July 18 Tribute dinner/concert for R Murray Schafer. From l. to r. Eleanor , Sabine Breitsameter, Eric Leonardson, and Murray Schafer. Photo by Irene Miller 2013.
It was a sweltering evening at The Church Restaurant, in Stratford, Ontario on 2013 World Listening Day, where my friend Sabine Breitsameter and I had the honor of joining R. Murray Schafer, his wife Eleanor, and a large group of a hundred people in celebration of and tribute to Schafer on his 80th birthday, at the Stratford Summer Music Festival.
Following a moving concert of six pieces from Schafer’s aesthetically diverse musical oeuvre, interspersed with speeches by Eleanor his close friends and colleagues, and an exquisite dinner, Sabine and I addressed the appreciative and attentive audience with a few words about Schafer’s importance in establishing the World Soundscape Project in the early-70s, which culminated in his seminal book, The Tuning of the World, published in 1977. (This book sparked international interest in “acoustic ecology.” Simply defined, this multidisciplinary field of study and action is concerned with the relationship of living creatures with their sound environment. For many it draws attention to the dynamic relationship between sound, listener, and environment.)
My long-time colleague and a fellow member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE), Sabine Breitsameter and I presented the book we co-edited. It is entitled, Ways of Listening, Figures of Thought: A Festschrift for R. Murray Schafer on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday. Along with Schafer’s Festschrift we presented him with the latest issue of Soundscape: The Journal for Acoustic Ecology, Volume 12, just hot off the presses in Carbondale, Illinois.
The evening’s program included performances of six pieces of music that Schafer has composed since the early 60s. Many of these were from his Patria cycle. Overall, I learned and was impressed by how aesthetically diverse this sample was. From five decades of composing I now understand a little better why he is considered one of Canada’s most respected composers, while I’m left wondering why, 20 years after the founding of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, the significance of acoustic ecology remains little known in his homeland.
On the following day, I attended an early morning performance of Schafer’s Wilderness Lake, performed by four groups of trombonists situated around the small lake of a nearby park in Stratford. Soprano Brooke Dufton performed from a canoe that navigated around the islands from which we listened and watched. Ms. Dufton also performed wonderfully in one of the wilder music theater pieces at the tribute the night before.