Transcript: Space4U podcast, Laurie Orth

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello, I am Carah Barbarick with Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the people who make space exploration today more accessible to all. Today we are joined by Laurie Orth, educator and musician. Laurie is a pioneer in education and has taught music in several different settings.


In 2012, she began her own business, teaching general music classes to homeschoolers. Noticing her students were not always motivated to participate, she had an out of the box idea that perhaps they would if they had music about space and rockets. She decided to create her own space, theme, recorder, music.


And now has the rocket recorder workbook. Laurie is passionate about creating a pipeline for young people into science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education and careers. By bringing together the two contrasting disciplines of music and space exploration. She inspires students and educators around the globe.


Welcome Laurie. Hey, Carah, how are you? I am pretty good. Really excited to chat with you today and help people hear a little bit more about what you do. Awesome. Me too. Let’s let’s get to it. Yeah, let’s jump in. In your current role, you bring together those two different disciplines of music and science.


Have you always been interested in both? No, I have not. And I think my early remembrances of science class go to junior high school where I was in a science lab type of a classroom. And I don’t have a whole lot of memories cause it really wasn’t a thing. It didn’t, um, it didn’t excite me and nobody in my science class back then was asking me to sing a song about what we were learning and.


I’ve always been involved with music though. And then my love of space came within the last couple of years because of my son studying space ops in college. So really music was your passion and, and science didn’t catch your eye for quite a while then? Absolutely. So what was your career path into the music realm?


Well, I actually got started with developing my music training in high school, I went to a fine arts boarding high school called Interlochen arts academy. And I studied voice lessons, drama, music, theater, and ballet. And I was around a lot of students who wanted to be professional musicians and that’s when the, it started like the work ethic and working hard and practicing.


And so I went to college for music and I got my undergraduate degree in vocal performance emphasis of Opera. So that is very performance oriented and it’s a lot of things that a music theater person would learn. Movement, dance, drama, diction, acting classes, opera history, voice lessons, choir madrigals scenes class.


So it was very performance oriented and zero, zero STEM. Yeah. And then I took some time off from that worked. Um, did I, I had some music jobs, chorus jobs, and then I got married, went back to school and I got my master’s degree in music education, which is a art form all in itself teaching. Yes, indeed. And then after I got my master’s degree in music education, I did not teach in a school setting.


For 13 years. And that wasn’t the plan. I thought I would get a job right away, but I ended up started my family and I just was lucky enough to be able to raise my kids. And the music teaching was more of a part-time thing. I did work in churches. I did children’s choirs, but that’s very different than working in a school situation.


And 13 years later I found myself. With my first real teaching job teaching pre-K through eighth grade. Wow. So you never lost your love of music. It just looked different for a couple of decades. Absolutely. So then you started teaching, uh, that pre-K through eighth grade. Did you have a favorite grade? I think the younger grades were more fun at that time.


My own. I was teaching my own children and they were at that school. And the older kids to me were harder. They were harder to work with and the younger kids wanting to sing and dance and play, and they were so excited and involved and kids in seventh and eighth grade, they’re like meh really? So, um, I think the younger kids really stole my heart at those first couple of years.


Yeah, the little ones are very uninhibited, so they’re more than willing to sing songs and dance. Middle-schoolers they’re so nervous about who they are. Do you mostly teach middle school or do you teach across the board? Still? My current teaching position is K through fourth grade, so I do not teach middle school right now.


I am back in the classroom. I took a sabbatical for two and a half years. It lined up sort of with COVID. So it was a good time to not be teaching. I took a year off to start to write my book and then the pandemic happened. And so I just continued to stay home and see what I could do with emailing. And so that’s when I was working on marketing my book and meeting people and doing virtual conferences and things like that.


And now I’m back in the classroom. So it is, it’s different. It’s a shift, but I am enjoying it. And of course I’m starting to write more space themed music for my new kids. Yeah. So let’s jump into your book and what that is. So Rocket Recorder, which is music, obviously for the recorder, I think the recorder often gets a bad rap.


