Browsed by
Month: February 2022

Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Kirk L. MacKenzie and Robin Elliott, editors


We invite you to enjoy these reflections and personal insights concerning an artist who, over the course of a long, productive and compelling career, became one of the most important figures in the arts and letters in Canada in the late 20th/early 21st century. Murray Schafer the man who walked amongst us will be deeply and sorely missed, but the incredibly rich and multifaceted legacy he has left behind vibrantly lives on, and will continue to delight, nurture, surprise, challenge, and inspire us … and many future generations to come. The Editors

We are pleased to present the first of a projected two dozen or so tributes to R. Murray Schafer which will appear in this collection. Many thanks to Kirk L. MacKenzie, an independent scholar specializing in the work of Murray Schafer, for this inspired idea, and for his sustained efforts in commissioning and editing these tributes for this collection. Robin Elliott

I would like to thank Stephen J. Adams, Professor Emeritus at Western University, not only for his seminal R. Murray Schafer (U. of Toronto Press, 1983)—which laid a very firm foundation for what has become a fairly significant field of Schafer studies—but for being the inspiration behind this tribute project as well. A few days after Murray’s death on 14 August 2021, Stephen sent me his personal remembrance of Murray entitled “I Danced with Anubis,” a short essay he had posted to his personal Facebook account (see below). Adams’ heartfelt and eloquent words were exactly the tonic I needed at a time while I was struggling to come to grips with my own profound sense of loss with Murray’s passing (proving that grief is best dealt with communally).  It also occurred to me after reading Stephen’s piece that this loving and elegant ode to Murray deserved the widest circulation possible.

I then asked Robin Elliott if “I Danced with Anubis,” and additional tributes by others who knew Murray could be published on the Institute for Music in Canada’s webpage to accompany Robin’s recently composed and insightful retrospective on Schafer’s life and work. He immediately agreed, has been very enthusiastic about this project from the start, and has been both a wise and generous collaborator and very valuable second set of eyes as co-editor. My sincerest thanks also to Eleanor James, Murray’s wife, and D. Paul Schafer, Murray’s brother, for their gracious support and encouragement of this project, and to our many contributors who have agreed to share their thoughts on and personal interactions with this uniquely gifted artist and thinker—or as composer Hildegard Westerkamp so aptly expressed it—this “complex, unstoppably creative man.” Kirk L. MacKenzie

I Danced with Anubis” by Stephen J. Adams
Our Murray” by John Beckwith
True To His Conviction” by Rae Crossman
Who I Am Today” by Emily Doolittle
The Editor and The Theatre of Confluence” by Karen Mulhallen
Remembering R. Murray Schafer” by Anne Renouf
Growing Up with Murray” by D. Paul Schafer
Weaving Ariadne’s Thread” by Jerrard Smith
Wolf Time” by Sarah Ann Standing
Remembering R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project” by Barry Truax
Winter Diary Revisted: Homage to R. Murray Schafer” by Claude Schryer
A Soniferous Garden: Singing Schafer’s Choral Music” by Jon Washburn
World Forum for Acoustic Ecology’s Murray Schafer Tribute


I Danced with Anubis

Stephen J. Adams

To begin, I don’t dance. My body has always been awkward, even when I was younger and thin. But the occasion was the performance of Ra that I attended at the Ontario Science Centre in May 1983. The work is a dramatization of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, beginning at sundown, with instruction in the religious beliefs and rehearsal of the audience participation needed to conduct the living soul safely to the other side. It continues through the night, following the sun’s journey through the underworld to its re-appearance many hours later. Because of its length, Murray had provided an appropriate meal, served at midnight with belly-dancing and music, and allowed one hour for a nap on the cold, rock-hard museum floor. We were awakened by the sound of Maureen Forrester’s voice. She was there, I understand, in the dead middle of the night, though we never saw her. After passing a number of tests, including a lone walk through catacombs lined with skeletal corpses (one of them had open eyes), the destination was reached and all joined—actors, musicians, audience—in a general dance as the sun rose. My exhausted brain was reeling, ready to pass out, so I fixed my eyes on the jackal-headed figure of Anubis to steady me. I fell in love with him, and I actually danced.

A few days later, Murray pointed out to me the actor who had played Anubis. He was an ordinary looking guy I would not otherwise have noticed. Murray told me, laughing, that one performance had been bought out entirely by a local coven of witches. At another, a woman suffered hysterics in the catacomb walk and needed medical attention. Oddly, having written a book that analyzes Murray’s music at a time when only Patrias I and II had been completed, I now think of him first as a man of the theatre.[1] His masterwork is certainly the largest unified dramatic cycle written in Canada, and in the history of the arts, one of the largest ever conceived. Its theatricality is more innovative than any other I can think of, and the works have been acclaimed internationally. Yet—such are the rigid categories that rule our minds—he is almost never included in discussions of “Canadian Drama.” I wonder how many courses devoted to the subject even mention Patria?

One of the many innovations of Patria involve the site-specific locations for each work. Princess of the Stars must be performed on a lake in the remote wilderness, in canoes (with the musicians on the shoreline), beginning precisely one hour before sunrise. It has left me memories of riding in a rusty bus over a bumpy logging road in the Canadian north at 4:00 a.m. and sitting on a log in darkness. The Greatest Show takes the form of a county fair. The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos specifies a deserted mine or abandoned factory at midnight (though Schafer, being adaptable, found an adequate substitute in Toronto’s Union Station). And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the cycle’s finale, engages participants in a week-long camping trip in the Canadian wilderness. All of this grows out of Murray’s life-long concern for the environment, which first emerged in his pioneering studies of the acoustic environment—the soundscape—and evolved into a comprehensive lived experience of Canadian ecology.

I do not mean to slight Murray’s catalogue of non-theatrical music. He was prolific as well as endlessly inventive, and his work includes a large body of vocal and instrumental music, including an extraordinary cycle of string quartets, orchestral and chamber works, an opera for television, even a remarkable Symphony in C Minor which I take to be his reconciliation with the institution of the symphony orchestra that he once condemned as obsolete.

I’ve often told how I, as a timid grad student looking for a dissertation topic, wrote a letter to the one person in the world at that time who knew about Ezra Pound and music. Murray had mounted a performance of Pound’s first opera Villon for the BBC and was editing Pound’s extensive music criticism for what later became Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism (much of Pound’s music criticism published in fugitive little magazines not held by any library, in particular the weekly newspaper of Rapallo, Italy, through the 1930s.)[2] Instead of the expected rebuff, I received an open invitation from Murray to visit him at Simon Fraser University, where he bestowed all the primary sources I needed to my safekeeping. Our relationship grew from there as I wrote my dissertation and aided with the final stages of his very valuable contribution to Pound studies. Murray’s gift made my career possible.[3]

But aside from that career business, I owe Murray a broadening of my understanding, of my felt life, of my perception of the world that cannot be measured. And I treasure the kindness, the laughter, the confidence . . . . and the opportunity to dance with Anubis.

[1] Editor’s note: Adams also discusses The Princess of the Stars (1981) in his excellent monograph R. Murray Schafer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983); however, at the time, Schafer had not yet (consciously) envisioned Princess of the Stars as part of his Patria universe. (KLM)
[2] Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism; edited with commentary by R. Murray Schafer (New York: New Directions, 1977; London: Faber and Faber, 1978), 430 pp.
[3] Editor’s note: Schafer was very appreciative of Adams’s contribution to Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism and his very genuine and perhaps less well known capacities for graciousness and self-effacement are on full display in the preface (p. xii): “Two graduate students contributed numerous insights and hours of work to this volume: Brian Fawcett of Simon Fraser University and Stephen Adams of the University of Toronto both have repeated revealed that they knew more than the editor [Schafer] about much of the subject matter, and many of their ideas and suggestions have been incorporated in the text. Stephens Adams, now a distinguished scholar in his own right, followed the text in the final stages approaching publication and helped in many more ways than can be adequately expressed here.” (KLM)



Our Murray” by John Beckwith

We are honored to have a contribution to our Schafer remembrance project by John Beckwith with an essay entitled “Our Murray.” The essay is in a separate PDF document which can be found by clicking here. Sometimes described at this later stage of his career as the “dean of Canadian composers,” Beckwith is a Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, and its former dean (1970–77).[1] A Member of the Order of Canada (1987), Beckwith completed this essay in January 2022 at the age of 94, bearing comparison with how active Igor Stravinsky was late in his life. Having turned 95 in March 2022, Beckwith has now outlived by many years Stravinsky and also Schafer, both of whom, coincidently, died at the age of 88.

