Contact Alison

The Bird Project

The latest news:

Malcolm Sutherland’s short animated film UMBRA, the soundtrack of which features Bird Project music by Alison and Ben, recently won the Animation category at the 2012 Vimeo Awards in NYC. Congratulations to Malcolm!

Check out the winning film here:

The bird project is an ongoing exploration of artistic interaction with the natural world. While the bird project’s main focus is music - composed and improvised, both acoustic and electronic, with an eclectic range of influences - it also includes spoken narrative and poetry, video and live visuals, and sometimes photography. Though unlikely to remain fixed on any one inspiration for too long, the current focus is avian: the bird as muse, collaborator, messenger, instructor, devil’s advocate…the bird project seeks to inspire reflection upon the beauty and significance of the natural world and our indisputable connection with it, and by artistic means to heighten awareness of the environmental and ecological issues facing us today.

Alison Melville (artistic director), traverso, recorders, willow flute
Katherine Hill, soprano
Kathleen Kajioka, reader
Andrei Streliaev, piano
Debashis Sinha, video, live visuals
Ben Grossman, sound

Music Samples from a Concert Recording:

In its artistic conception the bird project juxtaposes various epochs, technologies and cosmologieps in an evocative and thoughtful fashion. The programming shifts to suit varieties of audiences and venue, technical considerations, the group’s artistic development, etc., and evolves as new ideas are added to the mix. Performances take place in- or outdoors, in traditional and atypical locations: recent concert venues have included Toronto's Music Garden, two 19th-century churches, some very 20th-century recital halls, and the Bradshaw Atrium of Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre (this page’s photos were taken at that venue). Outdoor performances may sometimes limit programming possibilities for various audio-visual components, but the project’s flexibility always enables solutions to be found.

The artists of the bird project bring a rich diversity of backgrounds and experience to this unique collaboration. For them, this kind of programming provides a welcome opportunity to adventure outside any artistic parameters (cages?) into which they may have unwittingly stepped; and they wish the same spirit of discovery for their listeners!

The programs: Music/Text/Visuals

Bird project concerts include an eclectic variety of acoustic and electro-acoustic pieces by an array of 12th- to 21st-century musicians: Hildegard of Bingen, Bach, Messiaen, Scarlatti, Jakob van Eyck, Hans Poser, Stockhausen, Hotteterre, Boismortier, tunes from ‘The Bird Fancyer’s Delight’ (1717), and other anonymous composers of earlier centuries; pieces written especially for the performers by Canadians Linda Catlin Smith, Peter Hannan, Mark Nerenberg and others; and music created by the performers themselves, both pre-composed and improvised during the performance. Concerts usually include a set of ‘improvisations on haiku,’ for which the reader spontaneously chooses haiku which then receive an ‘in the moment’ musical response by the players.

Delicately woven throughout the programs are poetry and prose by Canadian and international writers including Lorna Crozier, Levertov, Andal, Jacobsen, Vesaas, Neruda, Oliver, Auden, Yeats, Basho and others, and extracts from various medieval, baroque and contemporary sources.

Pre-created and improvised live visuals by Debashis Sinha add another remarkable level to bird project performances, and other visual delights include short film clips by various artists including ‘Birdcalls’ by prizewinning Canadian animator Malcolm Sutherland.


Something in the Air CD

“Truly inspired and inspiring…The ‘Music for the Birds’ concert
was one of the most interesting and exciting performances
we’ve had in the space. The audience was completely
in the musicians’ thrall and it was very obvious
from the comments afterwards that they
opened a lot of doors – and minds!”

   (N. Draganic, Director of Programming, Four Seasons Centre, Toronto)

“You are fabulous.”
(Audience survey comment, November 2008)

“This was the most fun I ever had! I can’t believe I never came before. I look forward to all the future concerts.”
(Audience survey, June 2009)


Photos taken in concert at the Richard Bradshaw Atrium, Four Seasons Centre, Toronto. Click for a large version (photos by Joel Slonetsky):

Bird Project Performance Bird Project Performance Bird Project Performance
Bird Project Performance roject Performance roject Performance
(upper left: Alison Melville; upper middle: Andrei Streliaev; upper right: applause for composer Linda Catlin Smith!; lower left: Katherine Hill; lower middle: reader Kathleen Kajioka; lower right: full house in a beautiful space)

The performers:

