Astronomy Rocks When Chromatics Are On Stage

By ROB LONGLEY
Daily News-Record

"Interplanet Janet, she's a galaxy girl, a solar system Ms. from a future world. She travels like a rocket with her comet Ms. from a future world. She travels like a rocket with her comet team..."

Remember Schoolhouse Rock, those animated, musical interludes on Saturday morning television that gave short history and civic lessons in the guise of entertainment?

If you grew up in the '70s and still don't know how a bill becomes a law, you clearly weren't watching enough Saturday morning cartoons.

Who can forget "The Preamble," "I'm Just A Bill," "Naughty Number Nine," and perhaps the most memorable Schoolhouse Rock tune, "InterPlanet Janet"?

A Smart Bunch

In that same spirit come the Chromatics, an a cappella sextet that has been singing about black holes, quasars, the sun, universe and all things science since 1995.

The Chromatics, who will play two shows at Harrisonburg's First Night celebration Dec. 31, know what they're talking, or rather, singing, about - the group is made up of astrophysicists, research scientists, engineers and other, well, really smart people.

With songs like "Cosmic Radio Show" ("Hey, Ho, Did you know, there's a universe in the radio"), "Sun Song" ("Our star, the Sun, is a big ball of gas, and it's 99 percent of our solar system's mass"), "Lunar Love," and "High Energy Groove," the Chromatics make learning fun, a la Schoolhouse Rock.

photo of group The Chromatics take a lesson from Schoolhouse Rock and now sing about astronomy. They'll sing twice at Harrisonburg First Night.

AstroCappella

"When we first got together, we realized we could all recite the preamble to the Constitution because of Schoolhouse Rock," explained group member Padi Boyd, a research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where the group is based. "We thought, 'What if we wrote songs like that about astronomy?'"

They did, and thanks to a grant from NASA, produced AstroCappella and AstroCappella 2.0, a multi-media lesson plan that science teachers throughout the world have been using in the classroom since 1998.

"Once you learn a song, it sticks in your brain, unlike something that's just put up on a blackboard," said Boyd. "What we're trying to do is get science into the hearts and minds of kids so they'll enjoy it and remember it."

'A Different Light'

The Chromatics and their AstroCappella songs have also helped debunk the stereotype of the nerdy scientist, Boyd says.

"It's an eye opener when people see us performing," she said. "There's this image of a scientist as an old, professor type in the lab all the time, kind of antisocial, and here we are singing and dancing. It really helps put scientists and science in a different light."

The Chromatics' music isn't all astronomy and science. They sing covers of traditional pop tunes and originals as well.

The Chromatics will perform their First Night shows at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the Court Square Theater.

Contact Rob Longley at 574-6286 or
Longley@dnronline.com