Of the number of comparisons that could be made between Schafer and Beckwith, perhaps the most compelling is that, while we first think of them as composers, it is, I believe, hard to overstate the importance of their output as writers and thinkers, including their considerable accomplishments in the realm of music scholarship. Fittingly it was Beckwith who was the editor for the U. of Toronto Press monograph series on Canadian composers in which the first book-length study of Schafer was published.[2] The author of the Schafer volume, Stephen J. Adams, was very appreciative of Beckwith’s oversight, describing him as “the most patient and meticulous of editors.”[3] Also fitting is that in 1984 Beckwith became the founding director of the Institute for Music in Canada (at the time called the Institute for Canadian Music), which is hosting this online Schafer remembrance. Perhaps bringing matters full circle is that my co-editor for this Schafer project, Robin Elliott, currently not only holds Beckwith’s former post as Director of the Institute, but also has worked tirelessly to gather into one volume a collection of Beckwith’s writings on music over many decades. Entitled Music Annals, and a sequel to an earlier collection by Beckwith titled Music Papers (1997), this long overdue and very valuable addition to Canadian music studies is currently in press, and, as one might expect, is a volume in which the Schafer name appears quite a few times.

Beckwith’s attached Schafer retrospective titled “Our Murray” could be best described as a “suite” of short, individual movements, each outlining or commenting on select events or strands from Schafer’s life, the ten movements in the suite being:

Three Contemporaries
The Piano
Arnold Walter
Ten Centuries Concerts
First Orchestra Commissions
Patria 3: The Greatest Show
Classical Forms

Murray has passed on, but if he were still with us, I am sure that he would join us in wishing John Beckwith many years of continued good health and productivity.

Kirk L. MacKenzie

[1] Editors’ note: The term “dean of Canadian composers” was for many years paired with the name of John Weinzweig and deservedly so, given his importance and influence as a composer and modernizing influence in Canadian music in the 20th Century, and also as a valued mentor to generations of younger composers including both Beckwith and Murray Schafer. Since Weinzweig’s death in 2006 this moniker to signify senior statesmanship among Canadian composers has understandably been passed on to Beckwith, fourteen years Weinzweig’s junior. (KLM & RE).
[2] Other volumes in this Canadian Composers series overseen and edited by Beckwith were Harry Somers by Brian Cherney in 1975, and Barbara Pentland by Shelia Eastman and Timothy McGee in 1983. Also begun as part of this series, but later completed with other publishers were monographs on John Weinzweig and Jean Papineau-Couture. A biography of Serge Garant written by Udo Kasemets was completed but never published. (RE)
[3] Stephen J. Adams, R. Murray Schafer (Toronto: U. of Toronto Press, 1983), ix.



True To His Conviction

Rae Crossman

“What is the purpose of art? First, exaltation. Let us speak of that… To effect change in our existential condition. This is the first purpose. To change us. It is a noble aim, a divine aim.”
R. Murray Schafer

Step with me gently into the canoe along the keel line. Bend low. Grasp the gunwales. Make your way to the bow. But instead of sitting or kneeling, recline. Yes, lie down in the bottom of the canoe. Lie on the spruce boughs placed to make a soft bed covering the cedar ribs. Breathe in the fragrance. You are looking up into sky. Cerulean blue. Cumulus cloud. The canoe departs almost silently. One slight scrape on a submerged log. The canoe rocks. Lapping at the bow. Faint paddle swish at the stern. Cradled in spruce, moving across the lake, delighted by sky. You hear a thread of song. A single soprano voice. Ethereal at first … then filling the firmament. Could it be the Princess?

Senses alive. Wonder alive. You have made a journey, participated in an Encounter, and entered into Schafer’s theatre of confluence. What lies ahead?

In his three essays on the theatre of confluence Schafer explains his thinking behind a new vision of theatre, one which calls for a synergistic flowing together of all the arts with the aim of creating a transformational experience aligned with a reverence for nature. Schafer’s conviction is sincere, his writing is inspirational, and his realization is actual—the Patria music dramas are life altering for those that give themselves over to the experience. I can attest to this as an audience member, performer, and collaborator in several of his projects. In fact these distinctions fall away as one becomes an active participant in the theatre of confluence and the sacred celebration of the cosmos.

In the final work of the twelve-part Patria cycle, Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, a musical pageant that unfolds in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Preserve in central Ontario, the archetypal characters of Wolf and the Princess of the Stars are united after mythic ages of anguished separation and searching. Schafer provides the outline and grand arc of the narrative and invites participants to co-create dramatic scenarios or “Encounters” and other artistic expressions that flesh out the story.

We canoe into the isolated site, camp, and enact the hierophany, or sacred drama, over eight days. But participants do not just contribute in the area of their expertise. Musicians make costumes, visual artists tell stories, dancers sing, and everyone has a stint at the campfire kitchen. The creation of an artistic community that encourages growth and stretches individual limits is part of the aim. I used to consider myself a non-singer, non-dancer, and not very adept at visual art either. So in the past, I didn’t engage in those activities. Murray changed that perspective for me and for so many others, opening us to possibilities. The point is to make art—of all formsto enhance your life. Art engenders art. The arts flow together.


For R. Murray Schafer

rivers flow into rivers

reflection scatters into spindrift
wind wails into psalm

so music flows
into the bloodstream

dance into the bones

words breathe

a brush stroke quivers a pulse

stars jewel a crown
a hunter antlers a stag
an old woman withers into a girl
a carcass births a young man
and wolf rhythms the moon

rivers flow into rivers

I am a tributary of you
you are a branch of me

our waters swirl into clouds

we river
we rain

The quest motif in Wolf is not just the redemptive search of Wolf and the Princess but also the parallel journey of the participants to create a meaningful life experience.

Take the trail your footsteps make
Take the end for your beginning
Light the stars you journey by
Wolf and the Princess will dance in the sky.

It begins with a canoe trip pilgrimage. Leaving behind the familiar, and crossing the portage threshold into both the wild and the mythic realm, our senses are sharpened. We attend to cloud formations, birdsong, wind direction. The colourful array of mosses and lichens on the trail. We help each other set up tents, share food, and collaborate on musical compositions and dramatic presentations in the dappled light beneath maple and pine. Attentive living. Intentional living. A journey undertaken to enact a mythic story and also to encourage our creativity. The forest animates our spirit. And we have a spirit guide.

Schafer deplores the desacralization of nature: the forest clear-cutting attitude and urban sprawl acceptance. By shifting the context of his music, taking it out of the concert hall and into the forest or across a lake, he compels us to listen differently, see differently. He advocates for the recovery of the sacred through art. As participants, we too, celebrate a reverence for nature. And Wolf provides an opportunity for the expression of that revelatory experience through the creation of music, dance, drama, storytelling and poetry. Life lived with intensity.

One Ruby-throated Moment

if only for one
ruby-throated moment
your life could hover


you would never let the quiver
out of your bloodstream

seek always the nectar
you sensed was there

if only for one
ruby-throated moment
your heart could beat

a hundred thrilling times

a hundred exclamations
a hundred revelations
a hundred prayers

if only for one
ruby-throated moment
you could drink
from the chalice of the sun

Transformation. Reverence. Exaltation. I am not the only one to experience heightened states of awareness through Murray’s work. Over and over I hear similar exuberant declarations:

“He changed my life … I joined a choir.”
“Thought I couldn’t dance, but look at this …”
“I’m learning to identify birdsongs … types of trees.”
“I never made a mask before, or acted a role.”
“Let’s organize a soundwalk.”
“Now I share my writing. Aloud. Here’s a poem …”

R. Murray Schafertrue to his conviction.

And yes, that was the Princess singing while you were cradled in the hull of the canoe. Beautiful affirmations of sound, but suffering and melancholy too. Listen again. She is calling for help to save the forest. She is calling you. Break out your own songs and dances. Declaim your poems to the sun; share the mythic stories written in the stars. Tell the ancient tales. Embrace the trees. Rediscover and re-tune to the sacred mysteries.

To keep the forest safekeep the forest enchanted.



Who I Am Today

Emily Doolittle

I absolutely would not be who I am today without R. Murray Schafer. My first memory of Murray’s music is hearing an incredible performance of his Third String Quartet (by Andrew Dawes, Malcolm Lowe, Steven Dann and Michael Kannen) at the Scotia Festival of Music in 1990, when I was seventeen. I knew immediately that I needed to be a musician, and I’ve since spoken with other musicians who were at that concert for whom it was a similarly transformative experience. At around the same time, I had an opportunity to sing Epitaph for Moonlight with the Halifax High Schools Choir, conducted by Kaye Pottie.[4] As young musicians, we were entranced by the musical and visual beauty of Schafer’s graphic scores; but even more by realizing that here was a composer who valued music made by children just as much as music made by professionals. This empowered us to take our own music making more seriously. I wrote to Murray when I was twenty and received a warm, welcoming, and encouraging response, which helped me to believe that I could really one day be a composer, and emboldened me to pursue my musical interests, whatever they were.

I met Murray in person for the first time when he was the composer-in-residence at Scotia Festival in 1993. I attended the overnightWilderness Lake” concert event at Camp Kidston featuring the performance of five of Schafer’s natural environment compositions, and experienced, along with hundreds of other intrepid Nova Scotians, the magic of music created in collaboration with the dusk and dawn, the lakes and skies, the wild animals and humans. In particular I remember the enchantment of two Canada geese flying across the sky and calling near the end of the “Princess’s Aria” from The Princess of the Stars, sung by Judith Forst.[5]  I was thrilled to be able to put my outdoorsy skills to use by canoeing Murray out to a raft the middle of Long Lake (see photo above), the position where he used flags to conduct the twelve trombonists situated on and around the lake for Music for Wilderness Lake.

But for me my profoundest connection with Schafer was participating in his collaborative wilderness project And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon from 1993 through 2003 (or thereabouts) for all the reasons mentioned above, but even more for the sense of community: for learning about the amazing art we can create if we value equally the contributions of everyone (whether trained artist or not), and for experiencing the incredible power of making art for and with each other instead of for an abstract audience.[6] The “Wolf Project” was not perfect: in particular, there were issues of problematic cultural appropriation which came to trouble many, though in recent years Schafer and the participants worked hard to put these right.

Indeed, perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned through interacting with Murray and his music over many years, and in many contexts, is that art doesn’t have to be perfect to be incredible. What matters is listening to the sounds around us and to each other, caring for the community, working through the difficult bits, and always staying open to new possibilities. That is where we find real strength and unexpected beauty.

7 January 2022

Schafer, Emily Doolittle, son Milo, and Eleanor James at the 2014 Sound in the Land Festival / Conference in Waterloo, Ontario
[4] Editor’s note: Kaye Pottie is an educator, choral conductor, and soprano who wrote an early thesis on Schafer’s work, “Requiems for the Party-Girl: An Analysis of a Musical Drama,” M MUS thesis, University of Western Ontario, 1980.  See also (KLM)
[5] Editor’s note: home movie footage of this 1993 concert was recently discovered and highlights were shared as part of the virtual 2020 Scotia Festival of Music: (KLM)
[6] I wrote an unpublished paper in 2001 entitled “Thoughts on R. Murray Schafer’s Wolf Project.” Please note that this paper now seems quite dated to me: I would reflect very differently on my experiences with the Wolf Project if I were writing this now. However, I’m leaving this up on my personal website for those interested in the history of Schafer’s work.  [Full text]



The Editor and The Theatre of Confluence

Karen Mulhallen

I met Murray Schafer in the late spring of 1987. One of his former students from Simon Fraser University (whom I will refer to as “the Writer”) was in town for the Annual General Meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada. The Writer arranged that the three of us would go out to dinner. I managed to get a reservation at what was then a hip and busy Queen Street West bistro called Stella, and I drove us up to Forest Hill to pick up Schafer from the coach house in which he was staying.

The crowd at Stella was mainly in black, and Schafer was wearing some approximation of lederhosen. I can still see him as he was that evening, slight, tall with grey hair and a bright focused gaze, and with something almost child-like in his enthusiasm, and his passion. I didn’t know then that one of Schafer’s eyes was glass. Not surprising that I didn’t notice, as Murray’s intensity and focus blur all the edges. My friend, the Writer, was mesmerized, adulatory, and I had never seen him like that before.

Schafer was in overdrive, working on the coming production of Patria 3: The Greatest Show and our conversation rushed through topics of myth and music and magic and community involvement and nature and, of course, sound—the glorious sounds of the embattled and beautiful physical world. He was unstoppable and neither of us wanted him to stop.

Suddenly there was a pause and I told him about my own father’s magic show, which toured North America and Europe. In the afternoons I would sit in the darkened theatre watching rehearsals. A woman was sawed up on stage, but she would appear in the evening at our family dinner table. Murray was always in search of collaborators and immediately asked me if I would be a part of The Greatest Show, as he needed a snake charmer. This was not to be, but I too was taken up in the Schafer charisma. Starstruck at Stella. Murray was the magician of magicians.

Years later I did get to work with Murray, not as that snake charmer, but as a collaborator on an issue of the literary magazine Descant for which I served as editor. We devoted our entire issue of Descant 73 (Summer 1991), complete with graphics and foldouts, to thirteen of Schafer essays on the Patria cycle and his method for combing the arts as the theatre of confluence. (Murray subsequently reprinted our entire issue of Descant 73 as a book, Patria and The Theatre of Confluence, through his Arcana Editions.)[7]

The Banff Centre for the Arts offered me a Maclean-Hunter Arts Journalism Fellowship for Summer 1994, a time when my knowledge of Schafer’s work was growing and with it my own desire to write about it. Murray gave that project his blessing as well, and I spent the summer of 1994 in the mountains, where the elk were birthing. I witnessed a ballet to Schafer’s String Quartet No. 5 that was choreographed by Brian MacDonald and was performed at the Banff Centre, and I wrote in a cabin in the woods on Tunnel Mountain. From time to time Murray would respond to excerpts I sent him, sometimes to say he hadn’t said something, so I would have to xerox some passage from one of his letters and send it back as proof of my honesty. (While editing his essays for the special Descant issue, I noted that Murray hated being questioned about his diction and disliked the editorial process. He could be difficult.)

In the end, I wrote two very different essays in the summer of 1994 honoring the work of this passionate, brilliant and extraordinary man. The first, “Schaferscapes/Wolfbound: Twelve Notes toward a New View of Camping” appeared in Descant 88 (Spring 1995); the second, an unpublished essay, “Schaferscapes/ Wolfbound: The Massing of the Elk,” appears in abbreviated form in the literary magazine Border Crossings (Winter 1996) as “Schaferscapes.”[8] A third brief essay “Circumnavigating and Creating: Descant in The Theatre of Confluence” is my editorial introduction to Descant 73 (Summer 1991), Patria and the Theater of Confluence.

