… singing up Australia …

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2023. All Rights Reserved

At present, Australia is in the throes of birthing its own unique musical genres. This transition means that Australians, as a whole people, need to define what our music is, and is not, for our Australian places, and for our Australian times. Not that we should set this definition in stone, for music making is an ever developing personal, communal and national task. But every country’s music has clearly recognizable features, and uniquely Australian music is no exception. Documenting how we’re working this out, how we “do” music in Australian places and periods, is just as important – probably more so – as studying how Beethoven made his music in Europe. In doing this compositional task, the cultural guidance of Australia’s First Nations must rightfully take priority. There’s no lack of Indigenous Australian music in Australia, and the cultural breakthrough that has occurred, spurred on by the Reconciliation Movement and partnerships between Australia’s First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians, has facilitated many constructive musical projects recently. Immigrant origin Australian composers like Paul Stanhope, Joe Twist, and Nigel Westlake have collaborated with with First Peoples communities and composers like William Barton, Christopher Sainsbury, Deborah Cheetham Fraillon and Lou Bennett, to produce uniquely Australian music.

What the transitional Australian music of our generation is, and what it could become in future Australian generations, actually has nothing to do with other places, and little to do with the histories of those places. Australian musicians of all origins are gathering resources, in order to forge and voice the soul of a nation, and to do so, we are increasingly adhering to and redefining our own places, our own times, in song. We may gather from foreign traditions, but the music we make here, in this place, should respect and connect indissolubly to the land that sustains us. Revealing this continent’s history, accepting the guidance of wise, visionary Indigenous leaders, and singing up Country, is our starting point. Western definitions of “composition” and “music” don’t sit easily with uniquely Australian ways of songmaking. They originated in faraway places, were imported to our Country by colonisers, and have an obligation to adapt to and serve whichever Country they are now required to indwell. Indigenous people call this sitting on Country, and the Bible calls it indwelling, entering in to the essence of a place. In Australian Indigenous cultures, our songs come from and voice our Country, our culture, our history and our law. When we sing, we voice our Country, which gifts us our songs.

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