Milerum's basket : string orchestra and oboe obligato
by Becky Llewellyn (1993)
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This string orchestra with oboe soloist composition takes it's name from a basket coffin woven by Ngarrindjeri elder Milerum (Clarence Long) found in the South Australian Museum collection. It includes my musical transcriptions of four songs he sang onto Norman Tindale's wax cyclinders in 1932 Bar 39: Song of Njengari, Bar 85: Storm Song (Belinjum), Bar 121: Song about Death and Bar 158 Whale Song. When I wrote this in 1993, Milerum's homeland, the Coorong was a fertile home of fish, bird and wildlife which I enjoyed as a camper. The musical tradition of the Ngarrindjeri reflected the abundance of food in the Coorong which gave people time and energy to develop a rich musical lexicon. I shaped his tunes with my memories of the beautiful Coorong in one long non-repeating narrative like the 100km long Coorong itself.
However as the River Murray has increasingly lost the ability to take water to its mouth, the Coorong has been depleted of its ability to sustain many plants, birds and wildlife. Song of Death seems to foreshadow now, not just the loss of the Ngarrindjeri's traditional living but of the Coorong itself. With its plaintive oboe sounding over strings, this tone poem is indeed a funeral basket of musical bones of what the Coorong used to be and what we have lost since settlement.
Instrumentation: String orchestra with oboe soloist.
Duration: 10 min.
Commission note: Commissioned by Adelaide Chamber Orchestra.
- Inspired by: Indigenous Australian Culture
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