Musician's donation allows others to enjoy aquarium

Sea-inspired melodies are helping efforts to give terminally ill children, disabled veterans and other special-needs groups glimpses of aquatic life at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Musician Greg Pierce is donating $5 from every sale of "Sea Notes," his CD with eight instrumental compositions, one of which is the background for the aquarium's popular "Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance" exhibit. Photographer David Simpson, whose cover shot for the album has been reproduced on a poster, is also donating $5 from every poster sold to a program that helps the aquarium honor requests for a no-charge look at its exhibits.

Pierce, a frequent patron of the aquarium, composed "Off Axis: Music for the Jellies," the lilting melody that plays endlessly in the background as the gelatinous creatures undulate in their tanks.

"It is easy to forget all the distractions of life in here," Pierce said on a recent visit to the aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. "This place is its own universe, and it creates a captive audience."

The original piece was purchased at a charity event three years ago and donated to the aquarium, which was just putting together the jellies exhibit and decided to use the music.

"I like watching the jellies rising in the water," said Pierce, who lives in Monkton. "They look like wonderful, gentle things, but we know they can be nasty buggers. They emphasize the out-of-balance concept. They have survived 500 million years by adapting to changes in the environment."

His song captures the essence of the jellyfish, said Suzanne Boyle, director of major gifts at the aquarium. The pulsating beat blocks out distractions and keeps visitors focused on the creatures floating in the tanks, she said.

"The music enhances the experience for our visitors," said Boyle, adding that visitors often ask for copies of the music.

A lifelong musician, who cannot recall a time when he was without a guitar, and a nature-lover who prefers the seashore to the city, Pierce wrote seven more pieces, all reflective of the sensual delights found beside the world's waters.

"I wrote about the Chesapeake Bay, the Outer Banks, the Pacific Coast Highway," he said. "I heard the tunes in my head while I was standing in those spaces."

The result is "Sea Notes," a CD that was released this fall with a cover photo that Simpson shot of a golden-hued Pacific jelly.

"My only difficulty was picking out which one to shoot," Simpson said. "They are all so beautiful, mysterious and magical."

The CD sells for $18, and the poster of Simpson's photo sells for $25. Each sale benefits the aquarium's program for free admission for underprivileged children.

"This wonderful act of kindness is allowing access to so many who could not afford it," Boyle said.

The aquarium is swamped with requests for free admission from charities, and its budget does not allow the aquarium to accommodate all those requests, she said.

"We have to keep operating, and admissions costs help pay for that," she said. "Now that someone has come forth with this offer, we can extend our free admission program."

Pierce, who owns a marketing company in Towson and put himself through college by playing in a band, still manages to find time for his music. He has produced the audio for several videos, commercials and films. He said he prefers working solo.

"I am rekindling my own college years in a band, but no longer hanging out in smoky bars," he said. "I am on my own now, not worried about coordinating with others."

But he treasures his collaboration with the aquarium.

"I guess you could say we are raising C-notes for the aquarium," Pierce said. "It is nice to be able to do what I do and have it help others."

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