Astronauts Bringing Music to MCLA

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Astronaut Catherine 'Cady' Coleman of Shelburne Falls will join another astronaut on Thursday, March 27, at MCLA for an evening of music and conversation about their experiences in space.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Now that the idea of STEM has gathered steam, it's moving to the next level.

That level? Well ... it's steam. Or more accurately, STEAM, which is STEM with an "A."

What's the "A" for? Arts.

Chris Himes, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program manager at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said STEAM is an emerging concept but one that makes sense once you think about it.

"Science and arts have never been mutually exclusive," Himes said. "You need creativity, you need art, to do science. Problem solving comes from creativity.

"And science informs art."

Himes gave the example of how the science of color, of the physical phenomenon of how light is reflected, is obviously important in arts. Another example will be on display Thursday evening, March 27, at 5:30 p.m. at MCLA's new Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation when NASA astronauts Catherine “Cady” Coleman and Daniel C. Burbank give a free, public talk about their experiences on the International Space Station and other various missions.

That's the STEM part (it takes a lot of science and technology and engineering and math to get to outer space). The "A" part is that these two astronauts are also musicians, playing in a band Coleman said they dubbed "Bandella."

Burbank sings and plays the guitar while Coleman plays the flute, which she has done since sixth grade — including when she was on board the International Space Station.

That, she said, was challenging for her, as she sees music as a way to bring people together.

"There was nobody to play with," she said. "To me it's about playing with people."

Coleman said she did play with the band once while she was in space with her flute and the band was on the ground, figuring out how to overcome the challenge of the delay in the sound of her flute reaching the ground. She also played along with recordings.

"It was a nice way to make me feel like I was with them down there," she said.

On Thursday at MCLA, she will actually be with them — with Burbank, anyway, one of the rare times it will just be the two of them, without the other Bandella members.

After they play songs like "Oh Susanna" and "Big Yellow Taxi" for about half an hour in the main lobby of the science center, everyone will move into the auditorium for the talk and Q&A session.

The appearance itself was the brainchild of Bryan McKay, the parent of an MCLA sophomore, fan of the space program and founder of a nonprofit called One Giant Leap, which helps promote space exploration, math and science in our schools and community.

"We work together with schools and organizations to help bring astronauts, pilots and scientists up to New England to speak to our school children and community members," McKay said. "We use real space artifacts and astronaut stories to inspire our youth."

Since its inception in 2008, One Giant Leap has brought astronauts to speak to more than 25,000 people across New England. That has brought McKay some good contacts among "local" astronauts to tap for local appearances: Coleman lives just over the mountain in Shelburne Falls when not commuting to Houston and Burbank lives in Yarmouthport, on Cape Cod.

"Since doing this, I became friends with many of the astronauts from Massachusetts, such as Dan and Cady," he said. "It is great when they can get home and also do some PR events. Since I know Cady is from this area, it made sense to do an event at MCLA with their new science center."

Coleman, whose MCLA connections go back to when she received an honorary doctor of science from MCLA in 2004, said she is playing the March 27 appearance by ear. Literally.

"It's all about the fact that we're there," she said. "We're just going to make something happen."

Tags: astronaut ,   MCLA,   STEM,   

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