Exploring literature in participative performances

This page provides documentation for two projects that form an investigation of strategies for the exploration of literature through participative musical performances.

The performance piece Literary Lunchtime from the project Belfast City Choir includes a series of public performance events in which audience members are given songbooks of text-scores that invite recitation, singing and conversation based on poetry and other literatures.

The project Tolka Chorus includes a series of workshops that explore strategies for exploring literature using vocal improvisation, text-scores and graphic notation.  Participants adopt these strategies in the creation of their own songbook that is subsequently presented in public performance.

Belfast City Choir – Literary Lunchtime


Belfast City Choir is a series of events that explore musical improvisation and participative strategies for engaging audiences with literature and oral histories from Belfast.  The strategies involve reading, movement, vocalisation and interactions amongst audience members.

Literary Lunchtime (2014) was an indoor participative event of approx. 60 minutes duration that invites audiences to .  It was presented twice: first in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, and subsequently in Sonic Lab, Queen’s University Belfast.

Literary Lunchtime builds on the scores and performance strategies developed in previous Belfast City Choir events: concert performance Letterkenny Choir (May 2013); outdoor promenade performance Moving Song (September 2013); and outdoor promenade participative performance On the Move (November 2013)

Departing from previous Belfast City Choir performances which incorporated a conductor figure to lead and instruct the ensemble, Literary Lunchtime provides participants with a songbook that is the only source of instruction.


Click here to view a PDF of the songbook

Audience members receive a songbook upon entry to the event which explains the methods of instruction and participation.  The songbook contains ten songs, each with a different text-source that relates to a social narrative of Belfast, e.g. excerpts of poetic works, oral histories, journalism, etc.  Each text-source is accompanies by a text-score, that instructs the audience on how they should engage with the text-source, e.g. recite, sing, interpret through abstract sound, analyse with a partner.

These strategies were devised through workshopping with vocalists and actors over a series of workshops and rehearsals.  Techniques employed in previous Belfast City Choir events were employed, such as melody improvisation, echoing, typographical notation and use of the participant’s inner voice.


The video below shows song IX from Literary Lunchtime as performed by an audience at Ulster Hall, Belfast. Song IX asks participants to traverse the room whilst internalising and reciting excerpts from the poem Laganside by Alan Gillis.

The video below shows song VII from Literary Lunchtime as performed by an audience at Sonic Lab, Belfast. Song VII asks participants to face eachother across the room and choose a specific text to recite.

Click here for a complete set of videos of each song at the Literary Lunchtime performances at Ulster Hall and Sonic Lab.


Performance Events:

27 August 2016 : All this is in Your head (selected scores from Literary Lunchtime) –  Tuning The White Walls festival, PS2 Gallery, Belfast.

2 October 2014 : Literary Lunchtime – Lunchtime concert series, Sonic Lab – Queen’s University, Belfast.

26 March 2014 Literary Lunchtime – Ulster Hall, Belfast.

18 January 2014 : Six-Part Songs – Secret Cabaret at Cathedral Quarter ‘Out to Lunch’ Festival, Belfast.

6 November 2013  : On The Move – choral walking tour from Ulster Hall to Open University via Belfast City Hall. Part of OU’s University of the Air Festival.

24 September 2013 : Moving Song – choral walking-tour from St Anne’s Cathedral to Writer’s Square via Hill St., High St., and North St. during Culture Night, Belfast. 

9 May 2013 : Letterkenny Choir – Intercultural Platform Annual General Meeting. Donegal County Council, Letterkenny.


D’Arcy, J. (2015) ‘Moving Song: Improvising Local Literature in Belfast’. Sonorities Symposium, Queen’s University Belfast.

D’Arcy, J. (2014)  ‘Intermedia Vocal Practice’, Metropolitanisms Conference, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast

D’Arcy, J. (2014)   ‘Off the Page, in the Ear, on the Street’, The Expanded Lyric Conference, Queen’s University Belfast

Tolka Chorus

Tolka Chorus

Building on the compositional and performance strategies devised within Belfast City Choir workshops and performances, Tolka Chorus invited residents of County Meath and County Dublin to compose their own songbook for literature-based musical performance during a series of choral workshops at the river Tolka.

Participants were led through a collaborative process to research and curate local history and literature into lyrics for their own musical compositions.  After being shown a series of musical strategies for listening, composing, performing and improvising; participants paired their selected literature with specific strategies for vocal improvisation and verbal notation to produce a group performance.  The composition was structured as an imagined journey along the river Tolka where participants used their voices to recreate the sounds of the river, its communities and its localities.

Workshops took place in August and September 2015 in Mulhuddart Community Centre, Dublin.

The two video players below start at different points of the Tolka Nights ‘Documentary of Process’ video.  They show portions from the Tolka Chorus workshops.



Click here for the Tolka Chorus songbook created in collaboration with participants.


Animated Score:

The performance was structured as a journey along the river, with each song located at a specific landmark, such as the industrial M50 roundabout and the pastoral Botanic Gardens.

After using large -scale printed flood-plain maps as a graphic score during workshops, a large projection of an animated map was developed to mark the temporal structure of the final performance.

The video below shows the animated score projected at the time of a live performance by Tolka Chorus. The soundtrack to this film is a montage of performances during workshops and rehearsals.


Public Performance:

The public performance of Tolka Chorus

Additional documentation for the wider project can be found at the Tolka Nights homepage.



11 September 2015 : Tolka Nights. Tolka Valley Park, Dublin.


Green, M. & D’Arcy, J. (2017) ‘Recalling the River: The River Soundscape in the Site-specific and Social Practice of Tolka’. Invisible Places: Sound, Urbanism and Sense of Place, Azores.


Anderson, S., D’Arcy, J., Green, M.  Guy, J., McIvor, C. & Sloan, S. (2015) ‘Tolka Nights’. Create Collaborative Networking Day, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin.

Cited in publications:

Laws, J. (2015) ‘Moody River’ in Visual Artists Ireland News Sheet (November/December 2015).

Funding information:

Tolka Chorus was part of Tolka Nights – a large scale public art project commissioned under the Per Cent for Art Scheme relating to the creation of flood defence systems on the River Tolka in catchment areas across Dublin, Fingal, and Meath. This commission was supported by the Office of Public Works (OPW), Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, Meath County Council, and Create.

Posted on