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29 October 2008

The Art of Australian Song

song recital with music by 19 composers

Peggy Glanville-Hicks - one of the 19 composers of the recital Image: Peggy Glanville-Hicks - one of the 19 composers of the recital  

The Art of Australian Song is a recital of 34 songs by nineteen Australian composers, spanning 92 years (1914-2006). It is a culmination of four years of research into Australian art song as part of my doctoral studies at the University of Western Sydney, and presents most of the repertoire to be included in the pedagogical thesis.

The aim of my research is to find strategies for both singers and singing teachers to more easily learn and perform Australian art songs. This practice-led (and practice-based) thesis is focused on performance analysis – analysis by performers for performers. As a means of achieving that analysis with the songs we are performing, the three singers and two pianists (Cathy Aggett, Jane Van Balen, Robert Mitchell, Elizabeth Wilton and Diana Blom) have documented their performance preparation, trialling and adopting strategies from professional singers who participated in an international study I conducted in 2006/7, seeking information into the way in which they perform 20th-century and 21st-century solo art music.

The performers were also asked to keep a practice diary where they recorded their learning approaches and comments made by anyone involved in the learning process – what was working and why, and if something was not working, trying to figure out what needed to be done next, in order to remedy the problems.

Recordings of practice sessions and performances were also reflected on in the practice diary. This kind of feedback, along with the discussions that went on with all of the performers, is resulting in a rich resource of strategies performers may find valuable in their approach to learning and performing Australian art songs. It will perhaps also stimulate thinking about ways of tackling other performance issues.

Repertoire for the study has been selected with the aim of having a spread of pedagogical features represented in the songs across voice types of varying standards. Musical, performative and contextual criteria were part of the selection process. Missing from the performance will be the tenor repertoire. It is hoped a second recital of the tenor repertoire and perhaps some of the full song cycles we are unable to perform in this concert will take place at a later date, time and venue to be advised early in the New Year.

Performance details

Cathy Aggett is a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Sydney studying pedagogical issues of Australian art song. A singer, pianist, teacher and choral conductor, Cathy currently runs the Northern Beaches Music Studio, where she teaches singing, piano and composition.


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Support by composers

Several composers were most helpful throughout the research and performance preparation of the repertoire. Moonrise by Gordon Kerry was one of the first songs I prepared for public performance using performance analysis. We were in contact with Gordon by e-mail as well as the poet, Carolyn Masel to clarify some of the issues in the score. Just before we (Diana Blom and I) first performed the work, Gordon came and gave us a workshop on it. Up until that stage, our interpretation of the song was quite different, but we changed it after Gordon's session. I presented a paper on the work at the 2007 ASME conference in Perth titled "A discussion of performer's analysis using Gordon Kerry and Carolyn Masel's song "Moonrise"".

Another composer to assist in the preparation of our songs was Betty Beath. Diana and I prepared and performed three of the songs from the cycle Towards the Psalms - 'The lament of Ovid', 'Mones and I...Best friends forever...' and 'Love makes you see a place differently'. I had been in e-mail contact with Betty for several years since I put out a call for scores with the AMC in 2004 which Betty answered and subsequently wrote a song for beginning singers, Richard Want, Esquire. The assistance Betty gave with the Towards the Psalms songs assisted in the performance and writing of yet another paper, this time for a University of Western Sydney (where I'm studying) college conference in 2007 titled "Issues surrounding the partnership of the singer and accompanist in Australian Art Song: Strategies for performing songs from Betty Beath's Towards the Psalms"

Colin Brumby was the focus of an article I just did for Nov edition of Music in Action. Colin was very kind to allow me to arrange three of his songs: The wallaby and the bullant (also known as The wallaby sat on an ironbark stump, which I'm performing on Sunday), A Gray Day and A Hag. The point of this article was to make art songs to accessible school teachers and give them strategies to be able to teach them in the classroom. The scores for the arrangements are available online at www.musicinaction.org.au This project was a really different take on things, but another way to present the songs and I thank Colin for being a part of it.

Nigel Butterley, Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Ford, Martin Wesley-Smith, George Dreyfus and Mary Mageau(White) have all answered my e-mails or phone calls and I've had a conversation with Anne Boyd about the work I've included of hers. I'd also like to make special mention of Brenan Keats, the son of Horace Keats. I often speak with him about the work of his father and that of other Australian composers of song.

To all these composers, I am deeply indebted for their assistance in the work I've been undertaking. I'm far from finished, so I hope the contact continues. It's been one of the most rewarding periods of my life.