I was a bit of a sneaker when I was a kid. On summer days, I would slide out the front door of my small town home and pedal my bike as quietly as I could across the yard. I wasn’t very good at it. The loose chain would smack against the metal guard every time I hit a root or a molehill, and let everyone know that I was off for an adventure. Sometimes I would just ride around the parking lot of the school down the road, but most days I was headed for the creek in the field with the little red bridge. It was a whole different world, refreshing from the summer heat, an endless supply of rocks for skipping, and teaming with alien life to find. I drifted away on warm days often, and it was here in the shallow waters of Delano Run that my love of water began.
In 2007, I arrived in Nashville with my keyboard and a couple of kayaks strapped to the top of my old jeep. The summer was hot, and it was time to leave the rolling hills of central Ohio for another sort of adventure in the south. I had come to study music in the graduate school at Belmont University. I was determined to find this city’s version of a little creek with a small red bridge while I was here, and I hoped to make some friends along the way. Fortunately, what I found was that this is a city that embraces all kinds of music, that Nashville and the surrounding area are rich with gracefully lazy currents in which to dangle my feet, and that there are good people working to ensure that our waterways stay healthy and steady for the future. There are some pretty great bridges around, too.
Wade [Music for River and People] (www.aaronhokedoenges.com/wade) is a project that grew out of my old love of the waters and music, and my desire to find people who are doing interesting, creative and environmental work. My first thoughts of working on a piece about the rivers in town came during the floods of 2010. Watching the waters churn from something loved into a serious threat made me want to artistically explore the relationship that we have with the waterways that flow through our neighborhoods. It’s a relationship that continues to become more and more complicated with the growth of the city, and the continued development taking place along so many of our streams and rivers.
Installing Wade on the Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge is a dream come true for me, and I can’t think of a more appropriate location for the piece. There on the bridge, while listening to the river slowly ebb below, we can easily see the development happening on its banks. As a meditation on how our city affects the rivers that flow through and around it, the intersection of the Cumberland River and downtown Nashville – with the glitz of Lower Broad reflecting off the river’s surface and the construction cranes raising the city higher every day – provides an important visual reminder of the change that is happening and the work that we need to do to protect our waterways.
One of the reasons this project is so important to me is the partnership it has created. Wade is presented together with Rivive! Nashville (www.rivivenashville.org) - the waterway improvement branch of the Nashville Waterways Consortium. They are working to connect, educate, and work with the people of Davidson County to ensure the health and well-being of the area’s watersheds. I was first drawn to their organization because of the other public arts projects they have supported through their outreach efforts. Their contributions to the mural scene in Nashville have brought the life of the rivers to some pretty big walls in town. It’s a pretty innovative way to connect with a city, and the partnership for Wade was a natural fit. They are telling the stories of Nashville’s rivers, the ways that we impact them, and the things that we can do to ensure a beautiful coexistence. Wade [Music for River and People] allows the rivers to tell their own stories, and encourages people to feel their relationship with them.
Nobody understands the issues facing our rivers and streams more than the folks at Rivive! Nashville. Through their work, I have come to understand that just over 50% of Nashville’s area waterways are considered impaired, which means we may not be able to swim in them, let alone drink from them or eat the fish they offer. Considering the water that we drink, give to our pets, and use to grow our gardens comes from these sources, that statistic is a bit disconcerting.
Improving the health of our rivers seems like such a colossal matter when I think about it on an individual level, but together we can figure it out. So, what can you do to help? First, sneak down to the Seigenthaler Bridge to check out Wade [Music for River and People]. Be immersed in the sonic flow of Nashville’s rivers, listen to them tell their stories, and feel your impact as the music drifts along. Then, check out the One Degree Shift Pledge (http://www.onedegreepledge.com/) from Rivive! Nashville. The pledge is a collective impact project that encourages the people of Nashville to do one small thing that can have a huge impact on our rivers and streams. You can choose to become involved through activities with Rivive! itself, commit to taking care of your lawn a little differently, or you can simply plant a tree so that it will divert significant amounts of water into itself and out of the storm water system. Small things that we as individuals can do to have a big impact together. Along with contributing to Nashville’s amazing public arts scene, it’s one of my favorite things that Rivive! is doing.
Aaron Hoke Doenges (www.aaronhokedoenges.com) is a Nashville-based composer and sound artist. He is the creator of Wade [Music for River and People] – a data-drive interactive music experience installed on the Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge through April 29. Wade translates real-time information about Nashville’s rivers into continuously evolving music that is changed when people move across the bridge. Wade [Music for River and People] is presented in partnership with Rivive! Nashville and is partially funded by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission.
Bio photo: Kimberley Alexandria Day