For Sharon Abreu, music is the stuff of her earliest memories. It’s her career. And it’s also a tool for climate education.
Abreu is a musician and teacher living on Orcas Island of the San Juan Islands of Washington State.
She’s also the writer and performer of “The Climate Monologues,” a one-woman show inspired by “The Vagina Monologues,” by Eve Ensler. Like Ensler’s work, “The Climate Monologues” is composed of a series of monologues based on interviews with real people.
The show includes original songs that Abreu composed.
Music helps people understand climate change on a deep level, she says: “Music actually accesses a different part of the brain, and it touches people on a heart level, and we literally resonate with it in our bodies.”
“Being in our heads all the time, trying to deal with everything on an intellectual level, has not been getting us where we need to be,” she adds. “We’ve had good information on climate change at least since the mid-90s, probably even before that, and we’re still way behind on where we need to be.”
Abreu’s Childhood Musical Education
Abreu got her start in music during childhood, when she began singing and playing violin. Her family sang folk songs around the dinner table. She studied music, business, and technology at New York University with the idea of writing commercial jingles. But she didn’t want to work for an advertising agency, and she began singing for a living instead.
In the late 1990s, after the U.S. Senate voted against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, she decided she needed to educate herself about the issue. She attended a two-day symposium on climate change, which she says amounted to an awakening.
|Photo source: PenguinsOnThinIce.com|
“I got terrified, and then I turned around and said, ‘OK, what can we do about this?’” she says. She wrote her first song about climate change, “Change in the climate,” in 2000.
Two years later, she and her partner, Mike Hurwicz, wrote a show called “The Great Climate Caper,” which they performed with sixth- and seventh-grade students on Orcas Island. (A later adaptation went by the name “Penguins on Thin Ice.”)
“The kids nowadays are constantly bombarded with everything that’s wrong in their world,” says Laura Tidwell, a teacher at Orcas Island Elementary School who has worked with Abreu. “It causes a lot of depression and anger, frustration, helplessness. And so what Sharon does is a creative way of empowering students to let them know, yes, you can make a difference.”
In 2007, Abreu took students from the New York High School for Environmental Studies to the 15th United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in New York, where they performed “Penguins On Thin Ice.”
There, an auditorium of people dressed in suits and ties and formal dresses began smiling and moving to the music.
Telling Others’ Climate Stories
In “The Climate Monologues,” Abreu portrays a series of people: a college student, an Indian activist, and a farmer, each concerned about climate change.
In one monologue, she performs as Maria Gunnoe, an environmental activist in West Virginia who opposes mountaintop-removal mining. As Abreu ties a blue kerchief over her dark hair, she speaks, echoing a West Virginia accent.
|Sharon Abreu. Photo source: OrcasIssues.com|
“The town that I live in’s called Bob White. It wasn’t named after a man. It was named after a bird. The cliffs on the backside of my property is where the bobwhite quails nested at. When the birds would call — through the morning, through the evening — you could hear them throughout the valley. It echoed. It sounded like 20 birds was calling instead of one.”
Abreu-as-Gunnoe pauses. “It’s been probably 15 years now since I’ve even heard a bobwhite quail.”
She describes an area she hopes to preserve as a site for wind energy: “That’s jobs forever, and it’s renewable energy, clean energy, and the coal company wants to blow the mountain up.”
Throughout the monologue, Abreu’s mimicry of Gunnoe is almost spookily spot-on.
Then she bursts into song, becoming fully herself again. “Let us harness the wind,” she sings.
Abreu says that because climate change can be a frightening subject, it’s important to communicate about the issue without blaming.
In one song, “Twenty-two Tons,” she acknowledges her own contributions to climate change. The song is an adaptation of the classic song “Sixteen Tons,” about a coal miner who can’t escape debt to a coal company.
In Abreu’s version, the “tons” are the per capita tons of greenhouses gases released across the United States each year:
Twenty-two tons, what do you get?
Hot, bothered and deeper in debt
When around the world,
Four tons is the norm
My twenty-two tons intensifies the storm.
Hurwicz, Abreu’s partner and collaborator, says music helps people express themselves in ways that aren’t self-defeating.
“At times of great challenges and especially of very sad things, music always comes out,” he says. “It’s a way of getting one’s energies moving at a time when you otherwise might just crumple.”
Abreu is scheduled to perform at the Anacortes Senior Center in Anacortes, Wash., on Oct. 28. Those interested in scheduling a performance may contact her at ClimateMonologues.com.