Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at music’s effect on our everyday lives. My guest today is innovative music educator, composer and space enthusiast, Laurie Orth. Laurie has combined the disciplines of music and space exploration to create a pipeline for young people into steam educational programs STEAM as the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Throughout her career, Laurie has taught music lessons in school and church settings. She also sings professionally. Laurie has a master of music education degree and currently teaches on her YouTube channel. Laurie has presented at several conferences, including NASA at Johnson Space Centers Space Exploration Educators Conference. Welcome to enhance life with music, Laurie.
Laurie Orth: [00:00:58] Thanks, Mindy. I’m so glad to be here.
Mindy Peterson: [00:01:00] Laurie, tell us the story of how you came to have a passion for space exploration and how you came to combine that with your passion for music education.
Laurie Orth: [00:01:13] My space fan thing I started when my son was in college. He was studying mechanical engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and decided to change his major to a new program that they had called commercial space operations. And I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know if it was lucrative. And so I looked into
Mindy Peterson: [00:01:37] My wife’s mother checking into that.
Laurie Orth: [00:01:40] Yeah, and commercial space operations is things that have to do with rocket launches that don’t involve the engineering aspect, things like payload integration, orbital mechanics, human factors, things like that, and mission control. And I looked into it. I went to the NASA website. I read articles about all sorts of NASA missions and enjoyed it. And then I went to the NASA STEM website. As an educator myself, I was like, wow, what else do you guys have? And loved that part of their website. And I just got so caught up in it and I would watch YouTube tutorials with people like Scott Manley and Tim Dodd, the everyday astronaut, and another YouTube show called Tomorrow. And I listen to podcasts like Casual Space and just loved learning about space and rockets and astronauts and missions. And so that happened. And I’m also a music educator, and I was in the middle of teaching a group of middle school students and ran into some challenges, keeping them engaged. And so a space came to the rescue and I brought that my love of space into the classroom. They were Star Wars fans and I’m not really a Star Wars fan, but Space and Rockets is pretty close. And so it was a way to build a bridge to connect to my students.
Mindy Peterson: [00:03:11] It was primarily the music, the songs that they were playing on the recorders that weren’t connecting. Right. The hot cross buns just wasn’t quite cutting it for your middle school students.
Laurie Orth: [00:03:22] Yeah, Learning Recorder is usually taught at younger ages four, eight and nine year old students. And I had a group of nine to 13 year olds and they had never had the recorder before. And I thought, oh, great, we’re going to start. They needed beginner music because they were beginners. And I purchased some beginner recorder literature and it is three note songs. Mary had a little lamb hot cross buns. Go tell that. And these kids were like this is that really they have fun and they were losing interest. And so.
Mindy Peterson: [00:03:57] Yeah, I think all of us music educators have been there where we have had a beginner who is maybe not in the age group that most beginners tend to fall into, and you get that beginner repertoire out and you’re like, this is not going to work.
Laurie Orth: [00:04:12] Yeah. So I created some music for them that was space themed.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:17] And and I just it’s interesting to how you even came to that point because you were just listening to their conversations and the conversations happened to be about Star Wars, is that right?
Laurie Orth: [00:04:27] That is correct. They were talking about Star Wars and the Millennium Falcon before class. And I thought, OK, let’s start class. And they were not really stopping their conversation. And I wanted to gather them. And, OK, let’s move into the music classroom and start. And so I said, do you guys want to learn about reusable rockets? And they just that would like they were stunned. And I like, what is she talking about? And I said, there’s this company called X and they have reusable rockets. And so their eyes just got really big and they just stood there and listened and it was like light bulbs going off. They were so excited to learn about this, they’d never heard of it. And this was a couple of years ago. SpaceX has gotten more and more popular over the years, but this was in twenty seventeen and they were doing rocket launches. They were sending commercial resupply ships up to the International Space Station. But if you weren’t paying attention, you weren’t really into that niche of sorts of stuff. You wouldn’t have known it. Sure. So my my students became space fans because we would talk about it in music class. Mm hmm.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:35] And from there, you started composing songs that were related to space exploration. You began writing lyrics. You got your kids involved in the process of writing lyrics and doing the research. Tell us about
Laurie Orth: [00:05:50] That. I wish I could say I planned it and I didn’t plan it.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:54] It’s the beauty of it, honestly, is you’re just being aware and alert of where your students are at the moment and
Laurie Orth: [00:06:00] Running with it. Right. And I also have to say that I was teaching music to home schoolers and I had my own business as an independent consultant and so I could do what I wanted and I could go and be innovative and keep with a subject if I saw that that was working for my students. And so that’s what we did with the recorder. So I started writing space themed recorder music, not songs, and we stuck with that for a while and it was wonderful. And every week they were like, what are you going to write for us next week? And we had pictures and visual things that we would look at and that would start the class and then we would transition to the music. And after a while I asked them for input and I said, what should I write about? What’s the next thing you want me to write about? And so they gave me some props about is there sound in space? And what about the dwarf planets? And so I wrote some songs where I looked up all the information, created the lyrics, and that took a while. And then I said, you guys are in middle school. You can look this stuff up too. Why don’t you start researching and write a poem and rhyming lyrics and give it to me and then I’ll go write some music for it. And that became their their thing. And they were like, well, my poems are going to be better than your poem because you know, your poem, they’re just be in middle school kids. And it was this wonderful emotional investment that I never thought would happen. I never planned to happen. And I certainly wasn’t seeing it happen when we were playing the traditional recorder music. Huh.
