Rob McIntyre’s Musical Take on Climate Litigation and Advocacy

For our latest conversation, we’re excited to sit down with Rob McIntyre, a talented composer, Juris Doctor candidate, and proud Wattle Fellow. Rob has embarked on a unique journey, merging his passions for music and law to create something truly extraordinary.

In this interview, Rob shares the inspiration behind his project, the challenges of translating legal complexities into music, and his hopes for what listeners will take away from his composition. He also talks about his creative process, the incredible audience reactions, and how the Wattle Fellowship has influenced his work. 

Rob, your project is really fascinating—turning a climate litigation case into a classical music composition. What was the inspiration behind this unique idea, and how did you come to merge your passions for law and music in such an innovative way?

Our Duty to Care really was and is a meeting of my identities, and stemmed from my desire to finally compose a meaningful composition about the law. My artistic practice is so often influenced by nature, important causes and climate change – so grounding this type of piece with the common thread of sustainability and climate advocacy between music and law was the perfect bridge.

The Wattle Fellowship made envisioning this seem so much more realistic. When I was applying for it, I had fully thought out the entire concept to present to the application panel – knowing that I would compose the piece anyway due to its own personal and societal importance. Receiving the Wattle Fellowship augmented this and provided me the space and support to launch into it fully – so in a way, it also inspired the work as much as the Sharma litigation did.

Translating the complexities of a legal case into music sounds like quite a challenge! How did you manage to take the intricate details of the Sharma litigation and transform them into something that resonates through music?

This was a major hurdle to jump – manifesting accessibility and engagement with the often cerebral and complex nature of the law. Because I was writing the composition for soprano voice and piano trio, I knew that I needed written words for my fellow performer, Bridgette Kelsey.

I could have gone as overt as her singing exact lines from the court judgement transcript but I wanted to focus more on the overall impact of the Sharma litigation and its nuanced impact missed by the media – being that climate change was established as legally real for the first time in the Courts, with all climate data submitted remaining uncontested.

I had previously worked with my close friend, colleague and poet, Savanna Wegman, and just knew that she was the perfect person to help develop this narrative. I undertook my own legal research on the case and met with legal experts and academics, such as Dr. Brad Jessup. I then delivered this research to Savanna with themes in mind such as climate anxiety, the court’s values and processes, and generational mindset shifts.

Savanna distilled my legal research and speeches from Anjali Sharma into an enchanting text that greatly inspired my compositional process. She captured it so perfectly in her poem ‘Prophecy, as a fire comes’ (2022) and has helped prove with me that the creative arts can open up the law to masses in a newfound and significant way.

When people listen to your composition, what are you hoping they’ll take away from it? Is there a particular message or feeling you want to convey through your music?

If someone engaging with Our Duty to Care can come away from the performance feeling as if their view or perspective has broadened on, music, law, climate change, or a mix/subset of all three in a positive way – then I have succeeded. And even if not, the fact that we have engaged a broad audience in an internationally monumental legal case via music for 18 minutes, which will elongate the litigation’s legacy, message and reach, is in itself already such a feat that I am proud of.

I’d love to hear more about your process when composing music that reflects climate change themes. How do you approach such a universal and pressing topic, and what steps do you take to ensure your music captures the essence of the issue?

The more I compose music that reflects on or addresses climate change, I realise one prevailing commonality – its requirement for nuance and openness. We all experience climate change and its throws, particularly climate anxiety, so composing such a universally-felt topic requires deep care, reliable research and ethical usage of concepts.

For me, I often describe my artistic ambition as ‘providing space for moments in order to achieve a multi-faceted sense of visibility’, because I truly believe that gaining new, and maintaining existing perspectives is vital to growth and progress.

Space is particularly important for composing about climate change, so I often need my own space in the process by connecting with nature and writing in different environments – as well as connecting with others and sharing lived experience.

How has the audience reacted to your work so far? What kind of feedback have you received from both the legal and artistic communities, and has any response surprised you?

The response to Our Duty to Care has been nothing short of incredible! With the pressure of merging 3 key aspects about myself into one project, It’s been wonderful to see such a positive reception.

The world premiere concert that I curated – with my incomparable collaborators and performers, Bridgette Kelsey, Isabel Hede, Stephanie Arnold and Georgina Lewis – hosted 250 audience members from all kinds of career specialities and communities coming together at Hanson Dyer Hall (Ian Potter Southbank Centre).

I was able to get in contact with Anjali Sharma herself, who helped share the word and connected me with her litigation guardian in the monumental case, Sister Bridged Arthur, who actually attended the event! Since then, I’ve received the 2023 Dorian le Gallienne Composition Award and curated another sold-out performance at Tempo Rubato in partnership with the 2024 National Sustainability Festival.

From law students, academics and legal practitioners, to sustainability advocates and the vibrant Art Music community, we could not have asked for greater feedback across the board. People have said they want to see more so we hope to continue creating, performing and re-performing works like this.

Being part of the Wattle Fellowship sounds like an incredible experience. How has this fellowship influenced your approach to your project, and what kind of support did you receive from the community?

The Wattle Fellowship was instrumental in helping me approach such a multi-faceted project and my ambitions for it. With often limited grants funding in the Arts industry, the fellowship’s funding support erased many financial barriers that I would have otherwise had to face.

The Wattle Fellowship at its core is a sustainable and supportive community of like-minded individuals, so knowing that a breadth of knowledge and support in the form of a 20+ cohort of changemakers & inspiring leaders was already unconditionally available to me during this project was uniquely special.

I still faced (yet not alone!) the expected and unexpected challenges of composing a substantial piece of work and then presenting it in a curated concert but was able to better tap into my support networks and professional development provided with the Wattle Fellowship. 

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for your music in terms of climate advocacy? Are there any specific projects or themes you’re excited to explore in the future?

I aim to continue composing music with a climate advocacy lens, whether it be overt, subtle or somewhere in between!

This year, I have recently composed two works quite different from each other: one commissioned by a dear friend and colleague Martina Rosaria O’Connell called ‘Every third dawn’, for soprano, flute and piano, and text again by Savanna Wegman.

It is a subtle climate retelling of the Persephone myth and just recently premiered at the Royal Irish Academy of Music at 2024 ChamberFest Dublin. The other work, called ‘Remnants of a Resonance’ for flute and bassoon, composed for the duo of Simone Maurer and Lyndon Watts, concerns the incremental loss of sonic diversity in our environments by climate change and subtly reflects on my time hiking the Denali National Park & Preserve in Alaska during a fantastic international compositional program in 2022 called ‘Composing in the Wilderness’.

I aspire to continue composing about climate change advocacy, nature, the law and more in various ways for years to come, and to create larger scale works alongside my continual output and loved medium of chamber music. Composing music with impact and artistic impetus is my constant aspiration, particularly regarding something as important and unifying as climate advocacy.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.