The sunrise from atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park was the inspiration for Daniel Sonenberg’s “First Light: A Fanfare For Maine,” written in celebration of the state’s bicentennial. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The sun splashing the top of Cadillac Mountain before it touches most other places inspired Daniel Sonenberg to compose a fanfare for Maine. Lucas Richman, alarmed by the warming sea, found his reason to write in the growing mountain of evidence of climate change found in the Gulf of Maine.

Over time, artists have formed the outside world’s perception of Maine, so it’s appropriate to turn to artists in contemporary times to help interpret what Maine’s statehood means and to suggest ways to acknowledge it, as it marks its bicentennial this month. Sonenberg and Richman, two of Maine’s leading composers, have written music for the occasion, drawing on Maine’s natural resources to tell musical narratives that illustrate Maine’s place in U.S. history and its role in understanding and measuring climate change.

Composer Daniel Sonenberg at his home in Portland. Sonenberg has written a bicentennial piece, to be performed by the Portland Symphony, based on his experiences atop Cadillac Mountain. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will perform Sonenberg’s composition, “First Light: A Fanfare for Maine,” as part of its concert at Merrill Auditorium on March 15, the 200th anniversary to the day that Maine separated from Massachusetts and became a state. The Bangor Symphony Orchestra, which Richman directs, will perform his piece, “The Warming Sea,” on March 22 in Bangor as part of the Maine Science Festival. The musical performances are among a full spring of bicentennial events across Maine, as artists look to the past and into the future.

Sonenberg, a performer and composer, is best known for writing “The Summer King,” a two-act opera about Negro League baseball great Josh Gibson that premiered in 2014. For his latest and, to date, largest piece of music he’s scored, Sonenberg simply looked to the summit of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park, some 1,500 feet above sea level. It’s the highest shoreline point in the United States, and for much of the year, it’s the first place where people can see the sun rise in the United States.

He visited with his family for the first time a few years ago, though not at sunrise. But Sonenberg used the idea of first light as a jumping-off point to write his piece.

It started with the wind. After he accepted the commission and was considering what he would write, Sonenberg looked over the rest of the musical program the PSO had planned and noticed that another piece on the schedule called for a wind machine, a hand-cranked percussive instrument. The wind reminded him of being on top of Cadillac.

“When you are at Cadillac, you feel the natural ambience all around you,” Sonenberg said. “That’s what I was working toward. The piece starts with nothing but wind, and the orchestra grows out of it.”

It’s a short piece, only about three minutes. But it covers a lot of territory. In his research, Sonenberg learned that Maine became a state as part of the Missouri Compromise. The legislation that admitted Maine as a free state to the Union also admitted Missouri as a slave state, a compromise that maintained the north-south balance of power. Sonenberg saw Maine’s statehood as a beacon of light “and a positive predictor of the direction the country was going to go in.”

He wrote “First Light: A Fanfare for Maine” accordingly, as an optimistic, uplifting and, he hopes, inspiring piece of music. “It was nice having the opportunity to write three minutes of pure joy,” he said. “That was my goal.”

Lucas Richman conducts the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. Photo courtesy of Lucas Richman

Under Richman’s direction, the Bangor Symphony continues its 124th season with a premiere of Richman’s “The Warming Sea” on March 22 at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono. It will be paired with Rockland native Walter Piston’s “Bicentennial Overture,” which Piston wrote on the eve of the nation’s bicentennial, in 1975.

Richman, who has been with the Bangor Symphony for 10 years and won a Grammy Award in 2011, accepted a commission from the Maine Science Festival as a way to explore the connections between music and science. They agreed to use climate change as a starting point, primarily because so much climate change research is occurring in the Gulf of Maine. The festival is March 18-22 in Bangor.

Richman worked with Kate Dickerson, founder and director of the festival, to connect with scientists associated with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

He wanted a deeper than surface-level understanding of the subject before he began writing. “It’s hard for us as laymen to understand the impact of climate change on our world, so with that Kate and I realized that an artistic expression of this information might do a better job in getting out the message.”

