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School of Music postdoctoral fellow wins major SSHRC prize

By Janet Harron

Kate Galloway, postdoctoral fellow at the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media and Place (MMaP) at the School of Music, 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 R. 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 Mr. 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.

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?"