Since playing her first CBC recording gig at the age of 20, Alison Melville's career has taken her across Canada and to the USA, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and Europe. A member of Toronto Consort and a frequent orchestral player with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, she has appeared with many other ensembles and festivals across North America including Opera Atelier, Boston Early Music Festival, la Nouvele Sinfonie, Early Music Vancouver, Canadian Opera Company, Festival of the Sound, Aradia Ensemble, I Furiosi, Festival Vancouver and others. As a concerto soloist she has performed with Tafelmusik, the Toronto Symphony, Orchestra London, Aradia, the Niagara and Mississauga Symphonies; and as a performer of 20th- and 21st-century music she has appeared with Soundstreams, New Music Concerts, ArrayMusic and others. And besides playing venues like Tokyo's Bunkamura Hall, Boston's Jordan Hall and Montreal's Salle Pierre Mercure, there have been many memorable gigs in prisons, school gymnasiums, gardens, barns, ferries...With extensive television, film and radio performance credits (CBC/Radio-Canada, BBC, RNZ, NPR and the Iceland State Broadcast Service and others), she has played for the soundtracks of CBC-TV’s beloved ‘The Friendly Giant’, films by Atom Egoyan, Amnon Buchbinder and Ang Lee, and the TV series ‘The Tudors’. She can be heard on over 45 CDs, including four critically acclaimed solo recordings. Alison is also a member of the Arctic fusion band Ensemble Polaris, in which she also plays the Norwegian seljefløyte (willow flute). As a creator of original music her work has been heard with Ensemble Polaris and in ‘999 Years of Music’ (dir. Peter Hannan), the ‘Post-Medieval Syndrome’ project, Amherst Early Music in Connecticut and Vermont, and at the Oberlin Conservatory (OH).

Alison has been a professor at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music since 1999 and also teaches for the University of Toronto. She trained at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis for several years as the winner of numerous awards from the Canada Council, and was the first recorder player to receive an M.Mus.Perf. on full fellowship from the University of Toronto.

Born in Riga, Latvia, Andrei Streliaev has been an active performer on piano, organ and harpsichord since moving to Canada in 2002, and is currently a DMA candidate in organ at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. He completed his B.Mus. in piano performance with Prof. Arnis Zandmanis at the J. Vitols Latvian Academy of Music in 2001; while there he also studied organ with Vita Kalniema. He also holds a Master's degree in performance on the organ (2005), for which he studied with John Tuttle, and an Advanced Certificate in Harpsichord Performance (2006), both from the University of Toronto. Andrei has given numerous solo recitals and is a collaborative artist with many ensembles including the John Laing Singers, Exultate Chamber Singers, Toronto Masque Theatre, University of Toronto Percussion Ensemble and the McMillan Singers. He has also participated in numerous festivals and competitions, winning First Prize (Organ Category) of the Canadian Music Competition and Second Prize in the R.C.C.O.'s Competition for Young Organists in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Andrei is also one of the founding members of the Canadian branch of the Latvian Organists Guild in America (LEGA). Currently Assistant Organist at St. Jude's Anglican Church in Oakville, ON, and an accompanist at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music and the Royal Academy of Dance, he also enjoys playing music for silent films, and has improvised accompaniment for movies in Riga and Toronto.

Toronto-born Katherine Hill is a specialist in medieval music as a singer and fiddler (rebec, vielle), and has also studied Swedish traditional music with a special interest in kulning (cow calling). She is frequently heard as a member of the Toronto Consort and with numerous other Canadian groups including Ensemble les Fumeux, I Furiosi, Sine Nomine, Duo Seraphim, Aradia Ensemble and many others. From 2000 to 2006 Katherine was based in Amsterdam, where she studied early music as the two-time winner of awards from the Canada Council. During her time in northern Europe she performed with such groups as Sequentia, Concerto Palatino, Scivias, Ensemble Elyma, Super Librum, La Compagnietta and the Collegium Vocale of Ghent. She is co-founder of Ensemble nu:n, a medieval music/improvisation group, and Fata Organa, a medieval music/location theatre troupe. Katherine is regularly heard on CBC Radio and has recorded for many labels including Naxos, Dorian and Marquis. Besides her work in early music, Katherine is a member of the Arctic fusion band Ensemble Polaris, has appeared with the Arabic ensemble Doula and has collaborated with indie rock artists for the Kelp Records label in Ottawa.

