Composer Gabriela Lena Frank thinks of the climate crisis in terms of butterflies and worms.
“Growing up in Berkeley, I remember putting my hands in the dirt in the garden that we had and insects would come out,” Frank says in a Zoom call. “That's not just my imagination. Science says 60 percent of our insect life, and our bird population, is down. I remember going back and looking at old photo albums, my mom taking photos of me in the garden, and there were butterflies all around and it was just—it was different.”
Frank is an accomplished composer and educator in high demand. Her works have been performed by the Kronos Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and her festival appearances are booked years in advance—she has a waiting list that reaches into 2026.
Frank is best known for imaginative fusions of Peruvian sounds with Western instruments in pieces like Ritmos Anchinos and Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, multicultural collisions that express her own mixed heritage. Even as she kept busy with regular trips to Peru for anthropological work and running her own music education non-profit, she couldn’t shake her memories of butterfly-filled gardens. She couldn’t ignore that the land around her farm-slash-academy outside of Boonville, in Mendocino County, was changing before her eyes.
“I’m going to say 2018 is when I really woke up, when Paradise burned a couple hours from us, a county over,” says Frank. “I had musicians here at my academy, and we were literally breathing in its demise. It was just inescapable.”