A Walk in the Woods

“A Walk in the Woods” is a piece of music that Jackie Ecle, Class of 2015 from CUA’s School of Music, wrote in response to this morning’s reading, “Unnerved to the Core.” Listen to the piece using the following audio source:

Below Jackie discusses the piece in her own words:

“A Walk in the Woods” is written in the key of G minor for two violins. I actually started writing this for piano, then piano and violin, and after many revisions, I realized that the eerie, unnerving sound I wanted to create would best be achieved through a violin duet.

I want the listener to feel the same “atmosphere of pregnant doom” that Bryson illustrates in the excerpt, where he sets a tone of hopelessness and the horrible feeling of being lost with no direction. My piece opens with a dissonant cluster chord to establish panic from the beginning. Whereas Western music traditionally ends with stable chords to convey a sense of conclusion and finality, “A Walk in the Woods” concludes with the same dissonant cluster chord that opens the piece, to achieve the sense that there is no escape from the “sinister” woods, making a walk in the woods all the more frightening. Even though my piece is called “A Walk in the Woods,” after Bryson’s book, I wanted the listeners to feel like they are running from something—the looming woods themselves. Bryson maintains throughout the excerpt a sense of alarm, so artfully painting a picture of the “grim and wild…savage and dreary” American woods; I felt that an alarming sound would be effectively created by many arpeggiated diminished and minor chords, as well as the repetition of sixteenth notes played throughout the piece by the first violin, which reminds me of a pounding heartbeat and pumping adrenaline.

Hopefully my piece gives the listeners a better sense of just what Bryson describes: a walk in the woods will leave you “unnerved to the core.”

What effect did Jackie’s piece have on you? In what ways is listening to the piece similar to reading Bryson’s words? In what ways are the two activities different?

Photo: “the violin” by wolfgangfoto is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Susanna Torres says:

    Jackie Ecle’s portrayal of “Unnerved to the Core” was accurate down to the details. It seemed to me that Bill Bryson’s description of the panic of being lost in the woods was told in a very matter-of-fact manner. Jackie’s piece, then, complemented it by helping to immerse the reader/listener even more into the experience that Bill is describing.

  2. Brittany Young says:

    “A Walk in the Woods” perfectly reflects the mood of this excerpt and then gives it a new dimension – sound. After listening to this piece, then quickly reading the passage again, the effect of Bryson’s words has been magnified and the distinct qualities of eeriness and impending fear have been brought out. The same uneasiness that is inherent to the reading accompanies the listening portion as well, however listening to this piece leaves more room for imagination, and when coupled with the reading it can provoke darker thoughts as to just how “savage and dreary” the woods really are.

  3. Dominick D'Alessandro says:

    Jackie Ecle’s composition precisely represents the feeling depicted in Bill Bryson’s excerpt. One violin plays a line with melodic structure while the other plays a repetitive accompaniment pattern. This accompaniment closely resembles the forms and concepts associated with minimalism. It creates an eerie, unnerving, and sinister effect of perpetual motion. The effect parallels Byron’s description of the woods as they overwhelm, surround, and loom over you with their vastness.

  4. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    Eeeeee…right when I pressed the play button, my face immediately cringed. As a (mediocre) violin player myself, I felt every eerie sound that Jackie meant to convey, and it showed through my face. I felt, throughout the entire piece, like something was chasing after me and never stopping, but I didn’t know what it was. The feeling was so strange, like being chased by my own shadow.

    Jackie completely captured what I felt reading Bryson’s “Unnerved to the Core.” There was adrenaline but at the same time an ongoing cycle of running away from nothing. The piece as well as the excerpt from the Primer kept resonating through me over and over…even when I turned the page and even when the music stopped playing. It’s as almost if I was in the woods at this very moment.

  5. John Gaudreau says:

    Prior to hearing Jackie’s musical composition, I was not able to fully picture in my mind the woods as Bryson had imagined them. After listening to her piece however, I felt left with the same sense of fear and adrenaline rush that Bryson highlights on in “A Walk in the Woods”. I could almost picture myself running for my life through the woods while I was being pursued by an unknown assailant. The high notes of the two violins also seemed to make the imagery of the woods so much more dark and enveloping to me.

    This musical piece is similar to reading Bryson’s words in that they both describe a feeling that any and all people get when they enter the woods. The feeling that you are being watched by someone or something and the “fight or flight” instinct is made ready should danger come upon you. However, the manner in which these activities differ is in how they convey their message. While reading “A Walk in the Woods” gives us a visual picture of the woods as Bryson describes, the music Jackie plays conveys the feelings and emotions like we are there in the moment.

  6. Julia Kelley says:

    Jackie’s piece fit the description very well. The music set the mood on how I felt when reading Bryson’s words. It had many different tones that made me have the feeling that I was scared, uncomfortable, and actually in the woods by myself.

  7. Haydee Lopez says:

    I was amazed at how accurately Jackie Ecle conveyed Bill Bryson’s depiction of the “forbidding [and] oppresive” woods. Through the reading I imagined myself walking through the woods and going through the motions, but listening to the recording gave me the emotions of fear and worry. As a musician I really enjoyed the duet and thought that the contrast between the sixteenth notes and the full bowings really had an impact on illiciting the emotions one feels when they are lost and scared.

  8. Daniel Bosko says:

    I definitely get the feelings of fright, uncertainty, and imbalance through the music, as it definitely is a true refelction of Bryson’s objective: to convey the impact that unfamiliarity has on the human mind. However, I feel as though the music would be even more powerful if it possessed some type of major transition into the minor and diminished ideas, perhaps to show a comparison between the human comfort of being in the known versus the human discomfort of being in the unknown. This would convey Bryson’s contrast between the “desert or prairie” and “woods.”

  9. Deanna Eichelberger says:

    Jackie’s piece definitely takes a unique perspective on Bryson’s words. Both are each unique in their own way of course purely for the reason that both are left up to the readers to interpret. Each use colorful language, music can be seen as a language, which lets the reader fully step into the atmosphere Bryson was originally trying to create. Bryson’s phrase which Jackie mentioned, “grim and wild…savage and deary” is definitely fleshed out in Jackie’s eerie violin duet. She creates a intense atmosphere full of emotion through her music while Bryson creates the same atmosphere through his wording. In the end Jackie fully achieved her goal of interpreting Bryson’s story through her own unique language in the most smooth method possible, while letting Bryson’s story speak for itself.

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