Our relationship continued after that glorious summer, and for the next few years Murray and I talked of doing other projects together. By then I also had my own imprint as an acquiring editor at Somerville House Books and one wintry weekend in 1996 Murray drove out to Jane Somerville’s farm, Stonehouse, north of Peterborough to discuss the possibility of doing a book with that press. Although this book project never materialized, we continued as friends—he came to dinner at my home with Jean, and later with Eleanor, and I went to his 80th birthday celebration.

My final sense of Murray was not only the way he brought out so much in so many people—and that was itself profound—but it was in the vision he had for something better, embodied in the monumental performance, in June 2015, of a remount of an earlier work, Apocalypsis, at the Sony Centre in Toronto. A thousand voices are raised to describe the destruction of the world and the rebirth of a new universe. Two hours without intermission was a transformational experience for the audience, bringing each of us into the centre of Murray Schafer’s vision for a new heaven and a new earth.

27 September 2021


[7] Editor’s note: Schafer’s second edition of this book was released in 2002 (Toronto: Coach House Books) with a new title Patria: The Complete Cycle ( This revised and expanded edition contains four new essays on Patria works which were still in progress at the time of the first edition; a revised essay on Patria 7: Asterion; a new essay on the theatre of confluence (“The Theatre of Confluence III”); and other materials including two appendices. For those interested in the Patria cycle, the first edition of his book on Patria, which is no longer in print, is still very useful as it contains a number of items which do not appear in the revised edition, such as Mulhallen’s introductory essay noted above; an essay by Mary Neil and another by Tom Sokoloski in the section entitled “Afterwords: Performing Patria” (pp. 216–228); and the original essay on Patria 7: Asterion which is quite different from the later version of this essay.  (KLM)
[8] Karen Mulhallen, “Schaferscapes/Wolfbound: Twelve Notes Toward a New View of Camping,” Descant 88 (Spring 1995): 133–76 and “Schaferscapes,” Border Crossings 15.1 (Winter 1996): 25–31.



Editor’s note: the following tribute was published in The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), 17 September 2021, p. B17. A slightly expanded version appears on the author’s website, and with her permission, is reproduced below. 

Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Anne Renouf

 I can easily think of my life in these terms: the time before I knew Murray, and after. I think that there are many who feel this way; who remember the precise moment that they first met him. He was that sort of person.

For me, it was the late 1980s and I was visiting friends near Peterborough. Murray dropped by. He fixed me with his piercing eye and told me that he had AN IDEA. Murray had a way of making you feel that his idea, an idea of great musical genius, was somehow about you. Or perhaps, you, and the small part that he wanted you to play.

In my case, it was my years spent wilderness camping, cooking over an open fire, and being able to handle a canoe that sparked his interest. That, and the convenience of my being in the right place at the right time. A third person was needed to stern a canoe and help cook for fifteen, for a three-day musical performance planning session in the wilds of Haliburton County.[9] It was the very beginning of what was to become known as “The Wolf Project.”

My role in all of this was so minor. But even so, I felt a deep sense of belonging. Murray believed that everyone played a part, and so even the “kitchen staff” and “sternswomen” were part of the brainstorming, the composition, the music, and most importantly the ritual of it all, from the very beginning.

For five summers, I spent a week as a member of The Wolf Project, helped create masks, costumes, performances, and most especially “Firebird,” constructed of tree limbs and twigs, then floated out over the water at dusk and set on fire, accompanied by echoing, haunting music in the most beautiful place on earth.

Life’s demands led me, by necessity, in other directions. But that involvement would touch every aspect of my life, influencing my work as a visual artist, teacher and writer. I am forever a follower of the creative vision of R. Murray Schafer. I am forever a Wolf.

As fate would have it, my partner and I have lived for twenty-plus years three kilometers south of Murray and his wife Eleanor James.[10] We became close friends, sharing meals, countless bottles of wine, ideas, music, art. Happily, we were able to spend hours listening to the consummate storyteller relate our favourites from his past, again and again and again. In recent years, as his stories slipped away, the bond of friendship turned to caring, and a deep abiding love.

We have listened to a great deal of the music of R. Murray Schafer in the last week or so, music filled with Murray, the sounds of his world, and as fresh and clear as the first light of dawn on that little lake in Haliburton, Ontario, where, for me, it all began.

It is his voice for the world to hear.


[9] Editor’s note: “The Wolf Project” is the widely-used shorthand name used for the final work in Schafer’s Patria cycle—Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon. The three-day “musical performance planning session” referred to by the author above was also the first testing of Wolf Project material in a wilderness environment and occurred in the summer of 1990 at Gunn Lake east of Dorset, Ontario. The first week-long realization of And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon (as called for in the script or outline), took place during the following summer (1991) in what became the permanent home of the Wolf Project, the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in Haliburton County, Ontario. (KLM)
[10] Editor’s note: Anne Renouf’s partner, Doug Brown, is a long-time Wolf Project member, whom Schafer lists in the acknowledgments section of his book Patria: The Complete Cycle (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2002; see “In Appreciation,” p. 272). Doug was much valued by the other members of the project for the outdoor expertise and skills he brought to this venture for many years. (KLM)



Growing Up with Murray 

D. Paul Schafer

While Murray and I had many enjoyable experiences throughout our lives, some of the most memorable and precious ones occurred in our childhood and youth. I can still remember taking the train to Manitoba with Murray in the summers to stay at Uncle Mac’s farm, building a couple of interesting contraptions in the garage behind our house at 490 Rushton Road in Toronto, playing in Cedarvale Ravine, going to art classes and singing in a choir, baseball in the street, creating hockey rinks and basketball courts in the backyard, and watching the football teams Murray created and led clobber other teams because they were coached so well.

Paul (left) & Murray at Uncle Mac’s farm, 1939

While Murray had some extremely difficult health problems to contend with when he was young, he also manifested some remarkable talents at a very early age. These included drawing and creating comic books, dreaming up incredible projects for kids in the neighbourhood to do, organizing groups and getting the best out of people, challenging himself more than others, making commitments to causes greater than himself, and putting his whole heart and soul into everything he did. He was extremely creative not only throughout his adult life, but also in his youth. It was impossible not to learn a great deal from Murray that was helpful in life, regardless of where one ended up. This was true for myself and countless others I have talked to over the years who knew Murray or were involved in his projects and creative work.

For a very long time, I wondered why Murray and I both ended up in culture and the arts. Later in life, it became quite clear. It was due to all the sacrifices and contributions my parents Belle and Harold provided for us when we were young. This included classes at The Art Gallery of Toronto (now The Art Gallery of Ontario), paying for piano lessons in monthly instalments, reading stories to us from Journeys Through Bookland in bed at night,[1] and most importantly, getting us into the choir at Grace Church on-the-Hill. While my parents came from farming stock, it is interesting that my mother taught herself to play both the piano and the violin without any lessons, and my father learned to paint beautiful pictures with water colours and pastels by himself.

As the saying goes, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” This was certainly true for Murray and myself during our youth and indeed throughout our lives, and especially for me when I discovered that Murray, who was four years my senior, was there to light the way.

Over the years I have written down in story form some of the many experiences I had with my now rather famous brother when we were young. Five of the most memorable episodes I would like to share as part of this on-line tribute to Murray are, in chronological order:

“The Knife Story”
“Boogie Bass on the Chimes”
“Saloon and Stage Coach Days”
“Don’t Let Them Score”
“I’d Know My Son Anywhere”

The stories are in a separate PDF document which can be found here: schaferstories

Paul Schafer, November 2021.

