When science journalist Bob McDonald was a child, a book called The Planets changed forever how he saw the world.
Given to him by his mother, McDonald recalls the drawings it contained of what it might be like to stand on the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. “So as a seven-year-old kid, I knew that the Earth was only one of a family of planets and they were all really, really different, and I found that fascinating.”
That sort of knowledge about the world one lives in can give people a new perspective. As a science journalist, educator and author, McDonald’s perspective on the world has been evolving since that book, and it’s the sort of effect he hopes his performance along with organist Jenny Vincent will have on audience-members Feb. 3.
Last year, Vincent’s OrganWORX series kicked off with a performance with McDonald where he gave a talk about space set to projected visuals and carefully chosen and performed songs by Vincent.
McDonald said the marriage of science and art made for something special that he was eager to repeat.
“The science just tells you what’s out there, but then the music wraps it in emotion,” said McDonald, giving people a sense of awe.
“There’s the three elements: the narration, the visuals and the music to try and provide a perspective,” he said.
He and Vincent were happy to put together another such performance, this time focusing on the Earth and the environment.
Called Earth, Wind, Fire and Life, McDonald said the performance will take a look at the planet and its environment through the lens of those categories — related to the way ancient Greeks looked at the world, he said.
“We’ll look at the Earth from a geological point of view, the fact that it breaths, it moves, it changes,” said McDonald, noting that the face of the Earth has changed as much as a person’s does over their lifetime.
“There are gases inside it that are breathing out through volcanics and replenishing the atmosphere. The Earth is very much a living organism almost, from a geological sense,” he said.
Next is wind. “We live at the bottom of an ocean of air,” said McDonald, which is as thin as a layer of saran wrap is over a basketball, “Or less than the fuzz on a peach.”
“It’s so thin a membrane, and yet it keeps us alive.”
Then there’s fire, with McDonald describing the addition of oxygen to carbon as both magical and a key to human development.
“It’s our control of fire that’s enabled us to go beyond the other creatures that are having to hide in the cold and the rain.
“We can keep ourselves warm, well-fed and happy because we control fire.”
Finally is life: A resilient form of being that’s survived five major events causing huge extinctions. In one case, 98 per cent of all life on Earth was wiped out, said McDonald.
Yet life has come back, different every time. And we still don’t know how life happened in the first place.
Then there’s the question of life elsewhere: are we alone or not? McDonald noted that, personally, he doubts that Earth has the only life in the cosmos, but said so far, we haven’t found any.
“And there’s a responsibility that comes with that,” said McDonald.
Along with the visuals set to McDonald’s talk will be Vincent’s musical performance, where she’s carefully put together a program to reflect McDonald’s presentation.
This year includes a lot of orchestral transcriptions, which requires Vincent to try and coax the sound of an entire orchestra out of her organ. It’s both lots of work and an exciting opportunity to deal with pieces Vincent otherwise wouldn’t, she said.
For the theme of the resilience of life, Vincent chose a rondo. “You get the theme then you get a little bit of difference, then it comes back to the same theme but with a little bit of difference.”
For the wind section, Vincent plans to perform Ride of the Valkyries.
“That music, to me, sounds like wind racing around.”
These and many other songs will accompany McDonald, overall providing a recognizable and perhaps easier listening experience than in last year’s show on space, said Vincent.
Overall, McDonald said he hopes the show provides people with a wider perspective on the world.
“We tend to think about our own needs: about where our next meal is going to come from or how much tax we’re going to pay or what education are kids are going to get, and it’s all very local thinking. Or maybe we think about the province or our country. But we know that we’re facing an environmental issue right now, and the environment is global, so you have to back away and broaden your perspective to the planet,” said McDonald.
“There’s only one Earth… and what you do to any part of it effects everything else. It would be nice to have that perspective, and not from a doom and gloom point of view, but from a beauty point of view, because if you appreciate the beauty of something, you want to preserve it.”
Tickets to the Feb. 3 show taking place at Knox United Church (345 Pym St., Parksville) at 2 p.m. are $30 at the door if there are any left, or can be purchased from Mulberry Bush bookstores, or online via organworx.ca/.