School of Music

Fred Fox School of Music senior Chris Zatarain is one of three University of Arizona student finalists in the annual Planet Forward Storyfest competition.

Zatarain, an environmental studies minor, composed the moving, “The Sound of Mountains Melting,” which is a finalist in the ‘Most Creative Story’ category.

The Planet Forward Storyfest Awards highlight the voices of students, seeking to understand and illuminate their own innovations for how to best care for the earth. They look for stories that inspire, motivate, and drive change. Stories that are compelling, thought-provoking, and vibrantly stimulating. Be memorable, have an impact — and have fun.

>> Arts, humanities, resilience projects selected for grants

Wildcat Finalists

Halley Hughes | Most Compelling Character
Radical roots: How a school garden creates dirty hands, full hearts, and hearty plates

Halley Hughes | Most Creative
Reconciliación en mi Río: Stewardship of the Santa Cruz River

JoRee LaFrance | Most Compelling Character
Crow cowboys: A story of responsibility, respect and resilience

Chris Zatarain | Most Creative
The Sound of Mountains Melting: A musical meditation on emotions in a world in crisis

Chris Zatarain: Creating music to tell environmental stories. Chris with his instrument in nature.
Chris Zatarain

Chris Zatarain: Creating music to tell environmental stories

What is your major/year?
I’m a senior studying Music at the Fred Fox School of Music with a minor in Environmental Studies. I’m especially interested in communicating environmental stories and scientific research through musical compositions. I specialize in playing the oboe and the English horn which I use to create music that synthesizes the world between music, art, science, and the environment.

Can you tell us more about your music career and how you connect music with the environment? 
In the last couple of years I have composed two pieces of environmental sound art/music. My most recent piece carries people through the emotions I felt as I read Earth’s Wild Music written by Kathleen Dean Moore. This piece is a meditation on the tough, sometimes confusing feelings associated with climate grief. I have also composed audio stories and podcasts as a correspondent of Planet Forward. The second piece I created during my time as a Liverman Scholar in the 2021-2022 school year as a communication piece for the Cascabel Conservation Association in Southern Arizona. The piece serves as a sonic place-based meditation that is meant to transport the listener into the Cascabel and the San Pedro River Valley in order to communicate important information about the environment, history, and the people who live there. It does this by weaving together narration, music, and sound design. It was featured in the CCA quarterly newsletter alongside some of my own photography and the work of my peers. 

What are you involved in on campus or in Tucson?
I’m musically involved on campus as a member of the Arizona Symphony Orchestra and Arizona Wind Ensemble playing mostly English horn these days, but also oboe. My involvements related to my passion for the environment include being a past member of Students for Sustainability and Veggiecats, as well as being a 2021-2022 Liverman Scholar. As a Liverman Scholar, I worked on creating graphic design, photograph, and musical pieces for the Ironwood Forest National Monument and the Cascabel Conservation Association. One of my biggest accomplishments of that school year was having the opportunity to present my Cascabel Meditation piece as well as music and sound in environmental storytelling at the AIRES showcase in the Spring of 2022.   

What are you interested in doing after graduation? 
I just got accepted into graduate school in Applied Intercultural Arts Research (AIAR) to study Applied Ecomusicology. Ecomusicology studies the intersections of music, sound, art, and the environment. It’s a bit of a niche and specific topic that explores relationships between two of my passions in life: music and nature. My dream job would be to work in the arts for a green space like the botanical gardens as well as composing and performing music/sound for environmental education purposes and storytelling. 

What’s your background that made you interested in sustainability and the environment? 
I’ve been a vegetarian for my entire life and have now been a vegan for eight years. In that sense, I’ve always been eco-minded and passionate about animal rights. I’ve also always felt an extreme spiritual closeness to the natural world. I also have a huge love of plants and gardening. I feel like these things naturally led me to pursue a minor in environmental studies. In my music studies I had a teacher who showed me that my love for music and the environment can coexist through her own work. She inspired me to incorporate my love for nature with my passion for music. 

This story originally was published on the University of Arizona Environment / Arizona Institute of Resilience website. Republished with permission.