Local organist Jenny Vincent and CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio host and science journalist Bob McDonald are preparing for a unique afternoon of music and space talk, bringing the audience through a sonorous cosmic odyssey on Sunday, Sept. 24 at Knox Church. — Adam Kveton

Organ music in Parksville to send audience out into cosmos

Quirks and Quarks’ Bob McDonald featured in first performance of organ series

You might say that an organ (the musical instrument) and space (the final frontier) are an odd couple.

But Bob McDonald doesn’t think so. And he’s bringing the latter half of the pair to Parksville.

The science journalist and host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio show will be discussing the science and beauty of the cosmos in a talk set to visuals and backed by organ music performed by Knox United Church’s Jenny Vincent.

The performance, the first in a three-performance series by Vincent called OrganWorx, takes place Sunday, Sept. 24 at Knox. McDonald seeks to expand people’s minds in terms of their perception of the universe, as well as what organ music is.

“I’ve always been a big believer that whenever art and science come together, it’s a beautiful thing,” said McDonald in an interview with The NEWS.

Asked about the irony of expressing the science of space (where there is no sound) with music, McDonald said there are plenty of noisy places out beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

“Jupiter is a pretty noisy place,” he said. “It’s nothing but storms. It has storms that are larger than our planet. It has lightning bolts the size of Asia. It has aurora at both of its poles. So it’s pretty noisy there.

“Saturn and Neptune have the highest winds in the solar system that are traveling at more than a thousand kilometres an hour. So there are noisy places.”

And even in the emptiness of space itself, and beyond our own solar system, human music has travelled, and could remain for millions of years, McDonald said.

“This week is the 40th anniversary of the launch of a spacecraft called Voyager that was sent to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune,” he explained. The Voyager mission included two spacecraft, each of which carried a gold-plated copper disc — a record with a selection of music on it.

“It goes through ancient Indonesian gong music to Chinese music to Beethoven’s 5th… and up to Chuck Berry. Because he introduced Rock and Roll,” said McDonald.

“So he does Johnny B. Goode on it.”

In the case of Voyager I, the music and the spacecraft could be around for millions of years, since it has left the influence of the sun and now travels in interstellar space.

“The famous astronomer Carl Sagan had an idea that if these objects were going to be wandering among the stars, where there’s no salt on the highways to degrade them, they could last a billion years,” said McDonald. This gives aliens a long time to encounter Voyager, and have a listen.

“The essence of that was, if aliens find it, even if they just scratch the thing, they are going to hear music if they have ears. But hopefully they will get a sense of the human spirit,” said McDonald. “The spacecraft itself will give them an idea about our technology, but the music will give them a little bit of the human spirit, even if they don’t understand it.”

Kicking off the OrganWorx performance will be a piece from a famous sci-fi film which also kicked off the use of classical music on the silver screen.

Also Sprach Zarathustra, the Richard Strauss piece famously used to open the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, is the piece that best describes space for McDonald, he said.

“It just brings you out there. Yeah, it’s big! Bom, bom, bom! This is big stuff,” he said of the piece.

Vincent, who admits to not being a space or science nerd, said the various pieces she’ll be playing describe space in different ways.

“You think of Mars (by Gustav Holst). That one’s a really cool piece, the thunder and the war and all that, but compared to … Mad Rush (by Philip Glass), that’s a beautiful piece. You can just imagine you’re in the pace, floating. It’s the total opposite.”

During these and other pieces, McDonald will be discussing topics like space travel, the expanding universe, water in space, Mars, and nebulae, which he calls the flowers of the universe.

With inspiration like the wonders of space, it’s no wonder art echoes it, said McDonald.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and stunning, and amazing that we know about it,” he said.

“Carl Sagan… he wasn’t the only one to say this, but he said that the fact that we have learned about the universe… that we live on a moving planet in a solar system in a galaxy as part of an expanding universe — the fact that we know that means we are the universe’s way of knowing about itself.

“Without a consciousness to appreciate it, it’s just a bunch of chemical reactions going on, stars being born, dying, doing their thing. But we’re a consciousness that goes, ‘Wow, it’s beautiful. I get it,’ … and seize the poetry and the beauty of it, not just the mechanics.”

Tickets for this performance and the OrganWorx season can be purchased at Knox United Church, or from the Parksville or Qualicum Beach Mulberry Bush bookstores.

Just Posted

ORCA continues push for track upgrade at Ballenas

Running association official plans to meet with MLA on Thursday

Government looks for public input on Cathedral Grove safety concerns

Port Alberni, Parksville info sessions invite public to help ‘shape future access’

Little Qualicum Cheeseworks cheese linked to 5 E. coli cases in B.C.

People are asked to throw out or return ‘Qualicum Spice’ cheese

Gas prices on Vancouver Island to drop six cents

But a ‘volatile’ market could lead to increases in the coming weeks

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Protesters confront Environment Minister in B.C.

Protesters wanting more for killer whales confront Catherine McKenna

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

Cowichan school district defends lack of notice to parents following elementary student arrest

Officials with School District 79 stand by their decision not to send out an alert.

B.C. firefighters rescue horse stuck in mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Island Corridor Foundation optimistic about restoring rail service

If green-lighted, first priority would be Langford to Victoria route

Most Read