Mindy Peterson: [00:07:35] Well, that’s that’s really exciting how they were spurring each other on and learning from one another and inspire each other to do better and come up with better lyrics and better poems and better research. In another way, it sounds like they did that is by helping each other learn the music because they all wanted to continue this process and move on to the next song and the next topic that they got to learn about with the song. But I think the rule was that you couldn’t do that as a class until everyone in the class past the current song. Is that right?
Laurie Orth: [00:08:06] That is correct. I, I wrote songs in order to reuse the accompaniment. I thought, OK, I’ve got one accompaniment, I’ll write five songs. That was the groove that I was getting in and I could get the most out of that accompaniment. And I just made each song progressively harder. And so each song had its own picture, which with its own space information about it, and the students had to play what was in front of them in the book proficiently before we could turn the page and learn about the next space thing. And so the space hook fed their curiosity and made them practice and kept them together as a group and their music reading improved because of the space.
Mindy Peterson: [00:08:51] Yeah. Did you see much of helping each other out educationally, like. Oh, you know, we want to pass this song and there’s a couple of kids who just aren’t quite getting the rhythm down here, you know, we’re going to help you and helping their peers get things like the rhythm down or something like that so that together they could all pass the song.
Laurie Orth: [00:09:10] Absolutely. They were so competitive in a nice way. You know, you just got a picture, 10, 11, 12 year old boys and girls saying things like don’t play in the rest of the rest. Yeah. And, you know, it was very friendly about it, but it was fun
Mindy Peterson: [00:09:33] And positive peer pressure.
Laurie Orth: [00:09:35] And, yeah, the emotional input and output that was happening was it was really fun. And each each week was like an emotional investment because it was just not what they were used to.
Mindy Peterson: [00:09:47] Yeah, you told us about just real quick about some of the song titles that kids came up with. Well, I guess I just have to say, the one that really caught my attention was not only skate park on the moon, but titles like Barfing in Space like that just sounds like something a middle school kid would come up with.
Laurie Orth: [00:10:08] Yeah. Yeah, it is.
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:10] Any other memorable titles or lyrics that came through the glass
Laurie Orth: [00:10:14] Skate park on the moon was the first one that was created by one of my students. And that was about the topography of the moon and about craters and mores. And it was really cool. And the refrain is skate park on the skate park. On the skate park, on the moon, skate park on the moon. And then the next one was Moon Hangtime Vacation. And that was a short poem about going to the moon. And I rewrote some of it to be about a Falcon nine going on a mission and the different parts of the rocket launch that would happen in sequence. And I have rewritten that a few times. One to be about the next version of a rocket, which is the SpaceX company is creating something called a starship, and it’s a great big rocket. So there are different things that will happen in that there’ll be a propellant transfer station that happens in orbit. And so I put that into the song and I’ve forgotten the lyrics. Trans Lunar Injection that’s in the song. And then laughing in space happened because one of my students asked what happens when an astronaut has to barf in space? And I was like, you know, I was just reading about that. And yes, I
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:32] Was expecting you to say I hadn’t thought about that.
Laurie Orth: [00:11:35] I know I had. And he was he was as surprised as you. And I said I was just reading about that. And Scott Kelly’s book is American Astronaut. And he spent a year in space on the International Space Station. And he wrote a wonderful book about it called Endurance. And in it, he describes how astronauts who would come and go on the space station would always have this period of adjustment. And it always involved a lot of nausea because they’re in zero gravity and their inner ear doesn’t know which way is up or down. And it can take a long time to get used to that. And they grow up and they have NASA barf bags. And I was just so intrigued by all that. Yeah. And so I was like, I’m going to put that in the song. But I said to this young boy, I said, I need you to create all the lyrics. So he and his sisters did their parents were taking them on a trip from Georgia, where I live, to Texas and in a minivan, eight siblings. And they were like creating these rhyming lyrics. And their mother was texting them to me every 50 miles. And they were hilarious. It was like, you spew blue, yuck. He is stuck in the upchuck.