The message, simply, is that the ocean is warming – fast. He wrote 200 measures of music, with each bar representing a different year and each year representing the average temperature of the Gulf of the Maine. As time moves on and the temperatures rise, the pitch evolves.

“It’s been quite an education,” said Richman, who lives in Bangor. “I’ve been very fortunate to essentially get my own college seminar on the topic. With that, I feel an even stronger responsibility as an artist to create work that conveys this information not just intellectually, but so that it touches a core inside to help with the understanding and the motivation for our need to effect change.”

In addition to the 70-odd musicians, Richman wrote the piece for women’s and children’s choirs. He cast the women’s choir as sirens from Greek mythology. Traditionally, sirens would lure sailors to their deaths, by calling them toward the rocks. In Richman’s hands, the sirens are climate-change deniers.

The children, on the other hand, sing of truth and hope. They ask the adults, “Have you told your children the truth? They need to know.”

OTHER BICENTENNIAL ARTS EVENTS

The Maine Historical Society takes an in-depth look at Maine’s bicentennial with the second of two complementary exhibitions, “State of Mind: Becoming Maine,” opening at its Portland gallery on March 13. The exhibition analyzes Maine’s separation from Massachusetts, the history of the Missouri Compromise and how statehood affected different communities in Maine: the Wabanaki, who were here first, and the settlers who came later, including the Acadien and French, black people, and English-speaking people. Maine Historical turned to collaborators within those communities to tell the stories.

These are often hard stories to tell, focusing on expulsion, slavery and the mistreatment of people. Oftentimes, these new stories expand on incomplete versions of the past, sometimes told by poets like Portland’s own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who romanticized the expulsion of the Acadiens in “Evangeline.” This exhibition tells the broad story, about the Acadiens and others, from different and often difficult perspectives, curator Tilly Laskey said.

“We could have told an easy story about how Maine separated from Massachusetts and used our collections, and it would have been a very good show,” she said. “But one of our goals is to look at how people can connect to history, the empathetic approach. Being able to show a different perspective from different cultures is important. Even if you are not Acadien, you can react to the expulsion of the Acadiens from Nova Scotia and how they had to hardscrabble their way back to northern Maine to put their claim in on some land and build their communities back up,” she said.

The exhibition continues the Maine statehood story that Maine Historical began with its previous show, “Holding Up the Sky,” which focused exclusively on the Wabanaki.

“The Governor’s Tea” by Daniel Minter, which explores the history of Malaga Island in Maine, will be on view at the Maine Historical Society. Photo courtesy of Maine Historical Society

The new exhibition will tell the story of statehood with documents, deeds, maps and letters, as well as a collection of contemporary art and other items by James Frances, Daniel Minter, Decontie & Brown and Therese L. Provenzano. There’s a diorama of an 1820s house and period clothing, as well as slave receipts and shipping manifestos that document slavery in Maine.

“Maine has this abolitionist history, so people assume there there was never slavery in Maine. But there was. Not as much as in Southern states, but there certainly was slavery here,” Laskey said. “So much of the coast of Maine is built on the backs of brown and black people.”

Maine’s becoming a state in 1820 was the culmination of a decades-long process that split the people who lived here. It wasn’t the two-Maines debate that often divides Mainers today, Laskey said, but it was similar, with people who lived on the coast generally opposing statehood and those who lived inland in favoring it. The division fell along economic lines, and the political nature of the Missouri Compromise further complicated people’s feelings about statehood, Laskey said.

Many of Maine’s most ardent supporters of statehood couldn’t support the Missouri Compromise, because they also were abolitionists and the Missouri Compromise allowed a slave state into the union, along with Maine. “It ripped the state apart from the very beginning,” Laskey said.

“State of Mind: Becoming Maine” opens March 13 at Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland.

