23 February 2021
Now You Hear Her/ ‘Millions of Us’ Festival
8 March – 11 April 2021, World Square, Sydney
© Heidrun Lohr
Liza Lim introduces a new festival in Sydney, 'Now You Hear Her', celebrating women and gender non-conforming artists.
As we approach International Women's Day 2021, it somehow still needs to be stated that 'women hold up half the sky'1; and it still requires noting that, even with all this sky-holding effort and excellence, systemic forces continue to make it that much more difficult for women's voices to be heard and for their creative gifts to be valued. As the proverb continues…'it's the heavier half'.
So it's fantastic for Sydney to have a brand new festival 'Now You Hear Her', a month-long celebration highlighting music and art by women and gender non-conforming artists. This is an initiative from BackStage Music, curated by Lamorna Nightingale, Bree van Reyk and Damian Barbeler, and supported by City of Sydney, Musica Viva Australia and the Australian Cultural Fund. The festival runs from 8 March - 11 April in a 'pop-up' space in the retail hub of World Square in the Sydney CBD.
As the festival website says: 'During the day, Now You Hear Her will host project developments and workshops alongside displays of creative artwork. In the evening, key artists will curate and host longer-form programs of diverse music making, including live performances, talks, movie nights and listening parties.' The vibe is informal, sociable and inclusive yet very much focused on presenting exploratory, challenging work; work that requires a commitment to listening, to being present and going to the heart of the matter.
Amongst many, many wonderful events, there's 'Sing Possum' (20-21 March, 10am-4pm).'Yuwaalaraay writer, storyteller and performer, Nardi Simpson explores and shares the traditional use of possum pelts to create Yuwaalaraay women's musical instruments. Over the course of two days, Nardi will work with her female relatives - sewing and decorating skins, learning songs, dancing and telling stories.'
Also within the rich program, I want to particularly point out a sub-festival entitled 'Millions of Us' curated by Bree van Reyk in association with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music's Composing Women Program/ Sculthorpe Chair of Australian Music. The title 'Millions of Us' is derived from a painting by artist Nadine Faraj of the Egyptian feminist activist Aliaa Mahdy, which feminist scholar Mona Eltahawy uses as the backdrop of her Zoom meetings.2
This 'festival inside a festival' starts on 12 March with screenings of operas from the 'Breaking Glass' project, produced by Sydney Chamber Opera as a rapid pivot to film in the very first Covid-19 lockdown last March. The composers Bree van Reyk, Georgia Scott, Josephine Macken and Peggy Polias will be on hand to introduce and discuss these operas.
There are a number of workshops and lecture-recitals sponsored by the Composing Women program featuring Megan Alice Clune and Sonya Holowell; a workshop on song writing by Laura Jean, and Rainbow Chan's 'Power, Love and Melancholy in the Ballads of Teresa Teng'. There are drop-in events such as 'Talk to a Composer' which is an open-mentorship session on 15 March and 'Stumble through the forest of abandoned ideas', a panel discussion on 16 March, as well as Brenda Gifford and Georgia Curran discussing Indigenous music, and a late-night electro-acoustic set from Fiona Hill and Alexis Weaver.
For the truly hard-core, there's a sunrise participatory 'deep listening' performance of Pauline Oliveros's The Witness (16th March, 6:45am) led by me, followed by Bree van Reyk's Wall of Sound gift of one-to-one performances. All welcome!
The prompt for the curation and organisation of 'Millions of Us' comes from a gift that the Composing Women Group, led by Bree van Reyk, are making to the University of Sydney library. The gift is of a sculptural bust of esteemed composer Deborah Cheetham AO commissioned from the Sydney artist Anna-Wili Highfield.
The story of this gift begins with an encounter with three busts in the Sydney Con music library known as the mascots of the 'houses' of the Conservatorium High School: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms. On Bree van Reyk's first day as a doctoral student in the Composing Women program, she was confronted by these male figures of creative authority. Where were the women composers? Or indeed, other representations of music as a diverse human practice?
Who inspires us? Whose achievements and qualities speak to a sense of purpose that we would like to emulate? Whose presence in a place of knowledge can make a difference to how we think about music's power as a relational and creative force in the world?
The Composing Women group are grateful to Deborah Cheetham for her graciousness in agreeing to be the subject of this first bust. We're inspired by the transformational cultural work she has done through her company Short Black Opera; works such as her first opera Pecan Summer; Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace, and initiatives like the 'One Day in January' summer school, and Ensemble Dutala, set up to foster Indigenous classical musicians.
Deborah will be giving the annual Alfred Hook Lecture on 16 March at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, speaking about music as a means of mapping identity and finding home. Attendance is restricted due to Covid regulations but the video of the event will be made available online on the Conservatorium website.
An incredible range of artists and passionate supporters are making International Women's Day a month-long celebration of women's music and art-making. After all, there are millions of us…
Please check out the programs online.
All tickets to 'Now You Hear Her' and 'Millions of Us' are FREE. Please consider making a donation to their Australian Cultural Fund campaign - every little bit will go towards supporting the artists and organisers of the festival.
1 Chairman Mao ZeDong famously declared that 'women hold up half the sky' in 1968 in an alliance with the women's liberation movement led by the Chinese Communist Party though this has not led to equality of political power. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/14/in-china-women-hold-up-half-the-sky-but-cant-touch-the-political-glass-ceiling
© Australian Music Centre (2021) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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