Laurie Orth: [00:12:48] And I was just like, it’s going to be great. It’s so much fun. And I laughed till I cried writing that song. And then I brought it into class and I said, George, I wrote you laughing in space and just the smile on his face like that. I took him seriously and that we had the song now and I said, All right, class, we’re going to sing barfing in space and then we’re going to play it on the recorders and his friends who had written things that they thought were really cool at the time, like moon hangtime vacation. All of a sudden it still comparison. Yeah. So we sang it and these boys were making yak noises like middle school boys and and all of that, you know, and it was such a fun day. And then we had to play it and it was it was tricky. And, you know, it’s like buckle down focus, you know, we want to play it. And so they did. And it was just the coolest amount of focus that was never happening before when we were playing Go Tell Aunt Rhody. And it was harder than what they had been doing. And it was such a I mean, to say I was so proud. I really was. Short of that,
Mindy Peterson: [00:13:57] Yeah, well, I can totally see how this combination of those two disciplines of music and space exploration can keep everyone 100 percent engaged in class. And then a quote from your website that I can also totally see. I love this quote of yours. The arts and sciences must co-exist today to create tomorrow’s creative and innovative workforce and can totally see how this combination and what you are doing with class can create that creative, innovative thinking that our next generation needs we need in them for for our future workforce. I understand there are several astronauts who are also musicians. Can you tell us what you know about this?
Laurie Orth: [00:14:42] Yes. And I keep saying if I send it out into the universe, eventually I’m going to meet these people. Yeah. So one of the most famous is Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. He plays the guitar and sings. And there are videos on YouTube of him singing lots of David Bowie from the International Space Station. Oh, cool. And there is a guitar up there on the space station. Jessica Mir is an astronaut from the United States and she plays the piccolo and the saxophone. And I heard her speak on a podcast before her time going up to the International Space Station. And she talked about, yeah, I’m bringing a saxophone mouthpiece because there’s this there is a saxophone on station. And I just thought that was so cool, like, really there is. And so now and then I went and looked and I found pictures of her playing the saxophone and the piccolo. And then there’s an astronaut by the name of Cady Coleman and she’s a flute player. And she was given a flute by a rock star, the rock star Ian Anderson, who’s in the rock band Jethro Tull. And he gave her his flute and she took it up to the ISS and then she played a duet with him. Now, I don’t know how they did this because this was like, I don’t know, the 2007 it was there was there’s a delay. I don’t know how they ended up, but she played and he played. And you can go listen to that on YouTube. And there’s a keyboard on the International Space Station. There are. You could just Google in pictures, images of astronauts playing instruments in space.
Mindy Peterson: [00:16:19] Oh, I’m going to do that.
Laurie Orth: [00:16:20] And then you see them and it’s it’s so cool. And I just think, well, especially because of what I taught to have a bulletin board in your classroom of, look, these are astronauts playing their instruments in space. Wow. That’s I think it would be very motivational.
Mindy Peterson: [00:16:35] Yes, definitely. Talk to us about the the difference between stem and steam and where you see the U.S. education world currently on that transition from stem to steam. And for listeners who may not be as familiar with that steam is that acronym I mentioned in the introduction. It stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and it was formerly known as STEM. And some people still really are stuck on that stem. But a lot of people are saying the Earth is really a crucial piece of this. So talk to us about where you see educators being and transitioning from that STEM mindset to a steam mindset that recognizes that importance of the arts. You know, do you see two very separate camps or do you see us on this trajectory or this transition and a spectrum?
