Connecting a City with One Voice

Tue, 18 Sep 2012

Sarah Van Borek
Artistic Director, SFU Public Square ONE VOICE Music Project

15 local musicians. 10 locations around the city.
5 days of filming. 1 song: One Voice

Canada has long been actively recruiting immigrants from around the globe and prides itself on providing a “mosaic” of cultures where individuals, families and communities are not only allowed but encouraged to retain their traditional values, customs and languages. This is, in fact, one aspect of Canada that I am proud of and grateful for…but it does come with a cost… a cost for which there is no price: isolation.

The Vancouver Foundation conducted research to better understand what current concerns are most pressing for residents across my home of Metro Vancouver. The foundation discovered that the dominant concern for people of Greater Vancouver is a growing sense of isolation in our urban environment. But it seems like it’s not just a case of big city. It seems that cultural segregation is largely the culprit, with alarming statistics indicating how few residents of Greater Vancouver have even one friend outside their cultural community.

The SFU Public Square ONE VOICE Music Project is an exciting initiative that harnesses the power of music, media, performance and collaboration to bridge across differences and inspire meaningful connections between (and an appreciation for) our diverse community members. The project includes a music video featuring the internationally-acclaimed song “One Voice’ written by Juno award-winning Canadian singer/songwriter, Ruth Moody. The video features 15 local musicians (ranging from individuals to groups). Each artist or artists’ group was filmed performing the featured song in a select, iconic location within the 3 cities in which SFU campuses are situated (Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey) so that, overall, the video provides a sense of bridging between these various locations.

Something exceptional unfolded organically while recording the “bridge” of the song. Prior to production, Adam Dobres, our Musical Director extraordinaire, had a rough plan for the bridge section but was looking for something more to really bring that section to life. During production, he invited one artist to try something new in the bridge. The artist, Chinese flute virtuoso Jian Ming Pan, added some traditional Chinese flute in this section. When the same invitation was made to vocalist, Shivangi Bhayana, she blew us away when she spun up some classical Indian-style singing. Zimbabwean mbira (“thumb piano”) master and vocalist, Kurai Mubaiwa, added vocals in his native tongue of Shona. M’Girl, the all-female Aboriginal accapella group, added traditional drumming and singing. This trend continued so that, quite naturally, the “bridge” of the song became a real “bridging” of rich and varied cultural traditions.

During production, I learned that a few of our featured vocalists would be singing in English for the first time! While this may have been a big deal for those artists, who were a bit hesitant at first, it was certainly a big deal for me to discover this because it raised the question: would these musicians have connected if it wasn’t for the common language of music?

If we can be open to those creative invitations to connect, then just like the “bridge” in our version of the song “One Voice,” we can start to bridge across barriers, like language, and build genuine, meaningful and lasting friendships.

Alone Together: Connecting in the City Blog Posts