B l u e M a r b l e : A S y m p h o n y f o r W i n d E n s e m b l e
1 Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes (1° dbl. English Horn), 2 Bassoons, 2 1st Bb Clarinets, 2 2nd Bb Clarinets, 2 3rd Bb Clarinets, 1 Bass Clarinet, 1 Contrabass Clarinet, 1 Soprano Sax., 1 Alto Sax., 1 Tenor Sax., 1 Baritone Sax., 4 Bb Trumpets, 4 Horns, 3 Tenor Trombones, 1 Bass Trombone, 2 Euphoniums, 1 Tuba, 1 Harp, 1 Piano, 1 String Bass, 5 Percussion, Electronics
Movement I. Copernicus, Galileo, and the Medicea Sidera
Interpolation I. "We choose to go to the Moon"
Movement II. A barely controlled explosion
Interpolation II. "Contact light"
Movement III. Magnificent desolation
Interpolation III. "Look'd up in perfect silence"
Movement IV. At the frontier of the known universe
"We learned a lot about the Moon,
but what we really learned was about the Earth."
- Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 Astronaut
Movement I: Copernicus, Galileo, and the Medicea Sidera
For millennia, humankind believed that the Earth was stationary and the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars orbited our little terrestrial home. Sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus speculated that Earth was just another planet in orbit around the Sun. About a century later, astronomer Galileo Galilei observed four “stars” that he called the Medicea Sidera orbiting Jupiter. These “stars” were in fact moons, and this discovery offered proof to Copernicus’s ideas. The melodic material introduced in this movement is based on the eleventh-century chant melody Naturalis concordia vocum cum planetis and reappears throughout the rest of the piece.
Movement II: A barely controlled explosion
In October of 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth, while the United States was left frantically trying to have a successful liftoff. Often in the late 1950s, many American rockets would collapse in upon themselves, go off course and need to be manually destroyed, or fail to even ignite. These bugs were eventually fixed, and the United States was able to launch satellites and manned spacecraft successfully over the next several decades. However, these early mishaps did leave their impression. As former NASA Deputy Administrator Aaron Cohen once remarked, “Let’s face it, space is a risky business. I always considered every launch a barely controlled explosion.”
Movement III: Magnificent desolation
On 20 July 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon; marking the first time that humankind set foot on another celestial body. Aldrin, who exited the Eagle after Armstrong famously took his one small step, remarked that their view was one of “magnificent desolation.” This fitting description would later be used as the title of his 2009 autobiography. In this book, Aldrin describes his battle with depression, which he attributes primarily to two factors: coping with life after the moon landing and forever being “the second man to step on the Moon.” This movement depicts the desolate lunar surface through the lens of Aldrin’s fixation on this singular event. There are twenty-one chime strikes in this movement (including the preceding interpolation); one for each of the astronauts and cosmonauts that perished on Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, Soyuz 1, and Soyuz 11.
Movement IV: At the frontier of the known universe
The Space Shuttle Discovery embarked on its five-day STS-31 mission on 24 April 1990. Safely nestled its cargo bay was the Hubble Space Telescope. This telescope has provided spectacular images of the heavens, including star clusters, distant nebulae, and our planetary neighbors. The Hubble Telescope has provided answers to many questions regarding the origins of our universe, while simultaneously posing many new questions and hypotheses. One thing is certain, humanity is destined to continue exploring the cosmos, and through this exploration we will, as astronomer Edwin Hubble states, “find them [galaxies] smaller and fainter, in constantly increasing numbers, and we know that we are reaching into space, farther and farther, until, with the faintest nebulae that can be detected with the greatest telescopes, we arrive at the frontier of the known universe.”
A special thank you to my friend and colleague Samuel Green for reading and recording Walt Whitman's poem When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer used in the electronics throughout Interpolation III. This work is dedicated to the memories of the brave men and women who perished on the Space Shuttle Challenger thirty years ago and was written for John Oelrich and the University of Tennessee at Martin Wind Ensemble.
Arkansas State University Wind Ensemble (Timothy Oliver, conductor) - 29 April 2018; Jonesboro, AR
University of Tennessee at Martin Wind Ensemble (John Oelrich, conductor) - 19 April 2016; Martin, TN