Harbour Symphony Vancouver (1986)

for over 100 boat horns in Vancouver Harbour
by Hildegard Westerkamp
Commissioned by Canada Pavilion, EXPO '86 Vancouver
Premiere: May 1986 Vancouver Harbour Vancouver BC Canada
Performed by assigned persons on board of each ship

Length: 7:00
Photo: Rick Elkin
It sounded like a herd of happy elephants caught in a traffic jam.
-Globe and Mail
Is it going to sound like Oh Canada? -
Richmond Review.
Mere words are inadequate to describe what took place when the Symphony began.
Harbour and Shipping Magazine.

On May 2nd 1986, nearly 150 boats of all sizes and shapes gathered in Vancouver Harbour around Canada Place to perform the first-ever Vancouver Harbour Symphonyfor boathoarns.

The piece was composed on commission from the Canada Pavilion for its Expo '86 opening. It is probably the largest environmental music event ever to be mounted in Vancouver.


Special thanks to Bernard Bomers, Special Events Co-ordinator for the Canada Pavilion, who first conceived and commissioned the event; Joe Carter for pioneering the Harbour Symphony idiom (on a smaller scale) in St. John's Newfoundland, and for helping direct and conduct this one; to Brian Lewis, Marine Consultant, and Mary Jane Green, Logistics Co-ordinator. Special thanks also to Vancouver's Marine Community for participating so enthusiastically in all facets of the event and for performing vigorously; to Bob Swanson who designed, and who’s company Airchime made most of the boat horns heard in this piece; and finally to Ina Dennekamp for playing on Swanson’s hornset the beginning of Song of the Sockeye, put to melody by Phil Thomas, based on a poem found on a notice board in River's Inlet and written by an unknown fisherman describing his life in the 1930s.

Final thanks go to the late Howard Broomfield, Peter Thompson, Victoria Fenner, and Leon Wolf, who recorded the live performance of the Harbour Symphony in the following places in and around the harbour: on the water from one of the participating boats, in the Main Street docks area, in Stanley Park near the nine-o’clock gun and on Canada Place.

The Harbour Symphony was composed in memory of my brother, Helmut Westerkamp, who, as a cadet sailor on the German training ship "Pamir," went down in a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic on September 21, 1957.


Harbour Symphony St. John’s (1989)

for six boat horns in St. John's Harbour, Nfld
by Hildegard Westerkamp
Premiere: July 1988 Sound Symposium, St. John's Nfld Canada

Length: 7:00

As a participant of the Sound Symposium in 1988 in St. John's Newfoundland I was invited to write a Harbour Symphony for one of the daily noon performances between July 6 and 16. After having written one in 1986 for over 100 boats in the much larger and more open Vancouver harbour, this seemed like an easy and focussed task. Unlike in Vancouver, the sound of each of the horns was known to me and I could, in fact, anticipate fairly accurately how the piece would sound!

What came as a total surprise, however, while recording the one and only performance of this piece from Signal Hill above the harbour, was that a bird would be singing its song very near my microphone during the opening of this Harbour Symphony!