CNMN > Projects > Exploring Sonic Lifeworlds : Collaborative Composition in the Large Choral Ensemble

jashen edwards and Patrick Murray

  • Ouvert (définition : partitions pour une instrumentation non spécifiée)
  • Voix
  • Instruments acoustiques
  • Appareils numériques
  • 13 à 18 ans
  • Adultes
  • Intergénérationnel

2-3 workshops/group presentations over 3 months

  • Éducation
  • Associations communautaires
  • Diversité

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.

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