Photo credit: John Kannenberg licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

I was saddened to learn this week that R. Murray Schafer, the eminent Canadian composer, writer, and acoustic ecologist had died. Having conducted research on the adverse effects of noise on children’s learning in the 1970s, which heightened my interest in how our surrounding environment impacted on our health and well-being, I was especially pleased to receive a copy of R. Murray Schafer’s now classic book “The Tuning of the World,” published in 1977.

R. Murray Schafer, a well-recognized composer and musician, turned his attention in this book to the pleasant and unpleasant sounds in our environment which he referred to as our “soundscape,” and he alerted his readers to how much our sonic environment affects our lives. Schafer urged his readers to take “soundwalks” so that they could connect with the wonderful sounds of nature. He hoped that these soundwalks would make us more aware of the harmful sounds in our surroundings, e. g., the roar of traffic and the pounding of jack hammers, so that we may plan a future with less noise pollution.

I was especially thrilled to meet R. Murray Schafer at a conference in Stockholm in 1998 entitled “From Awareness to Action,” convened by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, where we were both invited speakers. I had been in touch with him earlier, but the personal interaction was especially delightful. I was also honored that he invited me to review his book “The Book of Noise,” published in 1998. The purpose of this book, Schafer noted in his introduction, “is to point out some of the dangers of noise pollution and ways to reduce it.”

Robert Rowat, CBC Music, quotes one of Schafer’s music colleagues who said that his death “represents the loss of [Canada’s] greatest composer, one whose creative spirit knew no bounds.” Rowat singles out another example of the creativeness of R. Murray Schafer, namely, The World Soundscape project he founded aimed “to find solutions for an ecologically balanced soundscape where the relationship between the human community and its sonic environment is in harmony.”