Interview with Nathan Cornelius, October Artist in Residence at the Shenandoah National Park.
Get to know Nathan Cornelius, the October 2021 Artist in Residence at Shenandoah National Park, proudly supported by the Shenandoah National Park Trust. Nathan, a composer, searches for the hidden beauty in sounds both fresh and familiar, opening listeners’ ears to new colors, textures, and ultimately, new ways of hearing.
SNPT: Where are you from?
NC: I grew up in Illinois and Minnesota, and I currently live in Philadelphia.
SNPT: What type of art do you create? What is your background with music?
NC: I do a bit of performing, composing, and teaching music. My main instrument is classical guitar, which I started at age 12, after learning piano when I was very young. Composition has been something I’ve gotten into more gradually in college and afterwards.
SNPT: How did you start your career as a musician and how has it developed?
NC: I went to school mostly for classical guitar performance, but I also got degrees in composition and music theory. Currently, I teach college music theory part-time, with a little freelance composing and performing.
SNPT: How does nature inspire your work, and what is your background with the outdoors
NC: My interests in classical music and in the national parks developed almost in parallel. I vividly remember riding into Great Smoky Mountains NP on a family road trip at age 11. After heavy rain the previous day, rivulets and cascades splashed down the hillsides at every turn to join the Little River. As we drove, we listened to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The way the clarinet and xylophone bounced back and forth and eventually were joined by the full orchestra, swelling into the famous Shaker tune, seemed the perfect depiction of the landscape unfolding before us. The following year, another road trip took us to several Western national parks, most memorably Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Afterwards, I listened to parts of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” while looking through my photos from the trip. The bold gestures of Dvorak’s music conjured up the mountains and meadows of the Rockies for me all over again.
Besides my childhood experiences I mentioned, going to school in Denver for a few years had a big impact on me. Getting out into the Rocky Mountains on summer weekends provided the space I needed to think through music I was working on, and also took my love for the outdoors to a new level.
SNPT: Who has influenced your work the most?
NC: I could name a bunch of famous composers, or teachers and colleagues I’ve had. But if I had to pick one person, it would be my mother, for constantly reminding me that music should tell a story.
SNPT: What, if anything, do you try to say with your work? What message do you hope to send with your work?
NC: Music has a unique ability to help us reflect on our experiences, connecting our thoughts, feelings and memories. I want to write music that captures some aspect of the joy and wonder of visiting the national parks and other wild landscapes, and reminds us of what we consider beautiful.
SNPT: Do you have any ties to the Shenandoah National Park?
NC: Not particularly. My wife and I visited the park for a weekend backpacking trip last year, got soaked in the rain, and are looking forward to seeing the beautiful fall colors again.
SNPT: Outside of your artwork, what are you most looking forward to doing in the Shenandoah National Park?
NC: Two of my biggest interests outside of music are photography and hiking/running, and I’m looking forward to doing plenty of those in the park too. I think shooting the sunrise from Skyline Drive, exploring a new trail, and coming back to write some music sounds like a pretty great day
Keep an eye out on our Facebook page for Nathan’s Facebook Premier video release at the end of the month. Check out our Artists-in-Residence Page for more information on this program!