I recently finished re-reading M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead. I’ve heard the audiobook multiple times because it was recommended to me as a fan of Dmitri Shostakovich, but I splurged and got myself the regular book . If you haven’t read this book, it’s a stunning work of genius about creative life in Communist Russia.
Towards the end of the book, it mentions that the first song sung in space was when Yuri Gagarin was a tune by Shostakovich: “The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows/Where her son flies in the sky!” I found this to be a beautiful story and you can read more about it here: http://theappendix.net/issues/2014/7/yuri-gagarin-sings .
In one of my planned stories, a professional violinist and luthier (person who makes and repairs violins) is hired to be one of the artists on a spaceship traveling to a new world. Long ago, I pictured the first concert in space including Antonin Dvorak’s 2nd movement from the New World Symphony. There’s a beautiful violin and cello duet during that and I want this character to play that herself.
I also recall a hymn that is set to that melody called “Souviens-toi” or “Remember.” I sang it several years ago with my choir at church in the original French and was struck by this verse:
” Souviens-toi, mon enfant des bois, des cités.
Pouvons-nous ici bas les imaginer?
Et le ciel jusqu’au soir, est-il rose ou gris?
Le soleil attend-il la neige ou la pluie?
Conte-moi, mon enfant, la couleur des prés
Et le chant des oiseaux d’un monde oublié.”
It asks a child to remember woods and cities, to think about the colors of the evening sky, and even to imagine if snow or rain is in the forecast. But my favorite lines are the last two: “Tell me, my child, the color of the meadows and the birdsong from a forgotten world.”
One of the best concerts I’ve ever attended featured this Dvorak symphony. Thierry Fischer of the Utah Symphony was the maestro for the night and when the orchestra came to this movement, he smoothed and blurred the lines of articulation so the music that’s always been serene was almost hazy and ethereal. I closed my eyes and could see fields of lavender beneath a sky that was fading into night. I am someone who can only rarely imagine a picture in my head, so seeing such a clear image was fantastic for me.
But it occurred to me that people spending years or even a lifetime traveling to a new world might long to see wide open spaces or mountains. There could be children who can tell you a thousand stories about the stars outside their bedroom windows, but have never set foot in a meadow.
So now I have an entire conversation in my mind from my walk home about the reason for this character wanting to travel the world before she leaves is that she wants to remember the birdsongs from the forgotten world one more time and will be able to imagine what the wildflowers looked like in the meadows.