Social Polyphony: The Choir of the Self by Olivia Webb


The 4pm Mass at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Auckland was crammed full well before the service began. Was it a special occasion? A funeral? As a first time visitor I thought I must have missed some event announcement, for in my experience Catholic services are never short of seats. When the same thing happened the following Sunday, and every Sunday thereafter, I quickly realised that this was simply the size of the congregation.

What gives this church its numbers is not that it plays host to the large population of Auckland, but rather that it regularly accommodates Catholics from a variety of different cultures. Auckland is known for being a multicultural city, and this was most evident as this congregation gathered together beneath the same roof. In addition, what struck me was that everyone participated fully in singing the hymns – quite unlike the modestly reluctant style of singing that I associate with most Catholic parishes – this congregation sang willingly, and sang well.

Olivia Webb combines her experience as a classical choral singer with a sound oriented art practice, utilising performance and multi-channel sound installation to explore our experience of space; both architectural and social. Her sound oriented art practice centres on the human voice, particularly through a cappella song, as a way of revealing and ushering forth silent traditions and experiences embodied in space and place.

Olivia lives in Wellington, New Zealand where she teaches singing and is studying toward her Ph.D. She has performed and exhibited internationally as an artist and vocalist, and enjoys singing Early polyphonic music with her local choir each week.

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