This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Music conference to celebrate the environment

WATERLOO, Ont. — Conrad Grebel University College is well into preparations for the third in a series of music festival-conferences June 5-8.

Alice Parker and Mary Oyer lead music from the Harmonia Sacra at the historic Detweiler Meeting House during Sound in the Land 2009. — Conrad Grebel University College
Alice Parker and Mary Oyer lead music from the Harmonia Sacra at the historic Detweiler Meeting House during Sound in the Land 2009. — Conrad Grebel University College

“Sound in the Land 2014: Music and the Environment (Discovering Mennonite Perspectives)” is both a festival with concerts and performances and a conference with presentations exploring ecomusicology.

It will bring together composers, speakers, performers, sonic artists and writers from Korea, South Africa, Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

Keynote speakers are R. Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer and founder of World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and Gus Mills, a South African environmentalist and researcher. Musicians and environmentalists will be in dialogue, discovering new ways to listen to the Earth and create musical and verbal responses to the planet.

Korean media artist Cecilia Kim will present her multimedia Earth Songs. Commissioned works by Larry Warkentin (orchestra), Joanne Bender (children’s choir) and Bryan Moyer Suderman (folk) will be premiered.

The Inter-Mennonite Children’s Choir, Rockway Mennonite Collegiate Combo, Tactus Vocal Ensemble, Festival Choir, Grebel Gamelan, First Nations Choir, Waterloo Chamber Players Orchestra and Mennofolk performers will present concerts of nature-themed music.

Dawn Chorus will be an outdoor concert of Murray Schaefer’s work on Sunday morning. Mennonite singing will abound, with Marilyn Houser Hamm leading congregational hymns. Artists in multiple disciplines will collaborate on environmental themes.

As part of Grebel’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the event brings together musicians, scientists and environmentalists to work at understanding the compelling issue of the 21st century — the welfare of the Earth’s environment — from an artistic and scientific context.

“We hope to listen to the Earth differently, finding new ways to create musical responses to our beautiful planet stressed by climate change,” said director Carol Ann Weaver. “We are already part of the Earth’s ecology, so our music is part of a wider global sound.”

Embodying core values

Music department chair Laura Gray says the event embodies Grebel’s core values of scholarly excellence, creativity, stewardship of creation and leadership.

“At one of the conference sessions, several of our music students will lead a forum on sound and the environment with other students from Canada, the U.S. and Germany,” she said. Students from Canadian Mennonite University and Goshen College will participate.

“Some of the students on the panel are currently in my Music and Landscape seminar, and I look forward to seeing how they transform their research into an academic presentation,” she said.

Caroline Bordignon, a second-year music student, is participating in the student panel.

“I am interested in hearing the variety of styles and creative ways people interpret the environment through music and the aspects that have inspired them to create music in such ways,” she said.

Bordignon’s first orchestral piece — created in Carol Ann Weaver’s Composition class — will be performed as part of the conference. Weaver describes the piece, “Wind,” as intricate and brilliant. In writing it, Bordignon “discovered a love for composition I never knew I had.”

“Sound in the Land” is being organized by Grebel music faculty and staff, as well as area professional musicians Bryan Moyer Suderman and Tilly Kooyman, Rockway Collegiate Principal Ann Schultz and Memorial University NL ethnomusicologist and professor Doreen Klassen.

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