national park music

National Park Music: “Carlsbad” by Lon Chaffin

Carlsbad Caverns national park

Back in 2014, I mailed postcards to composition professors in music departments across the United States and Canada. These postcards announced a competition I was running — a competition for composers to write a piece for violin and piano. This piece had to tell a musical story of a beautiful, scenic place that meant a lot to them personally.

Lon Chaffin, the composition professor, and Music Department chair at New Mexico State in Las Cruces found one such postcard on his desk. But the deadline to submit a composition had already passed. (Oops, on my part!) Not to be deterred, he contacted me and asked if he could write a piece regardless. I was just starting to cook up the National Parks project, and he got really excited about writing a piece about Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

Keep reading to learn more about this very special national park music and how it marks the first of many National Park Compositions projects.

New Mexico: My National Park Music Premiere

In 2015, Lon invited me to premiere his piece at the Branigan Cultural Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He also invited me to present a couple of workshops at New Mexico State University.

Click here to see a part of the performance and here to become a patron and see the whole thing! (Wink wink.)

It was a wonderful trip. I managed to squeeze in a Santa Fe house concert (love house concerts!) for the parents of my neighbors in Reno. The program included winning compositions from the competition I held in 2014.

New Mexico is a stunningly gorgeous state. And yes, I did a ton of scenic road driving while I was there …

Those of you who know me (and, now, you, too) understand that I LOVE to drive beautiful backroads. I’ll even be adding another tier soon to my Patreon to share all my road trip adventures across North America. (And there have been some serious ADVENTURES … let me tell you!)

Recording Lon Chaffin’s “Carlsbad”

Later in 2021, pianist Eric Kao, recording engineer Michael Eardley, and I joined forces to record Lon’s Carlsbad at Tanglewood Studios in Reno, Nevada. It was fun to see it come together and fun for me to make it “perfect.”

Michael had fun adding reverb for the version used when filming at Carlsbad Caverns later that year. He was like a little boy in a candy shop with the reverb, which is normally used sparingly.

But for this, he figured out the points during the music video where I was inside the caverns and the points where I was playing outside the caverns and tweaked the reverb accordingly.

It’s kind of ironic because when the video crew and I were in touch with the park rangers in the preparation phase, we were told that we could do whatever we needed.

The caveat? We couldn’t make any noise for the bats. Considering sound travels for miles, playing in the caverns proved impossible. (How cool would it to have been to actually play in there!?!)

Playing Without Playing?!?!

So, how did playing without playing work for the music video? Fantastic question! I used a bow with absolutely no rosin on it so that I could “play” with the recording but not make a sound. Easier said than done!

I realized the great importance of rosin! It took every ounce of my concentration to keep the bow from sliding around all over the place, and if you look closely when the music video is released in a couple of weeks, you’ll spot the points where I wasn’t entirely successful, haha.

I was so incredibly happy to have my regular, rosined bow for the filming that we did outside the cavern!

Carlsbad was the first park to be finished from beginning to end, and I’m so excited to share the details with you. This includes the sheet music, audio recording, behind-the-scenes pictures, and video. Of course, we’ll finish up with the final national park music video, all in the weeks ahead … stay tuned! Get the news before it’s news by becoming a Patron today!