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School of Creative and Performing Arts gets in on Juno spirit

Join collective orchestra at Playing our City March 12, and turn Calgary into one big instrument

Bruce Barton, director of the School and Creative and Performing Arts (left) and Juno Award winning music professor Allan Bell man the boards, shaping the music that will be heard at the Playing Our City event on March 12. Photo by Riley Brandt

By Jennifer Allford

All of Calgary is invited to join some of the University of Calgary’s highest-profile performance-makers on March 12 for Playing Our City, an interactive musical experience that will be part of the 2016 Juno Awards programming to be held in our city later this month.

Historically, the Junos engage with host communities through the commissioning of a new popular composition that is then performed by local youth. But as a planning committee member, Bruce Barton — director of the newly formed School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary — proposed something considerably more ambitious. “If it’s meant to be a celebration of the city,” says Barton, who is directing the performance, “why not invite the citizens to perform it and use the landscape as our instrument?”

Trained musicians will guide a semi-improvised symphony

Playing Our City will happen in two locations simultaneously: the Central Public Library downtown and the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary. The sites will be connected by high-speed internet, so that participants in each location will be able to see and hear those in the other. “Site animators,” assisted by local musicians — including Adam Johnson, Bob Fenske, Kyle Eustace, Aura Pon, Nathan Bosse and Lawrence Fyfe — will conduct a collaborative, semi-composed, semi-improvised "city symphony."

“I suspect it will be the largest collective orchestra Calgary has ever seen,” says Barton.

Citizens can collaborate by percussively ‘playing’ the material features of their locations

Celebrated composers Allan Bell (a 2015 Juno Award winner) and Laurie Radford of the SCPA’s music division are shaping the composition, drawing on a wide range of available sounds and surfaces in the process. “We’re working with materials, textures and spatial relationships,” explains Bell, “in addition to more traditional musical considerations such as volume, tone, rhythm and tempo. While the composition will have a structure and integrity, it also anticipates considerable agency on the part of the participants.

“The acoustics in the two locations are quite distinct," says Barton, "as are the physical designs, the types of resident populations, and the relationships to the communities in which they’re located. All of this will figure into the dynamic between the spaces and the nature of the final performance.”

In the lead-up to the March 12 event, young people across Canada have been encouraged to submit video clips of themselves playing their schoolyards and playgrounds. The clips will be edited (by Bell and Barton) into a short film that will be exhibited on the day of the live performance. A How-To instructional video was distributed to schools across the city.

Anyone can make sounds. Just find an interesting surface and play it

“It’s a fairly simple idea that is remarkably complex to realize," says Barton. "Our technology guru, Eric Bumstead, has been instrumental in that respect, and we’re working with some other great U of Calgary collaborators, including Pil Hansen and Graham Frampton of the SCPA.”

“We hope kids to grandparents and everyone in between will come join us,” says Barton. “No musical experience or expertise is required. Leave your guitars, violins, and drum sets at home; just bring your curiosity, enthusiasm and collaborative spirit.”

Playing Our City begins at 2 p.m. on March 12 at the Central Public Library and the Genesis Centre.

The overall performance will be videotaped for presentation at the gala Listen to Your City concert on March 14, and then be available online in an archived recording.