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Geremia Lodi — On Making Music With Former Inmates

As part of the Music in Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Resource, Geremia Lodi describes his expe­ri­ence work­ing with for­mer inmates in a tran­si­tion com­mu­ni­ty pro­gram, the pos­si­ble ben­e­fits of imple­ment­ing music pro­grams in com­plex sit­u­a­tions such as incar­cer­a­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion, and var­i­ous issues relat­ed to self-care.

On his first steps in work­ing with for­mer inmates

Hel­lo, my name is Geremia Lodi. I am a musi­cian and a music edu­ca­tor. My pur­pose in life is to use music to cre­ate a con­nec­tion between peo­ple, while at the same time using this con­nec­tion to cre­ate musi­cal sounds and more per­son­al and inti­mate sounds together. 

My favorite tool to make music is body music — body per­cus­sion, singing, and beat­box­ing in oth­er words. Every­thing that we can do direct­ly with our body and maybe with­out an instru­ment. I like it because it allows every par­tic­i­pant in my work­shop to direct­ly bring the music that is in their body, in their expe­ri­ence. It’s an acces­si­ble approach to music.

My expe­ri­ence with for­mer inmates is quite lim­it­ed and relates to my col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­ni­ties based in Mon­tre­al, espe­cial­ly the ini­tia­tive Open Door. Open Door is a week­ly meet­ing and is open to for­mer inmates, some­times also to cur­rent inmates on a per­mit, to encounter peo­ple of the com­mu­ni­ty and cre­ate a new con­nec­tion to sup­port their inte­gra­tion in society.

When I offered a work­shop for this asso­ci­a­tion, I encoun­tered a group real­ly curi­ous for what I had to offer, and real­ly ready to take the chance to have a moment of fun togeth­er, a moment of interaction. 

The activ­i­ty that I remem­ber them enjoy­ing the most was one of my activ­i­ties called Silent Rhythms. I request each par­tic­i­pant to per­form a silent and repet­i­tive move­ment, but I ask to the oth­er par­tic­i­pants if they, by lis­ten­ing with their eyes, can hear some­thing in their imag­i­na­tion. If imag­i­na­tion can pro­duce a sound. Guid­ed by this move­ment, and most of the time peo­ple can, in fact, pro­duce some­thing that responds to that movement. 

In the sec­ond round of peo­ple per­form­ing a move­ment, the peo­ple oppo­site in the cir­cle to the mover give voice. We sing the move­ment that we hear in our imag­i­na­tion. Peo­ple com­ment­ed that it was real­ly com­fort­ing to hear your move­ment through the voice of some­body else. Hear­ing some­body giv­ing voice to your body, it’s a way of look­ing, it’s a way of

pay­ing atten­tion to the oth­er but brings to the sur­face that web of reci­procity that con­nects every­body in a group, but which is not always evi­dent. It’s not always easy to per­ceive and to feel. I think that that is also a hint of one of the ways that music can be of ben­e­fit to peo­ple that expe­ri­ence pen­i­ten­tiary: to feel this recon­nec­tion to oth­ers in a dif­fer­ent way.

Why and how is music use­ful in the con­text of rehab and incarceration?

So what can a music pro­gram bring to inmates or for­mer inmates?

The first thing is alive­ness. Con­sid­er some­one who is fac­ing a guilt, who is com­ing to terms with a pain that they might have caused, and dif­fi­cult sto­ries. All of these come with a real­ly heavy bur­den to car­ry and upon which to elaborate.

In order to live this process, an indi­vid­ual needs to be able to con­nect back to the part of them­selves that is a mas­ter life. The part that can laugh, that can feel a joy, that can feel plea­sure is fun­da­men­tal to face a demand­ing process like the one that inmates are facing.

So, music can bring alive­ness in the form of pas­sion, of groov­ing, of play­ing. Play­ing in the sense of play­ing an instru­ment, but also hav­ing fun, which is real­ly impor­tant. Sec­ond, a music pro­gram can offer a way to con­nect to one­self and a way to con­nect to oth­ers. As I was say­ing, every per­son sen­tenced to pen­i­ten­tiary has prob­a­bly the need to gain own­er­ship over their own sto­ry, elab­o­rat­ing what hap­pened in the chain of events that brought them there, and at the same time find­ing again their very own sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Their own voice among the many voic­es that sen­tenced them and to label them to their posi­tion. It’s impor­tant to find full agency by themselves.

Music and sup­port music pro­grams can help to regain a sense of self. A sense of inti­ma­cy, the sense of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, which is fun­da­men­tal for the process of elab­o­ra­tion of the guilt and of gain­ing own­er­ship. And final­ly, when most for­mer inmates are met, they car­ry a strong pro­tec­tive shell, which is a nat­ur­al response to hos­tile envi­ron­ment, such as the one of the penitentiary.

A music pro­gram with­in a pen­i­ten­tiary, after a process, or at the time of deten­tion can offer the par­tic­i­pants a safe space, a sense of broth­er­hood or sis­ter­hood, where mutu­al recog­ni­tion can hap­pen. Where reci­procity and nor­mal­i­ty, a nor­mal sense of warmth, of human warmth can be installed, which can great­ly sup­port an expe­ri­ence of human­i­ty. That can be heal­ing, in rela­tion to the more insti­tu­tion­al­ized and more cold expe­ri­ence of life as expe­ri­enced in a penitentiary.

Thank you so much.

Self-care before, dur­ing and after the project

Self-care before, dur­ing, and after the project. My own expe­ri­ence about the self-care does­n’t come from work­ing in the pen­i­ten­tiary, but more work­ing in an urban com­mu­ni­ty. Which is a real­ly dif­fer­ent con­text but what is in com­mon with the pen­i­ten­tiary is that as an edu­ca­tor you will find your­self wit­ness­ing some real­ly chal­leng­ing life expe­ri­ences. A sec­ond ele­ment in com­mon is that these are expe­ri­ences to which most peo­ple in soci­ety are not real­ly exposed, which will make you feel a bit more alone at some point. And we’ll talk about it in a minute. 

So the first thing that comes to mind about self-care is to make sure to be paid enough for this con­tract. Which may sound fun­ny but what I think is that when work­ing such a project, you need to make sure to allo­cate enough time for the brief­ing, for elab­o­rat­ing what you’re expe­ri­enc­ing, and to be fair­ly paid so that you can pay your rent with­out the pres­sure of look­ing for that extra con­tract to feel more safe, this will be real­ly impor­tant. It’s not a mat­ter of greed­i­ness, it’s just a mat­ter of giv­ing your­self the time for elab­o­rat­ing. Of course, this is also the sec­ond ele­ment, con­sid­er­ing that you will need time for elaboration. 

 The third ele­ment is con­sid­er­ing the resources in the asso­ci­a­tion or the insti­tu­tion you will be work­ing for in terms of part­ner­ship. Which are the oth­er indi­ca­tors and which is the rela­tion­ship you will be estab­lished with them. Will it be a part­ner­ship also on debrief­ing and elab­o­rat­ing the project togeth­er or not. How much time will you’ll be spend­ing? The oth­er per­son doing this job? These are impor­tant things to know. What is the basis of this col­lab­o­ra­tion, and also what is your role in car­ry­ing out this project. What is expect­ed from you, and how your role fits in the same over­ar­ch­ing struc­ture on which you’re an actor, but not ful­ly in charge of all the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the project. It is real­ly impor­tant to have clar­i­ty around your world. To be able to place your­self in that project. 

 Anoth­er ele­ment is, before the end of the project, to ana­lyze your net­work, your own per­son­al net­work which are the friends that can offer a good lis­ten­ing part­ner, but also qual­i­fied or com­pe­tent lis­ten­ing. As I was say­ing, in my own expe­ri­ence when I was liv­ing in the North, I felt some resis­tance to share cer­tain sto­ries to my friends about what I wit­nessed. It felt some­what dis­re­spect­ful to bring up cer­tain sto­ries with­out offer­ing a com­plete con­text in which that sto­ry took place. And this con­text is real­ly dif­fi­cult to pro­vide sometimes. 

 It is real­ly chal­leng­ing to tell. There are so many things that I still could­n’t name or could­n’t fig­ure out myself to explain the con­text I was liv­ing in, but it was dif­fer­ent if I was talk­ing to some­body who actu­al­ly lived the same expe­ri­ence and had already a sense of what I was talk­ing about. So, it’s real­ly good to ver­i­fy if you already have some­body in your net­work with sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences that could be a good part­ner to debrief, to have a lis­ten­ing ear.

Final­ly, and espe­cial­ly if it’s a long-term project, it’s real­ly good to read inspir­ing expe­ri­ences of oth­er peo­ple that work in a sim­i­lar con­text and who faced sim­i­lar prob­lems. It’s real­ly sooth­ing at times to make your­self be accom­pa­nied in this way, by some­body else that went through the same path. Actu­al­ly, there will be more with what they want­ed to share and some­times also a real­ly good laugh. And you will be fac­ing some real­ly hard life expe­ri­ences and you need, in the week, to recon­nect to your own vital­i­ty, to what­ev­er makes you feel real­ly alive. 

For the inmates, they need to con­nect to what is real­ly alive for them, what is real­ly fun and joy­ful and you will need to do the same for your­self each week. A col­league in the north told me that you need to make sure to be hap­py at least three times a day. It’s fun­ny but I think it’s such a pre­cious sug­ges­tion. To be sure to con­nect to your life ener­gy, to the most vital part of you each week, and if pos­si­ble three times a day. Because that will be so impor­tant for you to be in a in a con­text that is dif­fi­cult, to be full strength. 

Don’t super­charge your­self with the dark part because we real­ly need the live­ly part in order to to be in this con­text. Don’t be afraid to be light and to be funny.

Why to car­ry out a project in pen­i­ten­tiary 

Why car­ry out a project in a pen­i­ten­tiary, or in anoth­er com­plex place? Maybe it sounds like a fun­ny ques­tion to ask but I want­ed to do this tuto­r­i­al and I was inspired by a sen­tence of Genos­tra­da, the founder of ‘Emer­gency Asso­ci­a­tion’ that pro­vid­ed med­ical sup­port in war zones.  He men­tioned that peo­ple want­ed him to say that he was doing what he was doing as a sergeant, in such con­text, because it was a good cause because it was moved by a real­ly good inten­tion. But he was­n’t shy to say that he was doing that sim­ply because he real­ly enjoyed doing it. That’s the reason. 

Then we rephrased it in a dif­fer­ent way, using a sen­tence by Lila Wat­son that real­ly inspired me at the time. Lila Wat­son says, “If you have come to help me, you’re wast­ing time, but if you have come because your lib­er­a­tion is bound to mine, let’s work togeth­er.” I think this sen­tence was real­ly of help for me to place myself, and in a con­text where I faced peo­ple fac­ing real­ly dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions but find­ing a way that’s of strong resilience and a strong per­son­al capacity.

In a way, it helped me to this aware­ness to keep a bal­ance, feel­ing respon­si­ble for myself, respon­si­ble who I was, respon­si­ble for my pro­fes­sion­al­i­ty, but also real­iz­ing that this respon­si­bil­i­ty entailed to not take over respon­si­bil­i­ties of oth­er peo­ple. In fact, doing so would have would have deprived these peo­ple of their own respon­si­bil­i­ty, of their own capacity. 

And always remem­ber­ing the rea­son why I was there, but it was my own rea­son. These allow me to remem­ber that each per­son has his life or her life sto­ry, and bet­ter acknowl­edg­ing our unique­ness is and our dif­fer­ence is the basis for allow­ing this encounter where each can offer the oth­er per­son some­thing impor­tant for our own path as human beings.

Thank you. 


For more info on Geremia Lodi, see their artist pro­file HERE. For a taste of what Geremia Lodi does, see the fol­low­ing projects fea­tured on the PCM Hub:

Silent Rhythms

Body Per­cus­sion For The Family

For more info on Music In Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion, see HERE

Moe Clark — On Making Music with Indigenous Youth In Lockdown and Carceral Settings

As part of the Music in Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Resource, Moe Clark describes her expe­ri­ence as a two-spir­it Métis artist mak­ing music with at-risk Indige­nous youth in lock­down and car­céral set­tings. She speaks to cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ties and the impor­tance of con­nect­ing with elders when work­ing with Indige­nous youth.

On her artis­tic prac­tice and work in carcer­al settings

(Intro­duc­tion in nēhiyawēwin — Plains Cree language)

Hel­lo every­one, I’ve just intro­duced myself in nēhiyawēwin (Plains Cree lan­guage), one of my ances­tral lan­guages. I’m a two-spir­it Métis artist orig­i­nal­ly from Cal­gary, Alber­ta and treaty sev­en, but I cur­rent­ly reside in Tiohtià:ke / Mooniyang on the unseat­ed ter­ri­to­ry of the Kanien’kehá:ka, the Mohawk peo­ple here in Montreal. 

I’m a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary artist. I focus pri­mar­i­ly on spo­ken word poet­ry, song cre­ation, work­ing with indige­nous lan­guages, inter­gen­er­a­tional and inter­cul­tur­al col­lab­o­ra­tive prac­tices and process­es. I like to cen­ter land-based prac­tices and approach­es in the work I do, whether to be work­ing actu­al­ly on the land, or work­ing with the land of our bod­ies and our ter­ri­to­ries, as tools for decol­o­niza­tion, self-deter­mi­na­tion, and col­lec­tive co-creation. 

I frame my work around the med­i­cine wheel, draw­ing from Métis-Cree world­view, look­ing at the holism of the body, the per­son, the spir­it, and the mind. I like to begin from a place of mus­ca­saw­in, which is a nēhiyawēwin term which refers to belong­ing, find­ing one’s place with­in the cir­cle. A lot of the work I do frames around the cir­cle, look­ing at how we can approach prac­tices from an equal place of belong­ing, of sto­ry­telling, of com­mu­ni­ty, and ori­ent­ing our­selves as both teacher and stu­dent. So we’ve all got some­thing to learn, we’ve all got some­thing to teach.

As one of my late elders Bob Smok­er always says “I’m gonna need you, as much as you’re gonna need me”. This is real­ly cen­tral to the work I do in and out­side of lock­down and incar­cer­al set­tings. I began work­ing in lock­down facil­i­ties through a local lit­er­ary arts orga­ni­za­tion in Mon­tre­al, as part of a writ­ing and poet­ry work­shop. These ses­sions ran for 10 weeks where I would go to the loca­tion once a week and I would work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with the exist­ing teacher or ped­a­gog­i­cal spe­cial­ist and a group of at-risk indige­nous youth. The thing that felt real­ly suc­cess­ful about these work­shops was that there was con­sis­ten­cy, in that it was­n’t just a one-time event. It was recur­ring so it helped me to estab­lish trust and make bonds with the stu­dents over the course of those 10 weeks. It helped me to iden­ti­fy the needs of the stu­dents, their capac­i­ties, abil­i­ties and slow­ly cre­ate a space where more open­ness and more under­stand­ing of my work and prac­tices could be embod­ied and inter­nal­ized for the stu­dents, so that they could actu­al­ly make some of the tools and tech­niques that I was bring­ing to them their own. 

On a project with Indige­nous youth in a carcer­al set­ting 

Hi every­one. My name is Moe Clark. I’m a two-spir­it Métis mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary artist and I’d like to share a lit­tle bit about the val­ue and impor­tance of short-term projects with­in lock­down and incar­cer­al set­tings, work­ing with at-risk under­age indige­nous youth. 

So for me these work­shops began through a local lit­er­ary orga­ni­za­tion who act­ed as a host to con­nect me as a poet-artist-vocal­ist with a local facil­i­ty here in Mon­tre­al. I want to main­tain anonymi­ty so I will not express or name any of the orga­ni­za­tions or insti­tu­tions per­son­al­ly. I will say that these ses­sions were incred­i­bly valu­able and dynam­ic in that I would attend the facil­i­ty one hour per week, over the course of 10 weeks. I would work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with the host teacher with a group of any­where between 5 and 10 youth. To begin the projects, I under­took train­ing through a local fam­i­ly ser­vices orga­ni­za­tion to explore sen­si­tiv­i­ty notions of trau­ma and how to col­lab­o­rate and work with at-risk youth who might be in pre­car­i­ous situations. 

In addi­tion to this, I call on my own toolk­it and bun­dle which includes expe­ri­ence with somat­ic expe­ri­enc­ing which is an embod­ied approach to ther­a­py and a trau­ma-informed lens. It explores and looks at the body as a site of mem­o­ry and cre­ativ­i­ty, as well as a site of a lot of expe­ri­ences. I also draw from prac­tices of med­i­cine wheel teach­ings, which real­ly looks at the four direc­tions and the wholism of the per­son that we have a phys­i­cal, a men­tal, a spir­i­tu­al, and an emo­tion­al body. So real­ly exam­in­ing and explor­ing these four bod­ies as essen­tial aspects to who and how we are in the world. I also draw from expe­ri­ences of over 20 years of cre­ative facil­i­ta­tion, in and out­side of indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, with at-risk youth, with youth with dis­abil­i­ties, and inter­gen­er­a­tional and inter­cul­tur­al collaboration. 

Through­out the course of these 10 ses­sions, we explored dif­fer­ent tools and tech­niques of cre­ative writ­ing and often worked from prompts from oth­er indige­nous authors and cre­ators and musi­cians. When­ev­er pos­si­ble I tried to use tools and prompts that incor­po­rat­ed indige­nous lan­guage and cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic fram­ings that were spe­cif­ic to the youth I was work­ing with. 

I don’t claim to know every­thing there is to know about being indige­nous. I have my own expe­ri­ences as a Métis artist who grew up in the sub­urbs of Cal­gary and cur­rent­ly lives in Tiohtià:ke in Mon­tre­al, but being able to draw from a toolk­it of many dif­fer­ent indige­nous authors, writ­ers, and musi­cians helped me to cre­ate more acces­si­bil­i­ty and inclu­siv­i­ty for the youth I was work­ing with. 

