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6 December 2019

Ngarra-Burria 2019 - what’s been happening?

Ngarra-Burria 2019 - what’s been happening?

This year has been a steady year for the Ngarra-Burria - First Peoples Composers, with three new composers completing the year in the program: Nardi Simpson, Eric Avery and James Henry. Two others started yet decided to pull out early on, one (Marcus Corowa) because of an extensive tour overseas, acting in Secret River. This highlights one of the small issues and joys facing the program - that our composers are often engaged in various other art forms as well. It is an Aboriginal practice to skill up in various cultural genres and expressions. Indeed, many will know that Eric keeps very busy as a violinist, dancer and singer as well as a composer. James Henry, based in Melbourne is also employed as a photographer. So at times a project for a season in one genre and expression may need more space than composition, and we understand that in our program and accommodate. It's great to see that Indigenous creative arts are alive, and are a real employment avenue.

We all met at the Eora Centre in Chippendale at various points through the year, and, more recently, in Canberra. We've worked on and consolidated composition skills, and have worked closely with the resident ensemble for the program in 2019, the Royal Australian Navy Band. For them the composers have developed works for saxophone quartet, and also for a small mixed ensemble of flute, clarinet, trombone, double bass and percussion.

Early in the year Sydney Living Museums commissioned five of the composers, Troy Russell, Elizabeth Sheppard, Tim Gray, Brenda Gifford and Nardi Simpson, for the Songs of Home exhibition (August - November 2019) at Sydney Museum. The works responded to art and stories from the first 70 years of the European occupation of Sydney.

In May, Currency House launched a paper written by me documenting the reason for the program, precedents, the workings of the program, aspects of collaborating with Indigenous composers, and several recommendations. This received quite a bit of media coverage, much of which focussed on the fact that some Australian composers had referenced Indigenous culture and music in their works, which wasn't new information. Yet, the media could have focused on the fresh expressions and new articulations of Indigenous culture that are, in part, highlighted in the little book, and how to 'get it right' when working with Indigenous people, music or aspects of Indigenous culture, which is also discussed to some degree.

At the launch our founding partner ensemble - Ensemble Offspring - were present, and various members of the music industry including Brett Weymark from Sydney Philharmonia Choirs who, on that evening, commissioned three short works from some of the composers. Other 2019 commission highlights included a work by Elizabeth Sheppard for the Song Company, and Rhyan Clapham was commissioned by the CSO's Australian Chamber Series. In addition, Rhyan has completed his two-year Peter Sculthorpe Fellowship this year.

James, as ever, is always being commissioned to write music for theatre and events in Melbourne, and Eric is always appearing at festivals doing his original material. Nardi also has been conducting the Barayagal Choir at the Sydney Conservatorium which includes much of her material and/or arrangements.

On 22 November the RAN Band came to Canberra to record and perform the works of Eric, Nardi and James. Each made a solid contribution to the repertoire, with Nardi's steeped in Indigenous narrative from her country around Walgett NSW. Her preamble to her mixed ensemble piece Galidhalibaa (Without Water) was riveting. 'We at Walgett are river people and flood plains people. If there's no water in the rivers, then what does that make us?' It was very relevant in the era of droughts made worse by man-made climate change and government abuses of the land. It also included a quote from the only old song still known by her people. This highlights a point, that Indigenous composers are drawing upon their own cultures, not that of other Indigenous peoples 1000 kilometres away, and it signals something for all composers.

On 5 December we joined with Moogahlin Performing Arts at the Eugene Goossens Hall at the ABC in Ultimo for a final concert for the year, and an ABC recording. We completed the year with exciting energy building around the program, from Ensemble Offspring, to the RAN Band and through to the School of Music at the ANU, and more. As always we are thankful for the support of our dear friend John Davis at the Australian Music Centre, and for APRA's ongoing support.

> Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers (AMC Online)


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