The 22nd April is Earth Day, a moment to celebrate our long-suffering planet. Have you heard of this before?
I hadn’t. Not until I was told about a children’s novel about trees called Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation. It was written by Susan Elizabeth Hale, the American who founded ‘Sing for the Trees’ as part of the Earth Day celebrations – and who came to France last year to sing to a special tree in Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
Now, I can’t sing – so I’m not sure I would be doing any trees a favour by singing to them. But I was intrigued to learn more about another lady who appreciates trees. I contacted Susan, read her fun story for 9-11 year olds, and asked her to tell me more about ‘Sing for the Trees.’ Here are her answers to my questions as well as some links to find out more about her work.
- What is ‘Sing for the Trees’?
‘Earth Day-Sing for the Trees’ is an annual global celebration for trees that began in 2010.
- How can we take part?
On 22nd April, at noon. Wherever you are in the world, just sing for the trees you love!
- You were the founder of ‘Sing for the Trees’. Where did your original inspiration come from?
In January 2010 I was already at work on my juvenile fiction novel Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation. I felt discouraged, as I knew the message I had to deliver about trees would take a long time to come to fruition.
What could I do now? I woke up with an idea. I heard a voice in my mind say Earth Day-Sing for the Trees. The 40th anniversary of Earth Day was coming up on 22nd April, and I had attended the very first Earth Day in Northern California. How could I let people know about my idea? I was new to Facebook and decided I would create an event.
I thought I would be lucky to get 100 or so of my friends involved and was astounded when the first year over 3,000 people signed up to sing for their trees. This included a man in England named Ian Woodcock. He sent me a lovely email with pictures of three trees he sang for: the Great Oak of Eardisley, Whiteleaved Oak and the Much Marcle Yew tree.
I came to the UK in the spring of 2011 and we met. He took me to the Whiteleaved Oak. We are now married and live ten miles from this tree. The trees brought us together!
- That’s a lovely story. Do you have a background of working with trees?
No, but I have a life-long appreciation of trees: from the fig tree in my grandmother’s back yard to the California redwoods. My father was on the tree committee in our hometown of Hanford, California.
- So what is at the origin of your concern for the wellbeing of trees?
In 2007 I travelled for a full year. Everywhere I went throughout the USA, UK and France, people told me stories of how their local trees were dying. Hemlock trees were dying in North Carolina, juniper trees were dying in New Mexico. I heard stories about olive trees dying in Spain. In 2007 I lived briefly in Peachtree City, Georgia. Many streets there and in Atlanta are named after peach trees. But where are the peach trees?
Trees do so much for us. They give us the very air we breathe. The bottom line is that if there are no more trees, there’s no more ‘us’.
- Why sing?
The voice is a way of making connection. Singing creates a connection through the heart, and when we sing to someone we add the special ingredient of love. Indigenous societies have always offered songs to the earth as a way to give thanks. England has a pagan tradition of singing to apple trees in January through wassailing to wish good health to the trees in hopes of an abundant crop in the new year. In Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation, Emma’s special tree, Annie Oakley, tells her: “Your singing nourishes us. It is sweeter than the sweetest honey. The song spreads through Aaouma’s root system to all the trees on the Earth.”
- Yes, I remember that line. What made you want to write Emma’s story?
When I was in the 4th grade I told my teacher I wanted to be a writer. Later, as a young woman, my father said, “Susie, some day you ought to write a book.” I wrote my first book Song and Silence: Voicing the Soul in 1995. My second book, Sacred Space Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places was published by Quest Books in 2007.
As a music therapist and voice teacher, my life’s work has centred on and around the healing power of singing. Most of the people who came to my workshops were my age. I don’t have any children and wanted to find a way to bring my message about the importance of singing and trees to children.
- Do any trees have a particular significance for you?
Yes, Much Marcle Yew and the Whiteleaved Oak do. I believe these trees brought me to my husband and to the UK. The story is told in full in a Valentine’s Day article published by the Woodland Trust here: Valentine’s Tree Love
- And what is your favourite species of tree?
Yew. The largest concentration of yew trees is in Wales and some are thought to be 5,000 years old, making them some of the oldest trees on the planet. Yews are considered to be candidates for the Tree of Life due to their age and their ability to regenerate themselves.
- Which season do you prefer for admiring trees?
All seasons offer a unique experience of trees. I love winter for revealing the bones and bark of trees: bare branches against the sky. Spring gives buds and blossoms. Summer offers us trees with full leaves and fruit. Fall dazzles us with colour and change.
- Which organisations support ‘Sing for the Trees’?
- And will you be in France again for the 2017 edition?
No, I will be in Sedona, Arizona. The red rocks are calling me. There are many special juniper trees with twisted trunks from the vortex energy in the land.
- Finally, are there any tree stories from around the world you’d like to share?
I love it when people share pictures and stories about their events. A few special ones come to mind:
– The first year a kindergarten teacher in Switzerland took 30 of her students to the forest and they sang for the trees. Afterwards, every time they went to the woods, they spontaneously burst out singing. They even sang for their Christmas trees.
– A bedridden woman sang to the tree outside her window that gives her comfort. She wanted to thank the tree for the way it brought healing to her.
– A group of people on a Peace March through the site of the first atomic blast in Nevada sang to the Joshua trees as they walked.
– Children sang around a Native American Prayer tree at the Cabin Path outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
– A man sang to a tree near the ruins of the Berlin Wall.
– Last year a young woman in Ireland created an event to sing for the Fairy Tree at the Hill of Tara.
Thanks, Susan, for taking the time to share your passion for trees with us. And thank you, readers, for reading this rather long post. I’d love to hear which tree you’re going to sing for on 22nd April.
If you’d like to find out more about Susan, singing, tree-hugging or ‘Earth Day – Sing for the Trees’, Susan has added some useful links below:
Contact Susan on her website: Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation
All about Sing for the Trees
The Facebook event 2017 with lots of tree suggestions.
Buy Emma Oliver on the UK Amazon website
Scientific studies on the benefits of tree-hugging
And, to finish, here’s Susan’s biography:
Susan Elizabeth Hale M.A. is an internationally renowned music therapist. She circles the Earth with song, teaching how to find and free the natural voice. She is creator of Earth Day-Sing for the Trees. Since 2010, over 10,000 people in 45 countries have participated in this annual global event. Susan is the author of Sacred Space Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places (Quest Books, 2007). American born, she now lives in the Malvern hills with her husband Ian. Her newest book is Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation, a juvenile fiction novel published in 2016 by Our Street Books.