Renowned composer creates masterpieces inspired by endangered birds. In a world of noise, she says “learn to listen”

During my experimental journey, I felt a growing desire to unite my music with the refuge I found in the song of the birds. I discovered that being in contact with nature improved my health. As I walked between the trees and paid close attention to the beautiful intonation of the birds flooding my body, a calming sensation overcame me.

  • 1 year ago
  • February 19, 2023
9 min read
Julia, a musical composer, has combined her skills in music with her love of nature to bring awareness to endangered birds. Julia, a musical composer, has combined her skills in music with her love of nature to bring awareness to endangered birds. | Photo courtesy of Julia Tchira
Interview Subject
Julia Tchira is an Argentine musician from the City of Buenos Aires. She became interested in music from her early childhood, specifically picking up the violin. She studied composition with Electroacoustic Media at the National University of Quilmes and has participated in various musical shows in Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. Her last presentation was in New York City, the work “Rhapsody for the Melodic Beach Man,” a composition made for marimba, inspired by an endangered bird off the coast of New York City. Through art and the song of the birds, Julia discovered a sensitive way to raise awareness about the extinction of birds and the complex environmental situation facing our planet. She has been featured in Birding Magazine.
Background Information
Around the world, there are different species in danger of extinction due to climatic causes and environmental phenomena such as global warming and poaching. Macá Tobiano, for example, belongs to the Patagonian zone of Argentina and Chile. The bird is very sensitive to habitat changes, and Julie composed a work at the University of Quilmes about its plight. The Vinous Parrot, another bird of the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, also faces the danger of extinction. The Arica Hummingbird, the California Condor, and the Colombian Pujil appear on the extensive list of endangered species around the world. Julia seeks to bring awareness to their situation. The destruction of the environment, deforestation for agriculture, and illegal hunting and trade are some of the causes of the decline of these specimens that are part of our biodiversity.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ꟷ As a violinist and musical composer, I discovered a way to raise awareness about climate change and the extinction of birds. During a three-year trip to Mexico, I spent time in Oaxaca and Mexico City. I entered urban areas and faced pollution, loud noises, and crowds of people. On the other hand, in more rural areas, I enjoyed the peace of nature, where birds remained present all the time – chirping and filling the space with their songs.

During this break from my university studies, a feeling arose in me. Something was missing and I needed a project so powerful it filled me with passion. With all my new experiences at hand, I made my first musical compositions taking inspiration from Mexico. As I embarked on a discovery process, with no clear idea of what I was doing, I had a surprising thought. “How can I use the songs of the birds, which captivated me so much, to communicate musically?”

Read more stories from Orato World Media about the environment and about the powerful impact of music in people’s lives.

I began to dream about communicating the songs of the birds with my audience – to convey a sensation of the communion between these loose ends in my life. I wanted to blend my musical composition with nature, the birds’ songs, and the powerful message of the massive environmental problems we face. From the very start of this project, I felt focused and centered.

The beautiful intonation of the birds flooded my body

There is no doubt, we live in a critical environmental moment on this planet, as more and more species face the danger of extinction. I decided to do my part through art and music. As I raise awareness about endangered species, it brings me great joy. I started playing the violin at the age of 17. Always fascinated by music as a teenager, I finished high school and went to study music at the National University of Quilmes, where I learned composition techniques.

Today, as a member of a community of composers at the university, I serve as a teacher. While I studied violin as a student, my interest in composition grew. Toward the end my degree program, with only a few courses left before graduation, I took that fateful trip to Mexico. During my experimental journey, I felt a growing desire to unite my music with the refuge I found in the song of the birds. I discovered that being in contact with nature improved my health. As I walked between the trees and paid close attention to the beautiful intonation of the birds flooding my body, a calming sensation overcame me.

I focused my senses and listened carefully. It seemed to detoxify me from the noise pollution I experienced daily in the cities. That busy, noisy, and polluted environment made me feel alert and nervous all the time. When I needed to relax, I sought out nature and its incredible sounds. Amidst those green and safe spaces, the songs the birds chirped became special to me. Then, one day, a sudden fear invaded my thoughts. What would happen if some of these birds and their sounds ceased to exist?

The chirps and intonations of the birds formed songs

That idea that any of these birds could cease to exist confronted me, and I considered the urgent importance of the environmental situation we live in today. I needed to learn more, so I took a birdwatching and identification course. As my knowledge grew, I began combining my two passions. I began to feel my purpose expand and become almost mobile. My motivations and musical compositions mutated, but also served as engines. They powered my purpose to compose and contribute to something much bigger than my vocation.

