on one side, cutting trees on the other side – are music and nature two different worlds? Or is there some connection, even a strong bond between pop songs and the environment? Exploring those questions during a phone call: Singer and songwriter Julia Kautz who interviewed stars like Lady Gaga, and sustainability specialist with the United Nations, Theresa “Lily” Schwarz. Julia is currently living in Germany, Theresa in Vietnam.
What does music mean to you?
Julia: Music means everything to me. My inspiration. My heart. Everything that I am. My songs are always honest. If you read my lyrics, you can look straight into my soul. If you want to get to know me better, just listen to my lyrics.
Theresa: Wow, I even hear birds tweeting in your background while we are on the phone! I have not heard birds for a while here in Hanoi (Vietnam), there do not seem to be many free birds around.
Julia: Yes indeed, I’m surrounded by singing birds right now, as I am sitting on my balcony. Right in front of me I can see trees that are about to turn green…
Theresa: Beautiful! I love music too, especially the variety of it. Music is like a dear friend to me, accompanying me through life and my different moods. Hugging me when I feel sad, boosting me when I need energy… and sharing love and happiness.
Are you rather a music listener or an active musician? Tell us your music story.
Sometimes I really need to write songs, otherwise I am going to explode.
Julia: I am actually both. I love listening to music because it inspires me, and I love writing my own music and being on stage. Creating music almost seems like therapy to me. Sometimes I really need to write songs, otherwise I am going to explode. It all started when I was a kid. I was listening to my dad’s Beatles vinyls as he was a huge Beatles fan, and I recorded myself on my little cassette tape recorder to remember my song ideas. Later, I worked as music reporter, interviewing big stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. I learned a lot about the music industry back then.
Theresa: I remember this time – this is when you and me met in Munich. I agree with you, I also learned a lot during that time about music and media.
Julia: Yes, and meeting those stars was also truly inspiring. Listening to their stories, how they write songs and their relationship to music. I learned a lot from them for my music career.
Theresa: Listening to music is also a significant part of my life. I used to practice music in bands, for example in Scotland. So yes, I sing and play instruments but far too little – I wish a day had 48 hours to do all the things I’d like to do… like relaxing with my tin whistle and friends under a tree after a long working day, singing and just feeling content together. Yes, that would be lovely!
Tell us your most emotional music story.
Julia: I can think of two emotional moments. One moment was when I heard myself on the radio for the very first time. I was super excited and called all my friends. Knowing that so many people would listen to my music made me cry! And another very happy moment was when I heard a song I wrote being performed in Japanese… The song even went to number 1 in Japan! That was extremely exciting to me. . .
Theresa: So amazing, and Japan is actually not that far from my current home Vietnam right now! But far away from you, my friends, and my family. An emotional music story that comes into my mind relates to my family: When my nephews, twin boys, were just babies, I babysitted them sometimes. One of those nights, they cried quite a lot. So I decided to remember some old folk songs I knew from my childhood – and just started singing gently. I had not sung for such a long time, and I simply felt happy. My nephews stopped crying and listened. It was just a warm, calm moment, full of love and memories of when I was a child myself.
What does nature mean to you?
I need this regularly to clear my mind.
Julia: Nature is extremely important to me. Walking through the forest or hiking in the mountains inspires me so much. I need this regularly to clear my mind. We live in stressful times with smartphones so I think getting back to nature is a great break. I love to go outside, lay down on a meadow, feel the grass tickling my feet…Like this I have written many songs.
My new song was actually also inspired from being in nature. The songs is about the city I love and live in, Munich (Germany), but it’s of course also suitable for other cities. I am a city girl but I love nature too as I grew up in the countryside. Luckily nature can also be found in cities, for example the English Garden in Munich. Munich is a very green city.
Munich is a very green city.
Theresa: I agree, I love Munich for this. And you raise an important point: An increasing number of people live in cities, so cities can, actually need to do much more to bring back nature into their infrastructure. Nature gives people a breathing space, for calming down and finding new energy… that is at least what nature does to me. Nature is where we all come from. Without nature, we cannot survive. So nature simply means life to me. I experience this even more in Vietnam now: The capital Hanoi is highly polluted. You cannot drink tap water. One day last autumn, the air pollution was apparently the worst globally. I nearly never see birds flying freely in the city, most are locked in tiny cages. I feel we really need to rethink how we see and treat nature, as eventually, we need it for our own wellbeing and this of future generations.
