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Soirée with a symphonic spaceman

While looking into astronaut Chris Hadfield’s eyes, you can’t help but realize he’s literally seen the entire world at once. That’s a pretty overwhelming thought.

Commander Hadfield, famous for covering David Bowie’s Space Oddity from literal space, for authoring several books on his experiences, for sharing the wonderment of space exploration with millions via interstellar social media posts and for generally being a badass modern Canadian astronaut, touched down in Halifax this weekend.

Hadfield is constantly on tour to educate and inspire minds as he goes. Along the way, he’s pairing up with local symphonies to perform with them; sharing his songs and thoughts amidst the backdrop of immensely beautiful music,  like at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax on Friday evening.

On their own, the Symphony Nova Scotia orchestra was incredible. They performed flawless renditions of suites from E.T., Apollo 13, and Star Wars as cheeky nods to the theme of the night, and hearing those iconic songs booming live in the auditorium was excellent.

The real magic of the event happened when Hadfield joined the orchestra on stage for his own songs. Written by Hadfield, and in collaboration with his brother and the Barenaked Ladies’ lead singer Ed Robertson. The tracks were basic acoustic folk tunes, but the accompanying orchestra elevated the songs to moments to marvel at. The arrangements were genius: flourishes from the strings added motion and depth, basses plucking away added oomph to Hadfield’s acoustic guitar, triumphant swells from the brass punctuated triumphant cues – it was honestly tear-jerking content.

The astronaut included brief explanations before each song, adding to the emotional weight of each piece. Hadfield explained the significance of the lyrics behind Space Lullaby, which he had written while imagining singing his daughter to sleep from above the atmosphere. Big Smoke, a song scrawled on a piece of paper that Hadfield’s brother Dave had asked him to bring to the International Space Station and record while he was there. Or Is Somebody Singing, penned alongside Ed Robertson for a Canadian project meant to inspire young musicians by allowing them to perform simultaneously, via Skype, with hundreds of thousands of other youth led by Hadfield himself in orbit.

Hadfield also took some questions from the audience, and it was abundantly clear that everybody was enraptured by his responses. Hadfield is a delightfully funny and charming guy – he shared the risks of landing a space shuttle, explained what it was like to play guitar while completely weightless, expressed the fundamental human necessity to explore.

“We learn to walk before we talk,” Hadfield said during his performance.

But underneath the charisma, there was also a humble wisdom; Hadfield has seen the entire world, several times. Each story he shared was interwoven with his unique talent for making big concepts like overcoming fear with competence feel grounded and relatable in clever and eloquent ways.

The highlight of the night by far was Hadfield’s rendition of Space Oddity. After changing out of his tuxedo into a Union Jack suit jacket, Hadfield recounted his connection with the song. He explained how David Bowie had somehow captured the essence around the wonderment of spaceflight – in a song that Bowie had penned before man walked on the moon. Hadfield spoke about how his video, viewed tens of millions of times, had allowed curious people to see space more clearly for the first time, even if they had known nothing about it. Finally, Hadfield shared a conversation with Bowie in which the artist expressed his love for the cover, as it had completed his vision for a place he had always wanted to go. Hadfield admitted he liked to remember how it “put a smile on David’s face for the last couple years of his life.”

The performance of the song itself was a phenomenal culmination of the evening. The orchestral accompaniment, the displayed time lapses of Earth, the audience members around me weeping quietly, the passion with which Hadfield sang was overwhelmingly powerful. The entire evening was exceedingly fantastic in a way only music, and the right people creating it, can achieve.

I wish there was more space to share it all because it was inspiring, but to that end I would recommend reading his autobiography – it’s all in there.

For a taste of Hadfield’s wisdom, listen to our brief conversation below:


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