Case Study: Physics Room - The Voices Project

Building communities through song

After the disruption of the Canterbury earthquakes Christchurch people are finding a new sense of community, friendship and inspiration by being part of local choirs. 

The Voices Project encourages and supports non-musicians to form choirs.  Participants share a constructive, creative experience – which also helps them look more positively to the future.  The project was started by installation artist Olivia Webb and visual arts organisation, The Physics Room.

Olivia grew up singing in Christchurch’s acoustically beautiful churches.  She understood how affected people were by their loss. Singing in these churches had helped build communities with a strong sense of well-being, civic pride and identity. This knowledge inspired The Voices Project.

Togetherness through singing

 “I always found it (singing)  an excellent way of bonding with other people…there is nothing easier than music to create a sense of togetherness… it’s that chord that fills the entire space that makes you feel like there is something bigger than you.”  Stefanie

With Olivia’s guidance the choirs have also created 15-minute recordings that are a source of pride.  The recordings include the sound of the choir gathering, practicing and then performing a choral piece.  Each work was played at a project finale at each of the communities’ church sites.  The audience came from throughout Christchurch and international visitors.

People joining the choirs do not see themselves as musicians and so are willing to take risks, laugh at their mistakes, learn to understand each other and work as a group. They have found these skills and feelings are transferable to their everyday lives, especially at a time of change and challenge.

A Choir to celebrate and renew

Not all those involved in the choirs are parishioners or knew each other but all share a sense of loss. Olivia chose a sacred choral piece that she felt echoed the change in their lives.

“I tried hard not to push or structure the work toward being a ‘healing’ experience, although I did anticipate that it could help some people. It was important that the work was flexible enough for the communities to make it their own, and use it as they needed, “ says Olivia.  

“Music like this gives you a sense of elevation, in a really clean and beautiful way…you walk away and you feel more light in your heart and better in your spirit.”  Thomas

“I think it will be music that is well engrained in my being. As it will also be in the earth of each of the sites… it has helped to heal and restore a little of what was lost.”  Trish

This Voices Project is a partnership between the artist and The Physics Room. The Physics Room is a contemporary art space in central Christchurch, that has been dedicated to developing and promoting contemporary art in New Zealand since 1996. Their goal is to actively seek links between the arts and wider intellectual, social and political debate.