Can the melodies of music tell a story 200-years in the making that’s steeped in science? That’s the goal of a new and unprecedented performance by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra this March as part of the Maine Science Festival.
“The Warming Sea” is a brand-new symphony written by Lucas Richman, conductor of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, after months of learning and research about climate change in Maine. It will be performed for the first time ever on March 22 at Collins Center for the Arts. The symphony was commissioned by the Maine Science Festival.
“I love pulling together the idea and finding the structure by which those ideas can be best heard and understood,” Richman said.
Richman, an award-winning composer, and Kate Dickerson, the founder and director of the Maine Science Festival, worked in collaboration to develop the piece. Together, they spent months visiting scientists and experts throughout the state learning first-hand from them how Maine is being impacted by climate change.
“I’ve had what adds up to my own personal seminar on climate change and the effects it’s had on the Gulf of Maine,” Richman said.
The education in climate change provided by Dickerson has taken the pair all over the state, visiting oceans, marshes, interior lands and more. Along the way, experts shared their knowledge, teaching him about the impact on water, temperature, marine life and more.
“Every person we have met has a different view of what’s most important,” Richman noted.
“Somewhat by design,” Dickerson admitted.
By showing Richman the many facets of climate change and its effects, Dickerson was able to give him a broad understanding of the issue so it could be translated to music. It’s been an evolution of knowledge.
“I have found that inspiration comes from the most unique places,” Richman said.
But how does one translate science to music? Richman began with the data — specifically, 200 years of temperature variations. Richman said that the symphony he’s written has 200 measures, each representing a year in Maine’s history and the average temperature data from that year. From there, he’s built history into the piece. The foghorn, for instance, wasn’t introduced until 1859, so an ode to that will happen in that measure of the piece.
“Included with the standard orchestra, I will have ‘found’ elements that are added to the percussion section including the use of seashells and other elements that will invoke the environment and the ocean,” Richman said.
The Bangor Area Children’s Choir and a women’s choice will also bring the piece to life.
“I knew I wanted to have a women’s chorus as part of this but I didn’t quite know why but then it came to me: the women represent the sirens that would lure the sailors to their deaths on the rocks,” Richman said. “In this case, they represent the climate change deniers. Their song is very seductive and if we all listen to it, we will all die.”
Richman wrote the song — a poem — and had it translated into Greek, the language it will be performed in.
The result, they hope, will be a piece with broad impact and reach. Dickerson sees this collaboration as a way to bring the subject to a larger audience. Richman hopes that, “communities will recognize that what we’re doing here is applicable in their communities.”
“We’re all smarter together,” Dickerson said.
The collaboration has been more fun than Dickerson anticipated. But it’s also fulfilled something she’s seen clearly before: science and art can complement each other and get messages to a greater audience.
“Brilliance in isolation cannot be seen or heard,” Richman said.
The 3 p.m. performance, Sounds of the Sea, will also include “La Mer” by Claude Debussy and “Bicentennial Fanfare,” written by Rockland-native Walter Piston, among other works.