Have you ever witnessed a song being composed in real-time? I have. And it happened in an unexpected place. This summer I attended a Future Story Cafe: a virtual sustainability workshop featuring musical guests. Over the summer the Town of the Blue Mountains hosted three such Cafes, starring musical luminaries Burton Glasspool Overdrive, Drew McIvor and Coco Love Alcorn. I attended (via Zoom) the latter performance, which was extra-unique: Coco performed live and composed a song with real-time input from attendees.
This was a post-Covid event in the best sense. I didn’t have to physically travel anywhere. I’ll confess: if the workshop had required me to sit in a room in a municipal building, I might’ve bowed out. But a Zoom meeting from my porch, with music? Sign me up.
These workshops were the fruit of Phase 2 of the Town’s Community Sustainability Plan, known as TBM Future Story, which asks some Big Questions. Such as: How we can help to ensure a prosperous, livable, and healthy future for everybody? One of the objects of the TBM Future Story is to answer these and other questions as fairly and as broadly as possible.
Phase 1 of the plan was the Community Situational Assessment, which pinpointed “the current realities of TBM’s context (including data, trends, policy, experience, and perspectives).” (Check out the Current State Report summarizing the findings from this phase.)
Phase 2 included the Visioning and Objectives of the Community Sustainability Plan. This phase (which included the Future Story Cafes) aims to develop “a picture of the desired future for TBM based on the ideas, hopes and dreams of the community.” And what brings a community together more directly than music?
After an introduction from the Town moderators, participants watched Coco Love Alcorn— awarded the 2021 Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Contemporary Singer Of The Year—in her home studio as she prepared everyone to co-write a song about sustainability. “Let’s write a song,” she said. “Anything that comes to mind. Any words, any ideas, throw them in the chat, type things as they come, and I’ll throw them in the looper here [an electronic pedal device that records any sound and plays it back instantly]. We’ll make some music.”
She started by looping a beatboxed kickdrum, settled on the key of F, then laid down two vocal bed tracks. And off we went. We watched our improvised lyrics flash onto the screen. “Green and trees… water and wetlands…” Coco sang, picking out the most singable phrases.“Save the planet… save the people…” And then she toasted overtop of her looping vocals: “We can’t sustain this/We must rethink this/Corporate greed must not persist/Resilient people/Adaptive to change…” And then the refrain—“Resilient people/Adaptive to change”—sung by a chorus of Cocos.
She also performed several of her original compositions between workshop sessions. The workshop moderators posed some Big Questions and polled participants, while we typed our answers into a live chat. The Questions included, “What are some of the sustainable choices you want to make, but don’t or can’t? And, “Looking ahead 50 years, what does a sustainable Town of the Blue Mountains look like in terms of the Natural Environment (and Economy, Arts & Culture, and Community Life)?”
“We knew that in-person engagements and the typical public meeting at Town Hall would not be permitted,” says Jeffery Fletcher, TBM’s Manager of Sustainability and Solid Waste. “We planned virtual workshops but we also put thought into trying something that enticed a diverse crowd and gave folks a bit of fun! So, the virtual Café style workshop was born and I’m optimistic this blend of information spreading, engagement and entertainment will continue.”
Andrea Matrosovs, Town Councillor and Co-Chair of the Sustainability Advisory Committee, adds: “Public engagement is a big priority at the Town and during COVID Town staff had an additional challenge to engage virtually. Sustainability includes reflection on culture and having local musicians tied in well with the plan creation. We anticipate this type of creative engagement will assist us in building upon this community’s unique attributes while creating a shared path towards a future of increased livability, vibrancy and health of all living systems.”
The TBM Future Story Phase 3: Action Planning will take place this fall and early winter 2022. Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved.