Celebration of 1969 Moon Landing fun and informative

The Sunshine Singers, conducted by Mariette Laginski and accompanied by Elaine O’Reilly on piano, sang By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Shine on Harvest Moon and Fly Me to the Moon. On the last song, the audience joined in for a rousing finale.

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The Espanola United Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing with some very early black and white silent film shorts, actual footage of the 1969 moon landing, poetry, and musical renditions of songs about the moon.

Reverend Stewart Walker opened the program with a poetry reading from the Moody Blues song ‘The Day Begins’, also known as ‘Cold Hearted Orb’. It was the prelude to one of the oldest films ever made, ‘The Astronomer’s Dream’, from 1898 by Georges Melies. In this strange, highly imaginative short film, the moon is depicted as a living entity. At one point it eats the astronomer’s telescope. A cinema pioneer, Melies is credited with producing over 500 short films between 1896 and 1912.

The second film, also by Melies, was a longer fantasy-adventure film made in 1902, called ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’, (A Trip to the Moon). It features a group of astronomers going to the moon, in a huge bullet-shaped capsule fired from a cannon. Again, the moon has a human face and very human reactions to being invaded. The man in the moon is not at all pleased that the space ship hit him in the eye. The astronomers explore the moon’s surface, find a fantastic underground world populated by gigantic mushrooms and strange moon people, get captured, get away, somehow get back to Earth by the capsule falling off the moon into the ocean, and receive a hero’s welcome. This movie, which used Jules Verne’s novel ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ as its primary inspiration, is the first known science fiction film.

Before getting to the actual footage of the moon landing, Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Moon’ was read and the audience was treated to a selection of musical numbers. Concert pianist, Brad Parker, made the piano keys dance for his incredible performances of ‘Claire de Lune’ and soloist Heather Walker sang ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and ‘Moon River’. She was accompanied by Espanola Strings members Jill Beer and Beth Lacasse on cello and violin, and Elaine O’Reilly on piano. Rev. Walker also read a humourous poem from Bob Hall titled ‘Space Force’ which referenced both Donald Trump and Elon Musk.

A lot of the older members of the audience had vivid memories of where they were the day of the moon landing on July 20, 1969. Walker recalled being eight years old, visiting his grandparents in England, and watching the historic event with them. O’Reilly mentioned that she and her husband had been camping but they were determined to view the landing so, along with two other campers they didn’t even know, they rented a motel room with two beds and everyone just sat glued to the television, mesmerized by what was occurring.

For those who didn’t get to witness the moon landing as it was occurring in real-time, the actual film footage brought the event to life. The interchange between mission control and Buzz Aldrin at the controls of the Apollo 11 lunar module was quiet but intense. The entire audience was silent, listening to the count down as the lunar module got closer and closer to touching down on the moon’s surface. There was a lot of tension contained in those final few minutes. The tremendous relief and jubilation, from everyone involved, can be heard when Neil Armstrong finally announced: “The Eagle has landed”. Armstrong actually got to make two immortal quotes on that historic voyage. The other one came from the moment he first set foot on the moon and proclaimed, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Walker also filled in a few background details about some of the dialogue taking place between NASA and the astronauts. At one point during the landing, there had been a glitch in the instrument readings and until that error was corrected by the technicians on Earth, there was a 15-second interval where Aldrin had been flying blind. Fortunately, the problem was resolved and the landing proceeded without any further incidents. Another interesting fact was, one of the few people who didn’t get to watch the actual moon landing was astronaut Michael Collins who remained behind in the lunar orbiter. There was no video feed available to him.

After the excitement of the lunar landing film, Parker played a brilliant rendition of ‘Moonlight Sonata’. This was followed by the Sunshine Choir with a moon medley, ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’ and ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’. Daphne Allen, a member of the group, joked that while they are were singing songs about the moon, they would prefer not to be called the “moonshiners”.

Walker mentioned that the moon landing was such a momentous occasion in American history that the New York Times, for the first, and last, time published a poem on its front page. There were two headlines on July 21, 1969. One was ‘Men Walk on Moon’, by science reporter John Noble Wilford; the other was a poem by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner poet Archibald MacLeish, titled ‘Voyage to the Moon’.

The final song, which required audience participation, was ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, led by the Sunshine Choir. After the singing, the audience was invited to gather in the ‘Moon Lounge’ for cookies and punch.

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