Portland Museum of Art is collaborating with the Maine Humanities Council on a new exhibition, “Stories of Maine: An Incomplete History.” Opening at the PMA on March 28, the exhibition will attempt to represent 200 years of Maine statehood with 20 stories. Those stories will be told through various objects, selected by teams of consultants representing diverse communities across Maine. The exhibition’s tagline, “An Incomplete History,” is recognition that “Maine history extends much deeper into the past than statehood,” said Diana Greenwold, curator. “We recognized from the get-go there is no one story about the history of the state.”

Frederic Edwin Church (United States, 1826-1900), Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp, 1895, oil on canvas, 26 1/2 x 42 1/4 inches. Gift of Owen W. and Anna H. Wells in memory of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1998.96 Image courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art

The exhibition provides visual and narrative histories, respecting and telling stories of the Wabanaki and European settlers, as well as new Mainers who inform and influence the state today. The exhibition includes art – Frederic Edwin Church’s 1895 oil-on-canvas view of Katahdin, a 1971 painting by David Driskell of a pine tree and moon, a suite of photographs of Maine granges by Rose Marasco and a carving by Daniel Minter – and artifacts, including early tools like a tack puller, an awl and a blueberry rake.

In most cases, the advisers went beyond the walls of the museum of tell these stories, which speak to Maine’s outdoors and cultural histories.

There’s an early map of Maine from the Osher Map Library, a workbench from Dexter Shoe Co., courtesy of the Dexter Historical Society, and an Old Town canoe from the Maine Maritime Museum. There’s a collection of fishing flies from the collection of master fly tier Carrie G. Stevens, courtesy of the Outdoor Heritage Museum in Rangeley, snowshoes made by master craftsman Brian J. Theriault and a collection of Wabanaki baskets, mostly by Sarah Sockbeson, courtesy of the Abbe Museum.

Rabelais Books of Portland loaned several early cookbooks and lodge menus, and L.L. Bean offered a pair of Bean boots, from 1918.

“Stories of Maine: An Incomplete History” opens March 28 at the Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square.

The Maine Film Center is working with 19 other arts groups and independent cinemas to present “Maine in the Movies,” a statewide, 17-city festival of 35 films set in Maine from 1910 to the present. The idea is not to feature movies produced in Maine, but that use Maine as a theme or building block for the movie. “The mystique of Maine, the beauty of Maine and the eccentricity of Maine have been an inspiration for a lot of creative people, including filmmakers,” said Tom Wilhite, a film buff and organizer. “Maine represents a frontier in a way. People always talk about going West, but Maine represents the only frontier in the East. It’s an unformed place in many ways. Creative people can be inspired by it and excited by it.”

There are early movies, like “Way Down East” from 1920, to “The Lighthouse” and “Blow the Man Down,” from 2019. There are dramas, thrillers and musicals – and classics like “Peyton Place” from 1957, “Dolores Clairborne” from 1993 and “Andre” from 1994. The festival also highlights the work of Maine writers, whose books were turned into movies, including Stephen King, Elizabeth Strout and Richard Russo.

Walt Disney with the two fawns, Filene and Bambi, sent by the state of Maine to live at Disney Studio so Bambi’s character designers and animators could study the deer’s anatomy and movement. After production they retired to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. Disney

The festival opens Thursday at the Waterville Opera House with the 75th anniversary restoration of “Love Her to Heaven,” released in 1945 and based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams, who lives in Searsmont. Nine of his books were adapted for the screen, Wilhite said. Williams’ grandson, Tim Williams, will address the Opera House audience.

The festival also will explore the Maine connections of “Bambi.” “Bambi was a Mainer,” Wilhite said. Maurice “Jake” Day, one of Disney’s animators, was born in Damariscotta and visited Baxter State Park to photograph and sketch scenes for the movie. Deer from Maine were shipped to the studio so animators could observe them, and one of the composers, Frank Churchill, best known for writing “Heigh-Ho” and “Whistle While You Work,” was born in Rumford.

For a complete listing, visit mainemovies200.com.

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