Image: Blue Note in rehearsal (Peter Legris)

Blue Note

Created by Martin Julien and Brian Quirt

Music won’t be made, but maybe music can be conjured, if you know how.

Blue Note takes place during the first rehearsal of an eight member vocal ensemble following the death of one of its singers. As they rehearse, the surviving singers reflect on the missing voice, how much they mourn (or not) the absent singer, and try to fill the missing space in the arrangements they have made. By inviting the audience into their wake-like rehearsal, Blue Note becomes an intimate character study of a vocal ensemble, encouraging spectators to become participants, follow the seven singers during the rehearsal, sitting as close as they wish while the rehearsal struggles onward, even singing along if they want. As in a piece of choral music, Blue Note offers a window into each singer, but the whole story is only revealed once all of their individual voices are singing together.

Dramaturgy and process

Blue Note was born from Brian’s fascination with and long time integration of vocal music into his theatrical projects. In this case, his initial idea was about a small choral group that has lost a singer; how do they cope with grief, how do they deal with – literally, in rehearsal – the missing voice. How can that absence be made visceral, how can it be heard, even though that voice is no longer there? With these ideas and questions in mind, Brian partnered with actor and playwright Martin Julien to explore the relationships between singers in a small ensemble, and to find ways to make an absent voice present in the room. 

We began the process by creating a series of temporary ensembles, groups of singers assembled for between three days and two weeks. For each session, the singers were asked to bring with them a song, in any genre and from any era, that they would be willing to teach to the ensemble. Through this process, Brian and Martin observed the process of learning a new piece of music, conducted experiments with merging and mixing songs, and slowly put together the unusual repertoire that is incorporated into Blue Note.

As the process evolved, Brian and Martin, although trained as theatre artists, resisted the impulse to make a text-based play. What arose, over time, is an elegiac investigation into loss within the realm of collaboration, an installation rather than a traditional theatre piece, in which during both the rehearsal process and the formal presentations the audience can observe the ensemble rehearsing, and the performance evolving, over the exhibition period. 

We also resisted a traditional script, preferring to think of the piece as a score in which tasks and actions for each performer were written down, but what they might say, how they might move and decisions about how long each section might take in performance, were left up to the decisions of the singers. 

One key dramaturgical discovery was beginning the performance by rehearsing a piece of music that was new to the performers, ensuring that we met each of them through an authentic struggle to sing together. Each night the sequence of the show was the same but we built in many opportunities for new interactions between the singers and between the ensemble and the audience.

For more details of the creation process, and an annotated version of the score, please see Canadian Theatre Review issue CTR 140, Fall 2009.

Nightswimming led the theatrical development of Blue Note, and invited PLANT Architect Inc. to create a spatial setting to allow the audience access to the performance, and to contain the work in a metaphoric environment that supports the emotional and narrative content of the piece. View images of the Blue Note environment by PLANT Architect Inc.


Trust Nightswimming to turn a standard performance into an experimental theatrical journey.

NOW Magazine
Seven people rehearsing, with a keyboard in the foreground
A hand in front of white fabric that has been twisted into rope
Group of people in a rehearsal room