South Vancouver Youth Centre students record their neighborhood



Since last fall, I have had a great time with teens from the South Vancouver Youth Centre, recording sounds in every corner of the Sunset neighborhood.  Throughout this soundscape project, in order to gather musical data for our digital map, community members have documented interesting sounds that they “happened” to encounter on our soundscape walking tours.  Or they identified sounds they wanted me to “scout out”.  But the SVYC group took the most creative approach to our project by actually “playing” their environment like an instrument. They tickled the tummy of an Elmo toy in the Marine Drive Superstore, to get him to sneeze.  They crinkled sari wrappers in Mona’s Cloth House on Main.  They slurped at the fountain, and flushed toilets at the Sunset Community Centre.   And they captured the varied sounds of the seasons well to.  In winter, they stomped on snow left by the zamboni at the Sunset Ice Rink. And in autumn, they jumped in piles of leaves on Fraser.  All this fun was done to demonstrate the sonic potential of their neighborhood.  So, I applaud these environmental musicians for their imagination, and I look forward to including their “compositions” in our map.   Here are some recorded examples of their work.

elmo  monaclothhouse  sccfountain   scctoiletflush  stompingonicerinksnow  walkinginleavesonmain

One More Rehearsal ’til the Water is Life Show!

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Last week, the Grade 3 & 7 students, at William Bridge, finally got to meet one another, and bring together all of the elements for their Water is Life production.  Bottle flutists, water drummers, rainstick players, dancing rappers, and bottle xylophone players all collaborated to make a wet and wonderful sound.  These hard working students will surely be ready for their May 16th performance!

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Water Musicians Wear Many Hats

The William Bridge students have astounded me with their multi-talents.   For our Water is Life project, they have had to:



WRITE POETRY (Here I am reading their work aloud to the class)


PLAY INSTRUMENTS (This is them playing the thunder sheets)


EVEN DRAW (inspired by Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head)


But my favorite skill they have learned is to LISTEN

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Each session has begun with a short deep listening exercise (or a masked way of saying “meditation”), to center the students, attune them to the sounds in their surrounding environment, and ready them to be good musical collaborators.  And boy, has it worked!

Sound Play & Cycle Scouting

Yesterday morning, I tried a new strategy for gathering the sounds of the Sunset neighborhood.   I had not yet included very young children in this project, because I knew that they would be limited as to how far they could travel by foot to record soundscapes.  So, eventually, I devised an inclusive method that turned out to be tons of fun.  Using the sounds that were identified by community members, on our interactive lobby map, I invited the Sunset pre-school students, ages 3-5, to collectively imitate each of these sounds.

Here they are looking adorable as they jump around doing their frog imitations:


And here are the ducks in Memorial Park that the kids imitated, along with their recording.

DSC05601   LISTEN by clicking here: ducks

I recorded all of their inventive homemade sounds for our digital map.  And the kids were encouraged to use their voices for sound effects, their body as percussion instruments and various props (cheese grater, chopsticks, whistle, pots, keys) for noise makers.  The results turned out to be surprisingly accurate representations of the various soundscapes.   And these files will add a truly personal dimension to our map’s data, as they reflect the aural landscape of the Sunset neighborhood, through a child’s mind.

After this session, I wanted to capitalize on the incredible sunshine that this week has been gifting us. So, I continued to cycle around the neighborhood to scout for other sounds that community members had identified on our lobby map. My meandering took me through streets of infinite pink, where I recorded bird songs at the cemetery, traffic noises on 41st and Fraser, and John Oliver High School boys on a training run.

DSC05604 DSC05610  my trusty bike & cemetery blossoms

But who knew that we had giant blue herons right in our backyard???

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Ode to Water

In light of our current Water is Life project, is was such fun for me to discover, just this morning, an old poem I had written, in 2007, about how much I value water in my own life.  At that time, I had just moved after five years in sunny but “Arid”zona, and was enjoying a year of travelling, mostly to coastal hot spots.  Most William Bridge students, having lived all of their life in lush BC, may not fully appreciate how scarce water can be in some environments.  But through our project, they are learning to appreciate the abundance of this critical resource.

IMG_1583  Me and anything green clinging for dear life to any water that we can find in arid, Arizona.

Here’s my Ode to Water, a la Dr. Suess

Water, how I love thee.
Let me count the ways.

I love you when I’m thirsty.
I love you when I’m dry.

I love the roar of ocean waves.
And you gently babbling by.

I love you when I’m filthy or
when I’m so hot it aches.

Sometimes I love to sing in showers.
And swim in deep, dark lakes.

I love to boat, surf, dive, it’s true.
And most of all to float on you.

I love to drink you with my tea.
And cook you with my linguine.

I love you when you turn to snow.
And when you help my car to go.

There is no end to this long list,
Just know that you’ve been sorely missed.


