The North Cambridge Family Opera Company’s Science Chorus is taking on a massive topic for its 2017 suite of performances — the weather. And the songs go far beyond “It’s Raining Men.”
With 20 songs to choose from, including a medley of compositions written by Cambridge Public Schools students, the subject matter and musical styles of “Singin’ of The Rain: Songs About Weather And Climate” span the globe. California-based comedian and songwriter Lauren Mayer’s songs include the peppy “Weird Weather,” which swaps out the Weather Girls’ human males for frogs, while Cambridge resident Andrea Gaudette pays homage to Emily Dickinson and thunderstorms with “There’s a Certain Flash of Light.” Climate scientists, La Niña and El Niño, and tornadoes will get their due as well.
The Science Chorus, which currently comprises more than 60 singers, some as young as 6, is an offshoot of the North Cambridge Family Opera, which was founded in 1999 with a singular mission: Bringing musical works appropriate for all ages to the community, and letting those people choose whether they want to be audience members or performers. “We figure out where we’re going to find people who like to sing, and we ask,” says David Bass, who cofounded the organization with Susan Hall.
Bass’s inspiration for starting North Cambridge Family Opera came when he took his son, who has “perfect pitch and the voice of an angel,” to an original production by the Boston Children’s Opera. Shortly after that outing, father and son penned an original science fiction opera — which the family’s friends later performed. “It was remarkable to see,” says Bass. “My son could participate in something like this and grow from the experience, and there were cross-generational friendships being created.”
In 2003, Bass discovered a piece by the British composer David Haines. The company put on the production and struck up a relationship with the composer, who, it turned out, was into writing about science. “There were creationist movements starting to come to England,” says Bass, “and he wanted to use his abilities to be an advocate for science and evolution.”
A chance meeting with MIT Museum director and Cambridge Science Festival founder John Durant led to the group assembling a cross-generational chorus of more than 100 people for the American premiere of Haines’s “Lifetime: Songs of Life and Evolution” at the inaugural festival in 2007. “We got some good crowds, and everyone liked it,” Bass recalls. “So we said, let’s do this every year.” This year’s festival performance will be held on April 22; the chorus performs again the next day at the Museum of Science.
The Science Chorus’s repertoire has grown to include other composers and, eventually, songs written by students in the Cambridge Public Schools, which flower from workshops led by Haines. “He’s very gifted at working with young children,” says Bass. “[The students] choose something they’ve learned in their science repertoire, and in an hour session, they write a song about it.”
“As a singer, it’s really fun,” says Carla Procaskey, the former general manager of North Cambridge Family Opera, who’s performed with the Science Chorus multiple times. “The songs are in a lot of different styles, and they’re about interesting things that I frequently don’t know much about, so it’s often a spur to look — ‘Brinicles? What’s this all about?’” (They’re masses of sea ice that form when exceedingly cold salinated water collides with ocean water.) “David Haines [writes] jazzy popular music. We have one song that’s quasi-reggae, and some seem more classically oriented. There’s one lovely round that seems almost like church music.”
Procaskey also notes that the chance for parents and children to sing together and learn about the world around them is unique to the Science Chorus. “It’s nice to have parents and kids doing stuff together. There aren’t a whole lot of activities where parents and children are doing the same thing.”
Singin’ of the Rain: Songs About Weather And Climate
At Broad Institute, Cambridge, as part of Cambridge Science Festival, April 22 at 3 p.m.; Museum of Science, April 23 at 4 p.m. www.familyopera.orgMaura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.