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George Mitchell Center for Sustainability hosts “The Warming Sea”

On Feb. 7 the George Mitchell Center for Sustainability hosted composer Lucas Richman and the director of the Maine Science Festival, Kate Dickerson to speak on Richman’s latest composition about climate change entitled “The Warming Sea: A Symphonic Exploration of Hope in the Face of the Climate Crisis.” Director of the George J. Mitchell Center, David Hart, introduced the event and spoke to the mission of the organization.

“Our purpose here is to grow our collective capacity to create a brighter future in and beyond Maine,” Hart said, before introducing Dickerson and Richman.

Dickerson presented first about the nature of the collaboration between the Maine Science Festival and Richman.

“In order for this collaboration story to make sense you’ll first need to know about the Maine Science Festival,” Dickerson said before introducing the mission of the festival.

The Maine Science Festival takes place in March and features interdisciplinary activities to introduce Mainers of all ages to research currently being conducted in the state. Dickerson highlighted that the program has a strong arts component to it.

“Scientists can learn a lot from artists,” Dickerson said, explaining that oftentimes artists know more about how to communicate issues in a more effective way than scientists do.

Dickerson then explained that this was their reason behind commissioning Richman, a Grammy Award nominated composer, and the director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra to create a symphonic piece about the effects of climate change.

After a brief video introduction about his process, Richman took the podium to speak more on the creation of “The Warming Sea.”

Richman began by speaking about all the questions he had to ask himself as a part of the process of writing a creative piece on climate science.

“Where does one start?” Richman said. “How do you translate all this information?”

Richman’s process began with the collection of data and discussing with experts on the subject of climate change within the state of Maine. He explained that his process also involved speaking to middle and elementary school students about what they would want to hear from a symphony of this nature.

“Hope. They wanted to feel hope,” Richman said. Their answer influenced his decision to include a children’s choir in the anthem of the symphony, titled “Hope Begins With Truth.” The children’s choir also succeeds in showing that the next generation will be affected by the decisions of the adult audience members who they are singing to.

“The children’s choir puts everyone on task. We all have to know, what is the truth?” Richman asked. “Who better to send that message than the next generation?”

Richman also explained the deeper meaning behind some of his compositions. He began by displaying a chart of climate data which showed the average temperature in the state of Maine from the late 1800s until 2019. Richman then assigned certain notes and keys to certain ranges of temperatures, and then retranslated those notes back onto the data from the past two centuries. Each measure of the music is fortified by each of the assigned pitches, which reflects the rise in temperatures in an auditory manner.

Another feature of the program is the women’s choir, who Richman has modeled after the Greek sirens, creatures who would sing beautiful songs to lure men to their deaths. The choir sings a refrain in Greek, which centers around spreading climate misinformation. 

Richman also makes use of an innovative musical technique to simulate the sound of the ocean in a way which does not involve recordings or synthesized noise. He demonstrated the use of an instrument that is a wooden box filled with ball bearings to emulate the sound of rushing water.

The floor then opened up to a Q&A session. One audience member asked him what similarities he found between himself and the scientists he was working with.

“I was always in awe,” Richman said of the experts. “The similarity to me was they all seemed to love the puzzle of the process.”

Richman explained that much like these scientists it is the discovery of answers to difficult or puzzling questions which excited him about his work with music.

“The Warming Sea: A Symphonic Exploration of Hope in the Face of the Climate Crisis” will have its world premiere at the Collins Center for the Arts on Mar. 19. It will feature visual effects by Chuck Carter, and a Q&A session with the scientists and the composer involved with its production.


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