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28 May 2018

More adventurous sounds from AMPlify ICI artists

Indigenous Composer Initiative workshop at the Eora Aboriginal College, May 2018

Workshopping at the Eora Aboriginal College (Chris Sainsbury and Deborah Cheetham - see further down for a bigger image). Image: Workshopping at the Eora Aboriginal College (Chris Sainsbury and Deborah Cheetham - see further down for a bigger image).  

Our ICI Aboriginal composition group is continuing in 2018, and, for me, this means more adventures in integrating my church and conservatorium music training with my Aboriginal Noongar Yamatji and Gundungarra ancestral music heritage. This year, I've been working with Darug Aboriginal Elders from Western Sydney who are reviving the Darug language, and recording songs to teach the revived language to Aboriginal children. This is truly sacred music, about the bountiful land we live on, the land that gives us life and breath and food from our Creator. This week our Buriyala Burramatta (Let's Sing Burramatta) group will be singing Darug Aboriginal songs at Parramatta YMCA's Reconciliation Week event on 31 May (for details, see the event program).

This year I was sponsored, again, to take part in the second round of the ICI. We began in March 2018, and progressed through performances of ensemble works by Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Rhyan Clapham, Timothy John Edward Gray and myself (Elizabeth Sheppard) at the Biaime's Nghunnu Festival at Brewarrina, on Murawari country (Nghunnu is the word for the Murawari fish traps on the Barwon River, and Biaime is the Creator). I also underwent knee surgery and became a Bionic Woman! After attending composition tutorials with Dr Kim Cunio, Music Lecturer at the Australian National University, the other four ICI Composers and I were ready to workshop some of our brand-new music with Ensemble Offspring. My new ICI composition, the Burradowi (Elver) Quartet, is based on 'Burradowi', a song I dreamt a year ago on the Parramatta River banks, after Darug singer songwriter Stacy Jane Etal told me that the Darug Aboriginal women used to sing to the eels. When Darug Elder, Judith Joyce, heard the song, she approved it immediately.

Deborah Cheetham addressing the ICI workshop
on 10 May. Larger view.

On 10 May 2018 Dr Christopher Sainsbury, the ICI artistic director and Australian National University Music Lecturer, and an eminent Darug Aboriginal composer, welcomed us, gave us Acknowledgement of Country, and introduced Yorta Yorta Aboriginal composer and opera singer Deborah Cheetham. Deborah talked with us about using our Aboriginal languages in our compositions, shared how she composed and performed an a cappella song in Gadigal Aboriginal language with Eora College students, and encouraged us to share our music and collaborate in community and with each other, as this is an important principle of Aboriginal music.

After we welcomed the performers - Jason Noble (clarinet), Sonya Holowell (Dharawal mezzo-soprano), Anna McMichael (Violin) and Roland Peelman (Canberra International Music Festival artistic director, conductor and our workshop pianist) - they tuned up, and we began. First off the rank was my piece, the first movement of my Burradowi (Elver) Quartet. The ensemble played it right through several times with all instruments, with Roland Peelman delighting us with his comments and improvisations. The piece was treated to a real workout, with every possible variation being applied to it, including some skilful eel-like sounds from Jason's clarinet, beautiful ethereal singing from Sonya, and smooth, soaring violin melodies from Anna. After 15 minutes my brain was full of ways to develop this music still further.

Four pieces by the other composers were workshopped, including a beautiful atmospheric piece by Brenda Gifford, called Mirawar (Sky), a meditative lament by Troy, a mysterious piece from Tim that sent electric shivers up my spine, and Rhyan Clapham's complex, rhythmically challenging piece in 5/4, that included some tongue twisters for Sonya. Although each of our pieces is in the early stages of development, each has a particular Indigenous character, and each is closely related to the composer's country.

It was great to be at Eora Aboriginal College again, and wonderful to meet up with Deborah Cheetham, Roland Peelman, Claire Edwardes, Chris Sainsbury, Kim Cunio, Kiriaki Koubaroulis and the other ICI composers, and also with John Davis of the Australian Music Centre. In August 2018 we will be gathering at Llewellyn Hall, ANU in Canberra to workshop our pieces again, in preparation for two ICI concerts in Canberra and Sydney, and another ICI recording session at the Australian National University studio in November. Thanks to the performers and everyone involved in this exciting, ongoing Aboriginal Australian music project.

AMC resources

AMPlify Indigenous Composer Initiative

'River Life - Baiame's Ngunnhu Festival in Brewarrina' - a blog article on Resonate by Troy Russell, Claire Edwardes, Jason Noble, Freya Schack-Arnott and Lamorna Nightingale (18 April 2018)

Elizabeth Sheppard was born in Melbourne and raised in Adelaide, and studied Western and Aboriginal Music and singing under Clemens Leske Snr, Professor David Galliver and Barbara Howard at Adelaide's Elder Conservatorium, Professor Catherine Ellis at Armidale's University of New England, and Opera Chorus Master James Christianson. In 2002-2008 she reconnected to her Noongar Yamatji heritage and culture through Indigenous music, culture and law diploma courses at Sydney's Eora Aboriginal College and Tranby National Indigenous Adult Education Centre. She now lives on Dharug Burramattagul country in New South Wales, and maintains connections with Noongar, Yamatji and Gundungurra country. Several of her compositions have been performed at St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta, and her Kooranginy Suite was recorded at ANU Music Studio in June 2017.


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