© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source. Celebrating 75 Years!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

BalletX Tells the Tragic Story of the 1938 First Airmail Service from the U.S. to New Zealand

The plane was the Sikorsky S-42B flying boat, Samoan Clipper, and Captain Edwin Musick was the veteran Pan American pilot. The historic flight carrying mail from Auckland, New Zealand landed successfully in Honolulu on January 3, 1938. But disaster struck on the flight home, and the plane exploded over the Pacific Ocean, killing its seven-man crew.

Using dance and live music onstage, with conventional and invented instruments, Philadelphia's contemporary ballet company, BalletX, tells the story in their production of Sunset o639 Hours from Wednesday, November 16th through Sunday, November 20th at The Wilma Theater in Center City. More information here.

WRTI’s Susan Lewis talked to the composer and the inventor of new instruments about the evocative use of music and sound in the performances.

New Zealand composer Rosie Langabeer at WRTI.

Composer and performer Rosie Langabeer and inventor Neil Feather talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the use of music and sound in BalletX's production of Sunset o639 Hours.

Radio script:

MUSIC: Karangahape Cowboy

Susan Lewis: The first airmail flight from New Zealand to the U.S stopped at islands along the way, but on the return trip, the plane exploded. In the ballet Sunset 0639 Hours, musicians playing onstage help conjure the time and place.

Captain Edwin Musick

Composer and performer Rosie Langabeer: That’s why there’s a nightclub scene, there’s someone playing guitar on the beach. The era fascinates me — jazz musicians and composers incorporating exotic rhythms and sounds into their music.

SL: Among the sounds in this production?

Neil Feather: She told me the story and I thought, oh wow, ghost planes.

SL: Inventor Neil Feather creates mechanical instruments — like the magnapooter — which uses magnets on a spinning metal disc, mounted on a cigar box.

RL: We use it for acceleration effect.

SL: There’s also one called an anaplum.

NF: It’s sort of a drone and keeps phasing in and out of different tones. It’s very spacey.

SL: It’s the sound we think of as the ghost plane.

MUSIC: Haere Ra My Friend

SL: Sounds of a ghost plane in the distance, interwoven with music and dance, telling a story of courage, love, and loss; island culture and American jazz; and the pioneers who connected those worlds.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.