Eclipse inspires Philly musician and 10,000 more at Franklin Institute

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Philadelphians turned out in a big way to view the solar eclipse on the Parkway. More than 10,000 people were lured by the Franklin Institute’s solar-viewing technology, hands-on activities, and real-time monitors of the eclipse’s path of totality.

They came bearing mylar glasses and pinhole cameras made from empty cereal boxes. They came with kids and water bottles and enthusiasm for the once-in-a-generation celestial event.

“I took the day off of work, and the kids are off,” said Jigna Heble, of Washington Crossing. “We thought we would be inside most of the time, but it’s nice to be with the crowd outside.”

During the two-hour event, the partially eclipsed sun played peek-a-boo from behind clouds. Whenever it emerged into view, the crowd sent up a cheer.

The Franklin Institute set up tents made from the same sun-blocking mylar used in solar protection glasses, so people could stand underneath and look at the sun without donning cardboard glasses.

“I’m really really excited, super, super hot, and a little dehydrated. But really excited despite it all,” said Nidhi Tewari of Blue Bell, Pa., who brought her two daughters to the Parkway to see the eclipse.

One of her daughters, 9-year-old Priya, was also excited, because she believed it might be the only time in her life when she will see an eclipse.

“It looks like when you put those decals on your wall and it glows in the dark,” she said. “It looks like that, but live and way, way, way, way better.”

In reality, this is problably not be the only time Priya gets to see the moon hide the sun: The next eclipse event visible in Philadelphia will come in seven years, 2024, when the path of totality will arc across the eastern United States from Mexico to Maine.

The day before the eclipse, local musician Raj Haldar, better known as Lushlife, released a track of music tailored to this eclipse. At 2:40, “Totality Piece” is it exactly the length of the total eclipse.

The track of noodling electronic beats, synthesizers, and harp by Mary Lattimore was inspired by centuries-old ideas of music based on the orbit of the planets.

“Music of the spheres. Mike Oldfield and Bjork and other folks touch on it in their music,” said Haldar. “We took from those esoteric ideas they had in the past, like the resonances of the different planets.”

“Totality Piece” teases a much larger music project he and collaborator Spencer Stephenson of Texas (a.k.a. Botany) have been cooking for a couple of years, to be called “Skull Eclipse.” That project will be rolled out this fall.

Unlike other eclipse-oriented songs by the likes of Bonnie Tyler and Pink Floyd, “Totality Piece” has no lyrics and no singer. The star of the song is the eclipse, with the music as a soundtrack to support the duet of the sun and the moon.

“We made a very concerted decision not to have vocals,” said Haldar. “It felt weird to have a distinct voice appearing as somebody is ostensibly looking up at the once-in-a-lifetime event.”

“Totality Piece” was released as a free download, but few — if any — of the 10,000 people on the Parkway had it in their ears. The energy on the street was more akin to a street festival than the down-tempo chill-out of Lushlife’s musica universalis.

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