Wind EnsembleHard6:30

The Tonic of Wildness

“…a musical montage — each theme moving through different scenery from one picturesque lookout point to the next…”

Listen to The Tonic of Wildness

Performed by the University of Illinois Wind Orchestra
Conductor Dr. Elizabeth Peterson

View Sample Score

The Tonic of Wildness

Program Note

By Michael Markowski

By 1850, people in New York City were beginning to feel the compounding stress of living in such a heavily urban environment. Ken Burns explains in his documentary New York that the early grid system which had defined the city’s layout had failed “to provide enough park space for New York’s overcrowded and overworked citizens. Half a century of explosive growth had transformed much of lower Manhattan into a congested wasteland of factories, warehouses, and tenements. For most New Yorkers, there was simply no escape.” A few years later, 843 acres of land in the middle of Manhattan would be transformed into an urban oasis: Central Park.

Around this same time, Henry David Thoreau emerged from the woods after living by himself for over two years, and recounted, “our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness.” Thoreau understood there was something invigorating about being in nature, as did people like John Muir, who eventually founded the Sierra Club. For Muir, “in God’s wildness lies the hope of the world — the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.” Decades later, following in Muir’s footsteps, Sigurd F. Olson would also preach that “wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”

The three pieces of music I wrote before writing The Tonic of Wildness had all been very furious, driving, and perhaps even musically congested. While that’s exciting sometimes, it was definitely time to regain serenity and equilibrium in my own work. I began my initial research, dreaming up ideas, and quickly discovered the paintings of the Hudson River School painters — like Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, and even Winslow Homer — who were known for creating vast and majestic American landscapes. Slowly, the music I was writing began to piece itself together like a slideshow from a family road trip — a musical montage — each theme moving through different scenery from one picturesque lookout point to the next. Above all, I think this piece is a celebration of the restorative power of nature, and of places like Ithaca, where there is certainly no shortage of natural beauty.

The Tonic of Wildness premiered on June 7, 2017 in Ithaca, New York with the Ithaca High School bands conducted by Nicki Zawel.

Commissioned By

The Bands of Ithaca High School in honor of the 100th Anniversary of The Ithaca High School Band and made possible by the generosity of the Fine Arts Booster Group, The Ithaca Public Education Initiative, The Ithaca High School Class of 1961, and The Ithaca City School District.


The Tonic of Wildness premiered on June 7, 2017 at Ithaca High School (Ithaca, New York) performed by the Ithaca High School Band conducted by Nicki Zawel.

View program here.


Markowski Creative (ASCAP)


Flute 1 & 2
Oboe 1
Oboe 2 (doubling English Horn)
Bassoon 1 & 2
B-flat Clarinet 1-4
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
Alto Saxophone 1 (doubling Soprano Sax)
Alto Saxophone 2
Tenor Saxophone
Baritone Saxophone

B-flat Trumpet 1-3
Horn 1-4
Trombone 1-3
String Bass

Percussion 1: Timpani
Percussion 2: Snare Drum, Suspended Cymbal, Bass Drum (shared)
Percussion 3: Glockenspiel, Suspended Cymbal, Sand Blocks
Percussion 4: Chimes, Bass Drum (shared)
Percussion 5: Vibraphone
Percussion 6: Marimba, Crash Cymbal, Tam-Tam


No known errata.

Year Completed


Weight N/A
Dimensions N/A


Wind Ensemble