… singing up Australia …

Archive for the ‘Church Music Repertoire’ Category

Singing the Uluru Statement

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Reposting this 2022 blog for NAIDOC Week 2023.

https://the.song.company/songs-from-the-heart

‘Songs from the Heart‘ was released on April 7 2023 by 1equalmusic on Hyperion – https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_1EMFTH

NAIDOC Week 2023 : ABC Classic FM broadcast “Songs from the Heart” in its NAIDOC Week Lunchtime Concert, hosted by Mairi Nicholson. Now available for listening on demand.

“Ancestry” by Elizabeth Sheppard, Eora Aboriginal College, 2004. Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2004. All Rights Reserved.

The Song Company’s upcoming Songs from the Heart tour in September-October 2022, directed by Antony Pitts and Francis Greep, with commissioned music by Sonya Holowell and myself, Elizabeth Sheppard, is designed as a musical interface between Australia’s 252 years of 1770-2022 colonialism, and the nationally affirmed, powerful contemporary Voice of Australia’s diverse Aboriginal First Nations, the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. Songs from the Heart will be premiered at Newcastle’s Christ Church Cathedral on 29 September 2022, and will then tour to Parramatta (Riverside Theatres Oct 2), Canberra (Larry Sitsky Room, ANU School of Music Oct 4), Melbourne (The Oratory, Abbotsford Convent Oct 6), Sydney (Cell Block Theatre, Darlinghurst Oct 7 and 9) and Wollongong (Wollongong Art Gallery Oct 8). With consideration for unavoidable Covid-induced cancellations and rehearsal disruptions during 2020-2021, the Australian Arts Council has just granted $25,000 to fund an additional Australian regional tour of Songs from the Heart in February 2023.

Proclaimed by lawyer Dr. Megan Davis, the Uluru Statement was gifted to all Australians, who have honoured, acclaimed and responded to it in many affirmative ways. My commissioned music for Songs from the Heart is my heartfelt response to the Uluru Statement: it echoes Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s affirmation of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.

The Uluru Statement was gifted to the Australian people by the 250 government authorised First Nations Delegates to the 2017 Australian National Constitutional Convention, and distributed online, so every Australian has a opportunity, and an obligation, to read it fully, come to an accurate understanding of the whole text and the significant Anangu art that surrounds it, and respond to it in some meaningful way. Vigorous community based debates have surrounded the Statement: this is normal, and different opinions can and should be teased out and thoroughly explored, as the Australian Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney, and Australia’s Special Envoy for Implementation of the Uluru Statement, Senator Patrick Dodson, have noted. Many Australians, conscious of Australia’s conflicted history, find engaging with the Statement difficult, but a wholehearted response is needed from all Australians, to enable Australia to move forward beyond Sorry, to the lasting Agreement between Australia’s First Nations and its non-Aboriginal peoples, that the Uluru Statement proposed. One way of approaching a personal and community response, is to meditate on the content of the Uluru Statement, though making and listening to music about it. The Song Company’s production, undertaken in consultation with Indigenous Australian composers and communities, echoes and reinforces the Uluru Delegates’ intentions, as one small step forward in the ongoing movement of the Australian people that the Uluru Statement from the Heart initiated.

My music for Songs from the Heart is conceived on a liturgical / oratorical scale that honours the full Uluru Statement as a sacred, uncensored text, an undeniable affirmation of Australian First Nations presence. This approach reflects my lifelong musical training and intercultural experience as an Australian Indigenous scholar and accredited Cantor. As The Song Company performs my songs, a mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal singers humbly walk with, attend to, echo and explore how to understand and enact this practical, forward looking roadmap for Australia. The words written by 250 accredited Aboriginal Australian National Constitutional Convention Delegates, are surrounded by Anangu artwork from the Uluru site itself, that the Anangu artists painted to show the cultural power of Uluru. No other document has communicated the wishes of all Australian First Nations so clearly, to the whole Australian people, and no other document has gained such acclamation and consent from all Australians, at local, regional and national levels.

