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30 December 2010

New music in Katherine

Sebastian Harris Image: Sebastian Harris  
© Alison Hogg

Jack Body once idly said to me, 'so you've got the bug?' I had no idea what he meant at the time but as time goes on I have realised that I do have a disease, which without regular treatment becomes life-threatening. Many composers will know of the urge to write, the absolute need to create their own music. For our own mental health and the subsequent welfare of those around us, we need to compose, like a bird in the right season must build its nest. And getting pieces performed is a part of that and must happen. Even in a small town in remote Northern Territory cattle country with no concert hall and no performers.

I put on the first Soiree under the name Salon Wet because it was a wet season classical piano concert. It was held in a private residence because it was the only place that had a working grand piano (and I had to think creatively to consider it 'working'). When the show was received enthusiastically and filled all forty-three seats we could fit in the lounge, I realised I was onto something.

Thus starts the Soiree Series 2010, with concerts getting ever larger and more ambitious and including the broadest possible types of music. Finally in the fourth one, it had swelled to epidemic proportions.

The lack of venues and performers actually says more about the beholder - we have gardens and historic buildings that I freely used, and players are actually everywhere if you can think outside the square. Some of them can read perfectly well or will give it a red hot try! Sure, while some of them know nothing more than the names of the strings on their guitar, they possess the practical can-do attitude and the vibrancy that characterises and sets Territorian Arts apart.

Since most of them hadn't played publicly before and the whole thing was new, asymmetrical time signatures and playing without a conductor was no more of a stretch for them than playing in the first place. Again this characterises the Territorian Arts scene, and in our remote town we can't afford to pick and choose.

I had suspected that 'new music concerts' were not going to work, and anyway I don't like them unless the music or show is good in its own right. A Good Concert Requireth More Than Newness Alone. So by doing this I think the audience listened to my new weird stuff unsuspectingly, because I didn't say 'Behold! My New Music…' I didn't even tell them I wrote it until later.

While I planned the whole thing meticulously and worked like a maniac, months in advance for each, and practised the highest levels of creative innovation and professional practice, it turned out totally differently. But that's okay because one labourer who came to all the shows said 'But your shows are really just about comin along and listenin to Seb 'n 'is music'. Another said 'you gave a really special gift to us here tonight', and a wildlife ranger described my bassoon as 'a fancy didj with plumbin'.

I unexpectedly learned that alcohol is also not necessary for the shows, and neither is a consistent theme. My obsessive-compulsive-aggressive marketing practices led me into unlikely heights. Commercial radio - my El Dorado! I can confirm that strong engagement with the audience is absolutely essential, and that in the past my shows have alienated audiences because they were all about my new compositions. The Soiree Series shows were noted to be enjoyable overall. And when funding bodies refused to offer cash funding, we made it work on ticket sales and in-kind support from the local community alone.

Where I was once variously dismissed as uninteresting or not good enough, suddenly everything I do is fun and nice and worth paying to see. Where nobody cared about my knowledge in Melbourne, I was able to be of service here where there is less musical education.

A good show, enjoyed by all, breaking even, with benefits for the community, and realising my wildest dreams. Not a bad effort for one year, at least by my standards.

Further links

Sebastian Harris - AMC profile
Sebastian Harris - MySpace
Katherine Regional Arts Inc.

Composer Sebastian Harris was born in Tasmania, and grew up there and in Melbourne. He lives permanently in Katherine, NT, and plans to further the performance of new music in the Northern Territory.


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