Harbour Symphony


PROGRAM: Urban-scale orchestral event using horns of ships berthed in St. John's Harbour.
CLIENT: Sound Symposium
SIZE: Sound was heard 10 kilometers from site.
STATUS: On-going, every year since 1983.
LOCATION: St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada

Quote from the Sound Symposium Website:
“The Harbour Symphony was conceived for the first Sound Symposium in 1983 by Newfoundland-based architect Joe Carter. He invited musician Paul Steffler to write a series of compositions for ships' horns. The original goal of the piece was to draw attention to St. John's natural amphitheater form. The beauty of the city's relationship to the harbour was threatened by proposals for tall buildings on the commercial streets on the waterfront. Such buildings would block the views of enjoyed by residents living in the higher levels of the town.

Sound Symposium's signature musical salute is original music composed for the horns of the ships in the St. John's harbour. At 12:30 p.m. on each day of the festival, the ships' horns are transformed into an “orchestra on water” that lets loose a fabulous fanfare that signals to everyone within a 12-mile radius that it is time again to celebrate the wonders of sound.

The Harbour Symphonies begin with a radio countdown transmitted by the Coast Guard. Players stand at the helms of tugboats, trawlers, and ocean-going freighters. At the signal, the music from the giant, floating horn section reverberates off the Southside Hills and through the streets of old St. John's, echoing the soul of this 500-year-old seaport. The acoustics of St. John's bowl-shaped Harbour encourage the sound to resonate. The best places to listen are: up on Signal Hill, on the Southside Hills, and in the Outer Battery.

The sound byte below is an excerpted version of “Ballycatters and Growlers” composed by Don Wherry and Paul Steffler. (Thanks to Sound Art Initiatives, the organisers of the Sound Symposiun for permission to use this piece.) The sheet music below was created by Joe and Paul; the sample shown (drawn by Joe) shows music for one ship-horn. Each ship had a separate sheet.

Play Sample Symphony, "Ballycatters and Growlers" composed by Don Wherry and Paul Steffler.