Paul, Eleanor James, Nancy Schafer, and Murray at the 21 June 2015 performance of Apocalypsis at Toronto’s Sony Centre
[1] Editor’s note: Journeys Through Bookland, subtitled “A New and Original Plan for Reading Applied to the World’s Best Literature for Children,” was 10-volume, beautifully bound and illustrated set edited by Charles Herbert Sylvester, published in 1909 by Bellows-Reeve in Chicago.  Having had this wide-ranging collection of myths, fairy tales, and other literary classics adapted for children in my own house growing up, I can attest to the effect that these books would have on the imaginations of the young Schafer boys. (KLM)

Paul Schafer has also written a brief retrospective of his brother’s career in honor of the first World Listening Day since Murray’s death; this event is held each year on the elder Schafer’s birthday (July 18th).  The piece, entitled “A Tribute to R. Murray Schafer and his Imagination,” appears in IMAGINE, “a new digital magazine celebrating the art and culture of the human imagination.”

Note to Our Readers:
While I have immersed myself in the writings of Murray Schafer since the release of The Tuning of the World in 1978, I only recently became aware of Paul Schafer’s thought-provoking and wide-angle lens writings as cultural theorist. Of his latest book, The Great Cultural Awakening: Key to an Equitable, Sustainable, and Harmonious Age, he writes,
I am hoping this book will contribute to charting a new, better, and more viable course for humanity and the world—one based on the development of culture, and possibly even the creation and cultivation of a cultural age in the years, decades, and centuries ahead. At the very least I am hoping this book will bring an end to the current practice of marginalizing the arts, humanities, heritage of history, culture, and cultures in the overall scheme of things; and at time when they are needed more than ever in our world, dispelling the notion that these essential activities are frills, leisure time activities, generators of economic activity, and little else.
The Great Cultural Awakening is available through Rock’s Mills Press and also available through all Amazon sites.

See also the two attached PDFs: the first of which contains the Table of Contents and Preface for  The Great Cultural Awakening, and the second, “About the Author,” provides more information about Paul Schafer’s writings, which include eight other titles exploring the arts and culture (also available through Rock’s Mills Press).

Kirk MacKenzie

The Great Cultural Awakening
Paul Schafer – About the Author


Weaving Ariadne’s Thread

Jerrard Smith

Since 1980, my wife Diana Smith and I have designed all of the productions of Murray’s innovative music dramas known as the Patria Cycle. The threads of almost half my life have been woven into a small part of the rich tapestry of Murray Schafer’s creative work.

Interestingly enough, I almost met Murray in 1967. I was on a contract at Simon Fraser University as an illustrator in the biology department at a time when Murray was teaching a course on sound in the environment. My interest in new music brought me close to signing up for this course, but scheduling prevented it. Over the years that followed, I was increasingly aware of Schafer as an artist and creative force, and in 1980 I got a life-changing phone call. I had been studying the art of mask making when Murray called looking for a mask maker for The Princess of the Stars, the prologue to the Patria cycle. However, what Princess of the Stars principally needed was actually not masks, but structures the size of parade floats to be mounted on canoes to represent three of the four main characters in the drama (Wolf, the Three-Horned Enemy, and the Sun Disk). Murray liked my designs and so Diana and I proceeded to turn them into reality. I spent two weeks of the summer of 1981 at Schafer’s farm north of Bancroft creating the armatures for these giant structures, and absorbing Murray’s ideas of theatre and performance.

The Princess of the Stars places musicians and singers around the shore of a small lake in the middle of the night. An audience arrives at the shore just before dawn and the musicians accompany the awakening wildlife while actors and dancers in canoes on the lake present a spectacle of theatre and music that is truly transformative for all involved.

The Three-Horned Enemy and Wolf from the 1997 production of The Princess of the Stars on Wildcat Lake at The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Refuge (Photo by André Leduc)

Princess of the Stars was my introduction to the world of theatre, exploding any notions of what I thought theatre might be. Diana and I spent the next three years working on RA, a Patria work which follows the journey of the Sun God of ancient Egypt from his death at sunset to his rebirth in the early dawn. It is a journey of transformation and rebirth which was experienced by ourselves as well as the audience (known as “initiates”) who, as they stepped outside to greet the rising sun, felt that they too had been reborn as divine.

For the Patria works, Diana and I went on to help create many other worlds of alchemy and magic such as a Tang Dynasty palace, a county fairgrounds from the past, or an enchanted forest, among others. Our complete immersion into the world of site-specific and site-responsive performance took us on a unique journey to realms of wonder that would be impossible to duplicate. Murray taught us so much about art and theatre: the magic of sound travelling across the surface of a lake, and performances ranging from close proximity to stages that covered kilometres of lakes, fields, and forests, where the dew on the wildflowers and the mist on the lake became our star performers.

Murray’s vast mythologies carved out of the landscape resound with the themes of transformation, of death and rebirth, and of the search for both the ‘other’ and for self. The archetypal figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur appear and reappear in a variety of guises and reincarnations to drive the narrative; for example, Theseus is Wolf, Ariadne is the Princess of the Stars, and the labyrinths of our minds form the worlds of the journeys we undertake. As members of the team of creative artists engaged to realize Patria in performance, we were given the threads that we followed not to escape the maze, but to find our way to its heart.

Diana and I have been so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with one of the world’s truly innovative artists and thinkers. The Patria works opened so many doors, leading to challenging and exciting ways of engaging with performers, the audience, and with the natural world, the stage upon which many of these dramas unfolded. Our lives have been deeply enriched by the experience of working with Murray and the friendship that developed with him as a result. The early stages of each of these productions—where we would throw ideas back and forth and learn how to dream really big—were among the most rewarding times in our careers.

Murray, you have left an incredible body of works that have truly inspired both those of us who were instrumental in bringing them to light, and those who were fortunate enough to experience the results, leaving us all to wonder at the profound ways you expanded the possibilities of this medium called art. Thank you for your work and for the opportunity to be a part of it.

You will be missed my friend.

Editor’s note: for some examples of the Smiths’ evocative and expressive designs for Patria see  and



Wolf Time

Sarah Ann Standing

Out on Wildcat Lake, with the moon full and low in the sky behind us. Round and creamy and clear. Pulling us heavily toward it and providing lighting in front of us for the final scene of And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the conclusion to the twelve-part Patria cycle. We are suspended between the moon’s gravitational pull and a spotlight of dramatic focus. The Princess climbs into the canoe. Her voice trilling and skipping up the scale higher and higher: high echoes of loon indistinguishable from human voice along the rock walls. Silence intervening . . . no microphone. Just the solo human voice of the finest of opera singers filling a long canyon-like lake. No one else but us, the forest, the animals, the lake, the sounds. Breathtaking. The end of the day that began before dawn. Now late, and still canoeing to be done to get back to campsites. But no matter, because time has stopped except music time. Except beauty time.

Except Wolf time.

I remember my first “Wolf Project” adventure, I was driving up from New York City over two days and it was much farther and more complicated than expected for a first timer using only a paper map. I missed by a hair the convening by the wolf sanctuary in the parking lot of The Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. I was driving my old stick-shift Honda Civic around and up and down dirt roads trying to find the group and wondering how I was ever going to catch up to the canoes when I couldn’t even locate a single person from the group. After about half an hour, a car pulled up and stopped behind me. I saw someone get out and wave boldly—it was Murray. He didn’t scold but instead said with deep compassion, “I was so worried!” I was awestruck. Here was Canada’s most famous living composer making sure everyone—even this Canadian-born, USA-dwelling participant—was included.

Another time, he asked if I thought the “Wolf Project” would continue after he died. I didn’t want to lie. I said truthfully that I didn’t know, but also that I did know that everyone who has ever participated will never forget the experience—they will have been indelibly marked. I said, “Think of all the children who were babies in shoulder packs participating who then grew up to become adults participating and every year of their lives in between. Everyone who has been touched will touch others.” Like sound echoing out without resistance, the reverberations will never end.

What does it mean when someone is gone? How to possibly capture what they have meant to us? I recall little details of Murray—the corduroy pants, the wafting pipe smoke, the one bright gleaming eye that saw more than enough for two—and I remember his deep passion for music and nature, and the infinite possibilities of relationship between them.

