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Cool tools used to teach about forests

ESCANABA — Foresters have many clever and amazing tools at their disposal, but how many times have they been used to create music? Welcome the kids from Escanaba.

Can you imagine collecting a half-dozen talented youth and getting them out into the woods to play music? Well, that’s exactly what we did as part of a “BeLEAF It or Not!” YouTube episode. The outcome was way beyond expectations.

Music man Lorne Watson and video guru Antonio Sanchez created and directed the music video called “Timber.” Matt Rockweit was our sound engineer. These artists had each moved from big city venues to make a mark in the better life of the Upper Peninsula.

Antonio says; “I was making six figures in Dallas, but the craziness of the city was too much. So, one day I said to my wife, let’s move to Bark River!” Lorne left New York City because “Most of the really good clubs sold-out to realtors and lawyers. The music scene just left.” Matt had similar things to say about Portland. “We just needed to escape the city.”

Enter-in the “BeLEAF” crew that had this idea to embed a bit using “cool tools” to play music. The video episode is about diameter tapes, hypsometers, and prisms. However, we gotta admit that the highlight is the professionally-done music video.

Lorne gathered a collection of tools and played around with them. A percussive “Son Clave” (African-Cuban) rhythm began to emerge from his imagination, as he selected sounds from a variety of tools. Things foresters use every day.

Lorne recruited Matt to record and mix the audio piece in Matt’s Gladstone sound studio. Have you ever seen tree cookies mounted on a snare set? Or a microphone close to a chunk of wood being hammered by an axe? Can a chainsaw make music? Have you, literally, seen a top [hard] hat?

Lorne and Matt recorded a variety of sounds and began to creatively mix them on Matt’s computer. The software itself was amazing. Soon, Lorne’s imagination grew to digital life, as various sound tracks snaked across the screen like the pale green lines of a heart monitor.

The next task was to find youth talent. Lorne teaches music at schools in the Escanaba area and had a few young folks in mind. This hand-picked ad hoc band gathered for a rehearsal. They were quick to pick-up on the beats and rhythms. They were having fun, too.

Antonio and Lorne reserved a September Saturday morning for the video shoot. It was a glorious day, full of sun flecks and the smells of fall. The maple woodland was bright with green light. It was the only sunny day in ten-day string of rain and overcast skies!

Everyone gathered on time and then hauled equipment into the woods. The generator was fired and the sound system wrapped the “Timber” sound track around the trees. The band rehearsed a bit more while Antonio assembled his camera set and went to work, as the band synched to the music, adding their own brand of animation.

The music video took-on a special life as Antonio rotated his drone around the performing band. Lots of angles. Several shoots. We moved locations a couple times. Antonio shot cameos of each musician.

It was an intense morning, despite all the fun. At just the right time, food arrived! Boxes of pizzas, a cooler of pop, and bags of snacks. Food was wolfed-down.

Many of the trees in this woods had been around for nearly a century, but they’d never seen anything like this!

The “Cool Tools” video is one of a growing series in the “BeLEAF It or Not!” project. These videos are fun-injected lessons about forests and forestry, aimed at kids in grades four through seven. Each episode introduces a curriculum topic or two.

The forestry community has teamed-up with MSU Extension and Great Lakes Digital Video to create an engaging set of lessons that teachers can build upon. “BeLEAF” can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/beleafitornot

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