PACE offers new directions in learning experiences for Continuing Studies students

Posted on Thursday, August 2, 2012

One of the courses offered by the Personal and Cultural Enrichment Program at the School of Continuing Studies this autumn will be a playwriting workshop led by Djanet Sears on Saturday, October 27. / Photo courtesy of Djanet Sears

By McGill Reporter Staff

Pauline Oliveros wants us to listen to the world around us. Really closely. To follow the truck as it turns the corner, and take in the drone of the air conditioner as well as the birdsong. The composer whose work has influenced the likes of American composer and music theorist John Cage was in Montreal earlier this summer to take part in a conference on improvisation and to lead a workshop on deep listening. It’s a practice that lies somewhere at the crossroads where meditation, listening and musical performance meet.

This means that during the deep listening workshop at the Naada Yoga Studio in Montreal, Oliveros asked the fifty or so participants to sit or lie on the floor and focus in silence for several minutes before joining in group vocal improvisations, sparked by a variety of techniques (including the remembered and forbidden sounds of childhood).  Over the course of the workshop, the room seemed to expand and contract as the sounds from people in the space wove in and out, moving sometimes to a crescendo of burps and bird cries and then diminishing to whispered nonsense babble. The total effect was surprising.

One of the participants asked Oliveros afterwards whether the concert of sounds produced in the deep listening workshops was always so beautiful. After responding with a confident “yes,” Oliveros went on to explain that what made the practice so powerful was that it was about, “how you feel when you are listened to and then approaching the world in this way.”

This workshop was just one example of the sessions offered by an ambitious new program at the McGill’s School of Continuing Studies. The Personal and Cultural Enrichment Program (PACE) promises to offer sessions that are based in experiential learning rather than on a more traditional lecture format. During the spring term of 2012, sessions ranged from the Science of Opera, which combined young singers from the Opéra de Montreal performing arias with scientific explanations about how the circuitry in the brain associates music with emotion, to sessions on citizen engagement and the use of theatre for social activism.

This fall, PACE programs offer participants everything from ways to live more sustainably or create a more meaningful work-life balance, to the chance to tap their creativity in a play writing workshop given by award-winning author Djanet Sears.

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