Murray Schafer changed my life, as he changed many. I first met him at “The Tuning of the World”: The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology (1993) at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, which was also a celebration of Murray’s 60th birthday. I said to him, “I love the way you knit together ecology and theatre,” and he replied, “Well, you should come and join us on the Wolf Project.” The conversation was more nuanced, of course, and my journey to exploring intersections of ecology and theatre more varied, and yet he showed me—at a time when few could imagine linking theatre and ecology—that it could be done in a myriad of ways. I always felt blessed to be included although I am not a musician, and my own participation confirmed his belief that everyone should sing and have an organic relationship to music and its connection to the natural world.

I remember creating a wind chime out of forest elements that would stay all winter.
I remember creating huge sculptures and delicate theatrical “Encounters”.
I remember canoeing back home on dark nights and moonlight-bright nights.
I remember performing Great Wheel Day in a relentless deluge so loud we could hardly hear each other.
I remember the rhythm of the morning rituals and songs—waking to erase demarcations between art, ritual, and life.
I remember the garbage bear encounter.
I remember all the remarkable people Murray brought together.
I remember standing in the Great Meadow performing, and first hearing then seeing a tree crack and fall—the work of beavers.

I remember the questions, always: What does it mean to be a human in the natural world? How can we be better ecologically? What is it like to try to make every moment of a week an artistic creation?

I remember going to visit Murray and Eleanor for an interview for PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art.[1] Every day for three days coming and having tea. We walked his land and he told me stories about his home. Every block a mile long on Rural Route #1.

The other day I woke before dawn in a small coastal town in Sicily and watched the emerging light become magnificent, then dazzling. I remember Murray saying dawn is “the most neglected masterpiece in the modern world”—and yet most of us are sleeping through it.[2]

Every time I’m around a campfire,

Every time I hear the sound of lake water
rhythmically slapping the hollow hull of a canoe,

Every time I hear a loon’s haunted voice,

I hear Murray,

In the way he taught me to listen.


[1] “Eco-Theatre: R. Murray Schafer and Eleanor James in Conversation with Sarah Ann Standing,” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 36, no. 1 (January 2014): 35–44.

[2]Patria: Prologue, The Princess of the Stars,” in Patria: The Complete Cycle (Arcana Editions, 2002), p. 114.



Remembering R. Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project

Barry Truax

 It could be said that Murray Schafer changed the ears of the world. 

Aside from his work as a composer and music educator, Murray Schafer is best known around the world for his creation a half century ago of the World Soundscape Project (WSP) at Simon Fraser University (SFU). In fact, in the soundscape community he is often referred to as the “father of acoustic ecology,” with his seminal book The Tuning of the World as its bible. His concern for the sonic environment in which we all live has, if anything, become more urgent over the years, and today new generations of students and others continue to find inspiration for their own work in his, whether in research, sound design or soundscape composition. Schafer put the emphasis not just on being anti-noise, but on listening and what is positive and worth preserving in the soundscape, as experienced, for instance, in a soundwalk. Indeed, given the influence of his approach to our sonic environment, it could be said that Murray Schafer changed the ears of the world.

I had the good fortune to be invited by Murray to join the WSP as a research assistant during his SFU period (1965–75) in the newly established Department of Communication Studies and the Sonic Research Studio. I arrived at SFU in the summer of 1973, following my postgraduate work in the Netherlands at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht. Murray assured me, with characteristic understatement, that they were “probably doing the world’s most important work,” and so the allure was irresistible.

Once at SFU, I joined the enthusiastic group of research assistants who were putting the final touches on the first major publication project The Vancouver Soundscape (a booklet and two LPs),[11] soon to be followed up by a cross-Canada recording tour, which lead to ten one-hour radio programs called Soundscapes of Canada, broadcast in stereo on the CBC program “Ideas” in October 1974. In 1975 Schafer embarked on a European combination lecture and research tour with his second wife, Jean, and three research assistants, which involved studying five villages in different countries which could be regarded as acoustic communities, all of which were documented in the booklets European Sound Diary and Five Village Soundscapes, now included in the online WSP Database. Since I was the only WSP member who had any scientific as well as musical training, I was put in charge of the multi-disciplinary terminology project initially called the “Dictionary of Acoustic Ecology,” later re-named the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, a project that has accompanied my entire career as it evolved from print to online versions, and been a foundational resource for both our teaching program at SFU and the larger soundscape community.

I and my new colleagues were also impressed by the intellectual milieu that this new Communication Department offered, with scholars coming from a myriad of social science and humanities backgrounds and establishing a new interdisciplinary model of human and social communication. They in turn recognized that those disciplines had traditionally ignored the acoustic aspects of communication, and hence a fruitful exchange of ideas and practices began to emerge within a critical interdisciplinary framework called soundscape studies and acoustic communication.

I have many fond memories of this period where the entire WSP group and many students and assistants worked together collectively on these projects, including Hildegard Westerkamp, who grew into a leading role in the acoustic ecology movement and an internationally acclaimed composer in her own right. A young and already radical student named John Oswald also worked in the studio for some time and laid the groundwork for his own creative approach to sounding art, as well as numerous others whose names can be found in the credits to each WSP document.

One such memory is of an all-night recording session in June 1974 on the grounds of a rural abbey near Mission, British Columbia, as we took hourly samples of the natural soundscape. The nocturnal chorus of frogs was in full voice with their characteristic echolalia[12] textures lasting several minutes, anchored by individual low-croaking bullfrogs. After listening to several rounds of this impressive bioacoustic soundmaking, Murray remarked, “That is the best piece of contemporary music I’ve ever heard!”

Inevitably we started listening to the soundscape as if it were music.

In true collective fashion, the group shared their contributions to each project and discussed them endlessly in the studio. Murray distributed drafts of what would become The Tuning of the World for discussion, and some of us attempted to modulate some of his more outrageous characterizations, but with little effect as Murray was fearless when encountering bureaucrats, and little inclined to academic niceties. We marveled that he demanded and received full editorial control of the ten-part Soundscapes of Canada program from the CBC, so when WSP member Howard Broomfield wanted to reverse the position of the CBC’s formal intro and extro for the ninth episode in the series, his experimental collage entitled A Radio Program about Radio, it went unchallenged. As a result, the broadcast program ended with the CBC announcer suggesting that what followed—regular programming—should be listened to as part of Broomfield’s composition.

Little did I imagine then that after two years of working and teaching together, I would become Murray’s successor when he abruptly left SFU in 1975, and that my entire academic career would be focused on what I call acoustic communication and soundscape composition. Nor would I have imagined that a few decades later the field of sound studies would emerge and regard SFU’s early work as pioneering and inspirational, and the initial seeds planted by the WSP would grow into a worldwide organization called the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology ( With today’s concerns over environmental sustainability, these groundbreaking efforts and what they have led to seem more urgent and relevant than ever.

When we combine Murray’s prodigious and innovative musical output with what he accomplished in his ten years at SFU with the World Soundscape Project, it is clear that he leaves an important legacy for both the country and the world. It is also clear, however, that it is up to us to ensure that this legacy is preserved and put into practice.

September 2021


[11] Editor’s note: The important The Vancouver Soundscape LP recording received a digital format update and expansion in 1996 with a double CD issued through Truax’s audio self-publishing venture Cambridge Street Records. Arising out of Soundscape Vancouver 1996, a four-week composition workshop with accompanying symposium and concert, the two CDs—entitled “Vancouver Soundscape 1973” and “Soundscape Vancouver 1996” respectively—can be accessed online via the World Soundscape Project (WSP) Database.  For more details on Soundscape Vancouver 1996 see and (KLM)

[12] Echolalia: a chorusing effect where a leading voice starts and ends the soundmaking to which all other individuals contribute, thereby producing a complex texture



 Winter Diary Revisited

Homage to R. Murray Schafer

Claude Schryer

Digital recorder at Schafer's farm, 2022
Zoom digital recorder recording wind sounds at Murray Schafer’s farm, 19 January 2022

“The mistake in recording the environment is in trying to pull a huge spread of events, far and near in all directions, into a single focus. The soundscape isn’t stereophonic, it’s spherical. The stereophonic preoccupation in recording results from stereoscopy rather than any real understanding of the listening experience, in which one is always at the centre.”