One real­ly valu­able tool dur­ing the work­shops was col­lec­tive cre­ative writ­ing and col­lec­tive song­writ­ing. This gave youth the oppor­tu­ni­ty to voice their ideas and their sto­ries, and to build rela­tion­ships with one anoth­er, with­out the neces­si­ty of hav­ing to be lit­er­ate, hav­ing to have good writ­ing skills, and they were able to laugh. They were able to make dif­fer­ent sounds.

They were able to mim­ic and explore dif­fer­ent sounds from their land­scapes where they were raised, and where they grew up, and where they had cur­rent­ly been tak­en out of, in order to reha­bil­i­tate in a lock­down facil­i­ty in an urban set­ting. To con­clude these 10 work­shops, we cre­at­ed a chat book and this chat book was acknowl­edged and cel­e­brat­ed and each stu­dent left with their own copy of it as a keep­sake and as a mem­oir when they left the facil­i­ty and con­tin­ued on in their lives. So that’s it for short-term projects in lock­down and incar­cer­at­ed situations.

On cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ties when work­ing with Indige­nous youth 

Hi every­one. My name is Moe and I am a two-spir­it mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary metis artist. I’d like to talk now about cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ties and pro­to­cols when work­ing with incar­cer­at­ed youth, 

specif­i­cal­ly indige­nous youth as a Métis artist and cre­ator. I’ve worked exten­sive­ly with indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties folks com­ing from dif­fer­ent nations, dif­fer­ent walks of life, dif­fer­ent per­son­al and col­lec­tive histories. 

I think, first and fore­most, what’s impor­tant to note and what’s impor­tant to do your home­work on, is what are some of the his­tor­i­cal sys­temic and cul­tur­al notions that have led to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of the youth or the com­mu­ni­ty you’re work­ing with. So I real­ly like to exam­ine and look close­ly at the his­to­ry and impacts of res­i­den­tial schools, on the his­to­ry and impact of con­tact in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties. So, when did set­tler com­mu­ni­ties come into Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and how has that impact­ed the cul­tur­al con­tin­u­um, lan­guage con­tin­u­um, and tra­di­tion­al land-based prac­tices of that com­mu­ni­ty. And I like to bring these notions into the work so that I can exam­ine and explore, and also facil­i­tate from a place that is more knowl­edge­able, and more aware and cul­tur­al­ly sen­si­tive to what the par­tic­i­pants might be expe­ri­enc­ing, and how those expe­ri­ences have been informed and impact­ed because of sys­temic sit­u­a­tions and col­o­niza­tion. So that’s step one. 

Step two is also look­ing at an under­stand­ing that each indige­nous peo­ple and each indige­nous nation have dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al con­texts, dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and dif­fer­ent prac­tices of relat­ing, of express­ing, of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. And this type of process is one that as you con­tin­ue to work in the com­mu­ni­ty, you become famil­iar and you get to know and you build rela­tion­ships with the communities.

So I think that’s real­ly the most impor­tant not to make assump­tions, to come with as much infor­ma­tion as you can, and to main­tain a lev­el of curios­i­ty and open­ness to learn­ing about and learn­ing from the com­mu­ni­ties you’re work­ing with. 

In addi­tion to this, I always ensure that I am work­ing with a coun­cil of elders, of com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple that I know and I’ve built trust­ing rela­tion­ships with so that what­ev­er I take with me when I leave those work­shops, I can process and work through with the sup­port and cul­tur­al sup­port of elders. So this might include work­ing with plant med­i­cines, work­ing with dif­fer­ent heal­ing tools. So that what­ev­er I might have picked up dur­ing the work­shops, what­ev­er trau­mas and chal­lenges might have been shared or expressed, I also have a method and a process of work­ing through those dif­fi­cul­ties. And in rela­tion­ship and in con­ver­sa­tion with elders and coun­sel, whether that be oth­er arts facil­i­ta­tors, oth­er teach­ers, I’m also able to speak to and to process some of the chal­lenges that have come up, some of the things where I did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know how to respond, to devel­op and fur­ther my toolk­it to be a bet­ter ally and a bet­ter advo­cate for the needs of the stu­dents and the par­tic­i­pants I’m work­ing with.

On the impor­tance of con­nect­ing with Elders when work­ing with Indige­nous youth 

Hi every­one. My name is Moe and I am a two-spir­it mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary metis artist. I’d like to talk now about cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ties and pro­to­cols when work­ing with incar­cer­at­ed youth, specif­i­cal­ly indige­nous youth as a Métis artist and cre­ator. I’ve worked exten­sive­ly with indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties folks com­ing from dif­fer­ent nations, dif­fer­ent walks of life, dif­fer­ent per­son­al and col­lec­tive histories. 

I think, first and fore­most, what’s impor­tant to note and what’s impor­tant to do your home­work on, is what are some of the his­tor­i­cal sys­temic and cul­tur­al notions that have led to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of the youth or the com­mu­ni­ty you’re work­ing with. So I real­ly like to exam­ine and look close­ly at the his­to­ry and impacts of res­i­den­tial schools, on the his­to­ry and impact of con­tact in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties. So, when did set­tler com­mu­ni­ties come into Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and how has that impact­ed the cul­tur­al con­tin­u­um, lan­guage con­tin­u­um, and tra­di­tion­al land-based prac­tices of that com­mu­ni­ty. And I like to bring these notions into the work so that I can exam­ine and explore, and also facil­i­tate from a place that is more knowl­edge­able, and more aware and cul­tur­al­ly sen­si­tive to what the par­tic­i­pants might be expe­ri­enc­ing, and how those expe­ri­ences have been informed and impact­ed because of sys­temic sit­u­a­tions and col­o­niza­tion. So that’s step one. 

Step two is also look­ing at an under­stand­ing that each indige­nous peo­ple and each indige­nous nation have dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al con­texts, dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and dif­fer­ent prac­tices of relat­ing, of express­ing, of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. And this type of process is one that as you con­tin­ue to work in the com­mu­ni­ty, you become famil­iar and you get to know and you build rela­tion­ships with the communities.

So I think that’s real­ly the most impor­tant not to make assump­tions, to come with as much infor­ma­tion as you can, and to main­tain a lev­el of curios­i­ty and open­ness to learn­ing about and learn­ing from the com­mu­ni­ties you’re work­ing with. 

In addi­tion to this, I always ensure that I am work­ing with a coun­cil of elders, of com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple that I know and I’ve built trust­ing rela­tion­ships with so that what­ev­er I take with me when I leave those work­shops, I can process and work through with the sup­port and cul­tur­al sup­port of elders. So this might include work­ing with plant med­i­cines, work­ing with dif­fer­ent heal­ing tools. So that what­ev­er I might have picked up dur­ing the work­shops, what­ev­er trau­mas and chal­lenges might have been shared or expressed, I also have a method and a process of work­ing through those dif­fi­cul­ties. And in rela­tion­ship and in con­ver­sa­tion with elders and coun­sel, whether that be oth­er arts facil­i­ta­tors, oth­er teach­ers, I’m also able to speak to and to process some of the chal­lenges that have come up, some of the things where I did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know how to respond, to devel­op and fur­ther my toolk­it to be a bet­ter ally and a bet­ter advo­cate for the needs of the stu­dents and the par­tic­i­pants I’m work­ing with.


For more info on Moe Clark, see their artist pro­file HERE. For a taste of what Moe Clark does, see the fol­low­ing project fea­tured on the PCM Hub:

Sound Sto­ries From the Land

For more info on Music In Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion, see HERE

Hugh Chris Brown — On Making Music in Prisons

As part of the Music in Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Resource, Hugh Chris Brown describes his expe­ri­ence in mak­ing music in his pro­gram Pros & Cons and it’s ori­gins, the effi­ca­cy of music in pris­ons, what mak­ing music brought him and the inmates, and self-care prac­tices he uses to sus­tain him­self in this work.

On his first steps estab­lish­ing the prison arts pro­gram Pros & Cons

Hi, my name is Hugh Christo­pher Brown. I iden­ti­fy as he/him, always open to sug­ges­tions for improve­ment. My expe­ri­ence with incar­cer­a­tion and rehab has stemmed sole­ly from a music pro­gram that I devel­oped called the “Pros and Cons” music program. 

Ini­tial­ly, it was a response to the clos­ing of the agri­cul­tur­al pro­grams in pris­ons, a very high­ly suc­cess­ful pro­gram that was being shut down. As a musi­cian, I just thought “Oh I’ll get inside and do what I know how to do and do some­thing pos­i­tive in there”. Because I did­n’t feel that a ben­e­fit for incar­cer­at­ed peo­ple or offend­ers was actu­al­ly going to work, I real­ized at that time that we were deal­ing with a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion. They were vul­ner­a­ble because they had per­pe­trat­ed harm to oth­ers, which is a hard thing for peo­ple to get their heads around. Over the course of the last 10 years, it’s grown to mul­ti­ple insti­tu­tions. It’s now a nation­al char­i­ty and it’s gone from song­writ­ing work­shops to build­ing record­ing stu­dios in pris­ons and releas­ing the record­ings that are made by the inmates that are then linked to char­i­ta­ble pur­suits of the per­pe­tra­tor’s choice. So it’s a mod­el of restora­tive jus­tice and a way of har­ness­ing peo­ple’s time inside of sen­tences in a fruit­ful way. 

My first steps to get­ting inside were through build­ing rela­tion­ships, in my case, with Kate John­son who was a prison chap­lain and made those first work­shops pos­si­ble. Fol­low­ing that, it was about build­ing rela­tion­ships with inmates them­selves ask­ing them what was work­ing, get­ting their advice. I always thought I would build a pro­gram and then give it to Cor­rec­tions but both inmates and Cor­rec­tions offi­cials them­selves said no. This is work­ing because it’s inde­pen­dent and peo­ple are com­ing in of their own volition. 

Fur­ther rela­tion­ships start­ed being built with pro­gram­ming offi­cers and the local Region­al Deputy com­mis­sion­er’s office, which was invalu­able. To this day, I would say com­mu­ni­ca­tion and rela­tion­ships are pri­ma­ry. I’ve also been men­tored by peo­ple who’ve done work in pris­ons for years and in dif­fer­ent aspects, every­thone from cor­rec­tion­al offi­cers to peo­ple com­ing run­ning well­ness and health activities.

There’s a lot to learn and a lot of peo­ple have already done those basic steps, so learn from them.

On the effi­ca­cy of music in prisons

Okay, I’m just going to speak a lit­tle bit now on the effi­ca­cy and pur­pose of music, and, I would say, the arts in gen­er­al in incar­cer­at­ed populations. 

One of the things that’s very dif­fi­cult is the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with crim­i­nal­i­ty, both as a stig­ma­tiz­ing fac­tor, and then as a means of self-defense inside. What I have noticed is folks com­ing into groups, either record­ing or singing, will be ret­i­cent to share. To lit­er­al­ly open their mouths. Then all of a sud­den you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in music and it’s attrac­tive. And music is a tem­po­ral art. You have no oth­er alter­na­tive but to be present, and that present tense as painful as it is, music and art is an emo­tion­al plat­form which can help ease that chal­lenge. I have seen it mul­ti­ple times where folks go from being total­ly reclu­sive to com­plete­ly enthu­si­as­tic, because once they’ve crossed that thresh­old, they want to share that expe­ri­ence with others. 

It’s also giv­ing peo­ple the reins to their own lives. Music is some­thing that they can work on pri­vate­ly. It’s not ordained or judged by oth­ers pri­mar­i­ly, although they will ask me quite often. They just want me to treat them like any oth­er pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian, which I do. The pur­pose of this project keeps chang­ing and expand­ing. At first, it was a response to the can­cel­la­tion not only of the Agri­cul­tur­al pro­grams, but the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the chap­lain­cy and the can­cel­la­tion, in some cas­es, of the culi­nary programs.

And so, it was fill­ing a void. Now, what it’s doing a decade in, is employ­ing peo­ple on the out­side, both in music, engi­neer­ing, spe­cif­ic tasks, but also some­times in com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing. I’m bring­ing inmates back inside to work with cur­rent­ly incar­cer­at­ed peo­ple because that incar­cer­a­tion at that moment goes from being a lia­bil­i­ty to an asset. So I, as a musi­cian, can do a lot of work when I bring in some­one who’s been inside. Mere­ly by their pres­ence, they’re doing work that I can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do. So the pur­pose has expand­ed as a way of glean­ing an employ­able aspect out of the expe­ri­ence of incar­cer­a­tion. Hope­ful­ly that expands for us as the pro­gram expands, now that we’re a nation­al char­i­ty. That’s one of the aspects that the music might serve some­one when they get out of prison in terms of re-inte­gra­tion. The oth­er way that it def­i­nite­ly serves is just in social­iz­ing peo­ple while they’re inside.

On prison cul­ture, and issues expe­ri­enced by inmates inside and out­side pris­ons 

The oth­er way that it def­i­nite­ly serves is just in social­iz­ing peo­ple while they’re inside. Incar­cer­at­ed pop­u­la­tions can be very iso­lat­ed, very encamped, and the music just nat­u­ral­ly becomes ecu­meni­cal. It becomes shared across dif­fer­ent cul­tures. We’ve had an expe­ri­ence where in one case, a white inmate was mak­ing music with rap­pers and he was say­ing, “If my fam­i­ly knew I was in the room with black peo­ple they would dis­own me”. As you know, not a shock­ing state­ment, and also some­thing that then led to weeks of con­ver­sa­tion, and I would think would affect that per­son­’s atti­tude when they’re on the outside. 

By tak­ing care of music togeth­er and by cre­at­ing a prop­er form of inter­de­pen­dence, I think we wit­ness what oth­er peo­ple are use­ful for. We build trust and we real­ize that a lot is pos­si­ble when we have that trust. And that trust that has often been denied to folks who end up in prison long before their incar­cer­a­tion. Some of the cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ties I’d say that we have to rec­og­nize are from the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. I’ll start with the stigma­ti­za­tion of incar­cer­a­tion and scape­goat­ing there­by, because it’s easy to pick on some­one who’s already been fin­gered for doing harm and then trig­ger­ing peo­ple who are trau­ma­tized. If they meet some­one who’s a per­pe­tra­tor of a crime that they’ve suf­fered very often, it’s going to be trig­ger­ing for them.

So these are chal­lenges that we’re meet­ing in our pro­gram as folks grad­u­ate, and as we inte­grate them. The dif­fer­ent ways of address­ing this, I would say, imme­di­ate­ly stem from com­mu­ni­ca­tions and then just fol­low­ing the legal codes as they are. You know, it’s called Cor­rec­tions. It’s not called ‘draw and quar­ter in the pub­lic square and throw peo­ple away’. We work under the ten­ant that every­one is respon­si­ble and no one is dis­pos­able. Some peo­ple can’t hang with that and you don’t want to push but­tons. How­ev­er, expos­ing those kind of prej­u­dices is what we need to do as a civ­il soci­ety if we’re going to advance. And we have gone from draw­ing and quar­ter­ing peo­ple in the pub­lic square to incar­cer­a­tion. Hope­ful­ly we can get a lit­tle more per­fect constantly.

The oth­er cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty, of course on the part of incar­cer­at­ed folks, is imposter syn­drome. When peo­ple start tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for them­selves, it’s scary. I mean you’ve been depend­ing on an insti­tu­tion almost the way we are when we’re in school, and so how that is met is by actu­al­ly being vul­ner­a­ble your­self. 

I, as an artist, have to relate all the time. “Oh yeah I was scared shit­less that time on stage”, or this is what I learned from this per­son, or when I bring in peo­ple to do work­shops and an incar­cer­at­ed per­son will say to me, “Wow I learned a lot that day” … I learned a lot that day! So reg­u­lat­ing and putting your­self on the same lev­el as peo­ple real­ly helps to address that state of imposter syn­drome which can be debilitating.

It can be debil­i­tat­ing for all of us, let alone peo­ple who have served time.

On anonymi­ty, and the ethics of con­tent creation

In terms of the ethics around con­tent cre­ation and what hap­pens to it, I can speak specif­i­cal­ly to our mod­el, which is anonymi­ty in release of the music. So what that does well is it pro­tects the per­pe­tra­tor. It also pro­tects vic­tims who could be trau­ma­tized if they saw some­one’s name tied to a piece of work which might have been very earnest­ly made, but still it would­n’t mat­ter to them. So anonymi­ty, it pro­tects both sides from being tar­get­ed and at the same time you give cre­ative con­trol and own­er­ship to the creator.

So we work on pub­lish­ing, on teach­ing peo­ple how to real­ly reg­u­late and con­trol their own con­tent. They can always do ver­sions when they’re on the out­side. The stuff that they make for the pro­gram is put out free of charge, tied to char­i­ta­ble works. So it’s a way of har­ness­ing the time that peo­ple are spend­ing inside in a very pro­duc­tive way. Using that time to ben­e­fit oth­ers, and keep­ing it clear of the com­mer­cial­iza­tion, and any oth­er thing that might kind of hot­ly become under criticism.

On what mak­ing music in pris­ons brings to him and to inmates

I guess the oth­er thing to talk about is so you know why I’m doing this. I saw the agri­cul­tur­al pro­grams being destroyed that had a 0.1 % recidi­vism rate, mean­ing no one who went through those pro­grams were reof­fend­ing. And I start­ed to under­stand the rea­sons why were because they were look­ing to load pris­ons, and break some­thing, and ratio­nal­ize pri­va­ti­za­tion. It just seemed so cyn­i­cal and dark to me that I just need­ed to become engaged and involved. Music is one of my prin­ci­pal engage­ments with the world, so that’s what I had to offer. I think very quick­ly it became evi­dent to me how impor­tant music is, when I saw it cre­ate so much ener­gy. And there’s lots of sto­ries of peo­ple being reunit­ed with their fam­i­lies through this work, and a grow­ing con­cern for each oth­er in incar­cer­at­ed states. 

Peo­ple have been say­ing to me when they’re about to go and get parole, “Oh I don’t want to leave until this pro­jec­t’s fin­ished” or “Are you going to stay here because this was very impor­tant to my friend who’s still involved here.” And just that notion that they’re think­ing in a out­side method to me is a por­tion of free­dom that this work is afford­ing the indi­vid­ual by their own work. And what I con­sid­er suc­cess is when I see that. There’s two or three peo­ple who have been with this pro­gram a long time that at the end of the day, if it was only about those three peo­ple, the decade of work has been worth it. It’s esti­mat­ed that over a thou­sand have gone through our pro­gram. We’re look­ing to expand and nation­al­ize currently.

