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Interstellar: A UTSA musical production celebrating space research

Interstellar: A UTSA musical production celebrating space research

OCTOBER 18, 2022 — When the first images of the galactic frontier captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) were unveiled this summer, Jordan Boyd set his alarm to witness the works of art. It was then that the concept of the concert program Interstellar was born.

Boyd, the assistant director of Choral Activities for UTSA, is a lover of astronomy whose opportunity to take a course during his undergraduate studies fell through due to a change in professors. But when the Webb revealed its images in July, he received another chance to explore his appreciation for the sky.

“I had this realization. It was this stunning moment of ‘Wow, we’re so small. How do I capture this in music?’ So, I sat down with my music and started writing down ideas,” Boyd recalled. “As I was marinating on it for a few days, I got an email from UTSA Today talking about Chris Packham who was doing something with the Webb telescope.”

“The bridge between music and astronomy is a nice, unusual approach to follow.”

Boyd found Packham, professor and astrophysicist in the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy, at the new faculty orientation after spotting his JWST pin. The two discussed the concept and the project began to flourish.

“The bridge between music and astronomy is a nice, unusual approach to follow. Building these multidisciplinary bridges is something we at UTSA wants to see happen more and more,” Packham said.

Their collaboration is culminating this week in Interstellar: A Choral JWST Celebration, a concert featuring the UTSA Concert Choir, the University Chorus and the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy. Students making up the choirs will gather from various disciplines, majoring in studies outside the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts and its School of Music.

The group has been practicing a range of pieces detailing humans’ relationship with the heavens throughout time and the future of exploration. On a recent weekday, Boyd was elegantly lifting and threading his hand in the air, directing the vocal cues of the choir. Note by note, his vision of a musical interpretation of the cosmos filled the room.

At the concert, projections of selected images captured by the JWST will accompany the musical performance—creating an immersive experience for concertgoers.

Introductions will be made by special guests Nancy Levenson, interim director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, and District 4 City Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia. A walkthrough of the JWST images will be led by Packham and Desiree Garcia, founding member of The Society of Astronomy at UTSA.

“The Webb images are giving us concrete evidence of what’s happening beyond our little sphere, and the music is providing commentary about our perspective as a human race, looking up at the heavens for centuries and centuries. What’s up there? How did we get here?” Boyd explained.

The innovative choral experience will feature a selection of musical works inspired by the Webb images. A piece by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi captures how humans have always looked to the stars for answers. Frank Ticheli’s “Earth Song” explores the human relationship with the universe, delving into the downfalls of Earth caused by war and greed.

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“Then there’s Silent Sea, which parallels Oceanic exploration and everything we did there irresponsibly. It’s calling on us to be responsible as we go into space. In our next gargantuan exploration, we must be responsible. We have to do this the right way,” Boyd said.

UTSA School of Music will present Interstellar: A Choral JWST Celebration, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 20 in the Arts Building Recital Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Ari Castañeda

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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