Born in Toronto, Kathleen Kajioka began her musical career as a modern violist, pursuing studies as a scholarship student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  Upon her return to Toronto, she began to widen her field to encompass both Early and Middle Eastern music. The recipient of several arts council grants, her studies of Baroque, Medieval and Middle Eastern music have taken her to the US, France and Egypt.  She has achieved a reputation as a musical multilinguist, moving between worlds with agility and uncompromising depth, and has appeared regularly as a baroque violinist and violist with world renowned Tafelmusik, as a modern violist with the  critically acclaimed Via Salzburg Chamber Orchestra, and as an Arabic violinist with Maryem Tollar, and the Middle Eastern ensembles Doula and Maza Mezé. Always open for a swing through the pop world, Kathleen has recorded for the likes of Jesse Cook, Dolores O’Riordan, and K-os.  Kathleen is the weekly host of "In The Still of the Night" on The New Classical 96.3 fm.

Debashis Sinha is a Toronto-based percussionist who specializes in the drums of the Arab world, Greece, and Turkey. His ability to uncover the rhythmic threads in a wide variety of musical styles have earned him a place in the forefront of Canada’s new generation of traditional musicians, appearing with such acts as autorickshaw, Mernie!, Marilyn Lerner, Leela Gilday, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Trichy Sankaran and others. A founding member of Juno nominated world music ensemble Maza Mezé, Debashis has performed with them and other ensembles on stages across Canada, the US and as far away as Cairo. Equally at home in world music and free improvised contexts, Debashis’' approach to percussion ranges from the deeply traditional to the cutting edge of modern sensibility. He has studied South Indian rhythmic theory with Trichy Sankaran, Arabic tambourine and doumbeck at the Helwan University Faculty of Music in Cairo, and has traveled to the US to take lessons from tombak master Pejman Hadadi. He has been awarded grants from the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council and the Chalmers Foundation for a wide variety of projects, including projects that are part of his growing catalogue of new media and audio art works. A fixture on Toronto’s dance scene, he has collaborated and performed with Peggy Baker, Dancemakers, Hari Krishnan, Anita Ratnam, and Winnipeg’s Fusion Dance Theatre.  On CD Debashis can be heard in various solo projects as well as recordings with Maza Mezé, autorickshaw, Doula and others. Also an emerging video artist, Debashis’s film ‘skin’ has been selected for inclusion in SAVAC’s upcoming international short film and video festival MONITOR 4.

Ben Grossman is a vielle à roue (hurdy gurdy/Drehleier) player, percussionist, composer and improviser based in Toronto, Ontario.  He grew up playing electric guitar, listening to Bartok, Satie, Varèse and Reich, and building homemade synthesizers and effects in his parent’s suburban basement.  He later became interested, at various times, in traditional Irish, Balkan, French, Turkish and Arabic music.  Ben has studied Turkish music in Istanbul and, since taking up the vielle, has done workshops and lessons with Valentin Clastrier, Matthias Loibner, Maxou Heintzan and Simon Wascher. Ben has over 70 CD credits, and has performed and recorded with many ensembles over the years including La Nef, the Toronto Consort, GaPa, Ensemble Polaris, The Altan Yildiz Orkestar, Ima Ensemble, Duo O'Connor-Grossman. BT, James Keelaghan, Bobby Watt, Basic Elements, Aradia, Loreena McKennitt, Fools Dance, Oliver Schroer and the Stewed Tomatoes, Laurel MacDonald, Brandon Scott-Beshara, Anne Lederman, Pilgrim's Trail Mix, Pat O'Gorman, Laridenn, Kitty's Kitchen, Ensemble Ben Trobar, Doula, Rhea's Obsession, Loretto Ried and Brian Taheny, and Joyce's Folly. His playing can also be heard on many film and television soundtracks, performances with the Toronto Consort, Maryem Tollar, BT, Loreena McKennitt, and in various solo and ensemble improvisational events. Ben toured recently with electronic music pioneer BT and is currently engaged in Spinning Wheel, an international collective compositional, recording and performance project which brings together six cutting-edge hurdy gurdy players from around the world.  His first solo album, Macrophone was released in 2007 and features a unique two CD form for simultaneous, aleatoric playback.

Click here to check out Malcolm Sutherland's remarkable short animated film, Umbra, for some music by Ben and Alison.

For more information contact:
Alison can be contacted at

The Bird Project wishes to express its thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, Toronto Arts Council, and Ontario Arts Council for their support of these events.

Canada Council, Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council logos

Banner photos: Paul Orenstein

'It is not known how far is the destination, but so much I know:
 that music from afar is coming to my ears.