Tanya Kalmanovitch on Climate Change and Music

Contemporary Improvisation faculty Tanya Kalmanovitch asks: “What can any of us, musicians or otherwise, do about oil and climate change?”

A horizon view, with a fence in front of water and a skyline of pink and blue clouds.

NEC faculty member Tanya Kalmanovitch is a violist and ethnomusicologist whose current project, The Tar Sands Songbook, asks audiences to reconsider their unseen relationships with oil.

In a recent op-ed in CommonWealth Magazine, she shares how she came to question her teenage belief that music “had nothing to do with oil:”

WHEN I WAS 14 YEARS OLD, I decided I would become a professional musician because it had nothing to do with oil. I was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, home to Canada’s notorious tar sands and the world’s third largest oil reserve. For a time, I lived in a neighborhood called Petrolia. Our hero was Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers. The McDonalds had a pumpjack in the playground.


Music is an instrument of change, and we are all musicians. Singing, playing, whistling, choosing a song to change your mood: these are musical acts. We use music to know our place in the world. We use music to pierce the veil of the everyday and shape the world in which we wish to live. So I’ve begun to tell a new story about music and oil.

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Kalmanovitch has been named a Grist 50 Fixer for her use of art to create a dialogue between those on all sides of the issue: oil executives, native communities, and family members.

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