Rachelle McCabe and Kathleen Moore

By Erin Sneller

As colleagues in the College of Liberal Arts, Oregon State music professor Rachelle McCabe and philosophy professor Kathleen Dean Moore had already collaborated on several projects when McCabe heard Moore give a persuasive talk about the rapid and devastating rate of species extinction on the planet. Moore was calling on her audience to act, and McCabe was compelled to do so. An accomplished concert pianist and professor of piano, McCabe knew music had to be her medium.

“I presented Kathy with one of the most emotionally gripping pieces I could think of, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘Variations on a Theme of Corelli,’” McCabe said.

The two spent hours going through the variations. McCabe played and discussed the form and musical materials in detail. Moore took that information in, listened to the music, and wrote.

The outcome is a weaving of music and words titled, “A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction.” It premiered at The LaSells Stewart Center at OSU in January, 2015, and has since been performed again in Corvallis; in Portland and Eugene; in Seattle; in Auburn, California; Tucson, Arizona; and Rockford, Illinois.

Moore describes the program as “a call to awareness, to caring, to action.” “The news about worldwide extinction is grim," she said. "But the disappearances of birds and frogs and flowers are silent, and so often escape our attention. We are using music to give voice to the disappearances. We want to open peoples’ hearts without breaking them. There is so much worth saving,” she said.

Performances have been received with standing ovations, tears, follow-up notes of thanks and praise, and as the title calls for, action. In Seattle, an audience member decided in the moment to preserve his land for native habitat.

“It astonishes us, the power of this cross-disciplinary collaboration,” Moore said.


Now the friends are taking their program to a much larger audience. In early September they will present "A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction" at the World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Honolulu, Hawaii. Their performance will be included on an agenda of presentations by world conservation leaders including scientists and representatives of international conservation organizations, faith-based organizations, governments from around the world, and world conventions including UNESCO, UNEP and the United Nations.

“I think it's so important that we artists join the scientists and the activists, the writers, and even the Pope - all those who appeal to our basic sense of moral responsibility. We need to realize the potential for creative collaborations to change people's thinking,” McCabe said. 

According to the IUCN website, the mission of this World Congress is “To bring these pieces together and collectively complete the greatest puzzle ever attempted: to secure Nature’s support systems so that Humanity and the greater community of life may continue to prosper on Earth.”

“Our puzzle piece is the emotional power of music and moral affirmation – to move people to feel the urgency of action,” Moore said.

Moore and McCabe will present “A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction” in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on September 30. For information about this and other performances, see the "Events” link at riverwalking.com.

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Photo by Zachary C. Person, Oregon State
Video by Eric Glesky, Oregon State