The Apollo 8 astronauts showed the world the miracle of Earth while orbiting the moon in 1968.

They'd launched into space Dec. 21 and became the first astronauts to leave low earth orbit to successfully orbit the moon before splashing into the Pacific Ocean.

And in between, they took time to look at their home planet.

"It happened on Christmas Eve in 1968," says Trey Davis, conductor of Red Shift choir. "When they looked back at where they came from, they saw how powerful our planet was from far away."

They also relayed their thoughts back to Earth. Composer Kile Smith incorporated those thoughts into his piece, "The Consolation of Apollo."

Red Shift performed the regional premiere of the composition in December 2016 and will perform it again in a concert titled, "Beyond Earth's Boundaries: Kile Smith's 'The Consolation of Apollo' and the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 8 Moon Mission," on Dec. 15-16 in St. Joseph Cathedral. 

With the exception of background bells and a bass drum for effects in this concert, Red Shift performs all of its pieces a cappella. But Smith has added an extra effect to his composition.

"The work includes transmitted messages from the Apollo 8 moon mission on that night," Davis says. "And there are parts in the music that sound like static because there was static in the astronauts' transmission."

Davis also is the associate director of Choral Studies at LSU and winner of the Julius Herford Dissertation Prize for his research on "The Little Match Girl Passion." In 2015, he conducted vocalists from throughout the U.S. in a Louisiana premiere of the composition.

The concert was a success, so much so that it inspired Davis to form Red Shift, a professional choir, to perform other innovative works. The group is made up of 24 members from California; Boston; Chicago; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and the Baton Rouge area.

And though the Apollo 8 composition is the show's centerpiece, the choir also will be performing world premieres of two compositions it commissioned by Smith and Timothy J. Takach.

Takach's piece, "Earth," is the final composition in a series about the planets.

"When we think about our place in the solar system, suddenly our own spheres of being seem very small," Takach says. "In fact, the whole planet seems to be such a tiny piece in an enormous puzzle … but Earth still remains the only place within billions of miles that supports life. Our existence on this planet is one of the most unique occurrences in the solar system, and for good and bad, Earth is where there is love and war, where we feel compassion and where we pray."

Smith's commissioned piece is an original melody for a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem that became the traditional Christmas carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." 

"The nation was divided when those words were written," Davis says. "It's very timely for the divisiveness in our country today, but it does offer hope, and that's what we need now."

The song also fits with the professional choir's mission of storytelling and education.

"We're dedicated to resonant, innovative storytelling that offers audiences new perspectives of sound and meaning in our shared world," Davis says. "In addition to providing the southern region with access to post-modern classical repertoire and dynamic content, Red Shift strives to foster an appreciation and advocacy in our audiences of choral art music that transcends the expected and celebrates a diversity of time periods, styles, languages, spiritual traditions and cultures."


'Beyond Earth's Boundaries'

Red Shift choir's holiday concert 

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 preceded by a 6:30 p.m. concert talk; 3 p.m. Dec. 16 preceded by a concert talk at 2:15 p.m.

WHERE: St. Joseph Cathedral, 401 Main St.

ADMISSION: $20, general admission; $5, students.

TICKETS/INFORMATION: Visit redshiftchoir.ticketleap.com/apollo2018/

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.