That will be great. The suc­cess is real­ly, real­ly per­son­al and very indi­vid­ual, and the amount that I’ve learned doing this has deep­ened and reignit­ed my rela­tion­ship to music and myself.

On self-care and dis­cern­ing your role when work­ing in pris­ons 

All of this work is deeply emo­tion­al. We’re very keen into the expe­ri­ence of oth­ers, so it takes a great deal of self-care. Some of the things that I prac­tice are meditation.

I per­son­al­ly sit an hour a day. I find that’s very, very help­ful for me to dis­cern what my role is with oth­ers. When you’re fac­ing folks who have had a rough go, the seduc­tion is the feel­ing that you can fix. That’s not real­ly what we’re here for. We’re just here to abide and present anoth­er option, and art can help make that attrac­tive. And if you can get out of that ego men­tal­i­ty that you’re fix­ing or help­ing, again, putting your­self on the same lev­el as every­one else, that’s good self-care. It’s kind of let­ting your­self off the hook of respon­si­bil­i­ty that way, and I’d say again, mak­ing your­self vul­ner­a­ble. It’s healthy. It can be scary but it’s the only way I know how to do it. And 10 years in, I’ve had expe­ri­ences where I’ve done ther­a­peu­tic work, plant med­i­cines, well­ness work, the prison work nev­er comes up with­in that con­text as some­thing that is tax­ing me. Quite the oppo­site, it actu­al­ly is giv­ing to me.

It might not be what you’d expect, but when you’re in a place where every moment of atten­tion is appre­ci­at­ed, it is very, very, very pos­i­tive and you just have to divorce your­self from that ego side — of the cor­rec­tor or fixer. 

You’re not that, you’re just a friend really.


For more info on Hugh Chris Brown, see their artist pro­file HERE. For a taste of what Hugh Chris Brown does, see the fol­low­ing projects fea­tured on the PCM Hub:

Pros & Cons

Get­ting Start­ed in Cor­rec­tion­al Institutions

For more info on Music In Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion, see HERE

Leah Abramson — On Making Music In Prisons

As part of the Music in Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Resource, Leah Abram­son describes her expe­ri­ences mak­ing music in a wom­en’s prison in the project Women Rock, the chal­lenges she encoun­tered, and what mak­ing music brought her and the inmates.

On her first steps mak­ing music in prisons

Hi, my name is Leah Abram­son. My pro­nouns are she and her. I’m a musi­cian, com­pos­er, and instruc­tor based in Van­cou­ver, BC — on the unced­ed ter­ri­to­ries of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tseil-Wau­tuth Nations. 

I began work­ing with incar­cer­at­ed women in 2008. I start­ed as a vol­un­teer teach­ing music lessons and, after a few years of vol­un­teer­ing where I could, I start­ed a pro­gram called Women Rock, which was loose­ly based on the Port­land Girls Rock Camp mod­el to teach rock band instru­ments, then song­writ­ing and then help them to form a band. Those pro­grams end­ed around 2016. 

So ini­tial­ly to get start­ed, I looked up the Eliz­a­beth Fry Orga­ni­za­tion to find out how to become a vol­un­teer, and they sort of put me in the right direc­tion. But I did­n’t join them or any­thing like that . Then, I also had to con­tact the prison itself and the social pro­grams offi­cer there to see what need­ed to hap­pen, in order for me to come in and bring instru­ments there, and to talk specifics about who might want to learn, who might want to be a stu­dent there. 

So I went through vol­un­teer train­ing, just gen­er­al vol­un­teer train­ing for the prison which was a few ses­sions, then orga­nized it with the social pro­grams offi­cer. I kind of did it myself but, in order to find those con­tacts, Eliz­a­beth Fry was helpful. 

On the chal­lenges of get­ting music into prisons

It was actu­al­ly hard­er than I thought to go in and pro­vide a free service. 

There’s  a lit­tle bit of skep­ti­cism on the pris­on’s part — why would you want to come in and do this, and why do you real­ly need to bring in all these instru­ments? I sup­pose there is the most skep­ti­cism around the Rock Band pro­gram because rock band, in gen­er­al, is not seen as a reha­bil­i­ta­tive sort of music or reha­bil­i­ta­tive sort of activ­i­ty.  It’s often viewed as rock and roll, deviant, sex, drugs, etc., which was def­i­nite­ly not our pro­gram. In fact, meet­ing peo­ple where they are in terms of the music can be quite reha­bil­i­ta­tive, in terms of learn­ing an instru­ment and get­ting good at some­thing from week to week. 

But we had to pro­vide a lot of infor­ma­tion, demon­strat­ing what had been done in the past in dif­fer­ent places, in order to con­vince the prison author­i­ties. I guess that it was a worth­while activ­i­ty. Also bring­ing instru­ments in, every­thing needs to be scanned, every­thing needs to be pro­vid­ed as a list before­hand. So you need to know exact­ly what you’re tak­ing in. So it’s a chal­lenge. Just on a real orga­ni­za­tion­al lev­el. Often also, the prison is quite far away from Van­cou­ver so it’s quite a dri­ve. So there’s a com­mute of about an hour and a half each way in traf­fic depend­ing on the tim­ing. Then there’s fund­ing which is a whole oth­er thing. 

So for Rock Band for Women Rock I was able to part­ner with an orga­ni­za­tion called Instru­ments Of Change which fundrais­es every year for things like this. So, at the time, we were able to pay our­selves that way. But when I was ini­tial­ly just vol­un­teer­ing, that was just vol­un­teer­ing. So find­ing fund­ing for these things can be real­ly dif­fi­cult as well. Again, because there’s this idea that music is sort of an unnec­es­sary thing or it’s just not nec­es­sar­i­ly as impor­tant as edu­ca­tion or oth­er things that peo­ple might learn. There’s a view that it’s sort of icing on the cake that peo­ple don’t need, which is def­i­nite­ly not my point of view. But I think there’s the per­cep­tion that it’s not some­thing that peo­ple should get. It’s almost like there’s this puni­tive idea that peo­ple should be suf­fer­ing for what they did, instead of reha­bil­i­tat­ing and look­ing at their lives that way. 

So those are some of the things that were a barrier.

On the impor­tance of music in prisons

It’s an expe­ri­ence I think of fond­ly. It had its chal­lenges for sure. It’s not an easy place to go to every week. It’s def­i­nite­ly some­thing that you digest through­out the week that you think about a lot in your day-to-day after­wards. You’re meet­ing lots of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent walks of life, who have poten­tial­ly had a very dif­fer­ent life from you. Also, there are sim­i­lar­i­ties where you think, “oh if my life had gone slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly that could have been me. I could be learn­ing music here instead of this per­son”. So it makes you think a lot about your life and cir­cum­stances, and upbring­ing and priv­i­leges in the world, and things like that. 

But it was also very mean­ing­ful giv­ing peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn music, which is some­thing that I can’t imag­ine my life with­out. I think it is just so mean­ing­ful for peo­ple in their lives and it’s a skill that they can take with them on the out­side as well. I know that some peo­ple have and it con­tin­ues to enrich their lives, just giv­ing peo­ple those musi­cal skills to car­ry on. 

I hope that there’s a way to cre­ate more oppor­tu­ni­ties for this, in a way that’s per­haps even nation­al. A way for peo­ple to under­stand how impor­tant it is to have arts pro­gram­ming in incar­cer­at­ed set­tings. And I hope to find a way to cen­tral­ize so that peo­ple can more eas­i­ly find their way inside to pro­vide things like this.

There is one part of the pro­gram that I did where we actu­al­ly did record­ings, and a num­ber of women were start­ing to write songs and we actu­al­ly worked with them to make record­ings that they could send to their fam­i­lies. And a num­ber of women sent songs to their chil­dren. That was one of the most mean­ing­ful things, and I think it was a real way for them to express them­selves and also con­nect with their fam­i­lies when they weren’t oth­er­wise able to. Some­times their fam­i­lies lived far away and it was a real­ly mean­ing­ful expe­ri­ence for them to com­mu­ni­cate in that way.

For more info on Leah Abram­son, see their artist pro­file HERE
For a taste of what Leah Abram­son does, see the fol­low­ing projects fea­tured on the PCM Hub:
For more info on Music In Incar­cer­a­tion & Reha­bil­i­ta­tion, see HERE.

Sound Waves: An Approach to Layered Soundscape-Making

Sound Waves shares an approach to lay­ered sound­scape-mak­ing that responds to research themes through mul­ti­ple art forms, in order to cre­ate inclu­sive and acces­si­ble sound­scapes, for groups of inter­gen­er­a­tional mixed-abil­i­ty singers, that can be lay­ered into musi­cal com­po­si­tions. These sound­scapes can be pre­cise, impro­vi­sa­tion­al and infused with par­tic­i­pant per­spec­tives and experiences.


This inter­dis­ci­pli­nary work­shop demon­strates an approach to com­mu­ni­ty-engaged music mak­ing that comes out of prac­tices and approached devel­oped by Ruth Howard and Jum­blies The­atre + Arts.


The process was devel­oped by Shifra Coop­er, through com­po­si­tions by Binaeshee-Quae Nabigon Couch­ie,   informed by prac­tices devel­oped by Ruth Howard and Jum­blies The­atre + Arts. It is part of the pro­duc­tion of What Was My Back­yard? a musial show co-pro­duced by Jum­blies, The Com­mu­ni­ty Arts Guild and The­atre Direct. includ­ing over 100 singers through The Gath­er Round Singers and UTSC Con­cert Choir, and key con­tri­bu­tions from asso­ciate artists Tijana Spa­sic, Natal­ie Fasheh and Patrick Murray.


We invite you to fol­low, enjoy and adapt these steps for sound­scape-cre­ation, to suit your own inter­ests and con­texts. If you are inter­est­ed in the themes or pro­duc­tion of What Was My Back­yard?,  please don’t hes­i­tate to be in touch for infor­ma­tion about licens­ing the music or show.


Sound Waves: An Approach to Lay­ered Sound Making


1. Build Rela­tion­ships and Do Research

This flex­i­ble sound-cre­ation process can be as brief as one work­shop, or take many ses­sions, enriched by deep­er explo­rations and grow­ing rela­tion­ships. Our col­lab­o­ra­tive work­shops grew out of many rich, long-term fac­tors, including:

  • Learn­ing from expert, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary com­mu­ni­ty-engaged artists at Jum­blies The­atre + Arts

  • Col­lab­o­ra­tions with Indige­nous and non-Indige­nous artists through the What Was My Back­yard? Project

  • And invest­ing in The Gath­er Round Singers Choir as an inclu­sive, wel­com­ing, all ages choral space for singers of all expe­ri­ence levels.

2. Share Research
In our case, this was a pre­sen­ta­tion by Com­pos­er Binaeshee-Quae to the choir about the role and impor­tance of Water with­in the musi­cal piece

But this could be any source con­tent shared by an expert of any kind!


3. Choose an Image

Choose an image from what was shared. Our image was a wave, but you could choose any image that con­nects to your con­text. Exam­ples could include: leaves, music notes, foot­prints, fish etc). Cre­ate enough copies so that each singer can have one; card­board and pas­tels are rec­om­mend. (See project score or video for examples).

4. Gen­er­ate Text
Come up with sim­ple ques­tions that will invite com­mu­ni­ty respons­es to the research shared. Use these to gen­er­ate text and write them on your card­board images. our ques­tions were:

  • Think of an out­door space that you spend time in, either cur­rent­ly, or in your own memory/personal history.

  • What is some­thing you know or won­der about the Indige­nous and ancient his­to­ry of this place?

5. Play with Move­ment and Sound
Lead par­tic­i­pants through impro­vi­sa­tions to respond to key images and ideas. Our impro­vi­sa­tions start­ed with move­ment, led by Tijana Spa­sic, slow­ly adding com­mu­ni­ty-gen­er­at­ed move­ments and sounds to acti­vate our waves.

6. Select a Sound Vocabulary
Out of your impro­vi­sa­tions and explo­rations, decide on a sound vocab­u­lary of 2–4 dis­tinct prompts. Our sound prompts for mov­ing water were devel­oped by Com­pos­er Binaeshee-Quae out of com­mu­ni­ty explo­rations: Drip, Swish, Ahh. Take time to build sound­scapes using this vocab­u­lary and build famil­iar­i­ty with the impro­vi­sa­tion­al form.

7. Infuse the Sound Vocab­u­lary with Text

Invite com­mu­ni­ty singers to choose one word they have writ­ten down. For exam­ple, if some­one wrote: “I know this was once full of grass,” they might choose the word grass.

Prac­tice per­form­ing this word in a vari­ety of ways (ex: whis­per, sing, stretch) to build con­fi­dence and famil­iar­i­ty with it.


Then, map this word against the sound vocab­u­lary to build a new sound­scape, infused with par­tic­i­pant stories/perspectives. For exam­ple, in our sound­scape, this would mean per­form­ing the word grass in the style of a Drip, Swish, and Ahh.


See project video for an exam­ple of this in action!


8. Lay­er in Oth­er Music/Movement

Once your sound­scape is estab­lished, you can lay­er in oth­er forms, includ­ing the move­ment gen­er­at­ed in ear­li­er steps.


Your sound­scape may accom­pa­ny a move­ment piece, or anoth­er melody. In our case, the water sound­scape accom­pa­nied a solo melody as part of the What Was My Back­yard? per­for­mance. See our project video to expe­ri­ence these lay­ers com­ing together.



For more infor­ma­tion about The Gath­er Round Singers or What Was My Back­yard? visit


For more infor­ma­tion about Binaeshee-Quae’s music, vis­it

Energy Matters Workshop (Part A): Embodied Listening to Energy Crisis

Art caus­es peo­ple to ques­tion or con­sid­er their own beliefs, assump­tions, or val­ues. It can offer new pos­si­bil­i­ties, solu­tions, and alter­na­tives to cur­rent con­di­tions. Sound Arts enhance our capac­i­ty to notice the world in unusu­al ways. Art helps us to lis­ten bet­ter. There are many ben­e­fits of lis­ten­ing to the world deeply as it cul­ti­vates empa­thy, trust, inclu­sion, com­pas­sion, and more. Hilde­gaard West­erkamp, the pio­neer­ing sound­scape com­pos­er writes:

“Lis­ten­ing not only grounds us with­in our own inner world from which inspi­ra­tion springs, but most impor­tant­ly, it inspires new ideas, and new approach­es to study­ing the sound­scape, and it changes the qual­i­ty of sound­mak­ing, speak­ing and musi­cal expres­sion. Tak­ing the time to lis­ten goes against today’s 24/7 sta­tus quo of a hec­tic pace and stress, of rac­ing toward rich­es and suc­cess, of nev­er hav­ing time and always being impor­tant­ly busy. In this larg­er con­text, lis­ten­ing is a con­scious prac­tice in learn­ing to change our pace in a soci­ety dan­ger­ous­ly speed­ing out of con­trol. Out of that doing comes an entire­ly new expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge.” (THE DISRUPTIVE NATURE OF LISTENING: TODAY, YESTERDAY, TOMORROW, p.47)

As part of my artist res­i­den­cy at FUTURES/Forward, the Inter­na­tion­al Cen­ter of Arts for Social Change (ICASC) fund­ed by the Cana­da Coun­cil for the Arts and the Met­calf Foun­da­tion and Tri­co Change­mak­ers Stu­dio at Mount Roy­al Uni­ver­si­ty fund­ed by the Cal­gary Arts Devel­op­ment, I part­nered with Alber­ta Ecotrust to apply my artis­tic prac­tice of deep lis­ten­ing and sound­scape com­po­si­tion to ini­ti­ate arts-inspired dia­logue on ener­gy affordability.

Ener­gy is an increas­ing con­cern for many Cana­di­ans; how­ev­er, speak­ing about (un)affordability con­tin­ues to hold the stig­ma amongst peo­ple who are expe­ri­enc­ing dif­fi­cul­ties pay­ing the ener­gy bills on the one hand and on the oth­er hand the issue is not pri­or­i­tized by new reg­u­la­tions for clean elec­tric­i­ty and Canada’s prompt tran­si­tion to net zero. In the series of com­mu­ni­ty-engaged arts work­shops, Ener­gy Mat­ters, we involved stake­hold­ers to address ques­tions such as: How vital is ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty in devel­op­ing #sus­tain­able #cities? How do cli­mate change and Canada’s tran­si­tion to Net­Ze­ro impact low-income groups strug­gling with ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty? Why must afford­able hous­ing inte­grate ener­gy affordability?

The activ­i­ties out­lined in this por­tal would be help­ful to any envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion hold­ing a sim­i­lar kind of arts-inspired dia­logue on the cli­mate cri­sis, ener­gy jus­tice, and cli­mate jus­tice. The guid­ed med­i­ta­tion attached to this project would help prac­ti­tion­ers in cre­at­ing a safe and inclu­sive space where par­tic­i­pants could dis­cuss their work on ener­gy poverty.

1) Begin each work­shop by cre­at­ing a safe space that brings togeth­er the community’s under­stand­ing of what “safe space” means and how it would be nurtured.

2) Wel­come com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers into the space and prac­tice an activ­i­ty for ground­ing and cen­tring that helps indi­vid­u­als to over­come their resis­tance and nur­tures more open­ness. This can be done with a med­i­ta­tion that brings atten­tion to the breath and to the sen­so­ry stim­uli around or with a walk­ing meditation.

Here is an exam­ple of a guid­ed prac­tice and the attached score and video is an exam­ple of how it is con­duct­ed in a work­shop set­ting. See the score below for a down­load­able ver­sion. You can find audio exam­ples of sim­i­lar guid­ed med­i­ta­tion prac­tices for work­shops in the guid­ed med­i­ta­tion links below.


Walk­ing Med­i­ta­tion for Ground­ing and Lis­ten­ing to the Earth’s Pulse

Stand with feet about shoul­der-width apart. Shoul­ders relaxed, soles of the feet con­nect­ed to the earth, knees a lit­tle soft, palms at the sides. Eyes are in soft focus, see­ing everything.