Laurie Orth: [00:17:27] I see that there are definitely two different camps. STEM can be very technically focused without the arts at all. And that’s why I was so vague about, hey, wait a minute, you know, you need the creative part to make innovation happen. And and then so steam has come from the STEM world and the AI in steam can stand for lots of different things. There’s lots of people that are like, oh, no, it’s dance for art. Just art, visual art, the end, or it stands for art and design. So it still has that technical side sort of like computer aided design. And then I like to use the bigger, broader the arts so that because I’m a musician and it encompasses everything theater, you know, there’s a a university in Charleston that did a big collaboration with NASA, with their theater department, and they put on an educational program for elementary school students. And it was about going to outer space and it was a drama. Now, think about that. That’s drama. That’s not even art or music. And and yet those students that watched that are going to get so much out of it. So I think the arts and humanities, I’ve also attended conferences where they have arts and humanities, where they have someone who’s a NASA seamstress who talks. It’s about sewing things like parachutes or parts of the International Space Station or space suits. And those are, you know, where does that discipline fall? It comes out of the arts and the humanities or the history of women in space or something. That’s humanities. And I think all of that is important. And so my whole thing is I understand STEM, but I don’t want it to exclude the arts because it’s so important. And some kids only come to school because they want to go to their choir class, but they want to go to music and that’s why they’re going to school. The end. Yeah, that’s the fun part of the day, you know, and I don’t want to it’s so sad that a lot of times first thing that gets cut is arts. Right.
Mindy Peterson: [00:19:44] I, I know you mentioned NASA’s STEM Education website, and I understand you get some of your inspiration from that site. Are there any other resources that you find especially inspiring when you create your space themed record or music or just related to steam in general?
Laurie Orth: [00:20:02] Well, I do use the NASA website, both their regular NASA dot gov site and their dot gov slash stem sites. Lots of information. You can get lost. You can get lost in there. You have to know what you’re looking for.
Mindy Peterson: [00:20:19] Lots of rebels to follow.
Laurie Orth: [00:20:21] Yeah. And that’s that’s how I became a space fan. So I do get a lot of things from there. But there’s also something called. Have you heard of Flickr on Flickr, our photo albums. Yeah, it’s a online platform. And SpaceX has a Flickr album and it’s public. And you can just type in SpaceX Flickr album and you get to see all these beautiful photographs of rocket launches and satellite releases in the daytime and at nighttime and at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and at Vandenberg Air Force Base out in California. And they’re beautiful pictures. I love to look at them. And those have been so helpful because they’re so colorful and the students love them. Oh, I bet so. That’s been a good one. And then also, I like to look up NASA coLaurieng page images or images of space related things. And then there’s coLaurieng pages that you can get and you can download for free. OK. And, you know, adults cover for stress relief. Kids like to color and they have age appropriate ones for really young children. And then they have some that are much more detailed for kids as they get more fine motor skill and things like that. So I love those.
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:41] Oh, very cool. Can you tell us real quick about some of the special rules that you play like Space Foundation teacher liaison and NASA social media influencer? Sure. It’s had fun fun roles related to that. Tell us about
Laurie Orth: [00:21:57] Those. Yeah, I’ll start with a NASA social media influencer. I attended a space educators conference and then became a member of their Facebook group. And after the conference was over, people would post about programs or special educational things. And someone posted about, hey, you can apply to become a NASA social media influencer. And I kind of blew it off. But then I was like, no, I want to see what this is about. And I read it. And it’s you know, if you have a big social media footprint, apply. And I thought, well, mine is really small. I have a YouTube channel, but it’s it’s small. And you had to fill out an application, which I did. And it’s like, tell us about your unique audience in your social media handles and why you would be a good fit for this, because they wanted to reach other people that weren’t already in their network. And so I was like, well, I’m a music teacher. I got music students. I bet they’re not in your regular network. And I put that in the application and I received a you’re on the waiting list reply from them. And I was like, well, that’s pretty cool. I managed that pretty far. And I’ll tell you what this was for. This was they usually have them for launches, rocket launches, and maybe like if they’re going to do an engine test fire, this particular one was to go to Washington, D.C. and attend one day at the International Astronautical Congress and have a tour of NASA headquarters.
Laurie Orth: [00:23:38] I know. And I was like, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’ll fill this thing out. So I did. And then they sent me back. Hey, you’re on the wait list. Would you like to stay on the waitlist? And I said yes. And if I kind of thought nothing’s going to happen, I just, you know, whatever. And then I got another email. Congratulation. You’ve been accepted, and I thought, well, I can’t go and my husband’s looking at me like, what do you mean you can’t go? And I said, Well, I have a concert. You know, my my choral society that I volunteer for is singing in this big Puccini mass. I’ve been practicing it for months. I can’t miss it. And he said, you can fly back during the day and you can go straight to the concert. Huh? And I was like, huh, good. And so he got on the phone and had all of his points from traveling. And I got, you know, his free airfare and a free place to stay. I went so and it was great. It was super amazing. There were about 30 people that were in the group with the social media influencers. Many teachers and their social media outreach was at their school, like if their school had a, you know, YouTube channel. So it wasn’t huge, but there were some people that were very big, very big, and they had bells and whistles and like phones on selfie sticks. And they had phones with little handheld microphones with wind protectors on them.