R. Murray Schafer

What is Winter Diary and Why Revisit It?

The above quotation is an excerpt from an unpublished, 13-page essay [click link to download Word file] which Murray wrote at his farmhouse on 15 February 1997 in the course of creating Winter Diary, a radio program by the same name, for a commission which he received in 1996 from the Akustische Kunst department of the West German Radio or WDR. Produced by Klaus Schöning, Winter Diary is a radio program about the winter soundscapes of rural Manitoba. Murray needed a hand in the production of this piece and hired me as a recordist, editor and mixer, but also as a driver and scout.

The unpublished essay “Winter Diary” is a brilliant piece of writing by Murray detailing not only our adventures in the cold in Manitoba but also his reflections on a number of other issues such as deep listening, art history, philosophy, his dreams, literature, and the use of the microphone. The following excerpt regarding the unique sounds and significance of the screen door serves as a good example:

One sound characteristic of the Canadian countryside is the slap of a screen door. I’ve known it since my childhood. Of course, it is intended to keep the insects out of the house in summer but out of laziness the screen door is often left on during winter too—as mine is. The door has a coil spring attached to it so that it will slap shut quickly. Usually there is another contraption on the side with a hairpin spring to snap it firm. If it isn’t oiled, it squeaks. So, the entire sound event is actually quite complex, consisting first of a swish as the door opens, then a swoosh as it closes followed by a residual snap as the second spring is released to hold it shut. The subject of doors could occupy a doctoral thesis or two. Every continent and climate has its own vocabulary and rhetoric of doors as different as the languages of the people who open and close them.

Murray’s thought-provoking text inspired me to create a sonic illustration and interpretation of the essay I called winter diary revisited as an homage to Murray for both the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) and this online tribute project. In this soundscape composition, I “revisit” this 1996 rural winter journey with Murray by illustrating Schafer’s text with new winter soundscapes recorded in Ontario and Quebec in 2022, including recordings from Murray’s farm in Indian River, Ontario; a conversation with Eleanor James on 19 January 2022; as well as recorded artifacts from my archival soundscape recordings.[1]

Barn on the Schafer farm, 2022
Barn on the farm of R. Murray Schafer and Eleanor James, Indian River, Ontario, 19 January 2022 (photo by the author)

The 25-minute documentary and 40-minute soundscape composition appears as the final episode of Season 3 of my program conscient podcast/balado conscient on the theme of “radical listening,” which I invite you to listen to:

(A video presentation of this podcast is also available in both languages at the above link.)

Why Murray Was Important to Me

Murray’s music, and in particular his research and writings on acoustic ecology, have had a great influence on me as well as on many composers, educators, researchers and sound artists around the world. Among other things, Murray taught me how to listen deeply, both with my ears and with a microphone. Take for example, his lesson to me about distant listening from a July 1990 conversation we had in a restaurant in Peterborough:

If the microphone replaces your ear, there’s something wrong. And as you see, in a lot of our listening the microphone has replaced the ear. The mere fact that, for instance, we demand presence on all recorded sounds and they’re all close mic’d, is a recognition of the fact that the microphone, which is an instrument for getting closeups, is respected more than our own sort of hearing experience. The fact is that we can no longer listen to the distance. Now, if you’re going to get involved, really, with ecology in the environment, you have to rediscover how to listen to the distance, because an awful lot of the sounds you’re talking about are distant.

I did get deeply involved with acoustic ecology and listening deeply to our environment, and I am grateful for Murray’s advice and support. Another example of his wit and playfulness is this excerpt from his essay concerning me as a recordist:

Claude confesses his excitement for recording. He is almost like a fighter pilot seeking out the enemy, the elusive sound object, slating his various dives at the material we’ve targeted for a take, hoping the desired event will occur on cue, wondering whether to stalk it silently or prompt it—or forget it and seek another campaign. “So many things can go wrong,” he says excitedly. Ruefully I agree.

 We had a lot of fun working together. Thank you, Murray.

Claude Schryer, 2022
The author recording winter soundscapes in Ottawa on 17 January 2022 (photo by Sabrina Mathews).

Critical Perspectives

When I created winter diary revisited, I chose not to address areas in which Murray’s and my perspectives and world outlooks differ—such as around issues of cultural appropriation or having a greater awareness of the colonial attitudes at the foundation of our culture in North America—because it did not feel right to me at a time so close to Murray’s death. In fact, it remains difficult for me to write about now in a way that is fair and balanced because of my great affection and overall admiration for Murray. However, I believe it is vitally important to look at Murray’s (or any artist’s) work critically as well as in celebration. One thoughtful example which I invite readers to review is Episode 30 of Phantom Power™: A Podcast on the Sonic Arts and Humanities, hosted by Mack Haygood, and featuring Jonathan Sterne, Mitchell Akiyama, and Hildegard Westerkamp. In the following excerpt from the podcast’s notes, the authors, I believe, fairly ask and discuss some of these compelling questions as follows:

How to think about the contradictory figure of R. Murray Schafer? A renegade scholar who used sound technology to create an entirely new field of study, even as he devalued the very tools of its trade. A gifted composer who claimed a sincere appreciation for indigenous cultures, yet one who, perhaps, could only love them on his own terms, only as they fit into his sweeping vision for Canadian music. An erudite reader with a deep knowledge of world cultures, who nevertheless dismissed Canada’s most multicultural areas as less than truly Canadian. And a man, who despite a bomb-throwing persona on the page, is described by those who knew him as a kind and generous person.

My experience of Murray was largely that of a kind and generous person whose ego and driven nature sometimes got the better of him (not uncommon among great artists and thinkers); but who cared deeply about the people around him, was a committed environmentalist and, without doubt, a visionary. In evaluating Murray’s seemingly countless contributions to arts and culture, it is perhaps wisest to take a four-fold approach, as would be the case with any influential and important figure (or with any of our lives, for that matter):

  1. Celebrate their contributions;
  2. Critique their work fairly by taking into account the times and context in which they lived;
  3. Learn from any of their (and their generation’s) mistakes or shortcomings;
  4. Carry forward the best of their legacy.

The Murray Schafer I got to know and love would not have had it any other way.

Our Listening Goes On

I conclude this article the same way I conclude the podcast episode, with the last lines from Murray’s 1977 book Music in the Cold:

Saplings are beginning to sprout again in the moist earth.
Beneath it animals can be heard digging their burrows.
Soon the thrush will return.
The old technology of waste is gone.
What then remains?
The old virtues: harmony; the universal soul; hard work.
I will live supersensitized, the antennae of a new race.
I will create a new mythology.
It will take time.
It will take time.
There will be time. 

Rest in peace, Murray, and thank you. Our listening goes on.

May 2022, Ottawa, Ontario

(I would like to thank Eric Leonardson, President of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and Kirk MacKenzie and Robin Elliott, editors of this online project, for this opportunity to remember and honour Murray.)

[1] The final mix of winter diary revisited was realized and presented while in residency in February 2022 at the New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) in South River, Ontario, as part of its 2022 Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art.



