The Blue Chapter consists of 3 original works by celebrated Canadian poet, Don McKay (Governor General’s Award, Griffin Poetry Prize), and Juno-award-winning pianist and composer, Florian Hoefner. “Bird Island Suite,” first premiered at Memorial University in St. John’s in 2019, calls attention to the remarkable ecosystems found on bird islands, while also exploring critical themes of human-driven habitat change and extinction. “Membership” examines the intricate relationship between living species on the planet. It simultaneously reimagines what our world would look like if humans stepped into true membership with our biosphere rather than serving as an adversary. And the final piece, “Kinds of Blue,” is a tribute to the many manifestations of blue found in nature. The poetry is centred around the natural beauty found in Newfoundland and Labrador and takes centre stage, with poet performing alongside the musicians as a fourth chamber player.
After a critically acclaimed run of the project’s “Blue Chapter,” we will soon be workshopping the second “Green Chapter” of this project, with new commissions by Juno Award-winning musicians Sarah Slean and Andrew Downing and original poetry by Griffin Prize-winning poet, Karen Solie. Slean’s collaboration with Solie is a written homage to the incredible life of trees and the Downing/Solie collaboration explores the farming practices and dwindling habitat of unbroken shortgrass prairie (including the stranglehold of multinational corporations on farming).
Bird Island Suite, III. Song for the Song of the Northern Penguin a.k.a. Great Auk
Our planet Earth is at a tipping point. Never before in human history has our global home faced this rate of deterioration and species loss. In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported that 1,000,000 species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. Greenhouse gas emissions have doubled since 1980, plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, and 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes are dumped into the world’s waters annually. A full 75% of ecosystems on land and 66% of marine ecosystems have been “severely altered” by human behavior. “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide” (Sir Robert Watson, IPBES Chair).
Many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals address the dire situation in which we currently find our planet. Goals 3, 6-7, 9, 11-12, and especially 13-15 all have targets directly related to the protection of our environment. One target for Goal 15 (“Life on Land”) is to “take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.” But the IPBES report makes it clear that we are not meeting these targets. “Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals…” If we fail to meet these targets, Indigenous peoples and those in the poorest communities worldwide will experience the greatest impact.
The problems are complex and the size of the threat we face is not matched by a similarly sized investment in solutions. While people are capable of coming together in great numbers in support of a common cause, the crisis facing our planet has struggled to gain proper attention. The sheer magnitude of the problem and protracted timeline for both threats and solutions make the situation challenging to grasp.
This has been a call to action for us as artists. The role of storytelling and illuminating “place” has never been more important. For people to come on board with the creative solutions necessary to save our planet, we must connect through our imagination, shared emotional experience, and the direct impact of this crisis on the things we cherish. Numbers are not enough. And a complete doomsday picture will not be effective either. Hope is necessary for humans to take action. And there is hope. The IPBES makes it clear that “nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably,” but a “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors” is necessary, “including paradigms, goals, and values.”
The Earth is THE project of our times. With PROJECT EARTH, we strive to inspire the shared values needed for transformational change. Through music and poetry, we are able to zoom in on tangible high-impact stories, while simultaneously illuminating the beauty we are at risk of losing if nothing changes.