A young composer from Argentina has gained worldwide attention for using music to bring attention to endangered birds | Photo courtesy of Julia Tchira

During the creative process, I discovered methodologies for recording and interpreting bird sounds, which I gathered and extracted from field recordings in different places. I used techniques to analyze the chirps and intonations of the birds, forming songs. It allowed me to make something like an x-ray of the sound. A pattern developed. I could suddenly see the color palettes, the melodic gestures, and the frequencies in the recordings. I found the very thing that moved my heart in each song.

Every composition remains unique and depends upon the bird I work with. I cannot fully put into words what that experience is like, so I put it into a composition. The music holds precisely what the words lack. Learning about birds inspired me to compose, but as I recognized what the composition needed, it drove me to learn about more bird species. The experience became cyclical. This work has taken me around the world and brought me to some incredible projects.

An endangered bird in New York inspires a global connection

Last year, I wrote a piece called Piping Plover Rhapsody while taking a course by AtlanticX, organized by the Buenos Aires Opera Festival. [AtlanticX is a cultural organization dedicated to “promoting experimentation, ideas, and interdisciplinary creation in the expanded field of music.”] To compose the piece, I thought back to a trip to New York. Summoned there on scholarship with other young composers from Latin America, we would premier a work for the marimba in August 2022. We had to create a composition together and it proved an incredible experience.

While there, I considered the territory, as I always do. I needed to vividly place myself in nature, so I began my research to find out what kinds of birds in New York remained in danger of extinction. I discovered the Piping Plover. [According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation the Piping Plover remains under “threatened” status federally, and “endangered” status at the state level. In New York, it breeds on Long Island’s sandy beaches from Queens to the Hamptons, as well as the eastern bays and harbors of Suffolk County.]

After intense research, I chose this small shorebird which inhabits the coast as my muse. When I found the bird, I felt deeply surprised by its history. Much like me, it had a connection to the sea which united us. That feeling of connection somehow awoke my imagination, bringing together the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth at once in my composition. I humble belief grew inside me. We must focus on what unites us, not what separates us. In doing so, we become enabled to connect with one another from all over the planet – to communicate and identify our similarities, from the north to the south.

Burrowing Owl, the 2022 Bird of the Year, inspires a stunning composition

As I work through the composition process, I feel a form of communication with the birds. This becomes an emotional experience as I focus on the endangered bird, their songs and melodies, and their textural effects. Listening to their recordings, I begin to feel as if I understand them, and they sense what I am doing. When I complete the composition, that communication continues, as I consider their state of conservation. I look at their movements and reactions, and imagine how that conservation unfolds, even though the musical part of my work is done.

Then, a chain of collaboration begins as I work with colleagues and interpreters. Suddenly, I see people becoming aware of the challenges the birds face. This work goes beyond music. Last year, Birding Magazine [a publication of the American Birding Association] interviewed me. When a colleague in Chicago read about my work in New York, he said, “I want to play a composition of this nature.” I knew my work had begun to inspire others with the same interest and motivation around the world. My dream of connecting people on different sides of the planet to address a complex situation became reality. Similar scenarios played out. For example, my composition about the burrowing owl, named the 2022 Bird of the Year, reached interested audiences in the United States and Canada. I feel gratified expanding my knowledge and collaborating with colleagues in tribute to these endangered birds.

Nature becomes distant as technology invades our lives, but we can learn to listen

I continue to feel amazed by what goes on in the birding world. I believe we all have the innate ability to become sensitive to the incredible sounds nature offers. We must move beyond the other noises in life that temporarily mute it. So many colleagues and friends appreciate my passion now. While on vacation, they send me videos of different species of birds in full song. I find it flattering and enjoyable to watch their clips and see how inspired they have become.

Technology invades everything in our lives, making it difficult to disconnect and enjoy the sounds of nature. We have so much information available, but we lack education on what it means to truly listen. I believe the process of listening can be developed. When I became capable of unwinding and properly sitting in the moment, I became contemplative. The sounds around me made me one with nature and magic happened. Moments catch me and become invaluable memories.

When people remain hyperconnected to busy lives and technology, nature begins to feel distant, but we remain a part of it. This is, after all, the environment of humans. We remain part of this planet where we live with other species. We are not the only ones. Sometimes our vision makes us feel like the center of the universe, but we are not.

Through music, I dream of composing pieces and creating projects which allow others to see possibilities. I visualize my dream of multiplying and expanding my connection with nature to others, so we can reach more people with a new mindset. Every person has the capability of becoming aware and getting involved, to protect the species that exist and those which may cease to exist.

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