Songs of Travel

JULY 13, 2020

It was the middle of April 2020 – four weeks after the beginning of quarantine – I was seeking motivation and answers in a time of deep collective fear.

What will come of humanity? What can I do as a performing artist when every theatre in the world has been shuttered? How do I stay motivated and inspired? I had my family to care for and ArtSmart to shepherd through the storm, but what about my artistry? 

A Virtuous Cycle
In my adult life, the drive to create and perform fuels much more than my artistry – it motivates my life.

I am John Viscardi and I am an artist. As I follow the artistic path, I continually find myself advancing along the paths of self-actualization and personal growth. 

Creating is the movement of my life. To cease creating is to cease being and during those first weeks in quarantine, I felt the wheel of creation begin to slow. 

“No!” I said to myself. “You must find the fuel and motivate that wheel anew.” 

Into the Woods
During that period of questioning I began to read the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity…which nature cannot repair.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

The call of nature has always been strong in me. As an urban dweller for the better part of my existence, this call has been fraught—feast or famine. Months at a time in the urban jungle, punctuated by two weeks of immersion in the woods. 

“But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.” Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self Reliance

Inspired by Emerson, I began spending time daily in the woods–meandering through the trails, smelling the spring soil, listening to the song of the birds. I reconnected with my animal self, rediscovered oneness with nature and the power of an existence in the moment–“above time”. The creative path forward began to emerge from the backwoods of my mind. 

The Songs of Travel
The Songs of Travel, a song cycle by Ralph Vaughan Williams has been a cornerstone of my singing life. “Wither Must I Wander”, Song No. 7 of the cycle, was one of the first songs I learned to sing. I have performed it many times since and taught it to many of my own students. 

Set to poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson, the cycle is an ode to nature—both that of humans and mother earth. It tells the tale of a man who eschews society for a life of solitude under the stars. This is not a man that leaves society out of shame or failure but one who leaves for a higher calling. There is struggle, loss and sadness present, as in any life, but above all else there is constant appreciation for that which we all have and which many so often take for granted–nature. 

“Give to me the life I love, let the lave go by me. Give the jolly heaven above and the byway nigh me. Bed in the bush with stars to see, bread I dip in the river. There’s the life for a man like me! There’s the life forever” Robert Louis Stevenson – Songs of Travel, The Vagabond

Inspiration in hand, I set out on my own journey–to record all eight songs in the cycle and create eight music videos to accompany those recordings. In addition, beginning this August, I will livestream performances of the song cycle from forests throughout the east coast (wherever sufficient cell service exists!).

My higher goal with this project is to create a microcosm of that virtuous cycle mentioned earlier, where artistic creation fuels personal development. So far, it has been a success

Throughout the creation process, I deliberately take time to connect with myself and the world around me. Learning, recording and performing the songs has pushed my technical practice and inspired me to sing at the top of my game. In turn, I live my life the way I know I need to live it in order to sing at my best—good sleep, healthy eating, calm mind…and so the virtuous cycle continues. The experience has been both therapeutic and inspiring. 

When watching these videos or listening to the livestreams, I hope you will find it similarly rewarding. At the very least, I hope it will inspire you to talk a walk in the woods. 

Follow John’s journey on Instagram @johnviscardimusic and YouTube