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Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer

The Story


What is "ear cleaning"? It's something R. Murray Schafer has been advocating for 30 or 40 years -- that people to listen more critically to the environment. Although he admits there's more attention paid now, he is critical of the failure of Canadians to heed his warnings. From Halifax, where he is attending the premier performance of his String Quartets at the Scotia Festival of Music, he talks to Midday host Tina Srebotnjak in the 1993 clip. The discussion covers his Soundscape research, the uniquely Canadian experience of music performed in an outdoor environment, working with traditional music, his reputation for being "irritable" and "prickly" -- and whether, as he nears 70, he has mellowed with age.

Broadcast Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: May 27, 1993
Interviewer: Tina Srebotnjak
Guest: R. Murray Schafer
Duration: 8:20

Did You know?


• R. Murray Schafer was born in Sarnia, Ont. in 1933, and studied in Toronto at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto. After spending some time in Europe he returned to Canada and taught at Memorial University in St. John's and Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. In 1975, Schafer moved to rural Ontario.

• The problem of noise pollution and other aspects of the acoustic environment inspired Schafer to write several books, including The Tuning of the World, Ear Cleaning, The Thinking Ear and The Book of Noise.

• Schafer has been composing music since the 1950s, creating choral and orchestral works to be performed in milieus both traditional and novel. In his 1979 production Music for Wilderness Lake, 12 trombones play around the edges of a small rural lake. (A performance of it near Bancroft, Ont. was later made into a film.) Another site-specific piece, Patria 6: RA, lasted 11 hours and took its audience to 29 different locations around the Ontario Science Centre when it premiered. It is one of a 12-part series of compositions Schafer began in 1966.

• "I've always considered myself a composer above everything else," Schafer said in 1997. "The other things have been done at different times of my life partly in order to make a living, because no composer of serious music makes a living in this country. I've had to write. When I was at the university, I had to do research, which is how the Soundscape work came into existence. I think now [my] productions are done certainly not to make money, but are done as a kind of relaxation from the strain of sitting at the drafting table writing music all the time. Music is a social activity, and I need to have some contact with other people."

• In 2009 he was awarded the Governor General Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and in 2013 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada


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