Grand Canyon: Some Thoughts On Music

August 01, 2016 Posted by: George H. Jacobi

White summer thunderstorm clouds overhead are shadowing out the North Rim in the background. Bright sunlight is falling onto white capped red stone temples in the foreground.
Try as you might, you aren’t going to hear it. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s been going on, though, for billions and billions of years. Ferde Grofe tried to catch some of it when he wrote his “Grand Canyon Suite”. Paul Winter came closer with the 1997 CD “Canyon Lullaby”, I suspect because he was playing alone and for himself.
The Grand Canyon approves of introspection. We tend to get in each other’s way when we try to share the spirituality we reap from the natural world. The music of the Grand Canyon goes on all the time, most of it beyond the capabilities of the human ear.        
The vegetation plays polyrhythms in this composition - Tamarisks and Cottonwoods, Pinyons and Junipers, sagebrush and Firecracker Penstemons and Banana Yucca. You can hear this part. Each flower and tree rustles with the rhythm of the wind. Animals, too, join in, from the quick feet of skittering Collared Lizards to the castanets of the Pink Canyon Rattlesnake. And yes, the overused but unforgettable descending songs of the Canyon Wren. They gently contribute to the music, each life in its own way. .                                                                                             

The wind itself - bringing the snow, the fierce heat of June, the monsoon storms of July and August, sings harmony. This contribution too you can hear. Thunder cracks kettledrums, rain plays vibes, the sun rises like Coltrane on a good day. Weather, when not violently leading the orchestra, is always playing about the edges of our hearing like a soft string section.               
It’s the rocks, of course, that both write and perform the unheard tune. Those countless layers - settling, uplifting, grinding among themselves, the whole Canyon from rim to base, from the 250 million year young Kaibab formation we walk on, down to the Vishnu Complex at almost half the age of the planet, all this sedimentary stone has been playing music all the while in its own time signature.                                      

The music changed with the ages. As the mountains rose to unprecedented heights, long ago and over and over again, think Sibelius. During violent floods and lava flows, listen for a Wagnerian Major key. During the aftermaths, while oceans gradually receded from the Colorado Plateau, perhaps a pensive minor key predominated. As great herds of prehistoric animals passed forever from the Earth, imagine Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Amazingly, during all this time the music never repeated itself.    
But alas, you and I cannot hear it, only imagine it. It plays in time with the Canyon clock. These rocks move too slowly for human ears, too slowly for dog ears, far too slowly even for elephant and whale ears. But the symphony they make is going on. Maybe it’s for God. Maybe that’s who’s supposed to hear it.
Yes, and a dance is in progress too. Moving to that music, each layer of stone, each pebble that once was a beach or a mountain, and is waiting patiently to become one again, performs its own steps. You can’t see the dancing any more than you can hear the orchestra; it’s an incrementally slow dance - except when some parts are forced into dramatic short-lived improvisation. Then you had best stay out of the way.                                                                                                                                  
Just as it does with art, the Grand Canyon does not inspire music – it IS music. Always new, this silent music has played since the beginning of the earth. And oh, if we could hear it, how beautiful it would sound. How beautiful it would sound.

Return to Inspiration Point Blog Index Page.

This blog is meant to encourage awareness and thoughtfulness about the Grand Canyon, one of our most precious resources. It is not merely a story of what happens or has happened here, not a cookbook for what you should make of it yourself, but more an example of the many-faceted inspiration the Canyon nurtures in an artist, perhaps in you. Indeed, inspiration may be the Canyon's greatest resource. These words are sincere, my own take on this world, deliberately non-academic and directed toward users of social media. In no way does it represent the policies or opinions of the National Park Service, although it is done under the auspices of that entity, but is offered in gratitude, with my respect and admiration for these soldiers of conservation. George H. Jacobi 2016

music, Grand Canyon, geology

Last updated: August 1, 2016

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



Contact Us