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18th Annual Sound Symposium

There’s a line from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest from everyone’s favourite monster Caliban as he describes sound:

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”
(The Tempest, Act III Sc. ii)

Whether it’s the island portion of the province or Labrador, there’s no shortage of sounds to delight the ear.

Perhaps this is what inspired the late Don Wherry, and the original organizers of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sound Symposium, to create such a unique and dynamic festival of sounds.

The Sound Symposium has been running bi-annually since conception in 1983. The festival brings together musicians, actors, dancers, visual and environmental artists, and creators of all stripes – both local and international, ‘new age’ and traditional, in celebration of the beauty of sound.

One of the marquis events that happens during this festival occurs daily throughout the festival at 12:30pm NST. During the Harbour Symphony you’ll hear original pieces composed by musicians and artists locally and abroad. The catch – the compositions are played by the ships in the harbour. More precisely, the horns of each ship.

The symphony’s conductor, Delf Hohmann, gathers the ‘musicians’, or in this case ‘horn blowers’, prior to the big moment at 12:30 to rehearse. They do so vocally, as seen in the video below. 

I have to say, I’ve never quite seen anything like that. And I love it.

And I’m not the only one. This father and son came down to be a part of the action, and to blow a horn or two of their own.

Afterward the rehearsal, the musicians make their way to various boats in the harbour. They can range from fishing boats, to freighters, and even a Coast Guard vessel or two. The radio cues the performers.

One of the joys of living in St. John’s is the look that people flash on their faces once the horns start blowing.

It’s loud. Like, real loud.

But if you stop for a moment and listen – really listen – you’ll hear something remarkable.

Music.

Music that echoes from every crack and crevice in hillsides that surround St. John’s Harbour.

Mack Furlong’s composition, Brute, beautifully demonstrates the way sound is captured and reverberated inside the harbour itself.

This province is full of beautiful noises.

Whether it’s the sound of nets scratching against an old fishing shed in the wind, the pitter patter of a puffins wings as it takes flight across the water, or the rhythm of a one-lunger (a boat powered by a one cylinder engine) putting it’s way out the bay – our musical range is vast and seemingly unending.

The Sound Symposium brings those sounds to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world to us.

And that, my friends, is nothing to be afeard of.

Sound Symposium happens July 8 – 16. For more information on all of this year’s performances, visit soundsymposium.com