jashen edwards and Patrick Murray
- Open (def: scores for unspecified instrumentation)
- Acoustic instruments
- Digital devices
- 13 to 18 years of age
2-3 workshops/group presentations over 3 months
- Community associations
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.Read More +