Laurel Murphy is a Vancouver-born singer and teacher of vocal improvisation. Her musical influences are diverse, reflecting her experience as a vocalist with large and small ensembles, from performances of jazz repertoire to interdisciplinary collaborations. Laurel has performed at venues in Vancouver and abroad, singing standards from the Great American Songbook and jazz adaptations of folk classics. Her vocals have been featured in the studio as well, recording on a variety of projects including jingles for radio, Rhiannon’s “Flight” cd, and background vocals for well-loved 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 long-awaited jazz cd “When I Was a Bird”, produced with the talents of some of Canada’s finest musicians, is available now as a pre-release will be officially released in of 2015.
Laurel was the creator and producer of SongRise 1995 and 1999 and was featured in the documentary “Sing!” in 2000. A lover of all things improvised, Laurel has collaborated with singers, dancers and poets and is a founding member of the Vancouver a cappella projects ImproVox, VocoLoco and Zen Mouth Storm. Her latest project, the Human Loops, is a vehicle for spontaneous choral composition as well as solo work with loopers and electronics. She has been improvising with loopers since 1999. Laurel is also very passionate about the potential of sound to heal and transform. She has offered sound for relaxation at the Callanish Society in Vancouver since 2004, and created the Sound Journeys series for the general public. In 2014, Laurel produced “Blossomtime” with Lis Smith, hypnotherapist. Laurel had the pleasure of collaborating regularly with Lis for the first few years of her work at Callanish.
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 flew to San Francisco to participate in Bobby McFerrin’s 24-hour “Sing For Your Life” at Grace Cathedral. So impressed by the experience, she returned to Vancouver and spent the next two years laying the groundwork for her own vocal 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 estabilish an ongoing improvisational singing community in Vancouver and resulted in the ongoing SongRise Improv Choir. They also helped spread Rhiannon’s work to a larger community in Vancouver and at Hollyhock on Cortes Island.
Laurel began working with sound for relaxation in 2004 at the Callanish Society in Vancouver. Over the years, she developed techniques using improvised voice and instruments to create sonic support for patients to relax, reconnect and restore themselves in the midst of difficult life circumstances. It was out of this work that Sound Journeys emerged. Since February 2010, Laurel and her group of improvisational singers have been offering the healing qualities of sound to the general public. The group is constantly exploring how improvised sound can be used to induce states of deep relaxation and inner resonance, combining live vocal harmonies, atmospheric instruments and surround-sound, with healing intent.
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