Adopt a nat­ur­al stance. Bring your atten­tion to the soles of the feet. Imag­ine that you are grow­ing roots down into the earth. Let the roots be your anchor­ing to the earth.

Since the soles of the feet let the ener­gy of the body sink into the soles and roots. The knees are a lit­tle soft to pro­mote circulation.

Shoul­ders are relaxed. Palms of the hands relaxed.



Vis­it your heart and allow a very pleas­ant mem­o­ry to emerge.

Visu­al­ize and light up your spine trav­el­ling from the tip of the tail­bone, ver­te­bra by

ver­te­bra up into the skull.

Imag­ine a gold­en thread shoot­ing out of the crown of your head to a dis­tant star.

Imag­ine that the upper part of your body is float­ing sus­pend­ed from a star. Try to

bal­ance the feel­ing of the low­er body root­ed to the earth and the relaxed floating

sen­sa­tion of the upper body.

The chin is tucked under a bit to help align the spine.

Try to bring your body into this align­ment at dif­fer­ent times of the day whether you are

sit­ting, stand­ing or walking.



Now repeat this affir­ma­tion: With each step, I feel the earth hold­ing me, sup­port­ing me, sus­tain­ing me. I am simul­ta­ne­ous­ly slow­ing each breath.”

Thank you for join­ing me in this guid­ed practice.

*The words and phras­es in square brack­ets need not be said aloud. It is to help the guid­ed prac­ti­tion­er to pause as the med­i­ta­tion tran­si­tions from one phase into another.

  1. After this guid­ed med­i­ta­tion, the par­tic­i­pants can be engaged in ques­tions for reflec­tions on the jam board fol­lowed by activ­i­ties that engage them in an artis­tic activ­i­ty and a dia­logue per­tain­ing to ener­gy acces­si­bil­i­ty. For more details, please refer to part b) and part c) of this project.

Energy Matters Workshop (Part B): An Auditory Approach to Energy Accessibility

Art can become a means to inte­grate mar­gin­al­ized voic­es into the con­ver­sa­tion. It can voice aspects of the issue not oth­er­wise expressed in pub­lic doc­u­ments or pol­i­cy state­ments. Art helps us to lis­ten bet­ter. How might we har­ness the pow­er of arts to explore issues around ener­gy acces­si­bil­i­ty? Ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty is an increas­ing con­cern for many Cana­di­ans; how­ev­er, speak­ing about (un)affordability con­tin­ues to be prob­lem­at­ic. In the series of com­mu­ni­ty-engaged arts work­shops, Ener­gy Mat­ters, we involved stake­hold­ers to address ques­tions such as: How vital is ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty in devel­op­ing sus­tain­able cities? How do cli­mate change and Canada’s tran­si­tion to Net Zero impact low-income groups strug­gling with ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty? Why must Afford­able Hous­ing inte­grate ener­gy affordability?

I was priv­i­leged to col­lab­o­rate (as the FUTURES/for­ward and Tri­co Change­mak­ers Studio’s artist-in-res­i­dence in co-cre­at­ing and facil­i­tat­ing the Ener­gy Mat­ters project) with Alber­ta Ecotrust (SEE the LINKS BELOW for more infor­ma­tion) and their part­ners (ACORN, Kam­bo, Ener­gy Effi­cien­cy, All One Sky, and oth­ers) in their Ener­gy Pover­ty and Home Upgrades Pro­gramEner­gy Mat­ters was a series of par­tic­i­pa­to­ry arts work­shops where par­tic­i­pants (stake­hold­ers who were ener­gy advo­cates with­in their orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing Home Upgrades pro­gram staff at Alber­ta Ecotrust and advo­cates from Ecotrust’s part­ners: ACORN, All One Sky, and Cal­gary Alliance for the Com­mon Good) engaged in arts-based dia­logue around ener­gy pover­ty using cre­ative activ­i­ties to reflect on the ways ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty is con­nect­ed with cli­mate change and the pro-poor poli­cies that could gen­er­ate more equi­ty.  The project was based on inter­sec­tion­al ethics of care that looked at the ways ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty impacts var­i­ous sec­tions of our soci­ety, includ­ing seniors, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, women, and newcomers.

Each work­shop start­ed with an activ­i­ty that involved embod­ied deep lis­ten­ing and attun­ing the ear to approach ques­tions about ener­gy unaf­ford­abil­i­ty from an audi­to­ry approach that facil­i­tates cre­at­ing sound arts for social change. Refer to Part A in PCM hub to see an exam­ple of this activ­i­ty. Part B will assist you in cre­at­ing prompts for par­tic­i­pants to reflect on.


1)    Fol­low­ing a guid­ed med­i­ta­tion, involve the par­tic­i­pants in an audi­to­ry reflec­tion activ­i­ty that per­tains to their every­day real­i­ties and their expe­ri­ence of them. See below for examples:

Exam­ple 1: What is the one sound that you heard this morn­ing that brought you here today. [See the attached video]

Exam­ple 2: What are the sounds that you find agree­able and calming?

Exam­ple 3: What are the sounds that you find unpleas­ant and dis­rupt­ing your comfort?


2)    Next, engage the par­tic­i­pants in a reflec­tion that per­tains to their work on ener­gy accessibility.

See the images below as an exam­ple of how the par­tic­i­pants were involved in a crit­i­cal­ly self-reflex­ive dia­logue that ensured the cre­ation of a space of open­ness and mutu­al respect where they shared the bias­es and prej­u­dices that they bring to their work on ener­gy acces­si­bil­i­ty. Par­tic­i­pants were asked to ques­tion the bias­es and prej­u­dices they bring to their work address­ing ener­gy inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty. What are the lim­i­ta­tions to their lis­ten­ing to peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing the cri­sis of ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty?  [See the respons­es of one group in the jam board in the image gallery below]


3)    Ask par­tic­i­pants to read oth­er respons­es on the jam board and share their per­spec­tives. [See the attached video for an exam­ple of this activity].



Energy Matters Workshops (PART C): Deep Listening to Energy Accessibility with Sound Recording Activities

The Ener­gy Mat­ters work­shop series was locat­ed at the inter­sec­tions of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and par­tic­i­pa­to­ry sound art for cli­mate action and jus­tice, involv­ing sto­ries, sounds, word bub­bles, ges­tures, and move­ment. In these work­shops, we co-cre­at­ed deep lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ences and new sound­scape com­po­si­tions based on artis­tic activ­i­ties facil­i­tat­ed by Shu­maila Hemani. The con­tent of these work­shops will be adapt­ed to tai­lor par­tic­i­pants’ needs, inter­ests, and assets.

We aimed at cre­at­ing a safe and inclu­sive space where par­tic­i­pants can dis­cuss their work on ener­gy pover­ty, what brought them to this work, and how it has impact­ed the ways they under­stand and engage with the con­cept of home or dwelling. It will give them a space to share how their sub­jec­tiv­i­ty (age, race, gen­der, dis­abil­i­ties, etc.) influ­ences how they approach ener­gy poverty.

We inves­ti­gat­ed the present under­stand­ing of this sub­ject with­in Alber­ta and Cana­da, and what kinds of chal­lenges or stig­mas peo­ple con­front in access­ing sup­port to ensure ener­gy afford­abil­i­ty. To ensure equi­ty, inclu­sion, and fair­ness, we engaged the par­tic­i­pants in a crit­i­cal­ly self-reflex­ive dia­logue that ensures cre­at­ing a space of open­ness and mutu­al respect. One such prac­tice could be gath­er­ing par­tic­i­pants’ pre­cepts around pover­ty and ener­gy con­sump­tion, ener­gy tran­si­tions, and ener­gy pover­ty through a vari­ety of cre­ative activities.

There are many ben­e­fits of deeply lis­ten­ing to the world as it cul­ti­vates empa­thy, trust, inclu­sion, com­pas­sion, and more.

1) Ini­ti­ate a dia­logue on ener­gy acces­si­bil­i­ty by ask­ing the par­tic­i­pants to lis­ten to their domes­tic set­tings and how dif­fer­ent sounds in their spaces make them feel.

Exam­ple of a Prompt: How do you lis­ten to the sources of ener­gy and ener­gy con­sump­tion around you such as the burn­ing of fos­sil fuels through fur­naces, engines, and more? Can you list the sounds of ener­gy con­sump­tion in your domes­tic set­tings and how you relate to those sounds? [See the image below for how par­tic­i­pants respond­ed on the jam board] [Lis­ten to the attached audio to see how par­tic­i­pants described the sounds in their domes­tic settings]


2) Ask the par­tic­i­pants to make any sound record­ings of the ener­gy end uses in their domes­tic set­tings. Allot 5 min­utes for this activity


3) Ask the par­tic­i­pants to share any sound record­ings of the ener­gy end uses in their domes­tic set­tings and why did they choose this sound, how do they relate to this sound, and whether are there any mem­o­ries that this sound brings to their mind? [Lis­ten to the attached audio for an iter­a­tion of this activity]


4)    Next, engage the par­tic­i­pants in a dia­logue about their jour­neys and work on ener­gy acces­si­bil­i­ty. [See the attached video of par­tic­i­pants talk­ing about how they came to this work.

Exam­ple of a prompt: How do you relate to the ques­tion of ener­gy inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty in your life? Reflect on defin­ing moments that inspired you to become advo­cates, lead­ers, change­mak­ers, and artists address­ing ener­gy pover­ty. (Watch the video below for an iter­a­tion of this activity.)



Energy Matters Workshops (PART D): Deep Listening to Energy Accessibility with Dialogues on Energy Accessibility

The sound­scape com­pos­er, Hilde­gaard West­erkamp writes, “True recep­tive lis­ten­ing comes from an inner place of non-threat, sup­port and safe­ty. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, while a ground­ed and calm state of mind, a sense of safe­ty, peace and relax­ation are essen­tial for inspir­ing per­cep­tu­al wake­ful­ness and a will­ing­ness and desire to open our ears, nor­mal rou­tines, habits and pat­terns will be dis­rupt­ed and laid bare in such a process of lis­ten­ing; nois­es and dis­com­forts inevitably will be noticed, and all kinds of expe­ri­ences will be stirred and uncov­ered. Lis­ten­ing in fact implies a pre­pared­ness to meet the unpre­dictable. and unplanned, to wel­come the unwel­come. As such, lis­ten­ing is inher­ent­ly dis­rup­tive as it puts a wrench into the habit­u­al flows of time, and habit­u­al behav­iour of dai­ly life. ” (THE DISRUPTIVE NATURE OF LISTENING: TODAY, YESTERDAY, TOMORROW, p.45)

Is there a sin­gu­lar expe­ri­ence of ener­gy pover­ty? The experts describe ener­gy pover­ty as an ele­phant in the room being explored by peo­ple who under­stand ener­gy pover­ty from their own posi­tion­al­i­ty. Yet, despite the ambi­gu­i­ty of this term, there con­tin­ues to be a high degree of stig­ma around dis­cussing ener­gy inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty in pub­lic debates. What is usu­al­ly men­tioned in the reports is impor­tant but equal­ly so is that which is left unsaid or does not find its way into the main­stream con­ver­sa­tion. In these arts-based activ­i­ties, we will re-dis­cov­er those places of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that make us look at ener­gy pover­ty through a com­pas­sion­ate lens.


1) Dis­trib­ute a recent report on ener­gy inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty or a rel­e­vant top­ic and ask the par­tic­i­pants to reflect on it in advance. Exam­ple: Clean Elec­tric­i­ty report by Cana­di­an Cli­mate Insti­tute pub­lished in June 2023 (please see score sec­tion for report).


2) Involve par­tic­i­pants in a dia­logue about the report.  Use the fol­low­ing prompts as an example:

Prompt 1: What do folks think about this report?
Prompt 2: Has this report missed anything?

Prompt 3: Are the sta­tis­tics to be accept­ed as facts or is there some­thing that the report is not saying?


3) Depend­ing on the com­fort lev­el of par­tic­i­pants, go deep­er and take a more ana­lyt­i­cal and crit­i­cal stance by ask­ing a direct ques­tion where their exper­tise will be prompted.

Exam­ple 1: The report says that clean elec­tric­i­ty is cheap­er. Do you agree/disagree and why?

Exam­ple 2: Are there any oth­er ideas that are com­ing to your mind?


[Watch the video exam­ple as an iter­a­tion of this activity]

sonic cellphone meditation

This son­ic med­i­ta­tion allows par­tic­i­pants to impro­vise vocal­ly while explor­ing an out­door space with oth­ers. It is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to walk while singing, observ­ing the con­stant­ly chang­ing sounds of oth­er singers and phones. It is also an oppor­tu­ni­ty to lis­ten to the effects of phys­i­cal space on cer­tain sounds as well as the evolv­ing respons­es of oth­er singers. It invites focal lis­ten­ing (to one’s own cell­phone) as well as glob­al lis­ten­ing (to the oth­er voic­es, oth­er cell­phones and sur­round­ing sounds.

The cell­phone, using a free app ( plays a series of GPS trig­gered sounds as par­tic­i­pants walk through each zone. Instruc­tions are giv­en (son­i­cal­ly) at the begin­ning of the walk, invit­ing singers to either sing in uni­son or on any oth­er note any­time in response to the son­ic prompts they receive from their phone. The prompts are eas­i­ly pro­gram­ma­ble on the Echoes app.

In one case, the words ‘here’ and ‘now’ were sung on extend­ed tones and played in dif­fer­ent zones around a park area. Grad­u­al­ly par­tic­i­pants began to explore inter­act­ing with each oth­er. See video below.

It is social singing while being out­doors, ide­al­ly in a pub­lic space giv­ing every­one equal foot­ing on the area. (GPS is not as effec­tive indoors).

Where: Any out­door area with any par­tic­u­lar inter­est, geo­graph­i­cal­ly, social­ly, logistically
Dura­tion: 20 min­utes would be a minimum
Participants/Target Audi­ence: Any­one who loves group singing and listening.
Group Size: Any size is pos­si­ble. The greater the num­ber, the more vocal and cell­phone prompts, enrich­ing the son­ic possibilities.

Find a site that you would like to explore vocal­ly with oth­ers, one that you enjoy being in. Use the app to cre­ate your own walk by cre­at­ing ‘zones’ of any size filled with any sound you like, on a loop or just once. Invite par­tic­i­pants to down­load the free app which plays your walk when enter­ing the des­ig­nat­ed zones. One can stay in any zone for any length of time.

Par­tic­i­pants sing along in uni­son or any oth­er note any­time in each zone. Oth­er son­ic med­i­ta­tions can be cre­at­ed from dif­fer­ent kinds of son­ic prompts to elic­it dif­fer­ent kinds of vocal responses.

“The chal­lenge of com­pos­ing loops, their tonal­i­ties and rhythms, was inspir­ing for me. To hear stac­ca­to orches­tral hits, on my device and then mil­lisec­onds lat­er on another’s tick­led me. To hear har­monies and dis­so­nances dance at their own whim also was endear­ing. ” Josh Four­ney, participant.

Newcomer Youth Engagement Program: Music and Literacy

The New­com­er Youth Engage­ment project con­nects music and lit­er­a­cy while also con­nect­ing our uni­ver­si­ty and a com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports edu­ca­tion­al ini­tia­tives for new­com­ers to Canada.

Who we are: Our music team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Saskatchewan part­nered with the Saska­toon Indus­try Edu­ca­tion Coun­cil and New­com­er Youth Engage­ment Pro­gram which is fund­ed by Immi­gra­tion, Refugees and Cit­i­zen­ship Cana­da.   There are approx­i­mate­ly 18 stu­dents in each of the two class­es, and they range from 17–21 years of age.

Our goals: Togeth­er, our team has devel­oped orig­i­nal cur­ric­u­la and we engage the stu­dents each week in musi­cal activ­i­ties of singing and play­ing instru­ments that con­nect to themes of their lan­guage stud­ies to devel­op lan­guage skills in writ­ten and oral communication.

An impor­tant goal of the col­lab­o­ra­tion is to “Cel­e­brate that everyone’s music is Cana­di­an music and con­tributes to the fab­ric of Canada’s cul­ture” and that this learn­ing expe­ri­ence will facil­i­tate the shar­ing of the stu­dents’ cul­tures and sup­port the youths’ sense of belong­ing and con­nec­tion to their own cul­ture and the new coun­try to which they are integrating.

Songs of Success:

1) The music we use in our iter­a­tive cur­ricu­lum design invites the music from the stu­dents’ coun­tries of ori­gin and we also use some tried and test­ed ear­ly years songs in Eng­lish that teach vocab­u­lary and devel­op their lit­er­a­cy skills.

2) We have incor­po­rat­ed Pop­u­lar Music songs through­out the pro­gram. As the stu­dents’ lan­guage skills devel­oped and we had devel­oped a rela­tion­ship of trust where they felt val­ued through their music, we explored con­cepts of rhythm and beat through con­tem­po­rary songs that they shared from their coun­tries of ori­gin. We also incor­po­rat­ed some more con­tem­po­rary Eng­lish songs into the lan­guage stud­ies and the stu­dents respond­ed very favourably to learn­ing the words, themes, mes­sages and mean­ings of the songs we introduced.

Com­ple­ment­ing Activ­i­ties: Since many of the stu­dents would have heard the songs, we could focus on writ­ten lit­er­a­cy skills through read­ing and writ­ing the words.

We incor­po­rat­ed var­i­ous activ­i­ties with the lyrics includ­ing post-it note activ­i­ties in which stu­dents had to unscram­ble the phras­es in the song or song titles to put them in order, or find the incor­rect words (often rhyming words) on the board and cor­rect them with the prop­er word found in the song.

At the end of the year, we com­piled a playlist of the songs we have learned and sung that show­cased the stu­dents’ art­work from their art class that high­light­ed the theme of each song.