So how did you take an instrument? That’s kind of known. For not being a favorite and make it more fun at the time that I wrote all the pieces before I turned it into a book, I had a group of middle school students and I had my own business and I was teaching homeschool students and their mothers would outsource their music.


Teaching needs to me. And every Friday we got together and I had several different groups of children. And I had a particular group of middle school students and they were mostly new to me and they had not had. Recorder before. And I thought it would be very helpful for them in their music training to learn how to play an instrument.


I had taught recorder to younger children before, and it was never an issue. I used beginning recorder literature, and it was fine. Well, when I pulled out the beginning recorder literature for my middle schoolers, they were like, we don’t want to do this. I don’t want to play hot cross buns. You know, who wants to play?


Mary had a little lamb. Not me. And it hadn’t occurred to me that that would happen. It just didn’t occur. And so I needed to do something fast to save my classroom program. I thought, oh, it’s going to be the year of the recorder. We’re just going to learn the recorder really well. Well, you can’t really do that if the kids don’t want to play or practice.


So they were Star Wars fans, and I wasn’t really. I am more of a space and rockets fan. And so they were talking about star wars and the millennium Falcon in class. And I was like, okay, we got to start class, come on guys. And they wouldn’t stop talking and so. I was already a space fan at the time. And I just blurted out, Hey, who wants to learn about reusable rockets?


And that made him be quiet and it kind of stunned them. And they were like, what is she talking about? So they listened. And I said, there’s this company it’s called space X. And they make reusable rockets back in the old days of Saturn fives, they used to, the spent rocket parts would drop into the ocean, never to be used again, but they don’t do that anymore.


And they, they fly the first stage boosters up and then they bring it back and land on earth and their eyes were Huge, just saucers. And I was so excited to see them get involved. And I thought that’s what I want to see with recorder, but it’s not going to happen when they’re playing little nursery rhymes. So that day, without a whole lot of thought, I was thinking maybe, maybe I could find them some music that was about space and rockets.


Maybe that’s all I needed. And I started to look for it and I couldn’t find anything, especially in a few days time for the next class. And so I decided to write something myself and I thought this can’t be that hard. They only know four notes and it’s not going to be rocket science. I could do this.


And. So that’s what I did. And I wrote a 16 measure piece and I thought, what am I going to call it? Something Spacey grid fins. Yeah, let’s call it grid fins and grid fins are the steering mechanisms on the Falcon 9 rockets. And I had some pictures of grid fins. I brought them in, I had my sister create a jazz accompaniment and that’s how it started.


And I said to my students, Hey, I wrote you some new music. And they were like, what is it? I can just picture middle-school responses and faces. Yeah. Like prove it. And so I showed them the pictures, everybody had a music stand out and then they, they put the picture of the grid fins on and that right away was a beautiful color picture.


And they’re like, that is so cool. And then I said, all right, let’s look at the music. And, you know, I spent a minute letting them look at the picture and telling them about it. Then we transitioned to the music and I said, let’s look at this music. Let’s look at the roadmap. Let’s see where the, you know, are there any repeat signs?


Are there any tricky places? Okay. Let’s get our recorders out. And they started to read the music, which is what I wanted them to do anyway, but they were interested. It was fun. And at the end of the class, I was, I was having a fun, cause I was talking about space and rockets too and teaching them music and they were doing it and nobody was goofing off and everybody was on task and it was just a delightful time.


And at the end of class, one of my students said. What are you going to write for us next week, Mrs. Worth the challenge? I was like, right. What am I going to write? This took a while. Um, so anyway, did that just started at the beginning and every week? Music forum. And I would make videos for them and I would send them Facebook videos to their mothers.


And Hey, you guys, this is my latest piece. What do you think? Can you play this? Then I started putting stuff on YouTube. They would practice at home and it became a curriculum. There’s a whole set if you put it all together. Yeah. And so that’s, that’s how we rolled. And at the end of the year I had a stack of music and I was like, what am I going to do with this?


