New Otterbein Composition Combines Music and Environmental Conservation

Posted Mar 08, 2021

Otterbein University guest artist, baritone and lyricist Daniel Neer and pianist Suzanne Newcomb will take the stage on Saturday, March 13, for a concert with an environmental message, framed in context by conservation experts. Water Music: Art Song in Recital will feature two world premieres and a pre-concert discussion and post-concert talkback with Otterbein Zoo and Conservation Science faculty and representatives from Polar Bear International. The livestreamed event will begin at 8 p.m. on YouTube. A recording will be posted for viewing after the livestream. 

Water Music will present both traditional art song and new vocal chamber music, including heartwarming ocean songs, violent storm ballads, shimmering folk songs, and rollicking sea shanties that explore our intricate and turbulent relationship with water. The first premiere is Sandy Songs, an original composition by Linda Kernohan for baritone and piano. 

The second premiere and program highlight is Polar Bear, a commissioned piece supported by grants from Ohio Arts Council, Puffin Foundation West, and The Johnstone Fund for New Music. The composition, a musical response to the global issue of climate change, is a chamber music work for baritone and trombone by Sara Carina Graef, featuring trombonist Peter Gooch and set to text by Neer.   

“The piece is improv in nature, with lyrics that depict a polar bear searching the Arctic for food as the ice slowly disappears beneath him,” Neer explained.  

Polar Bear is the result of a collaboration between Neer and Graef, an environmentalist and composer. It will be a powerful call to action for global warming and the passionate reaction to imperiled species, as it also exemplifies the best of new music. 

“I am biased, but so far our work has some stunning effects, partly due to the experimentation of color and timbre variances between my high baritone voice and that of a classically-trained trombonist,” Neer said.  

He added that experimentation with his voice and Gooch’s trombone resulted in a sound like that of a polar bear.  

Neer is no stranger to finding musical inspiration at Otterbein. His work with students and professors on campus as a guest artist has sparked collaborations in the past. Most recently, he worked with Jennifer Merkowitz, associate professor of music at Otterbein, on Babel, an original composition that premiered on Sept. 8, 2019.  

Neer also has collaborated with Otterbein students, performing their original music with his texts in public recitals at Otterbein — a unique opportunity for peer collaboration between a professional musician and undergraduate students.  

For opportunities like these, prospective students can learn more about the Department of Music at  

POLAR BEAR is made possible in part by state tax dollars allocated by the Ohio Legislature to the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). The OAC is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Additional funding for POLAR BEAR made possible by generous gifts from Puffin Foundation West, and The Johnstone Fund for New Music of The Columbus Foundation.