Stephanie Conn

writer, researcher, producer

The mystery of musical affect (and effect)

I once found myself unexpectedly moved to tears by the singing of a Flemish folk song. I do not speak Flemish and I don’t have any particular connection to the subject matter, that of a woman whose seven sons immigrate to Canada from Belgium. Later that day I could not even fully remember the melody. But the very visceral effect it had on me ­­— and as I later learned, on others who were in the audience that day — has me thinking about why it is that a musical performance can have more or less impact than expected. Continue reading “The mystery of musical affect (and effect)”


One of my favourite photography tricks is to shoot the same thing repeatedly — on different days, in different weather, and over a period of years. Somehow repeated attempts to photograph very familiar things forces one to see them differently, or in new way. Continue reading “Seeing things anew”

Memory and Gavin Bryars’ music

I’m fascinated by memory and the many ways it comforts, shapes, or confounds us. Maybe this was one of the reasons I became involved with Gaelic singing in Cape Breton — I was drawn in not just by the songs themselves but the way they refer to the collective memory of that culture, and are enmeshed with the memories of individuals. But memory plays a vital role in many, if not all, kinds of music; at the most basic level, this is why we are tickled by references to other works. Snippets of one song mentioned in another or quotes from a poem in a novel (‘signifying’ in jazz, and intertextuality in literature) spark associations and call upon our memories of past experiences.

While working at CBC Radio I became familiar with Gavin Bryars and his music, and noticed that memory seemed to be a key feature of many of his works. Back in 1993, he saw his composition “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” climb the pop charts, and he has boxes of letters from listeners telling him how this piece touched them. Continue reading “Memory and Gavin Bryars’ music”


St. Ann’s bay, looking towards River Bennett

Cape Breton looks different in every season. In summer it is dark green and blue and smells of salt and pine; the fire- and churchhalls are bursting with dancers and spilling over with fiddle music. In the winter it is quiet, the snowy hills carved like stone, every social visit celebrated and wrung out for all it can be. But here is Cape Breton in the Fall, all contradictions: soft yellow marsh grass, bays as still as a millpond one day and as wild as the North Atlantic can be the next. Cafes closing for the season, and the Celtic Colours festival club pressing on into the wee hours. Continue reading “transitions”


Screenshot 2015-10-11 15.26.37So often as artists or presenters we create and then share works with no idea of how they will be received by audiences. We start from a place of excitement or fascination and hope that those who consume our work will feel some of that, too. After it is over we try to gauge its reception with the sound of applause, box office numbers. But even in more traditional performance contexts, there are examples of performers inviting more direct audience feedback, such as when guest fortepianist Malcoln Bilson urged Tafelmusik audiences to talk or applaud during a piece or encore individual movements. Continue reading “interactions”

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