On the first Monday in May this year, my children made history. No, they didn’t make their beds. Like thousands of kids across the country, they stood in their schoolyard at exactly 1:00 p.m. with fellow students and staff, voices skyward, singing the newest single by Barenaked Ladies and their unlikely new collaborator, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
You’d have to have been living under a moon rock this spring not to have heard about the song “Is Somebody Singing”, particularly if you’re a Canadian parent. My kids’ music teacher had introduced it to them on Youtube as the official song for Music Monday 2013, promoting music education in schools. The video showed the live recording of the song with Hadfield singing his parts from space, and for a generation not so easily impressed by the wonders of the digital age, my kids were utterly captivated.
Apart from marveling over the technology, I was inspired by the fact that such an accomplished scientist could also be so musically gifted. As a one time JUNO nominated songwriter myself, I could noodle with melodies all day long, but the only free radicals I understand are the two that orbit their homework every afternoon around my dining room table. Hadfield is one remarkably well-rounded individual.
I was also encouraged by the fact that NASA supported Hadfield’s musicality, sending a Larrivée guitar and some recording gear up with him to facilitate his artistic agenda, as well as bolstering his emotional and psychological well-being.
I wanted to bear witness to this first-ever space-to-earth sing along, but at the same time, maintain as low a profile as possible, for my kids’ sake. So I found an inconspicuous spot that day at the back of the schoolyard by the fence. As a parent of pre-teens, I had already been read the riot act about my behavior at school performances: no hand clapping, no fervent singing, and for the love of God, NO DANCING. I knew my place.
But as my kids and their friends started belting out the first line of the song, “On solid fuel and wires …”, an irrational swelling of pride came over me. A lump rose in my throat, and I felt instantly more connected to my kids, to my country, and to an Ontario farm boy singing his song from outer space.
Unlike social media followers drawn to Hadfield’s explorations through his tweets, photographs and videos, it was definitely his Gordon Lightfoot-esque vibrato and acoustic strumming that drew me in. He reawakened my childhood curiosity about space, the cosmos and our place in it by humanizing it through the emotion of music. He became more accessible to me. Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency spent six months aboard the ISS in 2011, similarly posting videos of his own space odyssey for the world to see. But he didn’t have an ax.
Hadfield certainly did. He knew that music is, and always has been, a tonic for the ages. It has an unparalleled galvanizing effect on the human spirit, connecting us all on the most fundamental level. That fact was only too apparent when he sang his song from space along with thousands here on earth, joining us all, if only for a brief few moments, to share its power in celebrating the wonder of the universe.
I watched the launch of Apollo 11 back in the summer of ’69 when I, too, was a young child witnessing history in the making. Later that day we watched Neil Armstrong step down off the ladder and bounce onto the surface of the moon, his bulbous, white frame miraculously bobbing across our grainy, black and white tv screen. I remember his fuzzy voice uttering those famous words that held all the grownups in the room completely spellbound. While I didn’t understand their significance at the time, I knew then that what he had said and done that day was something quite remarkable, a once in a lifetime moment that none of us would ever forget.
I hope my kids won’t forget either, nor the educators and board members who would so easily cut funding for music programs in schools. “Is Somebody Singing” must be the new anthem for the imperative role music education plays on developing the fullest potential of the student, with Chris Hadfield as its walking advertisement.
My kids may one day look back on their shared sing-along with Hadfield and realize how privileged they were to be a part of it. It may well have been their generation’s lunar landing. I know I’ll never forget it, that one of a kind day when, as the song says, my children’s voices were bouncing off the moon.