 A Soniferous Garden: Singing Schafer’s Choral Music

 Jon Washburn
Founder and Conductor Emeritus, Vancouver Chamber Choir

In my forty-eight years as conductor of the Vancouver Chamber Choir, my greatest privilege was to be a colleague, friend, and champion of the great and genius Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Schafer was a ground breaker in many musical forms from intimate string quartets to vast musical dramas, but the Vancouver Chamber Choir and I remember him most for revolutionizing choral music and choral notation during his lifetime.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir in 2015 (Wendy D Photography)

We were honoured to partner with Murray frequently. Between 1971 and 2019, the Choir sang, toured and recorded 478 performances of twenty-eight choral works from his “soniferous choral garden”[1] as we might call it. The compositions range from large to small and simple to complex, but all are fascinating and ingenious. Listed below is the approximate order that each piece was introduced into our repertoire and also the number of times we performed it.

Miniwanka (41 performances)
Gita (1)
Gamelan (32)
Epitaph for Moonlight (49)
A Garden of Bells (86)
Felix’s Girls (37)
Snowforms (2 versions) (18)
Fire (17)
Psalm (2)
Magic Songs (18)
The Star Princess and the Waterlilies (5)
Sun (24)
Lu-li-lo-la (1)
Once on a Windy Night (46)
Beautiful Spanish Song (4)
A Medieval Bestiary (40)
Seventeen Haiku (4)
The Enchanted Forest (2)
Vox Naturae (2)
Alleluia (25)
The Fall into Light (1)
Hear the Sounds Go Round (2)
Three Hymns (from The Fall into Light) (3)
Imagining Incense (1)
Rain Chant (8)
Chant for the Winter Solstice (2)
Narcissus and Echo (3)
The Love that Moves the Universe (4)

Many of these works were commissioned or premiered by the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and several received a large number of performances, especially when we were able to include them in our repertoire for domestic and international tours when multiple performances of a work could add up quickly. For instance, at home and on tour we sang the evocative A Garden of Bells an astounding 86 times and the audacious Once on a Windy Night 46 times.

We recorded nearly all of this repertoire on four all-Schafer CDs: A Garden of Bells; Once on a Windy Night; Imagining Incense; and The Love that Moves the Universe. This last work, a sublime composition for chorus and orchestra, also became the focus of our gala Schafer/85 concert in honor of Murray’s 85th birthday in July of 2018.

Over the years, Murray spent quite a lot of time with us. He was present for most of our CD recording sessions, and he would sit in on rehearsals for premieres and special events like the twelve all-Schafer concerts we presented at Expo 86 in Vancouver. During rehearsal and recording sessions he would offer suggestions and occasionally fine tune certain details, and while in the process of composing A Garden of Bells, he tapped into our singers’ own creativity by inviting them to invent onomatopoeic words for the sound of bells.

There might not be what we would call a “typical” choral piece by Murray, for each work was unique in character and often involved the invention of all-new notational devices. However, two of the earliest choral works, Epitaph for Moonlight (1968) and Miniwanka (1971), stand out for their amazing breakthroughs in graphic choral notation, and they certainly became “hits” in the world of avant-garde choral composition! Newly-invented graphic notations can be daunting at first to singers and conductors, but we soon learned that we could rely on Murray’s latest conceptions to be not only innovative, but supremely musical.

The first time the Choir and I connected with any of Murray Schafer’s music involved the second of these two now-famous Schafer choral works. It was in 1973 during the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s second season, when CBC Radio asked us to represent Canada in the BBC’s international radio choral competition Let the Peoples Sing. The CBC producer George Laverock suggested that for the contemporary music category we might use a piece by Schafer, one he had just completed called Miniwanka, or The Moments of Water. The new composition was at the publishers but hadn’t been printed yet, so Universal Edition said they would rush us seventeen copies of the printer’s proofs by airmail.

One of the unusual aspects of the highly graphic presentation was that each score was to be printed on one long continuous sheet of paper, in order to represent the way that the cycle of water gradually and seamlessly evolves from rain to stream to lake to river to ocean, and then to evaporate back into the clouds to start the eternal cycle over again. When the proofs arrived we were astonished to find them in one huge roll, like a giant Gouda cheese or a huge, flattened onion. We peeled each score off the roll and then folded them accordion style to sing from. That was our amazing introduction to the unique imagination of Murray Schafer. (And yes, we and Miniwanka did win the first prize.)

Jon Washburn (right), assisted by two members of the stage crew at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, B.C., demonstrate how Schafer’s graphic score to Miniwanka works at the 2018 Schafer/85 concert.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir has created an online video project entitled The Unique Music & Scores of R. Murray Schafer, which calls attention to this intriguing graphic aspect of Schafer’s musical mind. Twelve of his choral compositions are presented with scrolling scores in the way experienced by the conductor and singers, but rarely by audiences and listeners. As the score rolls out before you on the screen, you can see how Schafer has ingeniously tried to make the performer’s music look on the page like the sounds the listener is hearing in the air. This is a process he sometimes referred to as synaesthesia, and which he was uniquely suited to accomplish with his dual musical and visual art talents. (Four of the compositions discussed here—Epitaph for Moonlight, Miniwanka, A Garden of Bells, and Once on a Windy Night—are included in this engaging online collection.)

An excerpt from Miniwanka © 1971 Arcana Editions (used with permission)

Now that Murray has passed—may he revel in eternal song—the Choir and I miss him tremendously already. I think time will prove that singing, recording and championing Murray’s ground-breaking choral music was perhaps the highest contribution the Vancouver Chamber Choir made to the choral art— locally, nationally and internationally—during the forty-eight years that I was privileged to lead them. To me personally, it was a wonderful chance to know and collaborate with a truly creative genius, and to help him leave his unique stamp on the musical history of our country and our era.

Editor’s Note: An elegant video narration of an early version of this tribute by Jon Washburn, along with a recording of a live performance of Schafer’s Narcissus and Echo by the VCC from their Schafer/85 concert, is available with the link below. This video was created for the The Tlaxcalteca Institute of Culture which wanted to mark Murray’s passing at their Tenth International Choral Festival in November of 2021 in Tlaxcala, Mexico: (KLM)

[1]Editor’s note: Schafer discusses the concept of “The Soniferous Garden,” as Chapter 18 of his seminal 1977 book The Tuning of World, reprinted in 1994 but with the new title The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny books). In the book’s glossary, soniferous garden is defined as “A garden, and by analogy any place, of acoustic delights. This may be a natural soundscape, or one submitted to the principals of acoustic design.” (p. 273–74). It has been my experience that a Vancouver Chamber Choir concert or any of their exquisite all-Schafer recordings are indeed a place “of acoustic delights.” (KLM)


Editors’ note: we invite our readers to view the tributes to Murray Schafer offered by members of The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE). Below is a brief description of the WFAE’s online remembrance of Schafer. Also attached is more information about both the WFAE and the related “World Listening Day,” an event which occurs each year on Murray Schafer’s birthday, July 18th.

World Forum for Acoustic Ecology’s Murray Schafer Tribute

 “Schafer leaves us with many invaluable gifts: a legacy of music, ideas, and literature for us to examine and celebrate. He will be remembered as one of Canada’s most influential composers and ‘father of acoustic ecology’.

The WFAE was founded in August of 1993 at The Tuning of the World: The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, a landmark global gathering of many leading figures involved in acoustic ecology and soundscape studies/exploration. The specific timing of this week-long conference provided the opportunity to honor Murray Schafer’s seminal role in the founding of this discipline in conjunction with the celebration of his 60th birthday.

The WFAE’s online Schafer remembrance includes posts from the following (with more tributes to be shared as they become available):

  • Carol Ann Weaver (Waterloo, Ontario)
  • Helen Dilkes (Australia)
  • Helmi Järviluoma (Finland)
  • Tadahiko Imada (Japan)
  • The Molinari Quartet (Montreal)
  • links to tributes by Sabine Breitsameter, Claude Schryer, and the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology

These tributes can be found on the WFAE website by going to the “About” tab and then “In Memoriam” in the pull-down menu, or by clicking here

For more information about the WFAE and “World Listening Day” and their relationship to Schafer’s soundscape work, click here.