This was really fun. Maybe somebody else can have fun with this. So that’s when I thought, I’ll write a book. Yeah. It’ll take me about a month. Uh, and a year later I was finally done, but yeah, that’s, that’s how it all got started. And it was a very different experience. It was a great outcome because I wanted my kids to learn how to read music.


And not just memorize little nursery rhymes and they did, they really would read the music and they learned how to count. So I felt like it was a success all around and they learned a lot about space exploration. Yes. So you kind of hooked them with the space stories, but then they really started learning the music at the same time.


So now you’ve told me some good stories in the past about some students helping you come up with some ideas for songs. Are there any that come to mind that you can share? My first student collaboration I, I asked my students to go home and look on the NASA website and pick something. I was very, very open-ended and I just wanted to see what they would come up with.


And one of the boys went and started reading about the moon and he came back with a poem called Skate park on the moon. And it was all about riding a skate park through mares and craters on the moon. And I was stunned. It was so cool. And it was like a middle schooler, like a middle schooler would write it.


And it was, I never could have come up with that. So that became a really fun song. And then the next week another student was like, well, I’m going to do better than that. I’m going to write another song. And it was called moon Hangtime vacation. And it was about going to the moon and riding in a rocket and landing on the moon and putting your space suit on and driving around in a lunar vehicle.


And I was so impressed with that. So then the third student in that class was like, well, I’m going to write a song. He was one of the youngest. He was the youngest in the class and he was only nine years old. And so I didn’t know if he would be able to write a poem. And so I said, why don’t you come up with the rhymes and his subject matter…


He gave me two choices. He said how do astronauts barf in space. And the other choice was, can you move a piano in space? And I had just been reading about both of those subjects. I said, yes, you can. I just read this thing about the astronauts having to move a satellite. And they actually did it with their own arms and pushed it in the space shuttle days in order to repair it.


And then the other one was the barfing in space. And I was reading Scott Kelly’s book called endurance, where he describes. An episode of one of the new astronauts coming up to the station, experiencing a lot of nausea and how they ran out of NASA barf bags. And I said to my student, I’ve just been reading about this.


I’m going to write your song about barfing in space. And he just got so lit up. He was so excited and he had to write the rhymes and he and his sisters did. And it was Ew spew blue. Yuck. He is stuck in the upchuck and it was so delightful to write. I mean, I was laughing that whole day in my kitchen, just doing my life and like, wait, let me write some more.


And it was one of the most. Fun exciting, exhilarating projects I’ve ever worked on. And when I brought it into class, his eyes just lit up and I said, all right, you guys, we’re going to sing this song first. And then we’re going to play it on the recorder. It was hard. It was harder than they were used to, but they were


Working as a cohesive group and they were buckling down and they said, all right, we’re going to accomplish this. And they did. And we had a very silly day in class, but middle school boys making yak noises along with practicing and playing, it was a win-win and they learned about space and astronauts.


And what happens to the body in zero gravity and the inner ear. The lesson that keeps on giving seriously makes me want to be a fly on the wall in your classroom, because I mean, what nine year old boy doesn’t want to sing about vomit? You just, you can’t start with that. We were in the zone. I would never start with that, but they earned it.


They were able to do it so perfect. I love it. And so you just, you keep inspiring students in whole new ways. Yeah. And then. Do you want me to tell you about some of my latest endeavors? Oh, yes, please. Okay. Um, my school is lucky enough to have an ISS downlink scheduled later this fall that is more for the middle school students, but the younger students will also be there in the cafeteria when it happens.


And so I am teaching all the younger students. I need, I’m bringing in all this stuff about ISS knowledge into my music classroom. And so I wrote a new piece called zero G sleep. And it’s all about how the astronauts sleep in zero gravity. And so you just talk a little bit about zero gravity and the sleeping bags that they have.