Les­son Struc­ture:  A les­son is one hour and fol­lows a typ­i­cal les­son struc­ture as follows:

  • Wel­come song
  • Call & response rhythms & melodies
  • Learn­ing new songs – (Graph­ics on screen, hand ges­tures – to indi­cate oppo­sites, con­trac­tions, literal/figurative, etc. — and tac­tile & kines­thet­ic activ­i­ties — post-it note games, assem­ble a snow­man on the board, stand up when your birth­day is sung in the “Months of the Year” song, raise hand when we sing an adjec­tive, etc. are all essen­tial as we learn new song lyrics.)
  • Play­ing per­cus­sion instru­ments (lis­ten & play-back exer­cis­es, play­ing along to a song, find­ing the beat of a song, and using instru­ments to help cre­ate word-based rhythms)
  • A review of today’s learning
  • Good­bye song

Project Out­comes:

  • Increased social bonding/cohesion
  • Increased lan­guage com­pre­hen­sion, facil­i­ty, and flu­en­cy which can even be marked by obser­va­tions of stu­dents using lan­guage for humour
  • Ease of com­mu­ni­ca­tion through singing
  • Rich oppor­tu­ni­ties to explore new words, gram­mar con­cepts, col­lo­qui­alisms, con­nec­tions, and ideas pro­vid­ed through exam­i­na­tion of song lyrics
  • The sense of pride & belong­ing stu­dents demon­strate when their favourite music and places from their home coun­tries are part of class activities.
  • Increased agency in their deci­sion-mak­ing and input for artis­tic choices

Birdsong Course

Bird­song course

Designed and imple­ment­ed in Plai­sance by Frédérique Dro­let and Mar­i­ane Lacroix (2022)

1. Con­text

The bird­song course was designed by Frédérique Dro­let (sopra­no) and Mar­i­ane Lacroix (nat­u­ral­ist from Parc nation­al de Plai­sance) in 2022. The activ­i­ty was cre­at­ed specif­i­cal­ly for the Grand défi ornithologique des parcs nationaux, orga­nized on June 11, 2022 by the Sépaq net­work, the mag­a­zine Québe­cOiseaux and the bird watch­ing clubs of sev­er­al regions of south­ern Que­bec. It has been devel­oped for an inter­gen­er­a­tional fam­i­ly audi­ence, suit­able for bird­watch­ing enthu­si­asts or neophytes.

This work­shop was designed to combine :

  • The edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion of the Park regard­ing the con­ser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of biodiversity
  • A cre­ative artis­tic approach through the explo­ration of the voice
  • The goal is to make art in nature and to sharp­en our sense of obser­va­tion of nature, thus open­ing us to the infi­nite source of inspi­ra­tion that it offers us.

2. Edu­ca­tion­al objectives

To dis­cov­er a num­ber of bird species in Que­bec (in par­tic­u­lar the breed­ing birds of Parc nation­al de Plaisance)

To learn spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion about these birds with the help of :

  • pho­tos
  • sci­en­tif­ic data
  • sound record­ings
  • warm-ups and play­ful vocal exer­cis­es inspired by their songs, their approach­es, their characteristics
  • Learn to rec­og­nize bird songs using the human voice
  • Explore the dif­fer­ent sounds of our voice
  • Dis­cov­er our cre­ative potential
  • Intro­duc­tion to cer­tain musi­cal and the­atri­cal con­cepts such as rhythm, pitch, tim­bre, nuances, phys­i­cal­i­ty, etc.
  • Col­lab­o­ra­tion and social­iza­tion through inter­gen­er­a­tional teamwork

3. Gen­er­al course of the work­shop (90 minutes)

  1. Wel­come and pre­sen­ta­tion of the activ­i­ty to the participants
  2. Ice­break­er game in a cir­cle to get to know each oth­er and estab­lish the group dynamic
  3. Vocal, body and rhyth­mic warm-up activ­i­ties inspired by birds
  4. Dis­cov­ery of the breed­ing birds of the Parc nation­al de Plai­sance (between 3 and 5)
  5. Activ­i­ty of cre­at­ing imag­i­nary bird songs
  6. Con­clu­sion

4. Warm-up activities

Most of the warm-ups are inspired by birds from here and else­where, whether by their song, their call, their gait, their phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics or cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics of their habi­tat or behaviour.

To elab­o­rate these warm-ups, we can be inspired by the obser­va­tion of birds in our envi­ron­ment, but also by videos, record­ings (the Mer­lin Birds appli­ca­tion is a real trea­sure!), books and pho­tos. Here are some examples:

  • Stretch­ing and mobil­i­ty exer­cis­es: wrig­gling, mov­ing only your eyes like a pigeon, spread­ing your wings
  • Rhythm exer­cis­es (walking/body per­cus­sion): with fun sounds, such as mov­ing in a hoop doing the “chick­en cha-cha” (123-pock-pock-pock) or doing a courtship with coloured scarves
  • Breath­ing exer­cis­es (low/rhythmic breath­ing with walk­ing): rap­tor glide (exhale on tsss… as long as pos­si­ble while extend­ing arms)

Bird inspired vocal warm-ups:

  • Wild turkey (ah! Gobble-gobble!)
  • Amer­i­can Bit­tern (wood­block, water sound, tongue click, imi­tate cat­tail in the wind)
    Singing spar­row (brrr…)

5. Dis­cov­er­ing nest­ing birds

This sec­tion was devel­oped joint­ly with Mar­i­ane Lacroix, nat­u­ral­ist of the Parc nation­al de Plai­sance, with the goal of intro­duc­ing par­tic­i­pants to some of the breed­ing birds of the Park or the sur­round­ing area, which they could then iden­ti­fy dur­ing their future walks.

The selec­tion of the few birds was made by Frédérique, from a long list pro­vid­ed by Mar­i­ane. To repro­duce bird songs with the voice (and not by whistling) requires many hours of lis­ten­ing to the songs (on the Mer­lin Birds appli­ca­tion, for exam­ple), of vocal explo­ration and… imag­i­na­tion! The goal is not to per­fect­ly repro­duce the bird’s song or call, but to make sure that the par­tic­i­pants will be able to rec­og­nize the bird’s song in nature after hav­ing prac­ticed it while hav­ing fun. For this rea­son, the birds to be pre­sent­ed in this sec­tion must be care­ful­ly selected.

Pro­ce­dure for each of the birds chosen:

  • Singing quiz: the artist-medi­a­tor does a free imi­ta­tion of the bird in ques­tion, with­out reveal­ing its name to the par­tic­i­pants. The par­tic­i­pants try to guess the name of the bird in question.
  • Pre­sen­ta­tion of the bird (name, habi­tat, bio­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics, pho­to, etc.) by the naturalist
  • Lis­ten­ing to the bird’s song/cries on the Mer­lin Birds application
  • Vocal exer­cis­es and fun games inspired by the bird, sound speci­fici­ties: briefly dis­cuss cer­tain musi­cal con­cepts such as tim­bre, pitch, rhythm
  • Learn­ing the bird’s song (voice and stag­ing): break down the dif­fer­ent parts and cre­ate a fun lit­tle choreography!

6. Imag­i­nary Bird Activity

Fol­low­ing the pre­vi­ous dis­cov­ery activ­i­ty, which con­tains both infor­ma­tion about exist­ing birds and their nat­ur­al habi­tat, and musi­cal exer­cis­es, par­tic­i­pants are now invit­ed to cre­ate their own imag­i­nary bird song.


  • Form teams of 2 or more people
  • Explain the process
  • Give the instruc­tions to be respected:
  • The song must be repeatable
  • The song must be short
  • The song must be teach­able to the oth­er participants
  • You must find a name for your bird
  • Give an exam­ple with cer­tain para­me­ters cho­sen at ran­dom or giv­en by the participants
  • Invite teams to pick up col­ored scarves dur­ing their prepa­ra­tion, if they wish
  • Dis­tri­b­u­tion of para­me­ters to teams

The para­me­ters writ­ten on paper are pre­pared either by the medi­a­tor in advance, or by the par­tic­i­pants them­selves dur­ing the work­shop (this can be a prepara­to­ry activ­i­ty for the cre­ation of imag­i­nary bird songs, see point #7 below).

Teams can there­fore receive a “coconut” with para­me­ters already defined inside, or they can draw the para­me­ters from con­tain­ers. If there are 3 dif­fer­ent para­me­ters, 3 con­tain­ers will be pre­pared and the teams will be asked to draw one or more papers from each con­tain­er, depend­ing on the estab­lished parameters.

The teams have 7–10 min­utes to cre­ate their bird song. If they wish, they can also find a par­tic­u­lar phys­i­cal expres­sion for it (walk, pos­ture, etc.)

Invite teams to present their bird (the entire team can present, or des­ig­nate one mem­ber to present solo)

If time per­mits, one des­ig­nat­ed mem­ber per team will teach the imag­i­nary bird song to the entire group.

7. Set­ting para­me­ters and pos­si­ble prepara­to­ry activity

It is essen­tial to pro­vide para­me­ters for inspi­ra­tion for the cre­ation of the bird songs, espe­cial­ly if the work­shop is for par­tic­i­pants who have no musi­cal expe­ri­ence. If time per­mits, I sug­gest doing a prepara­to­ry activ­i­ty with them to cre­ate these para­me­ters, which can then be mixed and picked up. If not, we can pro­vide para­me­ters on chart paper or “coconuts” with some para­me­ters inside.

Set­ting para­me­ters with participants:

In a brain­storm­ing ses­sion, invite par­tic­i­pants to pro­pose the para­me­ters that will be used to cre­ate the bird songs. Any­thing goes, since these are imag­i­nary birds! Here are some sug­gest­ed para­me­ters with exam­ples to inspire participants:

What might the imag­i­nary bird’s song sound like?
A leaky faucet
Some­one gargling
The sound of high heels clicking
Wind rustling through the leaves
A car that has trou­ble starting

Which fam­i­ly would be the bird’s cousin?

In which habi­tat could the bird live?
In the sand
On the plan­et Mars
On the roof of a cathedral
On the water lilies

In what sit­u­a­tion is the bird?
It is tak­ing his bath
It meets a rival
It is look­ing for a mate
It is about to incu­bate its egg

What ono­matopoeia could be found in the bird’s song?
Gulp! Gla!

8. Equip­ment needed:
Speak­er and phone
Mer­lin Birds application
Bird pictures/books
Coloured scarves

9. Notes to the Facilitator

Estab­lish­ing a joy­ful and wel­com­ing group dynam­ic is essen­tial for the activ­i­ty to run smooth­ly. Par­tic­i­pants should feel that this is a group explo­ration ses­sion, not a tech­ni­cal singing class.

Encour­age par­tic­i­pants by exam­ple to come up with ideas, to laugh at them­selves, to be sil­ly… don’t take your­self too seri­ous­ly and put your ego aside!

Ide­al­ly, the activ­i­ty takes place in nature, in a place where the group is not observed by peo­ple who are not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the activ­i­ty. This avoids the embar­rass­ment that some par­tic­i­pants might have and allows them to dive into the pro­posed activ­i­ties in a more nat­ur­al way.

For more infor­ma­tion or for any ques­tions, please contact

Frédérique Dro­let, sopra­no/artist-medi­a­tor

Online group music lesson framework for collaborative creativity

This frame­work for online group music lessons pro­vides a col­lab­o­ra­tive expe­ri­ence of devel­op­ing musi­cal­i­ty through cre­ativ­i­ty, while still encour­ag­ing each stu­dent to work inde­pen­dent­ly towards their own per­son­al music goals.

The Frame­work

Each ses­sion cycles through the Kalei­do­scope Music framework:

Con­nect­ing & Preparing

Explor­ing & Skill Building

Cre­at­ing & Collaborating

Quests & Questions

Shar­ing & Reflection

See scores below for exam­ple activ­i­ties for each part of the framework.

Length of time spent in each part of the les­son depends on focus of the group in the scope of the year plan (such as prepar­ing for shar­ing), and the stu­dents’ indi­vid­ual needs and inter­ests. The frame­work is designed to adapt and use ongo­ing feed­back from par­tic­i­pants to co-cre­ate with the teacher, while using the exper­tise of the teacher to facil­i­tate effec­tive activ­i­ties and exploration.

Quests & Ques­tions is the time when stu­dents work indi­vid­u­al­ly on their own projects, goals, and explo­rations. Exam­ples of this include:

  • learn­ing a song they have cho­sen using sheet music or chord charts
  • work­ing through the activ­i­ties in a method book (ie. Piano Adventures)
  • work­ing on a song­writ­ing project, record­ing impro­vis­ing activ­i­ties, etc.
  • prepar­ing a song for a performance

We use the pri­vate audio chan­nel fea­ture in Muzie to allow for indi­vid­ual feed­back and dis­cus­sion between each stu­dent and the teacher. The teacher cycles between stu­dents dur­ing this part of the class, keep­ing an eye on the video feed and chat for which stu­dents need assis­tance. Stu­dents should use this time to proac­tive­ly work on their Quests, rather than wait­ing for the teacher to tell them exact­ly how to pro­ceed. This time is intend­ed to devel­op stu­dent ini­tia­tive and inde­pen­dence, which can take time and coach­ing to cul­ti­vate. It’s impor­tant to regard stu­dent explo­ration as valu­able rather than see­ing it as off-track or unfo­cused. For exam­ple, a stu­dent that is impro­vis­ing rather than prac­tic­ing a par­tic­u­lar goal (like a song they had cho­sen) isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly dis­tract­ed. If they are self-select­ing to explore ideas and tech­niques, inte­grate skills, and cre­ate new music, it may be that they are quite focused indeed!

Stu­dents are encour­aged to work on their Quest in between group ses­sions, and to send ques­tions via Muzie chat, Muzie clip record­ings (short videos), or email if they feel “stuck” in between lessons. The teacher can record or upload duet and back­ing track parts with­in Muzie’s audio recorder, and the stu­dent can also make lay­ered record­ings with teacher accom­pa­ni­ment (this can be done dur­ing groups or out­side of group time).

When the group comes back togeth­er to share, stu­dents have already dis­cussed with the teacher dur­ing their 1:1 time what they would like to share, if any­thing. Some­times stu­dents per­form just for applause and some­times feed­back and reflec­tion activ­i­ties hap­pen dur­ing this time. Stu­dents can also share about their process and dis­cuss strate­gies, goals, etc.

Select­ing activ­i­ties for each section

How do we decide how to spend our time in each class? The facil­i­ta­tor can plan and sug­gest activ­i­ties for the group and also stay flex­i­ble. See attached scores for activ­i­ty examples.

  • encour­age the par­tic­i­pants to co-cre­ate and con­tribute ideas for activities
  • lis­ten and encour­age par­tic­i­pants to share thoughts about what would serve their learn­ing and cre­ative journey
  • plan times to to ask the par­tic­i­pants dis­cus­sion prompts or just to to check in (a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to see what they had on their minds and learn from their per­spec­tive, which can also help oth­er students)
  • ask par­tic­i­pants to help iden­ti­fy the next steps (so that they can prac­tice self advo­cat­ing and plan­ning cre­ativ­i­ty and learning)
  • invite par­tic­i­pants to share musi­cal or inspi­ra­tion brought from their lives
  • dis­cuss musi­cal ques­tions as a group and ask what the stu­dents are won­der­ing about in an open-end­ed way
  • invite par­tic­i­pants to share music they have been play­ing or just enjoy­ing, and try using those songs for oth­er activities
  • repeat activ­i­ties for sev­er­al weeks, return to them inter­mit­tent­ly, or evolve and iter­ate the activ­i­ty to explore ideas or con­tin­ue to devel­op skills or techniques

The cat­e­gories of activ­i­ty can change over time- for exam­ple, what starts out as a cre­at­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing activ­i­ty that appears mid-class after a warm-up, may become more of a warm-up activ­i­ty if the par­tic­i­pants are already famil­iar with the activ­i­ty. They may want to pick up where they left off from an activ­i­ty in a future class, or cre­ate their own “quick start” sim­pli­fied ver­sions of an activity.

As the reper­toire of songs and activ­i­ties devel­ops, and as the par­tic­i­pants gain musi­cal skills and learn to col­lab­o­rate, new pos­si­bil­i­ties to extend songs and activ­i­ties emerge. What start­ed off as just a sim­ple song can become a long series of activ­i­ties as the kids explore, adapt, remix, and how­ev­er else they dis­cov­er to cre­ative­ly make music. Some of this can be sug­gest­ed by the teacher but often the par­tic­i­pants have a lot to share from their already rich cre­ative expe­ri­ences, innate musi­cal abil­i­ties, and intu­itive wis­dom about their musi­cal journey.

Back­ground and Context

Lau­ren Best taught pri­vate music lessons for more than a decade in Toron­to, Owen Sound, and online. She expe­ri­enced the pow­er of group par­tic­i­pa­to­ry music and an empha­sis on par­tic­i­pant cre­ativ­i­ty while facil­i­tat­ing music pro­grams as well as across mul­ti­ple art forms includ­ing inter­ac­tive the­atre and dig­i­tal media arts. She want­ed to keep the best of what worked well teach­ing pri­vate lessons, but add the ben­e­fits of group music mak­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and shar­ing in a peer group. By offer­ing lessons in groups, it also allows for more oppor­tu­ni­ties for schol­ar­ships through slid­ing scale or waived tuition.

In 2021 Lau­ren launched online group music lessons for ages 6+ with an empha­sis on col­lab­o­ra­tive cre­ativ­i­ty, and in 2022 the groups were rebrand­ed as Kalei­do­scope Music. Groups were com­prised of stu­dents who were most­ly locat­ed rural­ly or in small towns.

In year 1 (2021–2022) the pro­gram began with piano and ukulele group class­es in same-instru­ment groups meet­ing week­ly for 1 hour. In year 2, (2022–2023) class­es were changed to be mixed-instru­ment (piano, voice, and ukulele in the same class, with stu­dent wel­come to com­bine or switch instru­ments over time) and 50 min­utes in length. In year 2, the groups were also offered for adults but there was insuf­fi­cient enrol­ment to cre­ate a test group with adult participants.

See attached PDF titled “Tech Con­sid­er­a­tions” for fur­ther tech­ni­cal con­sid­er­a­tions and options for the teacher/facilitator.

