Laurel Murphy is a Vancouver-born singer and teacher of vocal improvisation. Her musical influences and interests are diverse, from performances of jazz repertoire to interdisciplinary collaborations that are completely improvised. Improvisation has been a constant thread over the past 25 years and it affects her approach to all aspects of her work.
Laurel was the creator and producer of the improvised choral events SongRise 1995 and 1999 and was featured in the documentary “Sing!” in 2000. She was a member of the a cappella improv projects ImproVox, VocoLoco and Zen Mouth Storm. Laurel has been improvising with loopers since 1999 and combined this love with spontaneous choral composition in the “Human Loops” project. Her current project, “Blank Space” is an improvised collaboration that features singers, dancers and poets and instrumentalists.
Laurel has spent time in the studio as well, recording on a variety of projects including jingles for radio, Rhiannon’s “Flight” cd, and background vocals for children’s singer/advocate, Raffi. Laurel has a number of personal recordings in the works, including spontaneous compositions with a 17 voice choir, soundscapes for relaxation, and improvised looper compositions. Her jazz cd “When I Was a Bird” (available cdbaby and itunes) was produced with the talents of some of Canada’s finest musicians.
Laurel is also very passionate about the potential of sound to heal and transform. She began working with the Callanish Society in Vancouver in 2004, offering sound sessions for cancer support and creating the Sound Journeys series for the general public. While at Callanish, Laurel was very fortunate to collaborate with and learn from hypnotherapist Lis Smith. Together they produced a hypnosis cd called “Blossomtime” for relaxation and sleep.
Daughter of musical parents who first met in a church choir, Laurel began singing at a young age. She grew up listening to everything from Joni Mitchell to Puccini, Led Zepellin to Nat King Cole and Glenn Miller. In 1992, after several years of classical voice training, she met Rhiannon, a founding member of Bobby McFerrin’s cutting-edge a cappella group “Voicestra” and was introduced to the wild world of vocal improvisation. Exposure to this approach altered Laurel’s relationship to music and inspired her to delve deeper into the art of improvisation, as well as to complete a diploma program in Jazz and Contemporary Music at VCC.
In 1993 Laurel attended Bobby McFerrin’s 24-hour “Sing For Your Life” at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. So moved by the experience, she returned to Vancouver to produce her own choral events: “SongRise–A Celebration of Improvised Voice” (New Year’s Eve 1995) and “SongRise–Voices Raised for the New Millennium” (New Year’s Eve 1999.) These inspirational gatherings brought together over 150 singers, a host of talented conductors, and 1200 audience members in the creation of a five-hour improvised vocal soundscape to welcome the New Year. These events helped to establish an ongoing improvisational singing community in Vancouver and helped spread Rhiannon’s work to a larger community in Vancouver and at Hollyhock on Cortes Island.
Laurel’s ongoing work with a variety of improvisational disciplines and vocal techniques form the foundation of her teaching. Since 1997 she has been offering classes and workshops that explore the voice as instrument and approach improvisation as a vehicle of creative expression and personal transformation. Laurel’s approach to singing is joyful and spontaneous–one that builds trust in one’s inner musician, encourages risk-taking and laughter, and ultimately the discovery of many hidden gifts. She teaches in and outside of Vancouver and has assisted Rhiannon at workshops in Canada and the US since 1996.
A SAMPLE OF PROJECTS AND APPEARANCES
* Teacher of vocal improvisation and facilitator of circle singing events in Vancouver and abroad (numerous cities in British Columbia, Toronto, Whitehorse, Washington DC, Denver CO, Seattle, Dublin Ireland)
• Regular jazz vocalist at the Jericho Tennis Club in Vancouver.
• “IMPROVOCATION”–an improvised performance with Lin Snelling dance, Michael Reinhart guitar, Sara Marreiros and Heidi McCurdy voice (2011 & 2013).
• Backup vocalist on Raffi’s CD’s Communion, Resisto Dancing and other projects.
• Featured performer (improvisation and live looping) in the documentary film “My15Minutes” (2012) by film maker Trent Savage.
• Featured performer (with Ryan Slemko) at the 10th Annual International Looper Festival in Santa Cruz, October 2009: live vocal improvisation with multiple loopers.
• Vocalist on Rhiannon’s”FLIGHT” cd–an interactive instructional cd set for vocal improvisation, with Rhiannon, Linda Tillery and other founding members of Bobby McFerrin’s “Voicestra”• The Roundhouse: Artist in Residence, Feb-July 2003.
* Working with Kathryn Ricketts (Main Dance) on a collaborative community piece exploring themes of displacement, cultural identity and community through improvised voice and movement.
• One World Music, January 2003: Facilitated 1400 Starbucks employees in improvisational soundscape.
• Mascall Dance “Housewerk”: 6 month collaboration and exploration with Mascall Dance and “ImproVox” (Laurel’s improvisational project) resulting in a series of performances of improvised dance and voice, May 2002.
• Womens Voices Festival, Ottawa, July 2001: Performance and workshop facilitation.
• Karen Jamieson’s “Raven of the Railway” production, May 2001 and April/May 2003: Composed and directed two vocal scores (improvisational in nature).
• One of four featured artists in the documentary “SING” by film maker Bill Weaver (produced in association with Vision-TV, Bravo and Knowledge Network.)
• Vancouver Sacred Music Festival, November 2000: Guest conductor and facilitator.
• “WeBe3” concerts in San Francisco, December 2000: Guest singer and improviser with Rhiannon, Joey Blake, Linda Tillery and David Worm.
• Vancouver Folk Music Festival July 1999: Backup vocals for Rhiannon’s mainstage performance with Jami Sieber and Sal Ferreras.
• SongRise 1995 and 1999: producer and conductor of 5-hour improvised vocal events for New Year’s Eve