Thinking Spaces with Douglas Ewart

–Reflection by Ellen Ringler–

On October 23, 2015 I attended an IICSI hosted afternoon with Improviser in Residence, Douglas Ewart. “Thinking Spaces: The Improvised Reading Group and Speaker Series” organized by Harald Kisiedu, the University of Guelph’s post-doctoral fellow, offered an afternoon with Douglas at Guelph’s treasured art space, “Silence.” The afternoon was devoted to fun, learning and improvising with Douglas Ewart who reliably offers light hearted and critical insights into education, music, creation and sustainability. Douglas presented a video about his transdisciplinary project “Crepuscule” and devoted time to telling stories of his youth while reflecting on “Crepuscule” as a collaborative endeavour to foster community through improvised music.

“Thinking Spaces” was well attended by many adults from Guelph’s community as well as students and faculty from the University of Guelph. The opportunity to listen and create with Douglas Ewart was enlightening and lively. Douglas recalled his youth with humour and play as he discussed the creative force of repurposing and recycling everyday objects to create new and exciting artifacts. Perhaps one of the most fantastic of Douglas’ creations is a beautiful and enchanting musical instrument made from a discarded crutch. Douglas crafted the crutch with pretty bells to create splendid new sounds. Douglas also made many rainmaker instruments using objects that tend to be thrown away. He brought these objects to life by adding photographs and dedicating the instruments to people he loved in his life. All the instruments Douglas crafts are steeped with meaning and joy in their creation and practice.

The community at “Silence” listened to Douglas Ewart with keen ears. As he told stories about the community of “Crepuscule” and his intention to gather local communities for an afternoon of improvised music at Guelph’s arboretum, listeners were fascinated by such an endeavour. Douglas explained that in the past ten years he has gathered communities of musicians ranging from the very accomplished to new learners into “pods.” These “pods” each have leaders who guide the musicians through an improvised musical performance just around dusk. Douglas emphasized the importance of bringing youth and elders in the community together in order to recognize and respect each group’s contributions to their community. I think the listeners at Silence were amazed by these plans and eager to participate. With this anticipation Douglas invited us to choose instruments, mostly bells, and we began to improvise.

I found there was an interesting shift between listening to Douglas’ words and listening to the music. I believe in listening to Douglas’ most captivating talk, the community was generally more engaged in active listening. In the sense that when we began to improvise musically it seemed the musicians had forged their own path. Perhaps it was the excitement of play, a chance to practice communication through music and a way to let out our own enthusiasm. I think that less attention was given to our fellow musicians and more was given to ourselves gleefully ringing those bells. Everyone was actively engaged but perhaps not with each other. It was all in good fun and was a brilliant opportunity to play and laugh and enjoy!

To end our time with Douglas he invited us to spin tops he had crafted out of recycled materials. These spinning tops were exhibited in the video we watched surrounding “Crepuscule” and the opportunity to play was thrilling. There was a child, tentative at first but then more than delighted to spin those whimsical tops! The deliberate and intricate method by which to get the tops spinning in order to experience the joy of their colours spinning around echoed the afternoon itself. We all listened to Douglas very closely but when it was time to play it was time to really play and enjoy the frenzy and fun of ringing our bells.