Halcyon String Quartet & Climate Art Best Practices

Regular listeners know I feature artists who are using their art to explore climate change. Today, I feature Sophie and Josies Davis, sisters who grew up on the coast of Maine. After studying classical violin at conservatory, they became two of the founding members of Halcyon String Quartet, seeking to fuse their love of music and the natural world with their growing concern about the climate crisis. In speaking with them, we identified six principles that artists might found helpful:

  1. Know your stuff: This means both your craft as an artist and essentials of climate change messaging.
  2. Think locally
  3. Pursue collaboration: To date, Halcyon’s most successful collaboration has been with visual artist Jill Pelto.
  4. Pivot to solutions: Focus less on the many horrible impacts of climate change and instead, help your audience experience a future with the beneficial impacts of climate solutions in place.
  5. Promote Action: As Katie Patricks, the author of the book and podcast How to Save the World, stressed for us on Citizens Climate Radio episode 61, artists and event organizers have to find ways to offer people the next meaningful step for themselves and their communities.
  6. Remain faithful to the art: Halcyon seeks to find a balance between old time favorites that audiences love and new music, music by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Excellence is the art is essential as they seek to help the public engage in good art and effective climate change discourse.)

About Sophie and Josie

Sophie received degrees in violin performance and environmental studies from Oberlin College and Conservatory. Playing and sharing music are integral to her creative and professional practice. She has performed on NPR’s “From the Top,” at the Kennedy Center, Chicago’s Symphony Hall, the Monte Music Festival in India, and with the Jordan National Orchestra (JOrchestra) in Amman, Jordan. In 2017, Sophie was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to spend nine months in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa where she explored the ways in which the arts can raise awareness of climate change. In addition to pursuing research, she taught and performed with the National Orchestra of Samoa. Sophie divides her time between musical performance and pedagogy. She serves as violin faculty and chamber music coordinator at Bay Chamber Music School in Rockport and is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Halcyon – an ensemble dedicated to using music and art to cultivate environmental stewardship.

Josie Davis received her undergraduate degrees in violin and sociology at Oberlin College and Conservatory where she was a student of David Bowlin, and her Ed.M from Harvard University. She has performed in a wide range of venues from Carnegie Hall to the Monte Music Festival in India, and has appeared with her sister on NPR’s From the Top. She actively explores ways to share classical music in new contexts and has performed chamber music with Emanuel Ax in a taco shop, played solo Bach for Chris Thile, and is currently a member of Palaver Strings. Her teaching has brought her to Panama, India, and Community MusicWorks in Rhode Island where she completed a two-year Fellowship. In past summers, she has studied at the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar, Bowdoin International Music Festival, and Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival. She is committed to creating more chamber music opportunities for young people and is the founder and director of summer workshops for young people in Maine and Connecticut. As a violinist, educator and arts administrator, Josie is interested in how the arts can be used as a form of cultural empowerment to build bridges and strengthen communities.

Next month: I share a comic audio essay, The Weight of Carbon Dioxide and Chihuahuas. Hear how I make the invisible visible. 

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

This article is part of The Art House series.


As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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