One small step…or 50 years ago (almost) today

One of my very earliest memories is sitting underneath the table in our living-room when I was a tiny child. It was the middle of the night, I’m sure I’d never been up so late before. The reason I was sitting under the table, was that I’d re-arranged the tablecloth to form a tent, and was camping in the middle of the desert after an exciting day exploring on camel back.

Then my father peeked under the tablecloth, and said “You’ve got to come and watch this. It’s history!” He pulled me out from under the table, sat me on his knee, and alongside my Mum, we watched Neil Armstrong step on to the surface of the moon.

Later we went outside, and Dad pointed to the moon, and said “We’re up there”, which I guess in a sense, we were. I scanned the moon eagerly, hoping for a glimpse of my favourite astronaut, the one with the cool nickname, Buzz Aldrin.

The following day my grandfather came round to visit, and he and my father talked avidly about space flight. Grandad could remember Bleriot crossing the Channel, Marconi’s first radio transmission, and all kinds of exciting things. How he and Dad would have loved modern technology.

One piece of music is inextricably bound up for me with the moon landing and that is Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

In my memory (though this may not be entirely accurate), it seemed to be omnipresent in the BBC coverage of the moon landings, along with the wonderful commentary of James Burke and Patrick Moore.

Fanfare for the Common Man has an odd link with the UL, as we have many of Eugene Goossens’ annotated performance scores here (though sadly no Copland); and it was Goossens, who both suggested the idea of a fanfare to Copland, and who conducted the work at its premiere in 1942 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. A piece to mark America’s entry into the Second World War.

Later in 1977, the year that Voyager launched; Fanfare was re-launched by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, in a high-octane rock version. Some music lovers were horrified, but Copland pointed out that he had given his permission, and was happy for there to be a different approach to his music.

Rather appropriately, the song that topped the UK Singles Chart on July 16th, 1969, the day that Apollo 11 blasted off was Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air. It was its third week at no. 1. Perhaps equally appropriately, it plummeted down the charts the day before the astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, giving up Newman’s top slot to the Rolling Stones.

In the United States, the song that topped the charts the week of lift-off was the apocalyptic In the year 2525 sung by Denny Zager and Rick Evans, who were one-hit wonders. Further down the chart at no. 7 was Creedance Clearwater Revival with Bad moon rising. In the year 2525 dominated the charts through the whole of the Apollo 11 mission.

Michael Collins, who never set foot on the moon, but piloted Apollo 11 safely there and back recalled that the three astronauts played Everyone’s going to the moon, as they walked out on the morning of the launch.

Each astronaut was allocated a compact cassette recorder with a play-list of their favourite music. This had been a staple since the days of the Gemini missions.

Neil Armstrong requested music featuring the ethereal sounding theremin from an album entitled Music out of the moon. The crew at Mission Control weren’t fans, and thanked Armstrong when he turned it off!

Hopefully one of his other choices, Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony got a better response.

Buzz Aldrin, who stepped out onto the moon just after Armstrong asked for some Country and Western favourites including Galveston by Glenn Campbell. He also asked for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ Spinning Wheel, which had been kept off the top spot of the US charts by In the year 2525.

In the silence of space music must have seemed particularly special. One wonders what a performance of John Cage’s 4′ 33 would have sounded like there…


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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