What Kalei­do­scope Music par­ents say:

“​I love that my chil­dren have some­thing that they can work at, puz­zle out, play with, and progress on. I can see how their pride and self-con­fi­dence have grown this year.”

“The best part about my child learn­ing music is see­ing their inter­est and pas­sion grow deep and wide.”

“It is beau­ti­ful to watch your child learn and mas­ter a new skill, and to wit­ness them per­se­vere and grow.”

“​What I val­ue most about [my child’s] music lessons is learn­ing a new musi­cal lan­guage with which to express yourself.”

Exploring Sonic Lifeworlds: Collaborative Composition in the Large Choral Ensemble

Singers in this col­lab­o­ra­tive choral music cre­ation project explored how sounds gath­ered from their every­day lives could speak to aspects of place, iden­ti­ty, and com­mu­ni­ty in new vocal sound­scape com­po­si­tions they cre­at­ed, graph­i­cal­ly notat­ed, and pre­sent­ed with par­tic­i­pa­tion from the entire choir. “Explor­ing Son­ic Life­worlds” took place between Feb­ru­ary-April 2023 with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough (UTSC) Con­cert Choir, direc­tor Patrick Mur­ray, and facil­i­ta­tor jashen edwards.

This project was divid­ed into three parts, which serve as stand­alone activ­i­ties and as a sequence that builds skills and under­stand­ing around col­lab­o­ra­tive com­po­si­tion and col­lec­tive mean­ing mak­ing in sound. Below, we nar­rate the process of each of these activ­i­ties, pro­vide extra resources, and offer stu­dent reflec­tions on the project. A work­book with expand­ed descrip­tions and resources is avail­able to download.

Part 1: Sound Ses­sion Work­shop with jashen edwards 

Pri­or to the work­shop, singers are asked to gath­er mean­ing­ful sounds from their every­day encoun­ters by record­ing and upload­ing cho­sen sounds to an online class archive using the Padlet app (click to see exam­ple, or see links in work­book). Dur­ing the two-hour work­shop, edwards leads singers through a dis­cus­sion of how these sounds impact their every­day under­stand­ing about them­selves in rela­tion to the world. Using the sound col­lec­tion and clas­si­fi­ca­tion (SCC) table resource, singers explore the musi­cal poten­tial present in every­day sounds and impro­vise short musi­cal pieces by re-cre­at­ing these sounds vocal­ly and/or phys­i­cal­ly. Singers gain spe­cif­ic ways of lis­ten­ing and work­ing with sound that pro­vide the need­ed tools to com­pose orig­i­nal pieces in Part 2 of the project.

Par­tic­i­pant Reflec­tion: “​​This fas­ci­nat­ing les­son broad­ened my hori­zons about exper­i­men­tal music-making…Before this ses­sion, I had nev­er imag­ined that all these audi­to­ry sounds could be imi­tat­ed by the human voice, and when com­bined they could be so har­mo­nious and pleas­ing to the ear.”

An expand­ed descrip­tion of the Sound Ses­sion Work­shop, includ­ing the SCC table resource and the UTSC Con­cert Choir class Padlet, is includ­ed in the attached work­book file. Lis­ten to the attached audio for an exam­ple of work­shop outcomes.

Part 2: Sound­scape Com­po­si­tion Activity 

Dur­ing the month fol­low­ing the work­shop, singers orga­nize into small groups to cre­ate short (1–2 minute) vocal sound­scape com­po­si­tions about a topic/theme of their choice that they will lead the entire choir in per­form­ing. While “sound­scape” is our cho­sen term for these co-cre­at­ed com­po­si­tions, singers inter­pret this broad­ly; some groups cre­ate par­tic­i­pa­to­ry songs incor­po­rat­ing melody and rhythm as well as envi­ron­men­tal sound, while oth­ers cre­ate more “tra­di­tion­al” sound pieces.

Each group’s sound­scape must clear­ly be “about” some­thing that speaks to their group mem­bers, and involve sounds from the Sound Ses­sion work­shop. Groups come up with wide­ly vary­ing topics/themes, includ­ing cli­mate jus­tice, Lunar New Year, A Night at the Movies, anti-war protest, and end-of-term fatigue. Singers are giv­en prompts to con­sid­er how they might struc­ture, sequence, and com­bine sounds to form a com­po­si­tion that speaks to their theme. Final­ly, groups must involve the entire choir in per­form­ing the piece. On the last day of class, each group leads the choir through a demonstration/teaching and then “infor­mance” of their sound­scape com­po­si­tion together.

Par­tic­i­pant Reflec­tion: “[This project] gave us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn how to cre­ate music that is eas­i­ly taught and inclu­sive to the com­mu­ni­ty. It allowed us to rec­og­nize the impor­tance of con­sid­er­ing what is inclu­sive to any­one with any musi­cal experience.”

The attached work­book pro­vides mate­ri­als to guide sound­scape cre­ation, as well as rubrics for assess­ing the project as a cur­ric­u­lar assign­ment. See also the video below for high­lights from stu­dent sound­scape presentations.

Part 3: Graph­ic Scor­ing Activity

In a final activ­i­ty, each singer cre­ates a “score” for their group’s sound­scape that could serve as a teach­ing aid or guide for some­one else to fol­low or repro­duce their piece. Singers are allowed to use any com­bi­na­tion of text, graph­ics, or vary­ing forms of musi­cal nota­tion to rep­re­sent their sound­scape, and are pro­vid­ed with a tem­plate (see work­book) to help rep­re­sent cer­tain musi­cal ele­ments, includ­ing duration/timing and lay­er­ing of sound. The score need not rep­re­sent all aspects of the com­po­si­tion, but should cre­ative­ly reflect their cre­ation. As many mem­bers of the UTSC Con­cert Choir join with vary­ing expe­ri­ence read­ing West­ern musi­cal nota­tion, this activ­i­ty proves par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able in reduc­ing bar­ri­ers to par­tic­i­pa­tion and open­ing up per­spec­tives on what con­sti­tutes musi­cal “lit­er­a­cy;” some singers choose to incor­po­rate oth­er forms of musi­cal “nota­tion” into their scores that they feel more com­fort­able with, includ­ing solfege, dig­i­tal audio data, and jiǎn­pǔ (num­ber nota­tion). See Scores below for exam­ples of stu­dent creations.


Par­tic­i­pant Reflec­tion: “I learned that we should not be lim­it­ed by the tra­di­tion­al way of learn­ing music by look­ing at tra­di­tion­al scores and notes. There are many dif­fer­ent ways that music can be rep­re­sent­ed. I tried to apply this con­cept of not using tra­di­tion­al music nota­tion to my music score in the co-cre­ation project. This mind­set of think­ing out of the box is the most unfor­get­table thing I have learned from this course.”


The Explor­ing Son­ic Life­worlds project focused on sev­er­al needs of our own musi­cal com­mu­ni­ty at UTSC, as well as cre­at­ing resources for oth­er choirs and singing groups to use to:

  • Make space for singers to express their own musi­cal and cul­tur­al back­grounds and social jus­tice issues sig­nif­i­cant to their lived expe­ri­ences through sound.
  • Val­ue musi­cal cre­ation along­side re-cre­ation in choral cur­ric­u­la and programming.
  • Prac­tice trans­fer­able skills includ­ing team­work, pub­lic speak­ing, and group facil­i­ta­tion rel­e­vant to music-mak­ing in com­mu­ni­ty spaces.
  • Val­ue alter­na­tive expres­sions of musi­cal lit­er­a­cy through cre­ative visu­al notation.
  • Build rela­tion­ships between singers through col­lab­o­ra­tive musi­cal creation.

Par­tic­i­pant Reflec­tion: “Over­all, our co-cre­ation process was a col­lab­o­ra­tive and enjoy­able expe­ri­ence. By incor­po­rat­ing ele­ments from our indi­vid­ual sound­worlds, we were able to cre­ate a piece of music that was mean­ing­ful to all of us.”

About the Leaders/Participants

Recent PhD grad­u­ate, jashen edwards’ research explores ways every­day sounds can be a cat­a­lyst for cre­ative crit­i­cal engage­ment. Inter­sect­ing schol­ar­ship and prac­tice across the fields of music, music edu­ca­tion, sound stud­ies and sen­su­ous schol­ar­ship, jashen designs and facil­i­tates sound ses­sion work­shops for a vari­ety of edu­ca­tion­al set­tings (e.g. PK16, carcer­al, senior homes, com­mu­ni­ty centres).

Choral conductor/composer Patrick Mur­ray directs the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough Con­cert Choir, and serves as Artis­tic Direc­tor of Chor Ami­ca (Lon­don ON), Direc­tor of Music at St. John’s Elo­ra, and Asso­ciate Con­duc­tor with the Bach Children’s Cho­rus. His research explores the prac­tice and aes­thet­ics of com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tion in con­tem­po­rary choral music.

Unique amongst cam­pus ensem­bles, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough Con­cert Choir serves as both a cur­ric­u­lar and an open-access (non-audi­tioned) com­mu­ni­ty choir, wel­com­ing approx­i­mate­ly 100 singers each term from pro­grams across the cam­pus and serv­ing as a cred­it course for stu­dents in the Music and Cul­ture concentration.

Sounds of Home: Collaborative Songwriting with Newcomer Youth

Sounds of Home is a col­lab­o­ra­tive song­writ­ing ini­tia­tive for refugee and new­com­er youth. Over the course of 6 weeks, par­tic­i­pants explore the theme of “home” through group music mak­ing and song­writ­ing. The three main goals of the project are to:

  • Build rela­tion­ships with and among the youth in order to increase their sense of belong­ing in their new community.
  • Increase a sense of empow­er­ment and agency amongst par­tic­i­pants through the skill of songwriting.
  • Allow par­tic­i­pants to devel­op a stronger sense of iden­ti­ty through guid­ed self-reflection.

This project is run in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Heffn­er Stu­dio, an audio dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion lab by Kitch­en­er Pub­lic Library, and a com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tion that offers reset­tle­ment ser­vices and sup­port to refugees and new­com­ers in the Kitch­en­er-Water­loo Region. There is also the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the pro­gram to be deliv­ered vir­tu­al­ly using Zoom for anoth­er video con­fer­enc­ing platform.

Each ses­sion includes an ice­break­er activ­i­ty, group music mak­ing, and song­writ­ing exer­cis­es. Since par­tic­i­pants may not speak Eng­lish as their first lan­guage, they are free to write in what­ev­er lan­guage they choose.


Week 1: Each per­son in the group will have the chance to share their name, pro­nouns, and their favourite song. We’ll lis­ten to the song as a group, and then the shar­er will have a chance to talk about why they like it and what the song means to them. These songs are then added to a playlist which is shared with the group. This is a great first ice­break­er activ­i­ty because it gives par­tic­i­pants a chance to share some­thing about them­selves with­out requir­ing them to step too far out of their com­fort zones. It also acts as a great jump­ing off point to talk about qual­i­ties that make a good song (i.e., a catchy hook) and to talk about song struc­ture. For exam­ple, par­tic­i­pants may be asked to iden­ti­fy what the cho­rus of the song was.

As a group, we’ll cre­ate a mind map of things that remind us of home. Par­tic­i­pants are encour­aged to incor­po­rate their sens­es and think of places, foods, smells, feelings/emotions, etc. It’s impor­tant to note that con­tri­bu­tions may not be hap­py. For exam­ple, par­tic­i­pants may men­tion miss­ing home or oth­er com­pli­cat­ed cir­cum­stances. It’s impor­tant to hold space for all of those realities.

Once the mind map is fin­ished, we’ll review what was writ­ten and pull out key themes. If meet­ing in per­son, this activ­i­ty works well with a white board and/or sticky notes. If meet­ing vir­tu­al­ly, you can use Jam­board or a sim­i­lar mind map­ping program.

Par­tic­i­pants are asked to record at least one sound that reminds them of home and to bring the record­ing with them to the next ses­sion. These will then be incor­po­rat­ed into the final record­ing of the song.

Week 2: At the start of the ses­sion, each par­tic­i­pant will have the chance to share their recording(s) and talk about why it reminds them of home. We will review the mind map and key themes from Week 1, then the group will work togeth­er to write a 4‑line cho­rus. This ses­sion will also include a short dis­cus­sion on the impor­tance of rhyme. When the lyrics are fin­ished, the facil­i­ta­tor will ask the group what they feel the emo­tion or mood of the song is, and then impro­vise a few dif­fer­ent chord pro­gres­sions and melodies and ask the group to choose which one they like best. Depend­ing on the com­fort lev­el and musi­cal expe­ri­ence of the group, par­tic­i­pants may also want to con­tribute chord pro­gres­sions and melody sug­ges­tions. Before the end of the ses­sion, a record­ing of the cho­rus will be made and shared with the par­tic­i­pants so that they can lis­ten to it through­out the week.

Week 3: To start the ses­sion, the facil­i­ta­tor will play the cho­rus and par­tic­i­pants will have the chance to sug­gest changes. Using the prompt, “home is…” par­tic­i­pants will work on their own or with a part­ner to write a 4‑line verse for the song. They will be encour­aged to think about their own unique perspective(s) and can draw on themes or ideas from the mind map from Week 1. The facil­i­ta­tor will check in with individuals/groups to offer feed­back and guid­ance. At the end of the ses­sion, par­tic­i­pants will be encour­aged to share what they wrote with the rest of the group.

Week 4: Dur­ing this ses­sion, the facil­i­ta­tor meets with each indi­vid­ual or pair to edit their verse and set it to music. Some of the vers­es may also be used as a bridge sec­tion. Dur­ing this time, the oth­er par­tic­i­pants can con­tin­ue to work on their vers­es or on anoth­er activ­i­ty. Once the vers­es have been final­ized, the facil­i­ta­tor will make and share a record­ing of the song so that par­tic­i­pants can lis­ten to it dur­ing the week.

Week 5: This ses­sion is focused on get­ting the song ready to record. The facil­i­ta­tor will per­form the whole song for the group and par­tic­i­pants will have anoth­er chance to give feed­back or sug­gest changes. For the rest of the ses­sion, we will con­tin­ue to review the song as a group and final­ize the arrange­ment includ­ing what instru­ments will be used, who will sing what part, etc.

Week 6: In the final ses­sion, par­tic­i­pants will use the record­ing stu­dios in Heffn­er Stu­dio to record their song. The facil­i­ta­tor should record all of their parts before the ses­sion in order to max­i­mize the amount of time the par­tic­i­pants are record­ing. Par­tic­i­pants will take turns record­ing their vers­es or play­ing instru­ments. Fol­low­ing the ses­sion, the facil­i­ta­tor will mix the song and then send the final ver­sion to the participants.

From a par­tic­i­pant: “Because of this work­shop I got to meet new peo­ple and make music, which was some­thing I had nev­er done before. I’m very proud of the song we made together!”

Improvisation game: Four!! and Empty Repeating Canvas

As part of the Edu­ca­tion Sec­tor Focus, pub­lic school music teacher Doug Friesen shares a few impro­vi­sa­tion games his stu­dents love to play.

GAME 1: Four!!

After a cue, each par­tic­i­pant tries to make short sounds, one at a time, when no one else is play­ing or singing.

Every time you make a sound, when no one else is, you get a point.

When­ev­er you make a sound at the same time as some­one else you must start back at zero.

Once you have col­lect­ed four points you yell “FOUR!!” and the piece is over.

Ears wide open!!

See 2:12 in the video below for instruc­tions giv­en by Doug, fol­lowed by an exam­ple of his stu­dents play­ing the game.

GAME 2: Emp­ty Repeat­ing Canvas

Put two emp­ty 4/4 mea­sures (or just the num­bers 1 through 8) with a repeat sign up on the board.

Each per­sons picks a sound and a moment in these 8 counts to make it.

Repeat your sound in the same spot each time.

Count it in and let the groove settle.


- Add a hand sig­nal that cues a change of sound and/or placement.
— Add chang­ing dynamics.
— Make sounds “more musi­cal” by decid­ing on a chord or a scale to choose from.
— Extend the num­ber of measures.
— Change the time signature.
— Try adding long notes for part of the group or every oth­er time through.
- Make sounds less musi­cal by adding a sound­scape theme.
— Decide togeth­er on a nice open­ing and clos­ing section.

This is heav­i­ly inspired by a work­shop with Fred Frith in which he intro­duced my stu­dents and I to a com­po­si­tion of his called Screen. It was a pho­to­graph with two emp­ty bars of 5/4 sketched on top.

For more games such as these, see the Edu­ca­tion Sec­tor Focus co-direct­ed by Doug Friesen and Louise Campbell.

Nelson Mandela High School: Creative music making in a secondary wind band program

This project explores cre­ative music mak­ing in a sec­ondary wind band pro­gram Nel­son Man­dela High School, one of Alberta’s des­ig­nat­ed High School Redesign Schools. In a redesign school, tasks are designed not only to assess cur­ricu­lum out­comes, but also to help devel­op core com­pe­ten­cies in our stu­dents. Each course devel­ops dif­fer­ent com­pe­ten­cies – for music specif­i­cal­ly, the com­pe­ten­cies are Cre­ativ­i­ty, Col­lab­o­ra­tion, and Per­son­al Growth. Music teacher Keshi­ni Senanayake and her stu­dents share and reflect on cre­ative music mak­ing in their classroom:

Hi, my name is Keshi­ni Senanayake (she/her). I live and teach on Treaty 7 Ter­ri­to­ry, specif­i­cal­ly in Cal­gary, Alber­ta. I cur­rent­ly teach Grade 10–12 Music at Nel­son Man­dela High School. Our pro­gram includes a wide vari­ety of the fol­low­ing – Instru­men­tal Music, Con­cert Band, Choir, Guitar/Rock Band, Cham­ber Music, and Strings Ensemble. 