Besides PM Albanese’s recent endorsement of the Uluru Statement, local Councils, regional bodies and corporations all over Australia have endorsed the Uluru Statement. In my own local area, Parramatta NSW, in December 2021 I moved a motion, as a Member of the 2021 Aboriginal Advisory Committee of Parramatta Council, to recommend that the Council endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. Phillip Russo seconded my motion. The ATSI Advisory Committee forwarded this recommendation to Parramatta Council, and Parramatta Council passed it in July 2022. So these compositions are not merely artistic works; they engaged with, reflect, and are the outcome, of a real Australian grass roots struggle to reach conciliatory consensus at local level at Parramatta, and the challenging creative process that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal residents engaged in, guided by the Uluru Statement and Makaratta truth telling, to arrive at an Agreement.

The whole Songs from the Heart production seeks to focus deeper audience attention on the clearly written and beautifully painted Uluru Statement from the Heart that was gifted to all Australians. The First Nations composers and singers invite consideration of the Uluru Statement, and The Song Company walks respectfully and attentively through the document. As The Song Company engages with the Statement intellectually and spiritually, the singers model how to walk respectfully and rigorously, as committed colleagues and allies, alongside Australia’s First Nations, by reflecting truthfully and empathetically in song, on Australia’s past, present and future. As Australians we are living through troubled times, but we all share hopes for a better future, and The Song Company’s realistic hope, tempered by discipline and skill, shines through.

Since learning the Australian First Nations way of walking on Country properly is a slow, gradual process, and since everyone is at a different stage of this process, neither The Song Company nor the composers make any claim that the Songs from the Heart music is perfect, culturally expert from all points of view, comprehensive, or definitive. The music simply invokes and enables audience responses to the Uluru Statement, opening the way to this, without undue demands. Due to Australia’s unresolved cultural dilemmas, responses to the Uluru Statement are necessarily diverse, volatile, dynamic, and ongoing. As in all projects with Australian First Nations themes, ongoing consultation with First Nations communities was required, and The Song Company engaged in cultural consultation, early in the project. Songs from the Heart is a beginning – one genuinely heartfelt engagement among many ongoing intercultural dialogues. May all music that honours the Uluru Statement completely and honestly, remain dynamically open to the inspired vision of a better Australia, that is offered to all Australians in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Kalgoorli Silky Pear : Ngarra-Burria music for the 1770 Henrion Fortepiano

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2022. All Rights Reserved.

In 2020 Dr. Scott Davie of the Australian National University commissioned me to compose a 5 minute piece for the 1770 Henrion fortepiano. This instrument, stored at the ANU School of Music’s historic Australian piano collection, dates from 1770, when James Cook first encountered Aboriginal Australians. Dr. Davie was interested to see how our Ngarra Burria Indigenous composer group would relate to the instrument, as a pre-colonial 1770 interloper, and a contemporary of Captain James Cook. The 5 octave 61 key Henrion fortepiano was manufactured the disputed territory of Saarland, Alsace, France by Henri Henrion in 1770. Coincidentally, 1770 is the year of First Contact between Lt. James Cook and the Guugu-Yimithirr people of north east coastal Australia. This little fortepiano was imported to Australia and played at concerts in the British colony of Sydney. I composed my music for this small fortepiano of reversed white and black keys, as if it were a set of detuned yoora (digging sticks or clapsticks). At the time of First Contact between Cook and the Guugu-Yimithirr, this instrument had no links with with my Noongar Country. But now, having suffered the inevitable consequences of cracked ageing and clumsy mechanization, it has been retuned, as far as possible, by experts. So (as a similarly aged, cracked, clumsily mechanized and retuned Indigenous Australian composer) I began to converse humanely with it, through a simple, repetitive theme that acknowledges my heritages, and primarily drawing attention to the country that all Australians live on. Our country seeds and produces hardy, courageous Indigenous survivor plants and peoples, like my maternal grandparents. So my Henrion fortepiano piece is about them.

