Choral, Public and Private Listener Responses to Hildegard Westerkamp's École Polytechnique


  • Andra McCartney Concordia University
  • Marta McCarthy University of Guelph


commemoration, trauma, audiencing


Hildegard Westerkamp's (1990) composition École Polytechnique is an artistic response to one of Canada's most profoundly disturbing mass murders, the 1989 slaying of fourteen women in Montreal, Quebec. Using the theoretical model, derived from Haraway, of the cyborg body, and analyzing the import of the mixed media (voices, instruments and electroacoustic tape) incorporated in the music, the authors examine the impact this work has had on some of those who have heard it and performed it, based on the responses of choristers and listeners in several studies. The authors explored how those who engaged significantly with the music, (including those who had no personal association with the actual events of the 1989 massacre), were able to make relevant connections between their own experience and the composition itself, embrace these connections and their disturbing resonances, and thereby experience meaningful emotional growth.

Author Biographies

Andra McCartney, Concordia University

Associate professor of sound in media

Marta McCarthy, University of Guelph

Dr. Marta McCarthy, Conductor, is an Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, where she has been directing the choirs and teaching musicianship for ten years.