Big Ideas’ Water is Life Rehearsals Begin

Since spring break, William Bridge students have really ramped up their efforts towards preparing their Water is Life performance.    This powerful title emerged from their own critical thinking about consistent themes from our project.  I was also thrilled, upon returning from break, to see that many students used the time off to construct their own handmade water instruments (see below).


rainstick, bottle flutes/xylophones, water cooler drums, decorated ice rattle

They are now excited to perform on these instruments in their original work, which is based around the text that they conceived during their “water as a critical resource” word games.  These brainstorms resulted in hundreds of water-related words which they grouped into several categories: Health, Sustenance, Transportation, Recreation (see sticky pad image below).  Subsequently, they listed the words by syllables, alliterative properties, and rhyming word endings to eventually create the verses for their song.  (My favorite line is “Sewerage, Sailboats, Squirt Guns, Showers”, and the students have had a gas with this tongue twister!)


This entire process began with an icebreaker that challenged the students multiple literacies: verbal, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (see Simon Says game image below).   And it is now clear that this energetic group of different types of learners, have succeeded in creating an interdisciplinary collaboration that uses all of their gifts.



Alphabet Stories Launch Celebration

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Juliana and I had such a blast working on Alphabet Stories, and it was so satisfying to finally see the results of our collaboration with the South Hill community dress the library walls.   The 26 (+1) curated pieces that were selected for the installation went up last Monday, March 11th, and the official launch celebration took place the following Saturday.


Alphabet Stories is a text-based art installation that addresses the question: “How can we dress up our library to reflect the language of our community?”  Our intention, throughout this project, was to facilitate the creation of work that reflected the stories which exist within the symbols of our written language.  We founded our final Alphabet Stories installation upon the Roman alphabet (used in English).  However, it also includes the alphabets of several other languages in order to represent the South Hill neighborhood’s culturally diverse community.   The installation incorporates words, narratives, poems, sounds and images that have either literal or symbolic associations with the letters themselves.   And each piece explores how different scripts interconnect image and meaning.

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The colorful results, exhibited in this installation, are the result of a variety of activities that we led with Khalsa School Grade 7 students, as well as the South Hill Library ESL & Book Clubs.   All of the content for Alphabet Stories was generated by these thoughtful community members, and then rendered into exquisite digital graphics by Juliana.  These were then laser cut into vinyl stickers which now dress the library walls.

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After a final deliberation, participants selected SPICE as the most resonant term for this cross-generational, multi-cultural art project.  And this is represented in numerous alphabetic texts, on the west library wall.

香料        Специя         こうしんりょう       SPICE     향신료

Soundscape Lobby Map is now up at Sunset Community Centre

Since last summer, as part of Something Collective’s year-long, We Are Here multi-media mapping project, I have been engaging with Renfrew community members to lead soundscape walking tours of their surrounding environment.   Asked, “Where are the Sounds that Make the Music of Your Neighborhood?”, the South Asian Senior Women and the South Vancouver Youth Centre students have collected a host of examples that truly reflect the aural landscape of their community.    


Now, the general public, in Sunset, can contribute to our community mapping project by charting identified sounds and their locations on our interactive lobby map.  This four-foot blow-up map, representing the area from 41st -70th, between Ontario and Knight, is installed on the south wall of the Sunset Community Centre.  So, please, just grab a bell-shaped sticky note and a sharpy pen, write your chosen sound on this paper, and place it on the appropriate geographical spot on the map.    In one month’s time, I will collect all of this data, and lead a new community group of “sound scouts” to digitally record this neighborhood “music” that you have all identified.



Big Ideas Project on Richmond’s Water #10 Sculpture Begins

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March 14th (Pi Day: 3/14) marked my third visit to Richmond’s William Bridge Elementary School to develop our Water Music Big Ideas Project. Like Maggie and Flick, I have been invited by the Vancouver Biennale to facilitate a student-created performance project that takes its “big idea” from one of their public art pieces. Our muse is Jun Ren’s Water #10, on the Cambie Plaza by the dyke. I am working with Ms. Potter’s Grade 7 class, as well as Ms. Tuason’s grade 3 class, and we have already come to learn that, as with Pi, the possibilities to make music inspired by water are infinite.

Project Meeting Feb 6 - 3  Laura with Ms. Potter and Ms. Tuason

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Body Language – an Alphabet Story

The art and text activities that Juliana and I have led throughout our Alphabet Stories project have come to take some beautiful and surprising twists. We originally conceived a variety of drawing and poetry exercises to create the content for our South Hill library installation. But then, we became inspired by the hand-tattoed maps which the South Vancouver Youth Centre students created for our “We Are Here” project. So, we chose to expand upon our engagement tools by incorporating activities that used the hands and body. The images above document adults, from the Library Book Club and ESL group, shaping various Roman letters with their hands.

Additionally, through a process of inquiry, we asked each of our workshop groups to brainstorm a collection of words that best represented the spirit of our installation. Then, each group voted on the most resonant words. As Alphabet Stories aims to reflect the colorful array of languages present in the South Hill community, the following poignant words emerged as the winners: peace, spice, and symbol. Consequently, students from the Khalsa school tattooed these words on their palms, (with temporary markers) in Punjabi letters, to summarize what this project means to the Sunset community.

And finally, these industrious students had fun shaping some of the Punjabi letters with their own full body, creative choreography.   These young artists demonstrated great imagination and cooperation in this collaborative effort.