Two years ago, when composer Pete M. Wyer began working with Descanso Gardens on an unique immersive musical event called “The Sky Beneath Our Feet,” no one could ever have envisioned a day when the Gardens would be closed to the public due to a pandemic. After the March 18th closing, while humans were home, hunkering down, nature took over in a riot of spring blossoms, lush greenery and abundant wildlife. And Descanso’s team was hard at work, installing 72 independent audio speakers among the coast live oaks. Now that visitors are returning, Wyer’s unique choral and instrumental composition inspired by the luxuriant landscape, is there to greet them, playing as they walk and seeming as much a part of the landscape as the trees themselves.
“‘The Sky Beneath Our Feet’ is a magnificent piece, composed for nine choirs of eight voices each played over dozens of speakers throughout the Gardens,” said Juliann Rooke, executive director, Descanso Gardens. “Emerging from our ‘hibernation’ into this exquisite natural setting, with a chorus of human voices singing to the heavens, it feels like a triumph of the human spirit set in the most glorious cathedral of nature. The installation takes on an entirely new meaning and significance we could never have foreseen when we were planning it with Pete all those months ago.”
In more than 25 years of composing, musician Pete M. Wyer has been inspired by many sources including the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the forests in the Adirondacks. The score for “The Sky Beneath Our Feet” uses pitch, rhythm, tone, dynamic and space, and it is the composer’s direct response to the land and particularly the trees of Descanso. It will be Wyer’s largest installation to date. Visitors will experience this choral and instrumental composition as they walk through the garden. The music will be as seamless a part of the walk as the breeze that wafts through the oaks and will play throughout the summer until September 3. “The Sky Beneath Our Feet” plays at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm daily in The Oak Forrest.
According to Wyer, “The work is never the same twice and no two people will have an identical experience. It will be different depending where you stand, what the weather is doing, how active the squirrels are and so forth. Each of the 72 speakers will have its own unique sound, but that sound is coordinated within a score so there will certainly be times when sounds come together.”
“I’m acutely aware of the suffering that has come in so many forms during this time,” continued Wyer. “We all need a little healing right now, so if this piece can restore a little lightness, or remind us that there is still a beautiful natural world that we are lucky to be a part of then it makes me extremely glad.”
“We are really excited that Pete composed this piece especially for Descanso, inspired by our historic oaks,” continued Rooke. “His immersive installations have thrilled visitors at gardens around the world, providing each guest with completely unique experiences. It’s fascinating to think that how you choose to walk through ‘The Sky Beneath Our Feet’ will provide you with your own unforgettable journey – providing a truly magical way to experience Descanso Gardens.”
To ensure the safety of all visitors, Descanso Gardens has put a variety of social distancing rules in place including:
• limiting the number of tickets they are selling to 30% of capacity
• selling timed tickets to limit the number of people at the entry at any given time
• reconfiguring the entry to make social distancing easier
• closing all indoor spaces including the Sturt Haaga Gallery and Boddy House
• adding hand sanitizing stations in the courtyard
• closing drinking fountains
• cleaning restrooms every half hour
• there will be no programs, music or walks during this time…we will bring programming back as soon as it is safe.
• seating has been removed in the courtyard to give space for social distancing
• the Enchanted Railroad will be closed for now
• wheelchair rental will not be available
Descanso will be open longer hours, from 9 am to 8 pm while the exhibit runs (until September 3). In addition, misting systems have been installed in the Rose Garden to provide cool spots to stop and rest.
About Pete Wyer
With an interest in storytelling and innovation, Pete Wyer has created scores for the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Juilliard, the orchestra of Welsh National Opera, The Crossing, BBC Television and the Royal Opera House as well as creating seven operas and music theatre works.
About Descanso Gardens
Founded as a public garden in 1953, Descanso Gardens is located at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011. Descanso Gardens will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. all summer, until September 3. Admission is $15 for adults; $11 for seniors and students with a school I.D.; $5 for children 5 to 12, and free for children under 5.
Descanso Gardens is a member-supported garden accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Join Descanso Gardens and enjoy free admission and early entry year-round. Information: (818) 949-4200 or descansogardens.org.