Keyboard Conversations Across the World

ClimateKeys, like climate change, has spread and become a world event. This can only be seen as a reflection of how connected we all are as humans on this beautiful planet. The United Nations 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) is coming, and so is ClimateKeys. In these keyboard conversations around the world, people will be afforded the space to think about climate change, and the opportunity to talk about it with others. Such is the combination of music and speech; using music as an introduction to the topic gives us a chance to think about this all-encompassing phenomenon, and it settles us down into a state of relaxed (rather than frantic) thought in order to have a more positive dialogue.

The London launch of ClimateKeys took place on the 25th of October, and was a gala of music and speech. Ten pianists performed various pieces of classical music, interspersed with three speeches. Hannah van den Brul, who has herself written academically about music and climate change, discussed ClimateKeys’ collaborative efforts with experts to spark conversations about climate change, as well as the “glocal” aim of local keyboard conversations happening across the globe. ClimateKeys was also honored to have Nicole Lawler, mother of Zane Gbangbola, as its special guest. Nicole spoke about a campaign to expose the truth about her son’s death due to landfill poisons leaking into their home during the 2014 floods in the UK (with suggested links to climate change). Guest speaker Sir Jonathon Porritt referred to the diversity of speech topics that ClimateKeys will include, ranging from re-orienting communities and behavior modification, to inter-disciplinary solutions and climate change art – a real reflection of how climate change touches all aspects of society and human life. Porritt also drew a connection between the London launch and a ClimateKeys concert which took place simultaneously in Bosnia where Professor of Climatology and COP delegate Goran Trbic emphasized the importance of international common aims in order to build on the Paris Agreement. This not only highlighted the significance of the event and topic to that country, but also demonstrated the interconnectivity inherent to climate change; our actions will affect others, and theirs will affect us.

The fact that pianists have come forward to take part in ClimateKeys is, in itself, no small achievement. Concert pianist training goes hand in hand with a self-focused approach that favors a concert being purely about a pianist’s mastery of the instrument. However, the power of climate change to bring people together and push them out of their comfort zones and normal routines is such that here we are with over 60 concert pianists to date ready and willing to give up the spotlight and share the stage with speakers and even audience members. This is to be applauded. But this also means that the road to ClimateKeys has not always been a smooth one. On average, only one in every fifty pianists contacted responds. As a result, ClimateKeys is still missing a world-renowned concert pianist. An international piano star joining ClimateKeys would make the initiative more visible on the world stage (visibility itself being a barrier to awareness on climate change as it is arguably tricky for anyone to actually “see” the climate). If there are any climate change activist-musicians out there who know of such a pianist, then kindly connect them to Lola Perrin (lola@climatekeys.com).

In contrast to pianists, speakers have been coming in thick and fast. It seems as though there are climate change experts across the disciplines who sense the potential of this forum for positive conversations and they embrace the invitation to give a talk without the use of projection or PowerPoint; a ClimateKeys principle in order to avoid academic presentations. In the words of George Marshall, “The single most powerful thing an individual can do about climate change is to talk about it,” and this is what ClimateKeys proposes. Some of the best thinkers in the world are on board with the concept, and are keen not only to give talks, but also to facilitate genuine conversations (not Q&As) with the audience. This strengthens the resolve of all involved and heightens the excitement of this particular artistic response to COP23 and climate change.

One of said speakers is none other than myself.  I have chosen to speak about the potential for theatre to offer an alternative site of meaning-making around climate change, as well as creating space for thought. This was inspired by my recent geography research on climate change theatre, and, I think, is a good reflection of the interdisciplinary approach that ClimateKeys has embraced.  Along with my melding of drama and geography, there will be three pianists playing classical pieces which they have chosen – pieces that resonate with them on the theme of climate change from composers Debussy, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Karen Tanaka. The concert takes place on the 11th of November in St Cuthbert’s Church in West Hampstead, London; truly mingling the worlds of geography, science, the arts and religion.

With this and over 30 other concerts in nine countries throughout November 2017, and over 100 concert musicians and guest speakers in 20 countries currently signed up, ClimateKeys is a truly “glocal” affair. The need for alternative ways of considering climate change are apparent from this response. We are all creative beings, and we all create in different ways. This is why scientific data appeals to some and art appeals to others, why numbers attract some and music attracts others. ClimateKeys is part of new artistic collaborations with science that provide alternative pathways to action on climate change, and the launch is the first step on our journey to increasing our environmental awareness and positive response to climate change.

(Top image: Hannah van den Brul delivering her talk  ‘Introduction to ClimateKeys’ at the London Launch event.)

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Julia Marques is a climate change dramatist based in London.  She has just completed her research exploring theatre’s potential as an alternative site of meaning-making around climate change that allows people space to think about its re-presentation in the performance space.  She is most interested in the intersection between the arts, environmentalism and climate change science.

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