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Outdoors: 'Nutcracker' Snowflakes

A painted depiction of the Snowflake Waltz from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker"

'Tis is the season for the Nutcracker, a ballet full of magic.

Every Interlochen production is different, so I cannot predict how my favorite scene, “Enchanted Snow Forest” will be handled.

Years ago, I sang in a symphony chorale. This meant that for several weeks every December, I was a member of what we called the “Ah, Ah Chorus.”  

We lurked in the pit behind the instrumentalists, and on cue near the end of the first act, started singing. It was magical with sparkling snow drifting down from the flyspace onto the stage.

Every rehearsal and performance, though, I was puzzled by the music.

The melody line starts out descending, but then goes right back up again and even swirls around a bit. It is sometimes agitated and tempos change abruptly.

Turns out Tchaikovsky got it exactly right.

Snowflakes develop in clouds where their shape is determined by the amount of vapor in the air and the temperature. And when the crystals grow heavy enough, they fall. 

But there is a lot of turbulent air up there, so flakes are often swept into updrafts — twirling and whirling like dancers.

Unlike dancers, we hope, the flakes experience countless collisions.

Sometime their arms are broken off. In other circumstances during their arduous trip, colliding snowflakes get bigger. Some flakes contain as many as 200 snow crystals by the time they land.  The journey of a snowflake is rarely ,if ever, just a gentle wafting.

Will there be an "Ah, Ah Chorus" this year? Will snow fall?

I have no idea, but I am certain that in "The Nutcracker" and really, any time snow falls, there will be magic.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.