On Operas and Stars, Aliens and Refugees


I was recently in correspondence with Carl Pennypacker at Berkeley. To quote Wikipedia: “Dr. Pennypacker has spent much of his career as a research astrophysicist, receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1978. His principal research was the studying of supernovae and the building of techniques for their automated discovery. With Rich Muller, he co-founded the Berkeley Supernova Search, which later became the Supernova Cosmology Project. He shared the 2007 Gruber Prize in Cosmology and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the Supernova Cosmology Project’s discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.”

All true. But in addition to that, he has a deep interest in science outreach… and music. When he shared with me a video he’d been involved with (see below) I asked if I could post it here, and if he would give me a few words of introduction. He graciously agreed to both. He writes (edited from a couple of emails):

I was part of “The Global Skylight” opera, as part of the IAU’s Year of Light in 2015. It occurred to me recently that the theme of the origin of humanity’s matter in the stars was a powerful principle that might help people take a bit better care of each other. So I re-purposed the finale of this Opera (I helped write the music and the words) to be “The Refugee Song and Dance.” It is on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWXAvdmRMcM

The Global Skylight Opera was the first in an on-going yearly series of Global Science Operas, originating in Stord, Norway.  Last November’s was on the Higgs Boson.  Oded Ben-Horin is our maestro and inventor of this concept.   They are described here: http://globalscienceopera.com/and a video trailer of the Skylight Opera is here in the lower left: http://globalscienceopera.com/resources-media/#videos

Per my musicality: I am really not a musician, but I seem to have tunes running around my under-worked brain all the time.  If I hear a noise from the environment, like a bird singing or creek flowing, my mind has this inexplicable desire to complete the notes nature has given us.  Up to now, some of my collaborative work that went further was a light opera Ms. Judy Goldhaber and I did on Stephen Hawking.  This was performed at San Francisco City College. (If you ever want to hear some of these songs, I have six in good digital form I could relay to you.)  I “compose” by using a music composition program, and although my pitch is far from perfect, I try to write in the music the tunes I hear in my mind. It is frustrating at times for me, because of my lack of any formal musical training — it takes me some time to get the notes just the way I hear them, and I find my precision is around a 1/32 note.

Dr. Simon Nathan, a friend and Ph.D. physicist, did the hard work of the arrangement.



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