How often are you in nature?
Julia: I really try to get into nature at least once a week, usually more. Luckily, despite my busy schedule, I can decide when to take breaks – because I also want to enjoy the sun and relax outside. Actually, I am also in contact with international artists and write songs for myself and others every day… And we sometimes book a cottage in the mountains to give each other feedback, refresh and find inspiration. To me it’s very important, seeing something else than just the city.
Theresa: I would love to always be directly in nature – like living in a cottage in the forest, growing my own food. So basically, the total opposite of a city like Hanoi! (laughs) Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my time in Hanoi, also because many environmental and social organizations and institutions are located here, it makes development work and communication easier. That is handy for me as I am helping the United Nations with communicating their UN-REDD Programme: It basically deals with forestry management to achieve for example reducing poverty and protecting the environment.
Julia: Wow, that’s an amazing job! Do you think you will always stay in this city lifestyle?
Theresa: Thank you! Hmm… in the future, I might move to a more natural environment for a slower, calmer lifestyle than my current busy city life, rushing from one place and task to another.
Tell us your most emotional nature story.
Julia: When I was visiting LA (Los Angeles, California), I went hiking in the Hollywood Hills. When I reached the top, I was overwhelmed by the view. And then I realized, how small we actually are, and how quickly we get annoyed by tiny issues while the universe is so big. It was such an intense feeling. Maybe it was the excitement from the hike but yes, it was a really emotional moment for me seeing LA and its shimmering lights from above. I’m soo in love with this amazing city of angels!
Theresa: My emotional nature moment happened in the forest close to the village I grew up in. I was cycling to my new job the first time, my mind occupied with thoughts about work and many other things. Suddenly, the cloudy sky cleared and sunrays broke through the forest canopy. It looked magical. I stopped and forgot all about my work thoughts and worries. I just watched. That is what nature can do to us – just enjoying the moment.
Do you think nature and music link together? Why?
Julia: I totally believe that because music is inspiration and therapy, and nature does the same. A good match.
Theresa: I completely agree with you. The similarities and bond between nature and music is actually very strong. Both are universal: People in different parts of the world understand if a melody sounds motivating, or what wind feels like. Nature sounds like rustling of tree leaves or gargling river water is also used in many songs like meditative music. And both can touch our soul: both can let us feel deeply sad or purely happy.
Julia: Yes, touching your soul is a valid point. Currently, I am writing a song about the beauty of the sky because it can be so relaxing to just lay in the grass and enjoy the sunset. It’s a great show of nature. Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful than just watching the sky.
Do you think such a connection could be shown more often? What would be your tips?
Julia: It would be great if there were more songs that relate to nature, and more music videos filmed in nature. Just recently, I was for my song “Meine Stadt” (“My city”) outdoors, and it was much more beautiful than inside a studio.
Theresa: That is a lovely idea! Generally, more activities should take place closer to nature and include music as both can increase positive feelings. It could happen in so many ways: for example high schools organizing camping trips more often, or even businesses enjoying regular nature walks and music sessions with their employees to strengthen the team feeling.
By the way: Are you a tree hugger? 😉
Julia: (laughs) I think it is cute! I have heard quite often that people do it and that it shall help with wellbeing. It’s such a nice idea, but I have to admit that I myself have not tried it yet though.
Theresa: Yes, it is super-cute! I actually just teamed up as volunteer with some charities to organize a casual tree hugger photo shooting for Earth Day 2017. We wanted to keep it simple and fun to attract even people who would usually not be so interested in environmental issues. Just taking a quick photo, posting it on Social Media to raise awareness about the human-nature link… and then sharing a picnic together in a park. We were so excited to try such an event in Vietnam!
Tell us three strong words that come into your mind when you think of trees.
Julia: Calmness, wisdom, air to breathe
Theresa: Good words! Then I choose: feeling, love, life
Any other comments?
Julia: It was so great talking to you, Theresa! I hope to see you again soon. Maybe we can then hug a tree together 😉
Theresa: Haha I completely agree! Thank you also very much, Julia, see you soon!
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