‘Music connects us, just like the oceans’: composer creates work to raise awareness of climate change

10 November 2021, 12:58 | Updated: 10 November 2021, 13:42

Composer Paul Mealor has written a piece to raise awareness of ocean pollution
Composer Paul Mealor has written a piece to raise awareness of ocean pollution. Picture: Alamy/Justin Sutcliffe

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A beautiful work, with a deeper meaning – Paul Mealor tells Classic FM about his ‘Song of the Ocean’, and music’s role in speaking about climate change.

Music has proven itself an important player in the conversation around climate change, with ensembles around the world making commitments to protect the world for future generations. Last year, Orchestra for the Earth took Mozart out of the concert hall to play a Serenade under wind turbines; and for COP26, 15 orchestras performed an unnerving reworking of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, scored for a changing climate.

Now, famed British composer Paul Mealor is using music to highlight the state of the world’s oceans, a theme central to Cop26. Just this week, an oceanographer made headlines for calling on world leaders to ban industrial fishing, in an effort to save Earth’s “largest carbon-capturing and oxygen-generating system”.

A couple of years ago, Mealor was contacted by a leading ocean scientist and professor of law from the University of Aberdeen, who wanted to raise awareness of major environmental impact on our oceans.

“They thought I might be able, through music, to shine a greater light on the issues with our oceans,” Mealor tells Classic FM.

And so, Song of the Ocean was born (listen below).

Read more: 1,000 musicians played the sound of our future at COP26, and it doesn’t sound good

Song of the Ocean – Global Virtual Performance 2021

First performed in 2020 by a choir from across the university, the choral work found a larger audience the following year when it was orchestrated for World Ocean Day 2021. It was then recorded by the great Philharmonia Orchestra, Classic FM’s Orchestra on Tour, and an international, virtual choir.

Among the singers were scientists from the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI), who worked with the Aberdeen professors to inform the United Nations Ocean Treaty.

One deep-sea scientist, who lent her vocals to the song, said: “I wanted to be part of the project as, just like the ocean, it connects us from all across the planet.”

Read more: Pioneering orchestras are using classical music to respond to the climate crisis

The lyrics, penned by lyricist Grahame Davies, are a deep dive into the damage humans are doing to the ocean. When Davies was commissioned to set Mealor’s music to words, he poured over scientific documents to create a text that reflects ocean science.

“Every line of the words is important science,” Mealor says, “And in the music I wanted to capture the rhythm of the ocean with every changing ebb and flow.”

“All musicians – like all humanity – need the ocean as it generates 50 per cent of the world’s oxygen and is suffering now,” Mealor said. “We can all help by using music in all genres to bring awareness to people of these important issues.”

The Philharmonia’s chief exec, Alexander Van Ingen, said the orchestra was “proud” to be part of a project speaking about one of today’s most pertinent issues. “Music is moving and inspirational; it takes over where words leave us, and can enhance our perception of the natural world, driving advocacy and fostering empathy.”

Song of the Ocean was officially endorsed as a UN Ocean Decade Activity as part of the 2021-2030 United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.