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School of Music postdoctoral fellow wins SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize

By Janet Harron | Nov. 7, 2012

Kate Galloway, postdoctoral fellow at the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media and Place (MMaP) at the School of Music, Memorial University, has been awarded the 2012 Postdoctoral Prize by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The prize is awarded each year to the most outstanding SSHRC postdoctoral award recipient.

Dr. Galloway received the prestigious award for her project Sounding Environmental Change: Representing the Environment and Environmentalism in Contemporary Canadian Music Practices.

“This is the first time that a Memorial University postdoctoral fellow has been recognized in this way by SSHRC. It’s also the first time that SSHRC has awarded this prestigious prize to a music researcher, so it’s a double celebration for us,” said  Dr. Ellen Waterman, dean,  School of Music. “Dr. Galloway’s tremendous achievement is in part due to the timeliness of her research, which crosses musical, social and scientific boundaries.”

Dr. Galloway is considering how contemporary Canadian composers respond to environmental change and cultural issues concerning the environment.

“A lot of Canadian classical composers are interested in current environmental issues, representation of the environment and the environmental past and use actual sounds from the environment, texts that speak to environmental issues or depict specific regional developments, and/or use alternative environments such as outdoor locations as performance spaces in their work. There is a direct correlation in the increase in these works and the "greening" of society,” explained Dr. Galloway.

Dr. Galloway’s PhD thesis from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music was on composer and environmentalist Murray Schafer and Patria, his cycle of experimental theatre works. As part of her fieldwork, one of the performances she took part in was a production of composer R. Murray Schafer’s The Princess of the Stars, in Ontario’s Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. In it, Mr. Schafer raises both physical and sonic environmental awareness by literally bringing his audience into nature where they directly engage with their surroundings. The Princess of the Stars uses the surface of a lake as the stage, the “actors” are large puppets who are canoed “onstage” and the musicians are located out of site within the perimeter of the forest surrounding the lake.

Mr. Schafer’s use of the actual physical-scape of the environment and the environmental soundscape are used as performance materials. The narratives of his wilderness operas, of which The Princess of the Stars is a part, address environmental issues.

“This use of the environment as an integral part of the experience asks whether music can change people’s attitudes and practices – can it go beyond mere awareness to effect lasting change? I’m interested in measuring the impact of this which of course is a difficult thing to measure in the arts,” said Dr. Galloway.

She plans to engage feedback groups where audience members and performers will openly discuss their listening experience of certain works that use soundscape or sound environment and how they were then informed about the environment.

Dr. Galloway notes that there is a move in the current work throughout the humanities, social sciences and performing arts to address past and present environments and our multisensory experience of everyday life  and seminar socio-cultural events. 

“Our experience of our history tends to be very visual as it is written, recorded experiences. But what if we can combine all of our senses including how the past heard, smelled and tasted? Wouldn’t that give us a more fully formed experience and improve the way we interact in our daily lives?” Dr. Galloway asked.

Canadian scholarship has had a large international impact on the study of soundscape ecology, but Canadian music studies still require a higher profile both nationally and internationally. The fields of soundscape studies and acoustic ecology have Canadian origins through foundation work by Mr. Schafer and the World Soundscape Project during the 1960s and 1970s at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Galloway’s work is part of the diverse work coming out of this field that looks at music scholarship with social relevance. 

“We’ve always tied Canadian identity to the landscape – eco-musicology therefore has doubly strong Canadian origins and a lot of composers have picked up on this,” said Dr. Galloway, who has just recently returned from participating  (along with Dr. Waterman) at the inaugural Ecomusicologies 2012 conference in New Orleans, La.

She says the SSRHC funding will come in handy in terms of attending other such conferences and giving her increased access to research.

“Of course I’m thrilled about the award but I’m also very excited at the possibilities of promoting eco-musicology and showing how the arts and performance can be relevant for us all.”