The Sounds of Glacier National Park

Jill Haley puts the Crown Jewel to a soundrack as an Artist-in-Residence

Glacier National Park artist in residence Jill Haley plays her piano on Oct. 21, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Glacier National Park was quiet. The morning’s foggy silence weighed on a sleepy West Glacier, the winds were still, and gentle rivulets from the night’s rains ran across pavement into the soft soil. Inside the Artist-in-Residence home at park headquarters, Jill Haley bent over her keyboard and played a string of notes from “First Snow,” one of eight songs she’s written this month inspired by the sounds and experience of the park.

“It’s delicate, it falls, and it’s pretty,” she explained as she performed. “Very quiet. Peaceful.”

The Pennsylvania-based composer, who also plays the oboe and English horn, moved into the Artist-in-Residence house on Oct. 3, and has spent the last month exploring the park by day and composing original music by night. Since 1997, Glacier has welcomed professional artists every year to focus on their work in solitude, find new inspiration, and create art celebrating our natural national treasures.

This season, the park also hosted Suze Woolf, the Washingtonian “backcountry artist” who creates “burnscapes,” depictions of burned areas; Bryce Lafferty, the Alabama-based watercolorist who renders landscapes alongside underlying natural mechanisms; and Craig Barber, the photographer from upstate New York who uses tintype photography to capture nostalgic and ageless portraits of people who work with the land.

Haley performed her new soundscapes on Oct. 24 at a Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center Brown Bag Luncheon Presentation, and soon she’ll return back east. But the sounds of the park will stay with her — they have ever since she first visited the park with her husband seven years ago on vacation.

“I wasn’t coming as an artist,” she said, “but, (I thought,) ‘Wow, this is really cool. I want to write some music about it.’”

At home 2,500 miles away, she began to write, capturing sounds that lingered. One song became two, and eventually, 12. In 2010, Haley released “Glacier Soundscapes,” her first solo project, a tribute featuring titles like “Stillness on Sinopah,” “Sunrift Gorge,” and “Turquoise Cirque.”

She has since composed award-winning music for Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Mesa Verde National Parks, and this year, she released “National Park Soundscapes,” a collection of music honoring the National Park Service’s centennial.

“For her to come full circle, come back to the place that created the original inspiration, we really like that,” said Jessica Kusky, volunteer program coordinator and a manager of the Artist-in-Residence program. “It’s a bit of a unique art form, not landscape painting.”

The original album “was great,” Haley said, “but a little removed. I don’t want to detract from it, but I truly feel this is more authentic … I also have grown as a composer in the genre.”

She said that in particular, she had looked forward to the Artist-in-Residence opportunity because it would allow her to experience the park with the purpose of creating music, and because she could begin composing immediately after a drive or hike, while the feelings, sights, and sounds were still fresh.

“I go out, come back home, (sit at the keyboard), and go, ‘Oh, that sounds right. It’s right in front of us,’” Haley said. “(At Two Medicine Lake,) the ripples on the stones were pretty, (and I asked myself,) ‘What would that sound like?”

That moment of contemplation resulted in “Ripples on Two Medicine Lake,” one of many songs engaging with water.

“The first week I spent hiking,” she said. “Within the first week, I had eight ideas … No surprise — a lot of pieces are about water: falling water, frozen water. Water is going to be a big part. But that’s okay.”

This was the rainiest October on record, according to the Hungry Horse Dam climate station, and the overcast weather inspired the songs “Rain on Huckleberry Mountain,” which Haley says depicts “the sound, the feel of the rain,” and “Apgar Range in Clouds,” which she described as “spacey.” “Up to Running Eagle Falls” has a faster pace, Haley said, with “vibrancy (to portray the) energy of the water.”

Haley also composed a piece featuring the historic Belton Bridge, which welcomed some of the region’s first settlers from the east. The song starts slow and heavy, to evoke the slow-going labor of moving west, and picks up when “they see it’s really beautiful,” she said, when “they find the joy and beauty.”

She has plans for four more songs, which will musically illustrate Lake McDonald’s Rocky Point, mountain rivers, glacial lakes, and the sun meeting the snow on the McDonald Creek Trail. She’ll compile the suite on a CD, which she hopes to sell at local shops inside Glacier and the Flathead Valley.

“I just hope that it’s an authentic representation of my experience in the park, drawing on all my senses,” she said. “I love doing it.”