Parade of Noises

Rich Marsella’s music practice embraces wild sounds and elements of chaos. As an avant garde musician and composer, music gets exciting for him when noise is introduced into musical compositions that resonate with an audience. By exploring sounds that many of us perceive as ugly alongside those we recognize as beautiful, he invites us to wake up our ears and expand our musical palates—or in other words, to approach music with “ears that are thirsty for new sounds.”[i]

For the past 15 years, Marsella has been creating musical programs that provide children and youth with the opportunity to experiment with gritty and discordant sounds, as well as harmony and rhythms. His intent is to open up their perceptions of music to include the screeching of a fork against a plate, a blast from a whoopee cushion, or the hollowed boom of a kitchen sink. Marsella has found that children eagerly embrace these opportunities to create sounds that are dissonant, ugly, or wild. Even the most reserved child will experiment with off-beat sounds, given the opportunity. Marsella notes that by establishing a set of rules that incorporate discord, children are not only invigorated by the noise and chaos but are much more welcoming of a return to rhythm and silence than they would be otherwise.

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Marsella’s work with children is rooted in the Parade of Noises. For five years, the procession, led by Marsella and 700 children along with an array of professional musicians, concert bands, parents, teachers, and community members, wound its way annually through the streets of Brampton. During the parade, the beats and rhythms of the children’s homemade instruments were layered with sounds of police sirens and ice-cream truck jingles, Theremins, banjos, and accordions. As they prepared for the parade in a community program ran by Marsella, the children explored vibrant musical compositions that included structured rhythms, silence, and cacophonies of sound. Children and adults alike celebrated the spontaneous joy of the music and the chaos that the parade evoked. One child who participated describes her connection to music: “I would explain music as an inspiration to me—because it is very fluid and it can connect to other people. And sometimes it even brings out the feelings inside of you.”[ii]

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Marsella has brought all that he has learned from his work with children in the Parade of Noises to his current position as the Director of the Regent Park School of Music (RPSM) in Toronto. For the past five years he has been exploring various ways of reaching out to children and youth who face gang violence and poverty in the neighbourhoods of Regent Park, Jane and Finch, and Parkdale. Marsella continually builds on his experiences and applies each new learning to projects that reach beyond the doors of the school and into the streets. Recently, composer Jason Doell has reinvented the Parade of Noises in Regent Park. In the coming months, pianos will not only occupy sites in public spaces but also the foyers of various high schools in the city. Marsella is creating a “musical family” that includes musicians he has worked with for over a decade and the children he has watched develop into leaders at RPSM. After five years in Regent Park, Marsella acknowledges that has just scratched the surface of his work with inner-city kids and notes that the momentum is only building. When parents see the smiles and hear the contagious laughter that stem from the combination of music and noise, chaos and beauty, they want the programs to grow and continue. Through stretching the boundaries of music, Marsella is opening up a world of sound, moments of possibility and hope, and a myriad of ways to weave music into the rhythms of a neighbourhood.


All photos courtesy of Jason Doel. 2014 Parade of Noises in Regent Park led by Jason Doel.


[i] Richard Marsella. “On Behalf of the Ugly in Music.” In Questioning the Music Education Paradigm edited by Lee Bartel. Canadian Music Educators’ Association, 2004.

[ii] Aaron Van Borek and Tess Girard. The Parade of Noises. Unreleased documentary. 2007.


November 15, 2014
Jessica Hein