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Happy Birthday R. Murray Schafer!

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R. MURRAY SCHAFER (July 18, 1933)

When John Cage was asked to name a great music teacher, he answered, “Murray Schafer of Canada.” R. Murray Schafer, as he is formally known, is one of the most innovative musical minds to to come out of this country. In the 1960s he founded the field of acoustic ecology, the study of the relationship, mediated through sound, between human beings and our environment. His work has inspired researchers and artists around the world to take notice of and bring consciousness to our changing soundscape. His seminal work, “The Tuning of the World” (1977), summarizes his research, philosophy and theories, and continues to enjoy widespread influence.

Born in Sarnia in 1933, Schafer was a budding visual artist when he chose the musical fork in the road, studying in Toronto at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and then in Vienna. But he disliked the confining atmosphere of university, and left to study on his own. He has composed countless works for the concert hall, including 12 stunning string quartets and dozens of works for orchestra and for choir — though his writing very often breaks with traditional approaches. Broadly read in music, literature, philosophy and world religion, Schafer’s explorations of symbolism and mythology in modern life are most fully expressed in his cycle of dramatic works, called Patria (homeland).

Patria is Schafer’s answer to Wagner’s Ring. Like the Ring, it is a series of music dramas which together play out a large scale mythology, of Schafer’s own design. But where Wagner’s Ring is a total integration of music and myth confined to the theatre, Schafer’s Patria goes further to integrate ritual and the environment. Schafer holds that a people’s music is grounded in their local environment, thus many of his works are tied to a specific place. For example, The Proloque: The Princess of the Stars was written to be performed on a remote lake just before dawn; Patria 5: The Crown of Ariadne is set on an actual beach; and The Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon blurs the every line completely, where the audience and performer are one, acting out an 8 day ritual in Haliburton Forest.
1977 saw Schafer win the inaugural Jules Léger Prize for Chamber Music; since then he has received countless honours and awards including the Canada Council Molson Prize and Walter Carsen Prize, the Glenn Gould Award, and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. In 2010, Schafer was named an honourary member of the Society for American Music, and in 2014, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

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