8 September 2008
Broadstock, Barton and Yu in Beijing
an Olympic collaboration
At the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, the athletes' parade was accompanied by five bands from five different continents. I was overjoyed when the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony Production Centre commissioned me to write the music for Australasia. The request was for authentic Aboriginal music, to be performed by a band of ten Aboriginal musicians and dancers, so I invited the well-known Australian Aboriginal composer and musician William Barton to join me, along with the Australian icon Brenton Broadstock. We three composers from different cultural backgrounds formed a team, each composing one piece. We were requested to use no conventional instruments at all, either Western or Eastern.
We started work on this project in February 2008, making demo CDs which we sent several times to Beijing for feedback and approval. The final recording took place in June, though we were bound to confidentiality until the actual performance.
The composition was a long-drawn-out process, throughout which we were very lucky to have William's generous and invaluable advice about Aboriginal music. As a result, the music from Australasia had quite a unique character. At the dress rehearsal in the Bird's Nest, it was an exciting experience to hear our music in such a big stadium, played to an audience of 90,000 people.
The reaction from the Olympic authorities to our Aboriginal band and music was excellent. The Beijing Youth Daily reported, 'In the Opening Ceremony, the eight-person Aboriginal band was a highlight, showcasing to the world the attractiveness of Aboriginal dance music'.
As band leader William Barton said, the main characteristic of Aboriginal music is its rhythm, which is 'like the heartbeat of Mother Earth'. This was reflected in all three of our pieces, in which we emphasised the percussive aspect. The music director of the opening ceremony said, 'Of all the music of the opening ceremony, that of the athletes’ parade provided the biggest challenge, as the music of each continent needed to be distinctive and reflect the dominant culture of the region.'
We would like to thank Arts Victoria for their generous grant which enabled the recording sessions to go ahead. Our thanks also go to percussionist Amy Valent, who recorded all of the rhythmic tracks; to the Faye Dumont singers in Melbourne for their choral input; and to the many others who lent us their support. We were very honoured to have had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write music representing Australia at such an important event.
© Australian Music Centre (2008) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Composer Julian Yu was born in Beijing and settled in Australia in 1985.
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