MUSC 1221 embarks on an exciting trip to create audio documentaries

Field trips are back! The students in this first-year music course not only had free transportation, accommodation, and meals, but also got paid for the work they did on the trip. From March 2 to 5, the brand-new Music, Culture, and Context Course (MUSC 1221), taught by Dr. Linda Pearse, went to Montréal to create audio documentaries with Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) partner groups. Pearse says this experience will “illuminate the intersections of music, culture, and the music business in ways that reach far beyond the walls of a traditional classroom.” According to their website, CEWIL “partners with post-secondary institutions, community members, employers, government, and students to champion work-integrated learning […] which formally and intentionally integrates a student’s academic studies with learning in a workplace or practice setting.” Pearse’s class is the first music class in Canada to benefit from CEWIL funding. 

The main purpose of the trip was to create audio documentaries that will serve the needs of CEWIL’s partners and put real-world skills (refined through experiential learning) into the hands of students. The student groups interviewed three CEWIL partners: harpsichord makers Yves and Benoît Beaupré of Les Clavecins Beaupré, Iranian-Canadian setar player and composer Kiya Tabassian who also serves as artistic director of the ensemble Constantinople, and Mélisande Corriveau and Eric Milnes, who are the founders and directors of Baroque vocal and instrumental ensemble L’Harmonie des Saisons. Alongside Dr. Pearse and the CEWIL partners, the students were also mentored by writer, CBC audio producer, and broadcaster Matt Tunnacliffe. According to Tunnacliffe, “the whole idea of the audio documentaries is to think of telling stories in a different way, from a perspective outside of the academic context. Content creation is such a big thing nowadays, with YouTube or TikTok, but audio documentaries are part of that conversation and podcasting is part of that conversation, so I really think it makes the students think about telling stories in a different way: using their ears and using people’s voices to tell a story.” The student’s audio documentaries will be released in the months leading up to the Sackville Festival of Early Music, which will present concerts by Constantinople and L’Harmonie des saisons (Fall 2023).

“I think that the knowledge that we gained from the course material provides us with different ways to look at music and to analyze music with […] a different mindset,” said second year Classics and Commerce major Jacob Farrell. First year Bachelor of Music student Jude Taylor Bourque similarly experienced shifts in his musical perspectives: “I sat down and talked to these Baroque musicians, and I wanted to ask about what was similar and what was different between Baroque ornamentation and jazz ornamentation. […] Mélisande was so passionate about [that topic] that I only had to ask around two questions and I got about a half an hour worth of tape. I was a bit humbled, and a bit surprised that they were so similar,” he said. 

In addition to recording audio documentaries, the students were taken on experiential outings that opened their eyes to the connections between music and culture, both on and beyond the stage. Students went on a tour of McGill’s music facilities, which included the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) Lab. CIRMMT researchers presented projects “that have implications for performance but also for a variety of other [disciplines],” explained Bourque. The CIRMMT lab featured projects around music perception, recording, and transmission, and the interaction between movement and sound. The students also visited the McGill library’s Rare Books & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives (ROAAr), where they analyzed and were permitted to hold documents. One of these precious items was an extant parchment page from the Gutenberg Bible, published in the 15th century, which is the earliest major book printed using moveable metal type. 

The students were also encouraged to take the opportunity to attend concerts that all centred around ideas of cultural exchange. For Farrell, “a highlight of the trip was probably the orchestra. The orchestra was really fun. We really got to enjoy ourselves, but also, to be in such a beautiful, large concert hall, especially after so many years of the pandemic, was very emotional.” The Orchestre Métropolitain, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and featuring pianist David Jalbert, left quite a few students teary-eyed, while the Zach Zoya hip hop concert had students electrified. Students also attended disco, folk, piano trio, and jazz concerts, expanding the horizons of their musical experiences. 

The trip was rounded out with a visit to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, which boasts over 80 exhibition galleries and over 45,000 works. “I think if I had gone to look at it a year ago, or even a few months ago, I would’ve just looked at an art piece from one specific lens. However, we now have this whole entire new toolkit of knowledge from this course that gives us the ability to look at […] the arts, look at music, look at drama in completely different ways than what we did before. And it truly informs us in ways we’ve never [considered] before and it allows us to look at things completely differently,” said Farrell. 

“One of the nice things about Mount Allison is that you can take a wide diversity of courses and it’s kind of nice that MUSC 1221 has half music students and half non-music students so it’s an interesting mix of serious classical musicians, some aviation students, and others. […] It’s a great mix of students,” said Tunnacliffe. Although it is a music course, its theoretical themes have broad applications. “I think that understanding these aspects of music, such as the intersectionality of colonialism, gender, race, or sexuality, […] really highlights issues we see in our own world, and that helps me look at problems in say, a Commerce class and really truly analyze them, but it also helps me look at issues from the past in a Classics class and look at them from my modern lens and be critical of them from that sense,” said Farrell. 

The effects of the trip on students cannot be summed up as just an academic experience. According to Pearse in a Facebook post shared to the Mount Allison Music page, “words like ‘transformative,’ ‘life-changing,’ and ‘this has opened the world to me’ are floated at regular intervals. It is powerful and deeply meaningful to witness their curiosity, excitement, and growth!” “Considering that for some of them it was their first trip away from home, from the Maritimes, I think it went really well, exploring this amazing city,” said Tunnacliffe. I noticed students making remarks such as “we didn’t think this was real, or would really happen, until we got on the bus.” After so many years of cancelled trips, opportunities, and especially music events, a 50-person trip to Montréal was unbelievably awe-inspiring.

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