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Listen.

"Is the soundscape of the world an indeterminate composition over which we have no control, or are we its composers and performers, responsible for giving it form and beauty?" R. Murray Schafer (1)

I recently spent a week teaching in Mexico City alongside R. Murray Schafer at the Festival Internacional Cedros UP (www.ficup.org). For five days we worked with teachers, musicians, and composers under the course title, Soundscape in the Classroom. Each day we spent time playing games, improvising, composing, discussing and, most importantly, listening. The forty to fifty (shifted a bit each day) participants displayed a combination of skill (musicianship, technique, conducting, educating) along with a creative openness that was extremely inspiring to me.

This is the first time I have worked alongside Murray. Each day, I led a lot of the listening games and exercises. His presence brought a staggering weight to how essentially important focused listening is for deepening a connection to our (and the) environment and also to individual creativity. Not just for me, but also to the participants (his writing on acoustic ecology is quite renowned in Mexico).

A group soundwalk (2) became a powerful act in which passersby stopped to question and listen, car drivers felt self conscious about using their horns, and the silence from a lunch break on a construction site became, to some of us, an overwhelming artistic experience. Here we are and we are listening. Mexico City is quite loud, as are most cities. Murray's presence along with our focused acts of listening caused us to contemplate if this noise is indeed indeterminate as stated in the quote above, or whether we have a role to play.

To have a course like this occur, with some teachers driving over twenty hours to attend, is very encouraging to me (and all teachers received diplomas at the end). It was an ideal educational experience in that we were able to meet the participants, facilitate activities outlining some concepts and then respond to their experiences, creative gestures, and ideas. Subsequent days sprung off their input and the course shifted as needed. This was unique and I hope to be able to experience more and more work that is similar. Most often we find ourselves having to make sure we cover so much prescribed material that there is little room for relationships and observation. Murray and I plan to run a similar course in the wilderness of Ontario in the Summer of 2015.

For this column I want to list off a few of the listening activities we participated in. Although we composed and interacted with the sounds we heard, I will focus simply on listening. I believe that these powerful acts of listening grounded us as individuals and as a group and allowed us to be present, vulnerable, and ready for a truly educational experience to occur. We all left changed from our experience in ways that could not be predicted at the outset.

* Listen to and compare sounds in the four directions (East, South, West, North)

* Listen or imagine sounds at four times of day (Morning, Midday, Dusk, Night). (3)

* Listen (eyes closed) and point to two different sounds as they move around the room. Add two other sounds for half the group to point to.

* Decide which of two people walked to the middle of the room and back by just listening. (4)

* Sit and listen to a soundscape. Decide what you like, what you might change, and what you might add.

* Hum a note and listen to the notes others are humming around you, stop, start again but hum the note that was to your left (can also do this with sounds).

* Listen to your current soundscape. How is it different than the soundscapes you hear everyday at your home? How is it different than the sounds that might have been in that location 100 years ago?

* Listen as you walk to or from class. Which sounds and moments are the most beautiful? Which would you change?

* Pick the noisiest area of a school or city and gather there to listen and decide how you might begin to change it (improvise with the sounds on location, compose for that location, gather a large number of people with signs that say "shhh, I'm listening")

* Spend an entire day just listening and not talking.

As always, please send your own ideas to doug.friesen@gmail.com and, with your permission, I will put them up here: www.creativemusiced.wordpress.com. You can also go here (www.esme2014.wix.com/esme) for information on ESME (expanding success in music education): a group of Ontario music educators from various public boards and universities that are involved and interested in promoting and facilitating Music In Education that is in addition to traditional ensemble/performance classes.

(1) Schafer, R. M. (2004). HearingHistory, University of Georgia Press, M. M. Smith (Ed.). Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

(2) As described in my entry in the Fall 2013 issue

(3) These two come out of work with the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto when I was at OISE. The lesson (Soundscape Composition through the Medicine Wheel) we wrote together can be found here: www.oise.utoronto.ca/deepeningknowledge under music resources.

(4) Versions of these can be found in Schafer's Hearsing and A SoundEducation (both are available through Arcana Editions (www.patria.org).

I am an Instructional Leader for the Toronto District School Board, During a recent two-year leave I started teaching, and continue to teach, courses at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and at Wilfrid Laurier University, in these areas and in workshops with students and teachers, as well as during my Masters study, I have searched out and explored democratic and creative teaching models where teacher and tradition are guests,
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Title Annotation:creative ideas for the music classroom
Author:Friesen, Douglas
Publication:Canadian Music Educator
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2014
Words:968
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