And I have some pictures that I bring in. I’m very old school. I print off something and I laminate it and then I hold it up in my class. I don’t have smart boards. I don’t have projectors. I’m like, look at this analog picture and pass it around. And yeah. And, um, so they’re, they’re excited about that. They ask, you know, um, I had, one of the pictures is of an astronaut in a sleeping quarters and then the other one is an astronaut in a sleeping bag.


That’s tied down, but it’s in the, I don’t know the common area of the ISS. Did he have to ask permission to sleep outside of his quarters? I said, no, I don’t think so. I think he probably just tied his sleeping bag down, but it was just really fun to, to bring that in and we’re playing it on the boom whackers, which boom whackers are these tubular plastic pitched instruments.


It’s kind of like if you took a big xylophone and you picked up the bars off the xylophone and you tap them on your hand or you can tap them on your leg or on the floor. And so they play one note each, but they’re learning how to read music. So that’s one song. And then my other current project is a rap that we’re doing in fourth grade.


And it’s about the life of an astronaut. The first stanza is about training. The second stanza is about approaching the launch tower on launch day. And then we’re going to do, I still have to write the rest of it, which is going to be about the sequence of the actual launch. And first, second stage separation approaching the space station.


I’m going to have a stanza about a zero gravity indicator. And that’s going to be one of my student’s little puppets that she’s been bringing to class, and it’s a, it’s a rabbit puppet and she has Sparkly dress on the rabbit does, and the rabbit Puppet’s name is petunia is petunia going to rap?


Petunia is going to be in the rap, but yeah, I’ll have, um, petunias owner is her name is Sam and Sam’s probably going to be the one coming up to the mic for that. But you have to, when I do this, you know, you gotta have all these rhymes. And so I don’t know that Petunia will be the rhyme. That’s like trying to rhyme with the orange.


It’s a little bit difficult. Yeah. We’ll have to figure that one out. It’s just takes some, some thinking and I’ve already reached out to a friend of mine in the space industry to say, Hey, if you got nothing else going on in your head, if you want to let this rattle around in there, here’s what I’m looking for.


And I, she’s probably gonna think I’m a nut. She said she’d help and So I reached out. That’s so great. I love that you’re incorporating your class of students in the new songs, so your kids can go back and look and say, I was a part of writing that one, or I was a part of that one. They have asked me because some of my new students are singing the stuff that I created with my former students.


And there’s one song that has the name of two of my students in it. A new student said, Mrs. Orth, can you write some new music and put our names in it? And I said, yeah, I can. So that they want to be a part of it. Yes. Which again is motivating. So just making it happen. So let’s go a little deeper then because I mean, you really are bringing in music and space and, and swirling them all together.


So do you feel like STEAM that science technology, engineering, arts, and math is a new theme in education or is it kind of a reboot of methods that people have used for a long time to help people be creative problem solvers. I think that all of those subjects have been around for a long time, but they’ve traditionally been siloed.


And people stayed in their own swim lanes and they didn’t collaborate together. And what I think STEAM can do is really help bridge all of that and help cross-curricular activities take place. It doesn’t need to be siloed. And I, I live this all the time and if I go to a conference and I hear somebody talk about some type of a space subject, I’m like, oh, that would make a good, a good lyric.


And what does that do that helps teach? I’m always looking for new ways to teach music. And that’s what you can get when you use things like double reoccurring Novi in a, in a lyric or call up song TLI. And it’s like, let’s do a song about trans lunar injection. Okay. And then all of a sudden, you’re talking to fourth graders about that.


It helps them when they’re in their STEM class, learning about the international space station. And then they’ve already got this other layer going on, same with doing artwork about any kind of subject, but we’re talking about space. So drawing pictures of habitats, creating 3d models of habitats, that’s going to help them think about what it’s going to be like.


To go to another planet and it’s more than just book learning or having somebody just talk to them about here’s what it might be like. They’re actually thinking about it themselves. And it makes them think about one subject outside of that subject area. And that’s like the, where the creativity bringing the arts in comes to play.


