Composers schooled in the Western tradition are beginning to
collaborate with indigenous musicians -- but not nearly enough,
writes Gordon Kalton Williams
SINCE European settlement, Australian composers have engaged with
Aboriginal music mainly as a way of identifying with this
country. The first pieces of art music to incorporate Aboriginal
materials, written in the mid 19th century, presented them as
curiosities. Even well into the 20th century, as musicologist
Roger Covell has pointed out, composers tried to fit the rhythms
and melodies of Aboriginal music into 19th-century moulds. They
missed its real values.
What might a musician of wider breadth have done? Percy Grainger
heard recordings of Arrernte music that anthropologist Baldwin
Spencer had made on Edison cylinders in 1909.