Cre­ative Challenges

I use “Cre­ative Chal­lenges”, or cre­ative music mak­ing tasks, to assess not only spe­cif­ic musi­cal skills/curriculum out­comes, but also the stu­dents’ abil­i­ties to col­lab­o­rate togeth­er to cre­ate their own orig­i­nal music, using a set of guide­lines giv­en to them. These cre­ative chal­lenges have become a reg­u­lar part of my pro­gram, to ensure stu­dents not only learn and devel­op their musi­cal skills, but also have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to devel­op their own cre­ativ­i­ty. I have found immense val­ue in cre­at­ing a cul­ture where cre­ativ­i­ty is a reg­u­lar part of the music pro­gram – an increase in con­fi­dence of stu­dents exper­i­ment­ing and prob­lem solv­ing in class activ­i­ties, and cre­at­ing a music pro­gram where stu­dents are co-cre­ators in pro­gram deci­sions and the class/rehearsal process. Here are two such cre­ative challenges: 

  1. Sym­bols and Visu­al ScoreThis exer­cise can be used with any skill lev­el of stu­dents. It has worked effec­tive­ly with my senior stu­dents, as well as my begin­ners. Stu­dents are giv­en a set of cards with dif­fer­ent shapes and sym­bols. Their chal­lenge is to arrange the shapes/symbols into a visu­al score to rep­re­sent their orig­i­nal composition. 
  2. Com­pos­ing with Reper­toire Excerpts: An exer­cise used specif­i­cal­ly with band stu­dents, com­pos­ing with reper­toire excerpts asks stu­dents are to mix and com­bine melod­ic excerpts from their band pieces to cre­ate their own com­po­si­tion, or “remix” as the stu­dents like to call them. This task is great not just to get stu­dents being cre­ative, but also gets stu­dents prac­tis­ing and rehearsal parts of their band pieces! 

Suc­cess­ful Music Mak­ing at Nel­son Man­dela High School: Five ‘Look-fors’

This video explores what a suc­cess­ful music pro­gram means to me. My thoughts on this will be con­stant­ly evolv­ing, but these are the main pil­lars of what I hope stu­dents will take away from their expe­ri­ence in the Nel­son Man­dela music program. 

Tran­scrip­tion: “When I was hired to build the pro­gram at the school I’m cur­rent­ly at, I had some time to reflect and think about, ‘what do I want stu­dents to take away from tak­ing music at Man­dela?’ Slow­ly along the way, this was­n’t right at the begin­ning, but through­out my years of teach­ing, I’ve devel­oped five ‘look-fors’, or traits, or big­ger ideas that I want stu­dents to be able to take away from my program. 

  1. The first was for stu­dents to devel­op life­long skills to be suc­cess­ful in any life pur­suit. Know­ing that, regard­less of if my stu­dents choose to con­tin­ue on to a career in music or not, know­ing that they’re going to be devel­op­ing life skills or com­pe­ten­cies that would help make them suc­cess­ful no mat­ter what they decide to pur­sue next. For exam­ple, the time man­age­ment piece of being able to jug­gle var­i­ous ensem­bles along with their home­work and ath­let­ics and oth­er things, the abil­i­ty to col­lab­o­rate and work togeth­er, or the abil­i­ty to take cri­tique or feed­back and apply it so that they can improve their skills. So that was one of the ‘look-fors’ I was hop­ing kids would get out of my pro­gram: devel­op­ing those life­long skills to be suc­cess­ful humans wher­ev­er they go next. 
  2. The sec­ond trait I was hop­ing for was for stu­dents to devel­op musi­cal skills so that they can pur­sue their own musi­cal endeav­ors, know­ing that stu­dents come into the class­room with their own inter­ests and their own ideas already of what they want to accom­plish. Whether they want to be able to per­form a song or they want to be to com­pose a song, how can I teach them musi­cal skills for them to be able to pur­sue their own musi­cal goals? 
  3. The oth­er goal that I had was to be able to pro­vide enrich­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents, whether that was through per­for­mances, work­shops, con­certs, being able to pro­vide those oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents who may not have access to if it was­n’t for a school music program. 
  4. The oth­er one was to build a pos­i­tive com­mu­ni­ty, to cre­ate this pos­i­tive com­mu­ni­ty in the school where stu­dents can feel includ­ed and a space where they can feel safe to be them­selves and to come togeth­er with a com­mon goal of cre­at­ing music together. 
  5. This last goal, which has become more so now than when I start­ed, was to help stu­dents devel­op an anti-oppres­sive lens through music, through study and the pur­suit of music, help­ing them devel­op an equi­ty and anti-oppres­sive lens so that they can devel­op empa­thy and be pro­duc­tive allies and con­tribute to pro­duc­tive change in our world. 

When I think about what is suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion, and what does that mean to me and my stu­dents, those are the five that I have over the years built as ‘look-fors’ for when I think about what I want stu­dents to get out of my program.” 

The Val­ue of Cre­ative Music Making

This video explores my thoughts on the val­ue of cre­ative music mak­ing, and what drew me towards ensur­ing cre­ative music mak­ing is an inte­gral part of the music pro­gram. Explor­ing cre­ative music mak­ing in my own teach­ing prac­tice has not only high­light­ed some of the gaps in tra­di­tion­al music edu­ca­tion, but also open my eyes to the pos­si­bil­i­ties and ben­e­fits for stu­dents, when we are will­ing to ven­ture out­side of the colo­nial struc­tures and prac­tices embed­ded in tra­di­tion­al music education. 


“When I grad­u­at­ed from my BA pro­gram, I was left with some prompts from our pro­fes­sor Doug Friesen, and was also reflect­ing on what I was able to observe and see with­in my own teach­ing practicum. The com­bi­na­tion of that plus the first cou­ple of years of my teach­ing made me real­ize that if you’ve got a pro­gram that fol­lows the tra­di­tion­al Euro­cen­tric clas­si­cal music direc­tion, there are not many oppor­tu­ni­ties around stu­dents actu­al­ly cre­at­ing orig­i­nal music. 

Doug has a very famous quote that always kind of stuck with me: ‘What’s cre­ative about telling kids where to breathe in holes?’ So that made me real­ize that we spend a lot of time prepar­ing kids to play in band and for per­for­mances, but do we nec­es­sar­i­ly make time for stu­dents to cre­ate their own music? Usu­al­ly any form of music-mak­ing came after learn­ing mul­ti­ple units and years of music the­o­ry, or music per­for­mance first. There’s such a heavy empha­sis on learn the the­o­ry, learn the per­for­mance first, and then you get to cre­ate, rather than cre­at­ing a cul­ture in our music pro­grams of being able to cre­ate from day one and acknowl­edg­ing the musi­cal knowl­edge that stu­dents already bring in the classroom.

In the first cou­ple of days, I’m ask­ing stu­dents, ‘What is your pre­vi­ous music expe­ri­ence’ and a lot of stu­dents right away say, ‘I don’t have any’. I’m like, ‘Well, actu­al­ly you do because you lis­ten to music, you love it and appre­ci­ate it. You know what you like and dis­like, you can already tell what sounds good and what does­n’t sound good.’ 

So I chal­lenge my stu­dents that they real­ly come into the class­room with exper­tise and it’s just a mat­ter of devel­op­ing their lis­ten­ing ear and music lit­er­a­cy. It’s already devel­op­ing from that base knowl­edge of what they do already know. So that chal­lenged me to think: are there ways for stu­dents to prac­tice mak­ing music from Day One? Rather than hav­ing to wait after ten the­o­ry lessons, are there oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to cre­ate music from Day One? And now when we start teach­ing about music the­o­ry and per­for­mance and tech­nique, it’s with the idea of ‘Here’s some skills and tools to help you con­tin­ue cre­at­ing music. Here are some more things to help you under­stand it and for you to be able to com­pose and cre­ate your own.’ 

One of the great things work­ing in my school is that we assess both out­comes and com­pe­ten­cies. So the out­comes are from the cur­ricu­lum and every options class iden­ti­fies three com­pe­ten­cies. For exam­ple, I eval­u­ate stu­dents on cre­ativ­i­ty, col­lab­o­ra­tion and per­son­al growth. Each class has a list of nine pro­vid­ed by Alber­ta Ed. You pick two or three that are most rel­e­vant for your class con­tent and you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to eval­u­ate stu­dents on those skills. Using that com­pe­ten­cy-based assess­ment, I was able to use, as we call them, cre­ative music chal­lenges. It was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents to be giv­en dif­fer­ent tasks and chal­lenges to help cre­ate their own music again, from Day One. I don’t wait until kids know how to play an instru­ment, but from Day One. Then they can actu­al­ly see their growth and process, their progress and their abil­i­ty to take more things that they’ve learned from class and apply it to these cre­ative music chal­lenges and assess them more on the process of how they cre­at­ed the prod­uct: tak­ing away that pres­sure from the final prod­uct and eval­u­at­ing them on the process, eval­u­at­ing them on their under­stand­ing of the cre­ative process, and eval­u­at­ing them on their abil­i­ty to col­lab­o­rate and work togeth­er to cre­ate a final musi­cal project. 

What I found was that there was quite a bit of a shift in my pro­gram cul­ture. We cre­at­ed a cul­ture in our music class­es of cre­at­ing music from Day One, and have been inte­grat­ing it and allow­ing it to be part of the pro­gram. Stu­dents were less anx­ious about exper­i­ment­ing with music, around tak­ing risks, even when they were tak­ing risks with play­ing tests or per­for­mance tasks that we’re doing in class. It almost alle­vi­at­ed some of that anx­i­ety that stu­dents get. They’re more eager to exper­i­ment and try and if it goes wrong, like hey, okay it went wrong, espe­cial­ly when we start­ed talk­ing about jazz improv and when­ev­er I start­ed cre­at­ing tasks around com­po­si­tions in my upper years for them to cre­ate. For exam­ple, in our pop song unit, they actu­al­ly have to com­pose and write their own pop songs and per­form it. So they they’re less anx­ious­ness or hes­i­tan­cy to actu­al­ly try it, because we’ve cre­at­ed this cul­ture of exper­i­ment­ing and try­ing from Day One through cre­ative tasks. 

I see the val­ue in offer­ing these tasks to stu­dents and inte­grat­ing it into our pro­gram rather than let­ting it be this one off task that you do, but rather inte­grate it as part of your pro­gram and know­ing too that you can assess so many oth­er out­comes. For exam­ple, if you do a cre­ative music chal­lenges with instru­ments right away, you can assess stu­dents’ under­stand­ing of their instru­ment tech­nique and musi­cal phras­ing. There’s always ways to con­nect those out­comes back to the cur­ricu­lum. I see the val­ue in the results of the stu­dents and the cul­ture of my pro­gram, inte­grat­ing cre­ativ­i­ty as part of your music pro­gram, and valu­ing it as much as you val­ue the­o­ry, per­for­mance and history. 

My hope for music edu­ca­tion is that we can begin to move for­ward to decon­struct­ing that idea of ‘Here’s the music, I am the con­duc­tor, I tell you what to do, and you lis­ten to those instruc­tions’, decon­struct­ing that idea of music edu­ca­tion and inte­grat­ing dif­fer­ent gen­res of music, dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and dif­fer­ent ways to cre­ate music.”

Taking It Outside: Making Music Inspired By Nature

Whether your school or com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tion is in an urban, rur­al or remote area, the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment is full of inspi­ra­tion for cre­ativ­i­ty and learn­ing. Louise Camp­bell leads par­tic­i­pants in explor­ing and con­nect­ing with their nat­ur­al sur­round­ings through sense walks on school grounds, pub­lic parks, and your own front stoop, bal­cony or back­yard, and activ­i­ties inspired by music.

Tak­ing it Out­side: Mak­ing Music Inspired by Nature 
Cul­tur­al medi­a­tion activ­i­ty for Sources, an album and instal­la­tion fea­tur­ing music inspired by the St. Lawrence Seaway

PART ONE: Sense walks 

Sense walks are a vari­a­tion of sound walks, or walks in which par­tic­i­pants bring their atten­tion to the sounds around you. For the pur­pos­es of this project, par­tic­i­pants are asked to tap into three sens­es: sound, sight and touch (See down­load­able pdf for a print-able worksheet).


  • Pen
  • Hand­out (see down­load­able pdf)
  • Weath­er-appro­pri­ate clothes and shoes

Start with where you are: 

  1. Ask par­tic­i­pants pay atten­tion to their sur­round­ings and to write down: 
    • one sound that they hear (e.g. a sneeze, a car honk­ing, a bird chirp­ing etc.)
    • one item they see (e.g. a pen, a friend, a car, a tree)
    • a sen­sa­tion they feel (e.g. a breeze on their skin, warm, cold etc.) (n.b. par­tic­i­pants often take this as an emo­tion, which is fine)
  2. Ask vol­un­teers to share one of their observations.
  3. Note the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between vol­un­teers’ obser­va­tions. Rein­force observ­ing sound and sen­sa­tions — oth­er­wise, most obser­va­tions will be sight-based. Encour­age obser­va­tion with greater detail (e.g. I heard the car honk­ing too — how far away do you think it was? I missed the bird — can you describe its call to me? What colour was the car you saw? Can you describe the sound it made?)
  4. Explain the con­cept of a sense walk — a walk done with­out speak­ing in which each per­son makes obser­va­tions of what they hear, see and feel. Ask par­tic­i­pants to name places that look, sound and feel dif­fer­ent than where they are right now.
  5. Brain­storm pos­si­ble routes and des­ti­na­tions for a sense walk. For example: 
    • School: through school hall­ways, past gym, and out front doors; des­ti­na­tion: school yard;
    • Neigh­bour­hood: out front door, down street to alley, des­ti­na­tion: halfway down alley as far from city traf­fic as possible
    • Park: on or off paths, close and far from water, trees and traffic
  6. When the route and des­ti­na­tion has been decided: 
    • Give a hand­out and pen or pen­cil to each participant
    • For out­door sense walks, pre­pare weath­er-appro­pri­ate cloth­ing and footwear

Sense walk:

Remind par­tic­i­pants that the goal is to make obser­va­tions with­out speak­ing. Shar­ing will hap­pen at the end of the sense walk.

  1. Par­tic­i­pants write their obser­va­tions through­out the walk, stop­ping as nec­es­sary. Stop for a few min­utes along the route in 2–3 par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing places. These can be pre­de­ter­mined or spon­ta­neous, fol­low­ing any unex­pect­ed events that hap­pen en route. At the des­ti­na­tion, stop and con­tin­ue observ­ing for 4–5 minutes.
  2. Ask vol­un­teers to share one of two obser­va­tions of what they heard, saw and felt over the course of the sense walk.
  3. Go on mul­ti­ple sense walks! Exper­i­ment with: 
    • dif­fer­ent routes and destinations,
    • indoor and out­door spaces,
    • times of day, and
    • sea­son.


  • Assign a leader and a sweep. The leader leads rel­a­tive­ly slow­ly so par­tic­i­pants have a change to write, and so the group stays fair­ly close togeth­er. The sweep keeps an eye on the route and the rest of the group so that the par­tic­i­pants who have the most to write don’t get left behind. Both the leader and the sweep should know the route and destination.
  • Make sure all par­tic­i­pants know where you are going and about how long the activ­i­ty will take in advance. This helps par­tic­i­pants under­stand how long they are being asked to observe for and not chat with each other.
  • Con­sid­er how far the walk is. With the aid of the hand­out and a var­ied walk, I find par­tic­i­pants be atten­tive for up to 20 min­utes with­out speak­ing, depend­ing on age. If chat­ting starts (which usu­al­ly hap­pens around curios­i­ty about each other’s obser­va­tions), give a few min­utes to par­tic­i­pants to share with a friend, or with exchange as a group. Adapt the length of time to your group. I pre­fer start­ing with sev­er­al obser­va­tion peri­ods of short­er time frames, and giv­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for par­tic­i­pants to share their obser­va­tions, so they under­stand quick­ly how var­ied obser­va­tions can be from per­son to per­son. As the activ­i­ty con­tin­ues, I usu­al­ly length­en obser­va­tion time frames for the places par­tic­i­pants have named as par­tic­u­lar­ly interesting.
  • When at a stop along the sense walk, name how long you are going to observe your sur­round­ings for (e.g. 3 min­utes). Use a visu­al aid to show where you are in the time peri­od to avoid the inevitable ques­tion ‘how much longer?’

PART TWO: Imag­in­ing place from music 

While lis­ten­ing to a piece of pre-com­posed music such as Louise’s work Song­bird for inspi­ra­tion, ask par­tic­i­pants to cre­ate an imag­i­nary place, describ­ing this place through obser­va­tions of what they see, hear and feel.

Obser­va­tions from the sense walks can be used as nec­es­sary. Some par­tic­i­pants mix and match obser­va­tions from mul­ti­ple sense walks to cre­ate a new imag­i­nary place; oth­ers alter or make vari­a­tions of obser­va­tions, still oth­ers launch into sto­ry­telling about an event or a place from their past, while oth­ers invent an entire­ly new world with fresh obser­va­tions. All of these ways are good. Once par­tic­i­pants are ready, ask vol­un­teers to describe their imag­i­nary place to each other.

This activ­i­ty is part of the cul­tur­al medi­a­tion activ­i­ties for Sources, Louise’s solo album and out­door instal­la­tion fea­tur­ing music inspired by the St. Lawrence Sea­way. Co-cre­ation process­es based on sense walks have led to impro­vised sound­scapes, radio dra­mas and pod­casts, as well as Sources.

“Close your eyes and imag­ine this scene. You walk along the bright orange and red sandy shores of the Mag­dalen Islands… pay atten­tion to the sounds, to the wind, observe and then gath­er some of those sounds and craft those into a sto­ry. That’s part of what’s been hap­pen­ing at the Grosse Ile School with Teach­ing Artist Louise Camp­bell…” Ali­son Brunette, CBC Break­away (2019)

For exam­ples of cre­ative process­es fol­lowed by var­i­ous dif­fer­ent groups, see media below for:

  • Novem­ber Storm, a radio dra­ma cre­at­ed by Gr. 7 stu­dents at Grosse-Île School, Mag­dalen Islands
  • Tak­ing It Out­side, a music video cre­at­ed by Que­bec Home­school­ers of imag­i­nary places inspired by sense walks and Louise’s Songbird
  • Images cap­tured dur­ing sense walks

Inter­est­ed schools and orga­ni­za­tions are invit­ed to con­tact Louise at mlouisecampbell(at) for details. Facil­i­ta­tion is avail­able in-per­son and vir­tu­al­ly via zoom. Lis­ten to the album HERE.

