The Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years from Earth. I learned that today listening to “Eye on the Night Sky,” a daily feature on the St. Johnsbury-based “Eye on the Sky” radio weather report.
If I’ve ever previously known anything about the distance between Earth and the Andromeda Galaxy, it hasn’t stayed in memory, and if you were to have asked me earlier today how far Andromeda was from here I would have guessed something like “trillions” of miles. I learned upon poking around on the internet that one light year is almost 6 trillion miles!
For us to be conscious of something that is 2.5 million light years away is to completely confuse the past with the present. What we perceive today of the Andromeda Galaxy is light “information” that was sent 2.5 million light years ago! If the Andromeda Galaxy no longer exists, we most likely won’t be hearing about that until we are, uh… much, much older.
Back in February of 2015 I wrote a piece for choir and piano called “We Speak of Time.” It set a text by existentialist philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich from a collection of 16 of his sermons called “The Eternal Now.”
Here’s the text I set; it is paraphrased from Tillich’s original:
“We speak of time in three modes – past, present, and future. Time runs from the beginning to the end, our awareness goes in the opposite direction. We go toward something that is not yet, we come from something that is no more. Is not our time the ever-moving boundary between past and future?”
For the musicians among my readers you might be amused at my attempt to depict the past, present and future in one four-minute piece of music. The vocal parts were all created from a single melody – a melody that was a palindrome. The melody worked forwards, backwards, and simultaneously in both directions with itself. The piano accompaniment was designed to repeat itself regardless of which direction the melody was going.
There’s no way that an average listener, on first hearing, can understand how “We Speak of Time” is put together and, in truth, I don’t know why I wrote it. I don’t remember how I found the Tillich text, I don’t remember having the impulse to set it to music and, never having previously written a piece of music based on time, I don’t know why I tried to compose a piece using a musical palindrome. In fact, I remember nothing about composing it.
“We Speak of Time” is an odd snapshot of a particular moment in my life. I finished the piece sometime in Feberuary, 2015. On March 3 I was taken to the hospital with encephalitis, an illness that has permanently affected my memory – my sense of time. In a way that I could not have known when I was composing it, “We Speak of Time” marks a time in my life when past, present, and future were compressed into a Big Bang – or, perhaps more accurately, a Wee Little Bang.