Laurie Orth: [00:24:59] And they just looked so put together. And I was like, I’m just looking around. And they were interviewing people like really like walking up to these NASA people. And just like. So tell me about your job. I have the social media. Sure. It was really, really cool, but I got to walk on their XPO floor, which was all the space agencies in the world were there. All the aerospace companies were there. And I got to meet somebody from a company in the Netherlands called Space Buzz. And they had this big trailer that looked like a rocket. It was like a semi truck. And you could go inside it and you put on the virtual reality glasses and then you could see the overview effect that astronauts see when they’re in space. So and so that was so amazing. I met a gentleman who worked works at the MIT Media Lab for space exploration. And one of the things he did was he was creating instruments that would work in our, you know, in zero gravity. So we’ve gotten to visit and chat and connected. After that. I met a gentleman who was a young a young engineer for the Applied Physics Lab. And in my book that I eventually wrote for my students, I have a section on the Parker solar probe. And I showed it to him and he said, yeah, I worked on that mission. Hey, if you ever want to know any updates about the solar probe, let me know. Here’s my card.
Mindy Peterson: [00:26:27] Oh, wow.
Laurie Orth: [00:26:28] I guess I was like, that is so cool. And then United Launch Alliance was there and there are big rocket manufacturing company had a whole bunch of young engineers. I showed them the pictures of the Parker solar probe because it went up on a Ulay rocket and they loved it. They were like, oh my gosh, if I had a music teacher like you teaching us about rockets, I had to learn hot cross buns. So anyway, that was that was that trip. And I met other people there. And we got to listen to Jim Bridenstine talk. He’s the administrator for NASA. We got to go through NASA Headquarters Space Operations Center, which is like this big conference room where you can see what’s happening on the ISS. Like we’ll see it look up there. You might see an astronaut float by. It’s real time. It’s like behind the scenes. Wow. And they had all these top scientists come and talk to us and we could fill them. We were like it was almost like being naughty children because all of us had our cameras out taking pictures of them the entire time they were presenting. Wow. But that’s
Mindy Peterson: [00:27:32] Absolutely incredible. You mentioned Space X a few times. I bet you’re really following everything that they’re doing this year as they prepare for that all civilian launch.
Laurie Orth: [00:27:41] Yes, I am. And they just announced to more people that are going to go and it’s it’s super exciting. They’re going to have to go and train. You know, it’s not like it’s not an amusement park ride. Yeah.
Mindy Peterson: [00:27:57] You know, well, I think one day you’re going to be on one of those launches. And I’ll get to say I talked to this woman before she went up in space.
Laurie Orth: [00:28:06] I think they’re going to have to have a portal or something, beam me up before, you know, it’s going to have to be a lot easier than, you know, the eight months in a little tiny spacecraft.
Mindy Peterson: [00:28:17] That’s sure. That’s quite a commitment.
Laurie Orth: [00:28:19] That’s intense. Yeah.
Mindy Peterson: [00:28:21] Well, you also mentioned your book and I will for sure be including links in the show, notes to your rocket recorder book and also to your YouTube channel where you do your teaching. I know we’re kind of running out of time here, so I’ll have you close things out for us. I ask all of my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Tell us about the song or songs that you’re going to be sharing with us today.
Laurie Orth: [00:28:52] I created an accompaniment and a. Album four Rocket Records, so that when music teachers purchased the book, they can also purchase the accompaniment and play it. And I have wonderful accompaniments that my sister helped create. And my sister is also a music educator and a jazz pianist. And she created all of the accompaniments with an app called I Real Pro. And it’s where you put all the chord changes in and then you can select the style and you can keep changing the style however you want. And it’s still the same chord changes. That’s really a fun app. And I had all those accompaniments and I when I took them into a recording studio right before the lockdown last year and recorded them all and it was really cool because she was in New York and I was in Georgia. And yet you can’t tell because we’re we were put together through the sound engineer and some of the songs are her playing the piano and some of them are her arrangements. And then I got to sing along with her. And it was so sweet. It was so special. And at the end of the recording sessions, I had some extra time and I brought in some other songs. I brought in her playing Fly Me to the Moon When You Wish Upon a Star Blue Moon and then another one. And so we recorded those as well. But what I brought for you was elements of orbit. And that’s the two of us singing, me singing and her accompaniment. And that song is in rocket recorder.