Nathan Cornelius (Artist-in-Residence, 2022)

purple fireweed growing from the fresh burn of a wildfire
Fireweed blooming a week after the Mt. Frankin fire.


Isle Royale Reflection

In my two weeks on Isle Royale, it was wonderful to get to know one little corner of nature so intimately— the big eagle nest with its two hungry young birds, the loons teaching their chick to dive for minnows, where the best blueberries grow on Scoville Point, and which fungi have burst through the forest floor since the last rain shower. I am extremely grateful my wife Caitlyn could join me for this time, and she helped me notice more such moments of wonder than I could on my own.
The soundscape of Isle Royale is one of calm and spaciousness. The wind and waves were rarely loud during our stay; some days, even the open water beyond the point was perfectly flat. At places along Tobin Harbor, sheltered by the woods, the silence is profound and seems to press against your ears. Tobin Harbor also forms an echo chamber for any birds that call over the water; loons, cranes, and ravens all receive a magical reverb effect. The only human sounds heard regularly are the seaplanes, and the narration on the Sandy tours.
In working on my music during and after the residency, I pondered: How do you capture the sinister crackling of forest fire with musical instruments? What about the eerie glissando cry of the loon, or the raspy arpeggio of the cranes? Is there a way to ask musicians for sounds that suggest the pervasive absence sound through and around them? Silence and space are things I still need more of in my music.

- Nathan Cornelius, 2022


Artist's Work

photo of artist in residence

About the Artist

Nathan Cornelius pursues a multifaceted career in composition, performance, and teaching. Much of his music is inspired by nature and wilderness, and he has been composer-in-residence at Shenandoah National Park and Isle Royale National Park. His works have been performed by the Lamont Symphony Orchestra, Wet Ink Ensemble, and at the World Harp Congress. In 2014, he co-founded Nebula Ensemble, a group dedicated to creating and performing innovative and interdisciplinary chamber music throughout Colorado. His performances and research focus on guitar music of the 20th and 21st centuries and how it reflects cultural conceptions of time and memory. He currently teaches music theory and guitar at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland—Baltimore County. In both the classroom and the studio, he enjoys sharing with students his enthusiasm for the patterns underlying the structure of music.

You can view more of Nathan Cornelius's work on the artist's personal webpage.

Last updated: February 26, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton, MI 49931


906 482-0984

Contact Us