This project are sup­port­ed by Cana­da Coun­cil for the Arts | Con­seil des arts du Cana­da, Ville de Mon­tréal, and the pro­gram Mon­tréal cul­turelle, verte et résiliente, Inno­va­tions en con­cert, Audiotopie, Brady­works / Instru­ments of Hap­pi­ness, Ville en vert, La TOHU.

Exploring First Nations Ways of Knowing, Doing and Being Through Composition

This col­lab­o­ra­tive project took place in the spring of 2022 with Den­nis Shorty and mem­bers of the Fid­dle­heads, a youth fid­dle ensem­ble in White­horse. The project focused on find­ing ways to inte­grate a local First Nations sto­ries and musi­cal expe­ri­ences into pri­vate lessons and ensem­ble music classes.


Pri­vate Fid­dle Teacher Kei­tha Clark: 

Kei­tha Clark lives and teach­es in White­horse, Yukon, on the tra­di­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of the Kwan­lin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Coun­cil. Her stu­dents range in age from 7–15, and her prac­tice focus­es on con­nect­ing com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tures through fid­dling. Kei­tha has a a pri­vate stu­dio with 25 stu­dents in White­horse and has also found­ed fid­dle pro­grams in Tes­lin and Haines Junc­tion. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on her Mas­ters of Edu­ca­tion with a focus on how to improve arts pro­gram­ming deliv­ery in remote north­ern communities. 

Elder Den­nis Shorty:

Den­nis is a Kas­ka musi­cian, artist and knowl­edge keep­er from the com­mu­ni­ty of Ross Riv­er, Yukon. His music is writ­ten in the Kas­ka Dena lan­guage and cel­e­brates the land, ani­mals, respect, ances­tors and tra­di­tions. Den­nis and his part­ner, Jen­nifer Fröh­ling, per­form as Dena Zagi. They have played venues in Cana­da and Ger­many, and their album, Gucho Hin, was nom­i­nat­ed for both an Indige­nous Music Award and a Cana­di­an Folk Music Award.


 I have worked with Den­nis and Jen­ny for sev­er­al years. I first met them at a com­mu­ni­ty BBQ while teach­ing fid­dle at the school in Ross Riv­er, and we end­ed up jam­ming in their garage that evening (super fun!). I went on to be part of their band and played at var­i­ous fes­ti­vals and com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ings in the Yukon with them.

This project grew out of a com­mis­sion I received to arrange a ver­sion of Den­nis’ song, Gucho Hin (Ancestor’s Song), for the All City Band (with The Fid­dle­heads) for their spring 2022 con­cert. This was a large ensem­ble arrange­ment for 60 musi­cians with 25 dif­fer­ent instru­men­tal parts. (The All City Band suc­cess­ful­ly applied for fund­ing from the Yukon Gov­ern­ment to cov­er fees for Den­nis and Jen­ny, the com­mis­sion, trav­el costs, venue and recording.)

Check out the video clip of the All City Band/Fiddleheads per­form­ing Gucho Hin.

This com­po­si­tion project was devel­oped out of a desire to cre­ate addi­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to explore and respond to Den­nis’ story.


Project Goals

  • Cre­ate a short, orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion that responds to the expe­ri­ences, sto­ries and cul­ture Den­nis Shorty shares in this learn­ing video.
  • Reflect and engage with dif­fer­ent cul­tures using non-Euro­cen­tric ways of know­ing, doing and being. 
  • Explor­ing how you can use the ele­ments of music to express your own ideas and emo­tions, as well as reflect the ideas and emo­tions of others.

Project Stages

Stage One — Col­lab­o­ra­tive Brain­storm­ing (via Zoom — 45 minutes)

Stu­dents gath­ered on Zoom to watch Den­nis’ learn­ing video, dis­cuss the main themes and ideas, and explore how they want­ed to con­nect those ideas to their own cre­ative response using the ele­ments of music. 

Stage Two — Inde­pen­dent Com­po­si­tion Devel­op­ment (2–4 hours per student)

Stu­dents used the basic ele­ments of music (pitch, rhythm, tim­bre, temp, dynam­ics, etc.) to con­vey their ideas. Exam­ples include using ascend­ing scale frag­ments to con­vey the moun­tain pass Den­nis’ fam­i­ly would climb; using pizzi­ca­to to con­vey Den­nis’ Grand­ma pick­ing berries;  incor­po­rat­ing minor scales and bars with extra beats to con­vey the uncer­tain­ty and sad­ness of Den­nis being tak­en away to res­i­den­tial school.

(See below to view and down­load the Cre­ative Para­me­ters Hand­out used in this project.)

Stage Three – Instruc­tor Feedback/ Record­ing Prep (1 hour)

Stu­dents worked in Garage Band to record and arrange their com­po­si­tions inde­pen­dent­ly. (We were hon­oured to have Den­nis and Jen­ny cre­ate a spe­cial tra­di­tion­al drum track for the stu­dents to work with as they were writ­ing as well.) 

Once stu­dents had a first draft com­plet­ed, they emailed Kei­tha the audio for feed­back. Stu­dents then had two days to make the final adjust­ments on their com­po­si­tions and clar­i­fy their arrangements. 

Stage Four- Record­ing the com­po­si­tions (15–30 min­utes)

For the video, stu­dents were asked to intro­duce them­selves and their top­ic, the land­scape or expe­ri­ence they were writ­ing about, thank Den­nis for shar­ing his sto­ry, include an expla­na­tion of how they used the ele­ments of music to express their ideas and briefly describe how this project changed how they think about music. 

Stage Five — Stu­dent Feed­back (30 minutes)

After watch­ing each other’s per­for­mances, stu­dents were asked to pro­vide feed­back to their peers. (Because the project was most­ly online, stu­dents cre­at­ed writ­ten feed­back on Padlet for this.)

Feed­back cri­te­ria included: 

  • A com­pli­ment-  Be spe­cif­ic, did you like how they used a cer­tain scale, dynam­ic, rhythm etc. to con­vey their idea, or a unique per­spec­tive they brought to their tune idea? 
  • A com­ment on a way that they ref­er­enced Dennis’s sto­ry or idea- What did you like about the way that they did this? Is there any­thing you would like to see more of?
  • A ques­tion — What kind of ques­tion would encour­age the com­pos­er to take their work to the next lev­el? Exam­ples include: What would you change about your piece if you were writ­ing this again? What was your favourite part about this project? Has this project changed how you view music? 


I loved doing this project with the fid­dlers! They cre­at­ed work that showed a lot of lis­ten­ing and learn­ing; both about the sto­ries and expe­ri­ences Den­nis shared, and for how to find mean­ing­ful ways to reflect and respond to those expe­ri­ences through music.

It was also amaz­ing work­ing with Den­nis and Jen­ny for this project! I was hon­oured to have this oppor­tu­ni­ty, and grate­ful to Den­nis and Jen­ny for their will­ing­ness to share their music and sto­ries with our community.

Below are three exam­ples of what the fid­dlers com­posed and reflec­tions on their learning:


Here are a few thoughts about this project and why com­po­si­tion is an impor­tant part of cre­at­ing cul­tur­al under­stand­ing (view video here).


I thought this project was real­ly suc­cess­ful because the kids are real­ly engaged in the work, and we were able to reflect Den­nis’ sto­ries and expe­ri­ence in real­ly mean­ing­ful ways. I think one of the most pow­er­ful things we can devel­op as musi­cians is the abil­i­ty not just to cre­ate but to lis­ten in a real deep and mean­ing­ful way. I think the kids were able to do this with this project, and show true lis­ten­ing to Den­nis’ sto­ries and then show a real mean­ing­ful response by how they approached writ­ing their tunes and what they reflect­ed in their pieces. 

To me that was the most sat­is­fy­ing part of the project, get­ting to see them devel­op those lis­ten­ing skills and then be able to respond with their own cre­ative voic­es to what Den­nis’ sto­ries and expe­ri­ences were. I think that’s such a gift of the cre­ative process: to be able to give young musi­cians the chance to lis­ten to expe­ri­ences and sto­ries from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and find ways to mean­ing­ful­ly respond to those with the musi­cal skills they have and that they can devel­op through these projects.

“In a way the world is a huge com­po­si­tion – a huge musi­cal com­po­si­tion that’s going on all the time, with­out a begin­ning and pre­sum­ably with­out an end­ing. We are the com­posers of this huge mirac­u­lous com­po­si­tion that’s going on around us and we can improve it, or we can destroy it. We can add more nois­es, or we can add more beau­ti­ful sounds. It’s all up to us.” (R. Mur­ray Schafer in Lis­ten (2009), a doc­u­men­tary film.)

VIVA Singers Toronto: A Community Choir Program Connects Virtually

In this project, music edu­ca­tor Edmee Nat­aprawira and her stu­dents in the Prep Choir of VIVA Singers Toron­to build com­mu­ni­ty vir­tu­al­ly through cre­ative singing and music making: 

Hi, my name is Edmee Nat­aprawira. I use she/her pro­nouns. I live and teach in Toron­to, Ontario.

My stu­dents are in the Prep Choir, the youngest divi­sion of singers at VIVA Singers Toron­to. Though a small group this year, we come from many dif­fer­ent back­grounds, with diverse gen­der iden­ti­ties, cul­tur­al her­itages, needs, and strengths. For the past two years, we had a ful­ly online sea­son due to the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic. We are look­ing for­ward to mak­ing music in-per­son again, start­ing next sea­son. For most of the stu­dents in the Prep Choir, VIVA is their first expe­ri­ence mak­ing music with oth­ers in an ensem­ble setting. 

Our pro­gram includes the inte­gra­tion of cre­ative music-mak­ing and com­po­si­tion with the devel­op­ment of choral per­for­mance skills. We sing a vari­ety of reper­toire, often work­ing close­ly with guest artists — like Suba Sankaran and Autorick­shaw in our most recent sea­son. New to the VIVA pro­gram is our Cre­ation Stream, which builds com­po­si­tion skills through a vari­ety of medi­ums. The fol­low­ing are two activ­i­ties we use in the Cre­ation Stream: 

Cre­ation Stream

  1. Start­ing well with pre-school vir­tu­al choir: This is an activ­i­ty that high­lights how we often begin our rehearsals. The goal is to set the tone for stu­dent cre­ation and to encour­age stu­dents to hold expan­sive def­i­n­i­tions of music, so that they see that music is every­where. Using found objects from their home envi­ron­ment, stu­dents explore and share per­cus­sive sounds. They then inte­grate their sounds into the B Sec­tion of our wel­come song. View video below or see this link.
  2. A cre­ative approach to teach­ing choral reper­toire: This is anoth­er exer­cise that demon­strates a cre­ative approach to teach­ing choral reper­toire. We had been work­ing on the tune “Don’t Wor­ry Be Hap­py” in prepa­ra­tion for the spring con­cert; in this video, we are cre­at­ing a coda for the song. The video shows the kids mak­ing con­nec­tions to things that make them hap­py in their own lives. We then draw out key words from these per­son­al con­nec­tions and use rep­e­ti­tion to cre­ate rhyth­mic pat­terns, speak­ing the words before apply­ing them to our found instru­ments. The stu­dents then use rhythm syl­la­bles to notate their cre­ations and lat­er explored com­pos­ing short melodies as well. 

Suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion?

Click here to view video or read on for transcription.

Tran­scrip­tion: “What is a suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion? I asked my stu­dents at Viva Singers Toron­to in the prepara­to­ry choirs, the youngest singers, what they real­ly love about choir or what they real­ly love about music. Three major themes came out: singing, instru­ments and happiness. 

  1. Singing: The first came as no sur­prise that the stu­dent said that they loved to sing in choir. Singing is the main medi­um through which we make music and so it’s real­ly what we’re doing most of the time when we’re rehearsing. 
  2. Instru­ments: The sec­ond is a lit­tle more lay­ered and a num­ber of stu­dents brought up that they real­ly like play­ing instru­ments. The instru­ment that came up a lot was piano, specif­i­cal­ly pri­vate piano lessons tak­en out­side of choir time and out­side of school time. I do want to note that dur­ing choir prac­tice, we often incor­po­rate found instru­ments such as tin cans, soap box­es, paper tow­el rolls, Kleenex box­es, all sorts of found unpitched per­cus­sion. I also want­ed to note that those found objects were also part of this category. 
  3. Hap­pi­ness: Third, although sim­ple, I think this is the heart of music edu­ca­tion. The kids said that choir makes them feel hap­py, that they feel hap­py when they are singing. I think that is the core of what suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion is. 

For me, in reflect­ing on that ques­tion on that prompt, three major themes came up as well. com­mu­ni­ty and con­nec­tion, process ori­ent­ed prac­tice and a life­time prac­tice.

  1. Com­mu­ni­ty and con­nec­tion: The first, com­mu­ni­ty and con­nec­tion, for me is all about how music mak­ing, espe­cial­ly music mak­ing in an ensem­ble, so in choir or in class, you’re with oth­er peo­ple, and you have to be able to work with oth­er peo­ple, cre­ate with oth­er peo­ple, com­pose, rehearse, share one’s music. It’s not some­thing that you can do by your­self. And I think that is at the core of suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion. This remind­ed me of a study that I heard about a num­ber of years ago and I looked at the the peo­ple behind the study, Kirschn­er and Tomasel­lo, on joint music mak­ing pro­mot­ing pro-social behav­ior in kids. The premise of it is that being togeth­er in time and hav­ing shared musi­cal expe­ri­ences helps peo­ple want to be more help­ful, altru­is­tic, empa­thet­ic. Aren’t those all things that we want in our com­mu­ni­ty? Pret­ty out­stand­ing, I think that music can play a role in that. 
  2. Process-ori­ent­ed music edu­ca­tion: The sec­ond ele­ment of music edu­ca­tion being process-ori­ent­ed, has to do with the steps that are tak­en in the lead up towards a prod­uct. So I think often we think about music edu­ca­tion as being all about the per­for­mances. While I do think per­for­mance is valu­able, and can be real­ly quite mag­i­cal, I think that the way you get there is more impor­tant than the con­cert itself. So for me, process-ori­ent­ed music edu­ca­tion involves stu­dents mak­ing deci­sions that impact the expe­ri­ence itself. So stu­dents mak­ing deci­sions either in terms of com­pos­ing and cre­at­ing the music, or in terms of the rehearsal process, or direc­tion that the rehearsal takes, the pac­ing. All of those dif­fer­ent deci­sions are empow­er­ing stu­dents to be part of that process. I think that’s real­ly key to suc­cess­ful music education. 
  3. A life­time prac­tice: The third idea of a life­time prac­tice goes to some­thing that Dr. John Feier­abend calls the 30 year plan. Here the idea is that as a music teacher, you aren’t only teach­ing the chil­dren in front of you, you’re teach­ing them such that they might become adults who feel com­fort­able singing hap­py birth­day with their friends, who feel com­fort­able danc­ing at the wed­dings they attend, and should they choose to have chil­dren of their own some­day, that they would feel com­fort­able singing a lul­la­by to the kids in their life as adults when they grow up. So that is anoth­er impor­tant part of suc­cess­ful music education. 

I want to pull up the core val­ues of Viva Singers Toron­to. So there is that ele­ment of per­for­mance artistry, high­light­ing a singing vocal music edu­ca­tion, the idea that music edu­ca­tion needs to be for every­body. Lead­er­ship and men­tor­ing can be a key aspect of music edu­ca­tion, and com­mu­ni­ty. Again, it’s all about rela­tion­ship. In order to have a suc­cess­ful music edu­ca­tion pro­gram, it has to be about community.” 

Thoughts on cre­ative music-making 

See here to view video, or read on for transcription.

Tran­scrip­tion: “What drew me towards cre­ative music mak­ing in my own teach­ing prac­tice was, to be hon­est, the pan­dem­ic. I think that when music edu­ca­tion as I had known it no longer was pos­si­ble, I was real­ly chal­lenged to reflect on what the pur­pose of music edu­ca­tion was. Why was I doing what I was doing before the pan­dem­ic? And is that some­thing that I want to be doing after, if there ever real­ly is an after? 

In reflect­ing on the pur­pose of music edu­ca­tion and find­ing myself with more ques­tions than answers, what I found was that I had more room to exper­i­ment. I had more room to try dif­fer­ent things out, to let my stu­dents try dif­fer­ent things out and I’d dis­cov­er that that’s actu­al­ly a lot of fun, and real­ly, real­ly valu­able. So what drew me to cre­ative music mak­ing prac­tice was an inabil­i­ty to do music as it always has been, and space, time, ener­gy and cre­ativ­i­ty from my stu­dents to exper­i­ment with some­thing new. 

How might cre­ative music mak­ing help access the cen­ter of music, lis­ten­ing and sound­ing prac­tices that my stu­dents bring to the class­room? Well, I think as teach­ers, one of our biggest jobs is to get out of the way of stu­dents’ learn­ing. That is not a con­cept that I’ve come up with myself, but that a very respect­ed col­league of mine has shared with me in the past, and I just think it’s such a great phrase: get out of the way of stu­dents’ learn­ing. Cre­ative music mak­ing helps us make room for the stu­dents and it helps us step back as their teachers.

What are my hopes for music edu­ca­tion for my stu­dents as of broad­er prac­tice? Well, I would real­ly love for more peo­ple to expe­ri­ence the joys of music mak­ing. My hope is that all stu­dents feel able to engage ful­ly and stretch them­selves in music at a high lev­el, and not just those who have been tra­di­tion­al­ly suc­cess­ful, often with the sup­port of pri­vate lessons or spe­cial pro­grams. I feel like every­body should be able to expe­ri­ence music in its most won­der­ful form. 

And my hope is that we move away from the mis­con­cep­tion that cre­ative music edu­ca­tion com­pro­mis­es the qual­i­ty of the chil­dren’s musi­cal expe­ri­ences. I don’t think that’s true. I think in actu­al­i­ty, cre­ative music edu­ca­tion enhances it. And so that’s some­thing that I want to explore more and that I hope as teach­ing prac­tice as a broad­er prac­tice, we’re able to explore and exper­i­ment with togeth­er as well.” 

For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact Edmee at edmee.nataprawira(at)