(First published April 10, 2011)

One of the pieces on our Festival 21 program (April 16, 2011 in Boston) is a new solo guitar piece written for me by my friend J. Andrew Dickenson. In keeping with the science theme of the rest of the program, Andrew’s composition, Orbit, draws its inspiration from scientific concepts. With an instrumental piece, the connection to the inspiration is often less direct than it is with a vocal piece based on a specific text. In the case of Orbit, the concept of the atom was the starting point for Andrew as he began to think about the piece, but as he describes, the composition went in unexpected directions:

Orbit began as a completely different piece — I had imagined the first note you’ll hear as a single atom, something so small that our human eye can never perceive it. It is fascinating to me that something this small by itself is virtually insignificant, yet combined with many other atoms and molecules they create the universe as we know it. As I continued to compose, however, the piece began to take on a life of its own.

We are constantly in orbit, in both literal and figurative ways. Moons revolve around planets, planets revolve around the sun, the sun and stars revolve around the center of the galaxy, and even the Milky Way is revolving around another group of galaxies. In our lives, we can see it visibly with the passing of each day, the turning of the seasons, and even the routines we craft with work, school, and other schedules. It seems we can never be motionless. I take comfort in this idea. I know that I am happiest when I am moving towards something, and rather than see these rituals as mindless habits I prefer to see them as rings on a tree that make us stronger. With each revolution we grow and change, hopefully coming closer to our goals and contributing more to humanity.

In the end, it was appropriate that a piece that began with the idea of the atom turned into something completely different, because just as many atoms create the things we can see and touch, many notes working together create the music we hear. And, like the infinite formations of atoms, there are infinite possibilities for music. This music is offered to you with the hope that you will enjoy this very humble creation.


John Olson