I mean, I can attest to the fact that music helped me learn very difficult concepts and, you know, I could probably still sing some Spanish songs from a long time ago, because I was learning the language through song. You’re essentially teaching the language of Science. I do have a song that I wrote about the engineering design process it’s called ask, imagine plan, create, then you have to improve.


And I had a, a STEM teacher friend who plays the ukulele, asked me to write her a song for her fifth graders. And she said, I only know these chords. Can you write me a song? And so I was like, yeah, that’s awesome. So good. I’m sure those kids will remember that song. The rest of their life and hum it as they, they go through some sort of problem.


There’s a quote from space industry investor, Dylan Taylor, and he says, everyone’s in the space industry. They just don’t know it yet. What do you think about that? Quote, since I would say you are most definitely in the Space industry. Well, I agree with him about, they just don’t know it yet. It’s taken me a while.


And during my sabbatical, I really honed in on becoming an entrepreneur and figuring out what my message was and who my audience is. And. That’s when I started to really identify with the space industry, the space industry is full of engineers and stem people and educators. Um, but I come at it from this sort of tangential sort of artsy-fartsy place yet.


I still know, that what I do brings value to this space. I love hanging out with the people who are involved in the space industry. They’re focused on future. They’re focused on let’s keep trying again and again until we get it right. Let’s do another pilot program of something or failure is okay. Failure forward.


And there’s a whole lot of positivity and excitement. Space educators. Oh my gosh. They’re crazy fun to hang out with. And everybody’s like, oh my gosh, did you see that launch? And it’s like, we’re all just so excited about some new space, something that’s a really fun place to be. So I love being part of the space industry.


I love meeting people and I’m on LinkedIn and I keep meeting people that I’ve liked. I made a connection today with someone who I have his book and I’ve heard his podcast and I’m thinking, I know him on LinkedIn now, and it’s such a, it’s like a family and to me, they’re like rock stars. And it’s, it’s just, it’s rewarding and fun.


And I feel included. That’s a beautiful thing that I think the industry as a whole is just so energizing because everyone is excited, like you were saying, and everyone is looking at what’s happening and, and cheering on whatever company is, is doing the next exciting thing in space. And it is hopeful. I need hope everybody needs hope in their lives, but I I’m really.


Happy to be looking forward to the fun, exciting new history-making things. I can’t agree more. So what would you say then to people who have this great idea that may seem small, but could actually have a big impact? I would encourage them to. Write down what their ideas are, what their dreams are to tell people about them and what you speak about and think about and write about you, bring about positive or negative, you know, and if you have an idea tell people about it, seek mentors, and there’s so many mentors that are accessible to us via YouTube and social media, you can get trained by amazing people.


There are so many. Space education things out there and I’m living proof of it because I’m, self-taught in a lot of this, do what you can to get educated and talk to people and share your ideas because you send it out into the universe and it’s going to, you have a better chance of it happening. Yeah. I love that.


You say that it’ll it’ll happen if you speak it and write it. Yeah, so great. So what, uh, what have you written down recently then that you’re hoping will come next in the future for you? Well, um, as this isn’t something recent, but this is something that I have written down and that is, I have a dream that an astronaut will play a recorder.


On the international space station, play some songs from my book, rocket recorder send videos of that back to earth to be motivating for music students. And when I first shared that with someone at a space conference, I shared it with Samantha Thorstensen at the space conference at Kennedy space center in 2019.


And she said, oh, I love it. But it’s going to have to be a 3D printed recorder. And I was like, 3D Oh, that’s going to be so much trouble. No, no, you can buy recorders for $4. It’ll be fine. Just send it up on a, on a dragon resupply. And she said, no, it will be so much cooler if it’s 3D printed. So that put that idea in my head.


Then I started talking about it and meeting people about it. And later that year I had the opportunity to go to the international astronautical Congress in Washington, DC. And I met. People from the company made in space. And I was like, Hey, if I could get a 3D printed recorder ordered, could you guys make it?


