In celebration of National Park Week, we reached out to former Artists-in-Residence (AiR) to see how their experience in Shenandoah has shaped their work, as well as other wildlands they’ve wandered into since.
Matt Venuti plays the Hang and the family of tuned steel instruments created by PANArt in Switzerland as well as the highly expressive and dynamic Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) wind-synthesizer. He was Artist-in-Residence in both The Everglades and Shenandoah National Park in 2019.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your music?
I grew up in the Finger Lakes Region of Central NY State in Geneva. My Mom and Dad had 10 children and since my Dad played jazz piano we were all musically inclined and piano lessons were mandatory. My dad was my earliest musical influence. He was a great player and played by ear and I seem to have inherited this gift. From piano I moved into trumpet and from trumpet to the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI), an amazing instrument that started my professional career that has now spanned 3 decades. Around the year 2000 another marvelous instrument was invented that took my heart away and changed the way I perceive and write music…the Swiss-made Hang; a melodic percussive instrument that you’ll hear in much of my later music and see in most of my music videos.
After many years playing with my San Francisco-based band, I decided to embark on solo tours back and forth across the county. Each year I would spend more time on the road until I was actually living on the road…moving from city to city, playing concerts, staying in hotels and Airbnb’s. I was interested in finding ways to balance travel with some longer-term stays in order to record and work on my music videos.
Tell us about your experience as an AiR in Shenandoah National Park?
I heard about Artist In Residency programs in National Parks and loved the idea, especially since I was already visiting these parks for inspiration. I was also gathering video footage as many of my music videos are nature-themed.
My residency in Shenandoah was a highlight of all my experiences as an artist.
This led me to become Artist-In-Residence in the Everglades in early 2019 and during that stay I had heard about the residency in Shenandoah, which hosted me during the month of September in the same year. My residency in Shenandoah was a highlight of all my experiences as an artist.
I love connecting with people through music, and since the instruments that I play are so captivating and inviting, I found myself on trails, in lodges, campgrounds, and stages throughout the park, introducing people to something new and enhancing their experiences in the park and with nature.
What was it like composing music in the park?
I did quite a bit of composing and made some music videos in the park, and while my bear encounters were always a thrill, the most profound encounter was with a caterpillar one morning on the Appalachian Trail. It was suspended from a translucent strand of web, about 100 feet below the tree canopy and was squirming its way up. It looked like a dance, so I filmed it, put it to original music and called the video “Caterpillar Dance”. There are many more videos on my website that are fun to watch.
Tell us about the Spotify playlist you put together for National Park Week?
I’ve compiled a playlist of some of my instrumental tunes on Spotify called “Shenandoah Dreaming” that could be used as a soundtrack for big skies, rolling mountains and all things Shenandoah… perfect for driving through the park, watching a sunset or just reminiscing about your stay or future visits.
You can find more work by Matt Venuti here: