Reflections on the

Community Visioning and Instrument Building

Workshop Series

A video collage sharing our first 4 workshops
A video collage sharing our last 3 workshops plus the Spring to Joy! public celebration event

I moved to Guelph’s Two Rivers Neighbourhood in the fall of 2020 to begin studying at the University of Guelph’s Critical Studies in Improvisation program. We were still within a year of the start of pandemic adjustments: social distancing, masking up, online calls upon online calls–the collective isolation was extreme. Although I had moved in with my partner and had lots of local support (via phone calls and emails), it was a bit lonely having moved to a new country without meeting and getting to know many people around me. About a year in, I finally saw a glimmer of excitement…

When the opportunity arose to propose a project to the Musagetes Foundation in Guelph through a partnered internship with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, I jumped at it! Entering my 2nd year of the program, I was ready to take some concepts and ideas I was learning about in my courses and integrate them into my life. My intention was to connect with folks around me within the Two Rivers neighbourhood as an active antidote to the loneliness and isolation I was experiencing as a newcomer. I also recognized a deep personal need for art-making to be the way we worked together. That’s how I came to the idea of collectively building an instrument through a series of workshop sessions.

When I was first recruited as the intern, I wasn’t sure how the project I envisioned could happen. First, I had no experience physically building…anything! However, my research within the University has a lot to do with how community-created musical playgrounds can affect the health of visitors and residents. I figured improvisation would play a large part in this experience, which I was very excited to try. I allowed myself to trust the process and find a way together.

Secondly, as much as I could imagine the project developing in certain ways over time, I really hoped to devise each part of it collectively by discussing steps with participants and working together to create something we’d all feel good about. As a student-researcher-artist-citizen of the world, I continue to learn about the extractive ways certain researchers approach community. In these situations, researchers enter spaces looking for what they want or need. They build relationships for the time that those wants and needs can be fulfilled by the community, then leave without reciprocating and often profiting from the findings without sharing the returns.

Having already chosen to create a musical instrument felt a bit niche and I was occasionally unsure whether participants would have chosen to go that route had we all been in the same room from the start. Many times the question of “how does this benefit anyone?” came to mind. As I discussed these concerns with my advisors and mentors, they helped me recognize that though there were benefits to kicking things off with a clear idea, so long as the process of unfolding was collaborative and I welcomed change. The amount of support and guidance I had was encouraging because of who it came from and their experience working on non-extractive community projects. Thankfully, by the end of the project’s time, I understood their perspective and could see that having that initial project “shape” we could fill with our shared efforts from the beginning was crucial to our process. It gave us a sense of cohesion and a clear goal, even if getting to that goal wasn’t always so direct.

Once the basic idea (collaborate on an instrument and connect with locals) was set and supported, it was time to see what my community had to say about it. Hoping I might be able to partner up with community spaces to connect with folks and do something fun together, I reached out to a local organization. This happened to be a case of bad timing, especially since this was late 2021 and many spaces were just beginning to open up again. As much as I had hoped a community partnership could work with them, the amount of time, resources and capacity many community workers had was severely limited.

Afterward, I connected with my trusted advisors and friends, leading me to learn more about the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. This community resource, along with many others I learned about along this journey, blew my mind. I hadn’t realized to what extent these neighbourhood groups supported their communities, and how diverse typical programming could be. It made a lot of sense to reach out and get to know my neighbourhood group, the Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group (TRNG), regardless of their partnership on this project. Their work in the neighbourhood is consistent and supportive, especially during this particular time of exacerbated need.

I really appreciate the guides that led me to connect with the TRNG because as soon as I shared this project idea with them, they were on board. This was the beginning of a beautiful journey together as their support was beneficial both to the project’s creation and to my self-confidence as a community artist. That type of care is seemingly not too difficult to find in a place like Guelph, but I hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before moving to Canada. With the TRNG helping develop the workshop series, I felt very grounded throughout the process.


In our very first workshop, we had around 10 community members show up. We played sound-based games, used our own bodies and voices to produce and listen to noises, and learned a bit about each other. I had no idea what to expect, but I noticed that everyone who attended was open to playing. That felt very promising, as I have facilitated workshops and classes where folks initially had difficulty making sounds in front of one another. Instead, we had howls, whoops, and ya-hoos resonate throughout the Huron Community Garden, which the TRNG had graciously offered as our gathering space.

The next week brought a few new faces mixed in with some participants from week one. I was thrilled! During this workshop, co-facilitator Steve Donnelly and I brought objects to interact with within the space. To continue honouring the intention of getting to know community, we split up into small duos and groups and asked participants to take the objects and play with the garden. This was meant to re-engage our sonic relationship with the land.

Workshop #2

The hope was that we’d all notice our sonic landscape a bit more in-depth and begin to imagine other sounds we might feel inspired by by interacting with the existing ones. Workshop three helped kick off visual ideas through an abstract game using imaginary Noise Clay (TM). As participants, there was a sense of focus and intention with the shapes we were forming out of thin air. We then took the visions and sounds we created during the game and put them to paper using crayons, markers, pencils, pens and paper.

Workshop #3

Workshop four technically wrapped up the first half of the series. I noticed the same group of folks attending every weekend which brought me immense joy. I felt more connected as we went on and felt a sense of resonance with the playful energy everyone brought. This became more apparent in this workshop because participants were asked to bring in a few more objects to start considering as part of our final instrument.

First, we jammed in a large group playing our objects. Then, we split up into two small groups where we took some of those objects and devised larger instruments out of them through improvised configuration. Once we had finished devising our instrument, we swapped instruments with the other group without sharing how to play the new instrument. This was an intentional approach to letting go and not getting too precious about our creation. I find that to be important in early stages of collaboration.

Those instruments were then played in the new small groups. We found joy in seeing how the other group played the instruments because it was different than originally imagined. This gave us insight into how many ways the world can be interacted with. Finally, the original groups showed us how they intended their instrument to be played, just to see another way. This was our first big step toward realizing a co-created instrument.

Workshop #4

Once we found overlapping sound-interests, I asked the group what else we might need to create something together. With their input, I set out to collect the items later that week and brought them to our next workshop, session five. I also gathered a few intentions we named in this workshop and wrote them onto a long piece of paper to consider as we moved forward.

Workshop five was a turning point in the series. Up to this point, much of our time together was spent learning about and with one another, investigating sounds in the space, and bonding. Though all of these things continued happening for the remaining time, it was during this week that I noticed more directly how we were collaborating. Now that there were objects laid out, many folks had creative ideas to share through designs and by holding up objects while making sounds. We were communicating in a shared language about what we wanted to see and hear in our instruments. This very quickly became a “yes, and…” process where ideas bubbled to the brim.

Workshop #5

The creative energy was abundant. So much so, in fact, that participants were willing to double their session time in the final two weeks to build the full instrument! We spent four hours together over two days to finalize the instrument and mount it onto the garden shed so that passers-by could access it in the days to come.

Workshop #6 – Final Build Part 1

The building process was truly magical. Lots of it was experimentation, play, improvisation, bouncing off one another…many questions came up, many solutions were offered, and overall we all guided each another without sticking to one rigid plan. The flexibility was a reflection of the overall playful spirit, one that wasn’t precious about where items needed to go, or projections of exactly how things needed to sound. There weren’t many conversations around existing instruments, but there was no notion of needing to step away from tradition, either. It felt very organic and unfolded with time. We also had a few voices in the mix that had previous building experience which helped us expedite some of the process.

Workshop #7 – Final Build Part 2

Something I find extremely valuable after moments of big, collaborative effort is taking the time to celebrate. Thankfully, the project was co-developed with this in mind, and we planned a community spring event to showcase the instrument and workshop participants, inviting folks from around the neighbourhood to eat, play, jam, and connect. There was no shortage of sounds and laughs, and seeing new faces in such a familiar place playing the instrument we co-created was a deeply joyful event.

Spring to Joy! Event

This project was a bright light for me during dark times. It reflected a spirit of experimentation I had sensed upon moving to Guelph which solidified the hope in my heart that I was in the right place. It was also a heartwarming process of community connection through play and collective intention that I yearn for in my daily life. The other wonderful part of having an intention for the end of the project early on was that folks with similar inclinations toward community, sound and play joined in and explored those topics together. There was a certain feeling of shared interests that I hope helped old friends bond and new friends grow in the snowy garden.

By putting our attention toward something new, something imagined, something fun, I learned about folks in my neighbourhood and built a physical object to reflect our shared time. That was really all I wanted to do, and I am ecstatic and honoured to have been a part of it.

I have immense gratitude to those that made it happen, namely:

  • Participants
    • Steve Donnelly, Co-Facilitator
    • Ben Finley, Videographer and Video Co-Editor
    • Jen, Program Support
    • Kim Barton
    • Leah Kesselman
    • Barb
    • Vanessa Hyland
    • Kayla
    • Clayton
    • Sean Rooney
    • Amanda Buchnea
    • Shelley McAlpine
    • Lisa
    • annais linares
  • Partners and the land
    • Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group
      • Alisha Arnold, Neighbourhood Support Worker
      • Jen Britton, Programs Manager
    • The Huron Community Garden
    • Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition
    • EdVideo, for their equipment support
    • Guelph Tool Library, for helpful tools and event-day dish ware
  • Funders
    • Musagetes Foundation
    • International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation

Thank you all so much. It was a blast!