And they were like, yes, we can. And I keep talking to people telling them this. And all of a sudden, my friends at the space foundation have printed some 3D recorders. Yes. So, yeah, they’re not on the ISS yet, but I have a 3D printed recorder. So one step closer. Absolutely. And people don’t think of astronauts as being musicians, but many astronauts have gone to space with their instruments in the past.


Yeah. And there’s plenty of, of astronauts who are very talented and a very accomplished musicians, too. Katie Coleman is a fantastic flute player and she played a duet with a famous rock star named Ian Anderson. Who’s in the band Jethro Tull, and they did a duet that’s on YouTube and you can watch it. And Canadian astronaut.


Chris Hadfield. Plays guitar and sings all sorts of David Bowie. He did that from the cupola window and you can see that on YouTube, this latest commercial endeavor inspiration 4 mission, one of the co uh, civilian astronauts, Chris Sembroski brought his ukulele with him. And there’s a couple of little video clips of him going. Rink dinka dink…


Playing his ukulele up there in space. I think that is so awesome. And I know when I practice. The piano or practice recorder or sing, I love the brain disconnect and the brain recharge that I get from everything else in my life. And I walk away from a practice session feeling uplifted, or it’s like a stress relief.


And I think on a long-term spaceflight. An astronaut could possibly get the same relief and they might have to use an electric, a digital recorder, like where you wear a headset and it’s digital. And so nobody can hear it except you hear it in your headset because it might bother the crew, especially if you’re in the learning phases.


But I think it also could provide a whole lot of stress relief, wellness component, being able to do that. And. If you’re going to be on a six month mission, one way, you might need some stuff to help you pass the day, help you to decompress at the end of your day, years ago, I went to a museum in the United Kingdom and it was in Bristol and it was a museum of the ship, the SS Great Britain.


And that was a steam ship that went from the United Kingdom to Australia. And it took six months. One way. And when you visited that museum, you could buy these headsets and you could either listen to the first class passengers or the third class passengers or the crew and what they experienced. And one of the things they did was they had talent shows and music nights, and people looked forward to it and somebody was a stage manager and somebody was the emcee.


The people practiced and they got their little skits together or their little music numbers. And they did that several times throughout the journey to pass the time. I think astronauts could do that as well. And they could possibly take lessons on a long-term space flight. Why not? They’re kind of a captive audience.


Right? I was like, that’s brilliant. Good mental health it’s entertainment, culture. Yes. Astronaut duets? Oh yeah, I see it happening, Laurie, that we’re putting it out there. Cool. I’m right there with you. Yeah. I mean, can you imagine. Four recorders? No, I I’m just picturing a, um, talent show from space.


I think the whole world would tune in to watch that. Yeah. Hollywood. I hope you’re listening. We need to get a producer. Yes. You heard it here first on Space4U. Perfect. Well, Laurie, is there anything I missed asking you about that you want to share with us? Um, I’m just really happy to see how much this just totally out there idea of, Hey, let me put some music together for recorder about space.


Has changed my life, and hopefully set some trajectories with my students. And if, if anybody’s listening, that’s thinking about doing something, um, creative, do it. You never know. Who you’re going to meet, where it’s going to take you, the friends that are going to enrich your life, the experiences you’re going to have because of it.


So, yeah, that’s what I would say. Yeah. So, well, I think we can’t top that, so it’s excellent advice to wrap things up with. Wonderful. Yes. Well, thank you again for joining us today. We appreciate it and enjoyed hearing your stories. Thanks for the opportunity Carah. It’s been awesome and you’re one of my friends that I’ve not met in person yet, but you enrich my life and I love the work we’ve done together so far.


Ditto. I cannot agree more with you. And that concludes this episode of space foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, apple podcasts, Google podcasts, and Spotify. Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website, where you can also learn about the various ways you can support space foundation.


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Listen to the Podcast

Space4U Podcast: Laurie Orth — ‘Rocket Recorder’ Author, Composer, Educator