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THE PLEASURE
OF THE DAWN
CHORUS

Conserving the Pandemic Soundscape

MUSIC & LECTURE RECITAL VIDEO RECORDINGS

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PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The song of the dawn chorus is an invitation back to a conversation with the non-human inhabitants with whom we share our cities.

Of the many unforeseen consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, one was a greater awareness of the urban nature in our midst. As the lockdown forced us to remain apart, we became more aware of the wildlife around us, particularly urban birds and their songs. The aim of this project is to preserve this awareness, so that as we come together once more, we also maintain our new relationship with the non-humans with whom we share our cities.

 

This project collected recordings of the urban dawn chorus, taken from parks and backyards across Toronto, in collaboration with University of Toronto faculty and students in music, wildlife biology, and ecology and religion. These recordings were musically analyzed and transcribed, inspiring a new composition that reflects upon the pleasure of hearing birdsong. 

Musically, the themes of COVID-19 and rediscovered biophany—displeasure and disconnection, pleasure and reconnection—are explored and contrasted in the composition. The resulting composition expresses the joy of reconnecting with nature’s music, and the hope that this renewed connection can be maintained and strengthened as we emerge from the pandemic. 

 

The project will culminate in a lecture recital (see next section), and music and educational videos, involving faculty and students from across the disciplines, sharing their work on bioacoustics, musical composition, conservation, eco-spirituality and vocal performance

 

MUSIC, LECTURE RECITAL VIDEOS & CBC PROGRAM

MUSIC PERFORMANCE VIDEO

Listen to the musical outcome of the project. Mezzo soprano Nicole Percifield and pianist Geoffrey Conquer perform Gavin Fraser's new composition

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CBC TAPESTRY PROGRAM 

CBC Radio recorded a one hour program on the Dawn Chorus project featuring the music and interviews. Click on the image to listen. 

STUDENT REFLECTIONS ON NATURE 

Listen to reflections from undergraduates at UofT on nature awareness. Their thoughts inspired the musical composition

LECTURE RECITAL 

Watch the full lecture recital with talks by Alexander Hampton (Religion), Wendy Nielsen (Music), Andrew Crosier (Biology), Gavin Fraser (composer), and Nicole Percifield (performer)

 

Faculty & Graduate Students

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is an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto, specialising in metaphysics, poetics and nature. He is the author of Romanticism and the Re-Invention of Modern Religion (Cambridge 2019), and editor of Pandemic, Ecology and Theology: Perspectives on COVID-19 (Routledge, 2020) and the Cambridge Companion to Christianity and the Environment (Cambridge, 2021). 

Alexander J. B. Hampton

Principle Investigator

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has sung at Santa Fe Opera, Minnesota Opera, and the Banff Centre. A graduate of Yale Opera, Percifield is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Toronto with Wendy Nielsen. A recipient of the SSHRC Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship, Percifield's research examines the role of mimicry and creative agency in vocal performance. Recent highlights include performing Debussy’s Chansons Baudelaire at Carnegie Hall with Yale in New York. www.npercifield.com

Nicole Percifield

Project Colloborator
Mezzo-Soprano

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is a Doctoral Candidate in Composition at the University of Toronto. His music “often balances on a tightrope between static beauty and violence;” and has been described as “fresh" with "pithy modesty” (NY Classical Review ‘17). He most recently collaborated with Barbara Hannigan on a new short chamber opera titled Penelope, and was commissioned by Jonathan Crow for a new work premiered at Toronto Summer Music (’21). www.gfrasermusic.wixsite.com/composer 

Gavin
Fraser

Composer

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is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, specializing in extended piano techniques and music for prepared piano. He is a faculty member at The Royal Conservatory’s Phil and Eli Taylor Academy where he teaches chamber music and applied piano.  www.youtube.com/user/conqgeo/videos 

Geoffrey 
Conquer

Pianist

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Wendy Nielsen is an Associate Professor in Voice and Opera at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music. Neilsen also serves as Head Vocal Consultant for the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, and maintains an active private voice studio in Toronto teaching many of Canada’s prominent performers. www.wendynielsen.ca 

Wendy
Nielsen

Project Advisor

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A graduate of the University of Toronto (Mississauga), Andrew received an honours Bachelors of Science in Biology and Environmental Science. He is an avid bird watcher and outdoorsman currently acting as a freelance ecologist. His contribution to the Dawn Chorus Project involves consulting on urban bird watching in Toronto and the conservation issues they face. 

Andrew 
Crozier

Project Advisor

Student Volunteers

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Tanisha Chakma
Claudia Lacroix
Rychez Leslie
Audrey Miatello
Fatima Zahra Mohammed
Mason Roposa  
Natasha Wahid
Simona Zaunius

 

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BIOACOUSTICS,THE ARTS,
RELIGION AND CONSERVATION

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Photo: Alexander J.B. Hampton (c)

Bioacoustic rhythms, most noticeably birdsong, usually drowned out of our soundscape by our anthrophony, have re-entered our collective awareness. This project aims to preserve this regained awareness as we emerge from the pandemic and employ it to further the aims of conservation. The pleasure we take from birdsong, and the feelings of connection to nature it evokes, can empower us to better care for our environment. When given voice, these feelings can affirm conservation’s aim of protection, its task of restoration, and its end of preservation. 

 

At the centre of this project is the question of how our feelings of connection to nature, and the pleasure they evoke in us, can empower us to better care for our environment. Such experiences involve a sense of nature’s own inherent meaning and value. The song of the dawn chorus, and the pleasure that accompanies it, is an invitation back to a conversation with the non-human inhabitants with which we share our cities. 

 

The pleasure of hearing birdsong invokes a sense of nature’s own inherent rhythm with which we can harmonise. The ability to give greater expression to our feelings of pleasure, to communicate our sense of connection with nature, is essential to the aim of environmental conservation. Music, across cultures, religions and throughout history, has been a primary means in forming a human-nature dialogue. This project will continue this tradition through the creation, performance, recording, and critical reflection on our renewed awareness of nature. 

 

During the project students made recordings of the dawn chorus, and identified these using the Cornell Ornithology Lab Merlin app. Students also wrote reflections on nature awareness, and produced photo essays and poetry. 

The recordings, along with the student writings, were rendered though spectrographic analysis. The analysis of pitch frequencies allowed these samples to be transcribed into musical notation, yielding the raw material that the musicians worked with.

 

Together, student recordings and reflections inspired a new composition that reflects upon the pleasure of hearing the dawn chorus in the context of the pandemic.

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STUDENT 
INVOLVEMENT

Photo: Andrew Crozier (c)

 

Support

 

This project is supported by the Jackman Humanities Institute, Program for the Arts, 2021-2022. 

 

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