In the late summer of 1977, two deep space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, took off from the earth to begin the longest trip of all time. Their launches were scheduled to take advantage of a rare alignment among the outer planets of our solar system: Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. The initial phase of the Voyager mission ended in 1989, after the probes had transmitted much useful new data concerning the outer limits of the heliosphere, which is what scientists call the bubble-like region of space that surrounds our sun. Over the ensuing three decades, the still-functioning robotic probes have continued to travel outward, and in 2012 and in 2018, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 respectively crossed the “heliopause,” a physical boundary that scientists believe marks the end of our heliosphere and the beginning of true outer, or “interstellar,” space.
When the Voyagers were designed, scientists, including Dr. Carl Sagan, who headed this aspect of the project, decided to include among the various recording instruments and transmitters a piece of information known as “the Golden Record.” A kind of interstellar DVD, the Golden Record is intended to introduce human lives and this solar system to a potential audience of intelligent aliens. A great deal of thought and planning went into the project, which must be among the most unlikely publishing ventures ever attempted. Since the launch of the Voyagers, and again more recently because of the fact that they have now entered interstellar space, the Golden Record has piqued the imaginations of people all over the world. On Friday, July 12, the London Symphony Orchestra will present a Music Academy of the West concert for families at The Granada Theatre that imagines what might happen when the first intelligent alien listens to the Golden Record.
Among the many benefits that accrue to the Music Academy and the community through the organization’s high-profile collaborations with great symphony orchestras, not the least is the opportunity they afford to share best practices in the sphere of outreach. The London Symphony Orchestra’s renowned “Discovery” program is exemplary in this regard. Through a series of extraordinarily imaginative programs and services, the LSO brings music and culture to tens of thousands of people, young and old, who might otherwise not have access to the resources of a world-class symphony.
The Voyager concert that comes to the Granada on Friday is just the latest in a long line of innovative ideas from Gareth Davies, the orchestra’s principal flautist and a brilliant writer and researcher with a strong interest in developing new modes of cultural engagement. Following the success of his book about the orchestra’s dramatic and pioneering American tour of 1912, The Show Must Go On: On Tour with the LSO in 1912 and 2012, Davies wrote a script that weaves together the story of the Voyager expedition with a wide-ranging program of orchestral music designed to engage young people and their parents together in a simulated space adventure. By following along, and, in some instances, singing along, children can guide the friendly extraterrestrial who has heard our message to a safe harbor in the universe. It’s a charming concept that provides ample reason for everyone involved to take a listener’s giant leap into the spacey worlds of such compositions as the Also Sprach Zarathustra of Richard Strauss, Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” from The Planets, and John Adams’s Short ride in a fast machine.
The Santa Barbara Public Library is supporting the concert with several related events, including a solar system model-building workshop for ages 5-7 on the afternoon before the performance. If you have any space-crazy children at home, or even if you are just as excited as we are about what’s outside of the heliosphere, head to the Granada on Friday, July 12, for this unique event.