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Sound Symposium builds ‘Echo Village’ at Memorial University Botanical Garden in St. John’s

Carole Bestvater is one of 14 musicians taking part in the Sound Symposium’s "Echo Village" at the Memorial University Botanical Garden on Sunday. The performers will be in different areas throughout the garden, performing a variety of different styles. – Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Carole Bestvater is one of 14 musicians taking part in the Sound Symposium’s "Echo Village" at the Memorial University Botanical Garden on Sunday. The performers will be in different areas throughout the garden, performing a variety of different styles. – Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Fourteen musicians will perform among the trees and foliage

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

As her cousin David Templeton’s oars cut through the water, propelling them up Oxen Pond at sunset, soprano Sarah Templeton will be his lone passenger, singing the music of German classical composer Richard Strauss.

At an outdoor dress rehearsal to test the natural acoustics of the pond and to figure out how much amplification will be needed, Templeton and her cousin noticed something.

“He realized that my rhythm was with his rhythm of rowing the boat,” she said. “We’re not sure who started that, but it’s impossible to not sing at the rate the person is rowing.”

It’s not only her first performance on a boat, but also her first performance back in Newfoundland and Labrador after 27 years of living abroad, including some time in Germany.

“It took me 27 years to realize Newfoundland is the best place on the planet,” she said.

Templeton is one of 14 musicians involved in what is called “Echo Village,” a project by the Sound Symposium taking place at the Memorial University Botanical Garden on Mount Scio Road in St. John’s on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

The Sound Symposium is a 10-day "international celebration of sound" in St. John's that typically happens every two years. This year was supposed to be the 20th anniversary, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has been postponed.

Since there is lots of opportunity for social distancing at the MUN Botanical Garden, the organization thought it provided an opportunity to hold an unusual performance.

Violinist Carole Bestvater said the performance will be a beautiful experience for the moving audience.

“People (will be) walking around the gardens and experiencing music as they’re milling about,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to have different kinds of music happening.”

There will be a combination of composed pieces and improvised performances, with performers distant from each other.

“I’m also in the camp of doing a set piece — I’m going to be infusing traditional folk dances with Bach movements,” she said. “I play classical and folk music quite a lot in my performance life, so I love this opportunity to fuse the two.”

Benton Roark is one of the producers of "Echo Village." Originally from Atlanta, Ga., Roark moved to St. John’s with his Newfoundland-born wife this summer and almost immediately began looking for projects to be involved with. – Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Benton Roark is one of the producers of "Echo Village." Originally from Atlanta, Ga., Roark moved to St. John’s with his Newfoundland-born wife this summer and almost immediately began looking for projects to be involved with. – Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Benton Roark, originally from Atlanta, Ga., moved to St. John’s with his Newfoundland-born wife this summer. As one of the producers, Roark said the festival came together very quickly.

“When I got here this summer I just reached out and said we’re in town and what can I do?” he said. “A lot of people were really itching to play some music with people in a live setting and get out from behind their screens … Everybody pretty immediately (said), ‘Yes, count me in, count me in.’”

For technical director Michelle LaCour, there are two things to consider.

“One is how we’re going to reinforce the sound, and if we’re going to reinforce the sound, how that’s going to serve the overall concept the best,” she said. “And then there’s recording.”

Shortly after emptying a small brown paper bag of duck food for several ducks on Oxen Pond, Lacour told The Telegram they’re lucky to have photographer and videographer Greg Locke within the Sound Symposium family.

“He’s going to film the event, so I need to take into consideration then how we’re going to capture audio for it,” she said. “Is the film going to be an art piece after the fact, or is it going to be more narrative, like (from the) point of view (of) if you were going through the garden?”

After some conversation with Locke, it turned out the answer was both. To make that work, there will be a shotgun microphone on one of the cameras, as well as a 5.1 surround sound microphone on the other.

“(And) then I’m going to plant some handheld recorders and some microphones around the garden … and capture some more ambient sound,” LaCour said.

Ashley Wright, the marketing adviser with the MUN Botanical Garden, said working with community partners like the Sound Symposium is one of the most amazing parts of what the garden does.

“We’re excited to see the blend of human-made music with the sounds of nature, and see how that plays out amongst the garden,” Wright said. “I think it’s an awesome fit and we’re very excited to be the hosts.”

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