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Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers

Ngarra-Burria are Dharug words meaning to hear, to sing.

Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers is an initiative intended for First Peoples skills development and industry connections in the new music/classical composition arena.

The program was developed by Aboriginal composer Dr Chris Sainsbury, and started in 2016 with partners including the School of Music at the Australian National University, Ensemble Offspring, the ABC and the Australian Music Centre. In 2017 Moogahlin Performing Arts also joined and served with valuable administrative assistance and in producing the composers cultural expressions through new music until 2022. From 2023 and going forward partners include the School of Music and also the Yil Lull First Nations Studio at the Australian National University, Ensemble Offspring, the ABC and the Australian Music Centre. Yil Lull will be producing the 2023 program with support from Ensemble Offspring.

We pride ourselves on achieving an Indigenous-led impact on the Australian art music sector which has resulted in one national award (the Art Music Awards: National Luminary Award for director Dr Christopher Sainsbury) and one international award (Classical:NEXT Innovation Award for the program and all partners) for effecting positive change, namely introducing the missing voices of First Nations composers, some of whom now have careers in this field.

First Nations voices through music always were, and always will be present.

Classical:NEXT Innovation Award Recipient 2022

Ngarra-Burria 2023

Mentors Christopher Sainsbury, James Henry and Jessica Wells are working with performers Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble and Alister Spence in support of these First Nations composers developing new techniques and skills in instrumental composition and notation, as well as industry knowledge and relationships.

The Ngarra-Burria program provides for its participants:

  • The opportunity to write work/s for recording and performance by Ensemble Offspring, one of Australia‚Äôs leading new music ensembles.
  • Periodic face-to-face and online mentoring sessions with program facilitators, developing their work/s
  • Workshops with the performers during the year, developing and refining the work/s
  • Involvement in ANU School of Music sessions
  • Rehearsals, recording, and a final performance in Sydney
  • A modest honorarium, along with travel costs to attend workshops/recording session.

Participants for the 2023 program will be announced soon.


Dr Chris Sainsbury

Chris Sainsbury is the founder, mentor and champion of the Ngarra-Burria First Nations Composers Initiative. Chris is an established composer and musician, having produced orchestral music, chamber music, folk songs, choral music, and solo instrumental pieces, mostly focusing on his main instrument, guitar, since the 1980s. A Dharug composer, Chris has been at the forefront of Indigenous art music in Australia.

Dr Christopher Sainsbury - biography

Alumni 2022

Marlene Cummins

Marlene Cummins is a proud Guguyelandji, and Woppaburra woman. Marlene is Australia's foremost Indigenous blues performer, singer, songwriter, saxophonist, painter, broadcaster, actor, dancer and activist who was born in the South West Queensland town of Cunnamulla. Marlene expresses herself through her music and art.

Marlene Cummins - biography

James Henry

Due to his diverse skills and broad interest across genres, James Henry has been in high demand in recent years as a composer and sound designer. He has also worked as a electronic music producer, DJ and song writing workshop facilitator. James is the Indigenous Composer in residence for Ensemble Offspring 2023, is a former participant in the Ngarra-Burria program and now participates as a mentor.

James Henry - biography

Will Kepa

Will Kepa is a Torres Strait Islander multi-instrumentalist, audio engineer and producer currently based in Canberra at the ANU School of Music. Will joined Ngarra-Burria to step forward as a First Nations composer, further develop skills, and connect with the art music sector.

Will Kepa - biography

Mark Ross

Mark 'Munk' Ross is a Jardwadjali/Wotjobulak man that has been working in the music industry for over 30 years and has produced and mentored countless artists and acts both in Australia and Asia.

In 2014 he was the first NSW artist to be inducted into the National Indigenous Music Awards Hall of Fame for his contribution to music. Mark joined Ngarra-Burria to try something different, develop his composing skills, and connect with the art music sector.

Mark Ross - biography

Aaron Wyatt

In 2022 Aaron Wyatt became the first Indigenous composer to have conducted one of the nation's major state orchestras, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performance of Deborah Cheetham's Acknowledgement of Country piece Long Time Living Here. Aaron is an accomplished violist and composer, conductor, musical director and tours with Decibel New Music as a performer and programmer of the group's animated graphic notation software for the iPad. Aaron joined the Ngarra-Burria program to continue to build on his already impressive career in the art music sector.

Aaron Wyatt - biography


If you have further questions about this program, please with the subject 'Ngarra-Burria'.

Program partners

  • ANU School of Music
  • Ensemble Offspring
  • ABC Classic
  • Australian Music Centre

  • Australian National University
    Ensemble Offspring
    ABC Classic
    Australian Music Centre

    Music by Ngarra-Burria Composers

    Find scores in the AMC Catalogue