Chris Hadfield answers questions from young musicians of the Toronto Royal Conservatory

Carols in the Cupola. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency/NASA)

Young musicians of the Toronto Royal Conservatory, inspired by Chris Hadfield and the music he's performed in space, sent five questions to the busy Canadian astronaut.

Question How old were you when you started playing music, and how did it come about?

I started playing music when I was 11 or 12. My brother Dave and I bought a guitar at an auction sale for $5, and were pretty sure we were on our way, learning chords and writing songs. I also took music in high school, playing trombone, and then bass trombone also in university.

Question Have you any preferred pieces to play?

I play in 2 bands on Earth, and we have favoured set lists of about 100 songs that I really like to play. It often depends upon whom I play with, for voices and instrumentals. By myself, I prefer memorable melodies and lyrics with meaning, most of the time.

Question What techniques do you use to stay motivated when training for a mission? How would you relate those techniques to musical training and performance?

I focus on the necessity. If I don't do X, then a bad Y might happen. To meet my personal goals, I have standards of preparation that I demand of myself to feel ready and confident. That involves study and practice, for flying spaceships and for playing If You Could Read My Mind.

Question What effect has arts and music education had on your success as an astronaut?

Music and artistry has been a vital part of my life as an astronaut. I brought a guitar to the Russian Space Station Mir on orbit, as a gift, and that international crew all floated in that Space Station joined in song, laughing, singing, humanizing the technical events. Our bands in Houston are a local fixture, an after-hours vital part of the space-faring community, a chance to gather and revel in the beauty and emotion of music. And here on ISS there is a guitar, ukulele and keyboard, and pretty much every evening someone is playing music. Art is integral to humanity, it predates written history, and will outlive us all.

Question Can you share a fond memory of learning or playing music?

I was on a speaking tour in Toronto, hopping between TV and radio studios, when my CSA handler was asked if I wanted to be on the Pamela Wallin show and play with Randy Bachman in a couple of hours. I said ... Yes! ... and called my musician brother to come quick. When I sat down next to Randy he also sat, big man, quietly looked me over, and asked what would we play? I'd been pondering that, and suggested Takin' Care of Business, so he showed me the basic chords, started into the lead, and sang – we were off! I was alternately laughing, concentrating, nearly crying in disbelief that this was happening, and suddenly had the harmonies figured and was doing it right with Randy. My head was shaking back and forth in self-amazement as I sat there in my short haircut, Air Force moustache and blue flight suit, and thumped the familiar rhythmic chords and took the harmony above his voice, watching him effortlessly play a complex lead on top. At the end he looked at me, smiled lazily and said "I didn't know you were a rocker!". My brother and I jammed a bit with him afterwards, and then I went on to my next interview – a fun moment in life, created and joined by music.