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Climate Action Flash Mob - Interview with Heather Hay & Rosaemary O'Connor

Posted November 01, 2019 by

We were pleased to have the opportunity to sit down and chat with VMA members Heather Hay and Rosemary O'Connor, co-organizers of the musicians' flash mob for climate action on Sept. 26.  If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to watch a wonderful video, put together by Peter Wing!

Talk about how the idea of the flash mob started, and the process behind organizing it.

Rosemary: The idea originated from a friend of mine, Julie Baumgartel, with the Central Ontario Musicians’ Association (COMA).  She sent the edited parts (of "Ode to Joy") with the idea of doing this flash mob during Climate Strike Week. She sent it all to her musician friends in Canada and Europe.  They did this in the Waterloo region as well.

Heather: We had understood that the Vancouver City Council was supportive of citizen-led actions during climate strike week.  They helped Rosemary and I get in touch with the Chief Librarian of the Vancouver Public Library, who offered a large space for rehearsal and equipment storage, and also helped to coordinate planning in case the weather was uncooperative.  We also contacted Sustainabiliteens, the group that was organizing the climate action strike. They were excited about our flash mob idea.  Together, we ensured that the action would not conflict with any other climate action events happening that day.

Rosemary O'Connor | Photo by Butter Studios

What was the experience of the flash mob like for you and everyone else involved?

Heather: Seeing the growing response to the call out for musicians in the days leading up to the flash mob was incredible and on the day, it was so exciting! There were many performers participating - singers from many local choirs, symphony players, opera orchestra players, and freelancers.  Members of other environmental activist groups also showed up.  We chose to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. There is a long history of its use in protests, from the Chinese student broadcast at Tiananmen Square, to demonstrators in Chile singing against the Pinochet dictatorship, to concerts celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. In a time of crisis, The Ode to Joy offers hope and comfort.  After we finished playing, it was amazing to see the elation on so many people’s faces.

As active musicians, we care about many of the issues affecting our community. Using our musical skills in support of the climate strike was important to us.

Rosemary: I just wanted to add that, in general, I think musicians are quite sensitive to climate issues and feel fairly strongly about them, so it was good to create another avenue for them to express their concerns here in Vancouver.  I think that’s why it caught fire.

If given the chance, how else would you use music to bring awareness to other important issues, such as climate action?

Rosemary: I teach at the VSO School, and when I told the director of the VSO school about this project  she responded, “How about a climate action concert?”  These kinds of things can happen, like concerts in support of climate action or against hunger and homelessness in our area, and maybe they will be happening more often.

Heather: Rosemary and I, even though we are just two individuals, organized this flash mob in two short weeks. Together, with other musicians, we rallied another 140 and more to join the flash mob.  This really shows that small actions can lead to big ones.  And who knows, maybe more flash mobs will show up someplace else!

 Heather Hay | Photo by Peter Wing

What advice would you give to musicians who want to take action and make a positive difference in the world with their music?

Rosemary: I would say that any action has to stem from the musician having some form of higher thinking other than their own career.  I think it’s also important that musicians understand the positive difference that they ARE making in the world by playing and teaching music, whether it’s directly associated with a social justice issue or not. Music is a social art.  It’s effects are not always obvious and are sometimes very subtle.

Heather: Yes, I think we can ask ourselves - how can we use our skills as musicians to touch people, to inspire and offer hope, AND how can we use music in activism, such as on this occasion.  Don’t underestimate the power of what we can bring as musicians and what we can do with our passion.  Music is a tremendously powerful vehicle to make a statement. 

Do you have any final words or thoughts you'd like to share?

Heather:  I think the words connection and collaboration really stand out for me.  This was a very collaborative project that used music to connect with an important issue. With the inspirational and connective power of music, who knows what’s possible?