After draft score consultations with Dr. Davie and my ANU supervisor, Dr. Sainsbury, and a Zoom session with Dr. Davie, Dr. Sainsbury, my Ngarra Burria colleagues, and ABC Producer Stephen Adams, I composed and finalised the piano score of a set of progressive variations on my “digging” theme. This descending fortepiano theme refers to Indigenous digging for planting and harvesting, and I set it against an opposing colonial theme of digging for gold mining.

Kalgoorli Silky Pear is based on my grandparents’ experience of life in Kalgoorlie in the early 1900s, where they built a cottage, raised a family, and were active in the community life of the time. My grandfather Gus worked as the Head Gardener of the Boulder-Kalgoorlie Council. He designed and maintained the public gardens, racing track and bowling greens of Kalgoorlie, and many private gardens (such as that of the Castlecomer homestead), at a time when water was very scarce. He had been trained in horticulture in Melbourne, at St Vincents Gardens. As a leading member of the Boulder Horticultural Society, he gave gardening lectures, acted as judge at annual gardening shows, managed a large plant nursery, and decorated halls and churches with Australian native flowers for public events. Gus was also a musically literate composer and amateur singer, and in 1943 he registered the copyright of his notated song “Our Defenders” with the Australian National Archives, where it can be viewed today. My daughter Emma, a Landscape Architect, whose father Peter was also a horticulturist, carries on the family gardening tradition that Gus handed down to us through his daughter, my mother Olive. The hardy Silky Pear bush, the karlkurla after which the city of Kalgoorlie is named, still grows in the Kalgoorlie area. It has woody fruits with hard cases, that are designed to survive bushfire. Gus and his wife Emma bravely and cheerfully endured hard times in Kalgoorlie, and like the strong Silky Pear, they grew and passed on a beautiful gardening and song legacy to their children and grandchildren. Through my mother, they passed on their legacy to me, of how to survive challenging times, through making music and gardening.

Dr. Scott Davie’s performance of Kalgoorli Silky Pear was recorded by the ABC’s Stephen Adams and Audio Engineer Huff Johnston at ANU’s Lewellyn Hall in November 2020. This recording was broadcast on Stephen Adams’ New Waves podcast, and released in 2022 on the ABC CD Ngarra Burria Piyanna, and on another ABC CD, Women of Note.

Aboriginal Music at Sydney Conservatorium

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In June 2020, with the intention of maintaining my vocal skills, and restricted by Covid pandemic conditions that limit my particiipation in live choirs and solo performances, I enrolled in an Open Academy Classic Song class at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity, not only to maintain my vocal skills, but to introduce notated Australian Indigenous songs into a music education curriculum that is still largely dominated by an admirable, but clearly foreign, classical song repertoire – but now welcomes notated Australian Aboriginal song into the repertoire.

As a result, this Wednesday, Dec 2 2020, at 7.00 pm, I’m singing three of my Indigenous Noongar Australian classical songs and one European song – Kaya Mary, Mary Moorditj Ngaangk, and Ngalak Noonook Balga (Gasstrees), and Schubert’s An Die Musik – all workshopped with Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks in Sydney Conservatorium’s Open Academy Classic Song class, at the Classic Song Concert at Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium. Thanks to Classic Song teachers / accompanists Christina Wilson and Alan Hicks for their expert mentoring and cultural competence. Tickets are available at Sydney Conservatorium Box Office.

https://www.icloud.com/iclouddrive/0AeOvdhS2woSrj8MYVORz-lbQ#Elizabeth_Grasstrees_copy

Here’s a link to my performance of Ngalak Noonook Balga (Grasstrees).

Bridging Music Gaps

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2020. All Rights Reserved.

It seems that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has woken Australians up to the important role that local community, Aboriginal and country based music can play (as opposed to globalised muzak) in bridging gaps between human mental health and community peace.

Dreaming, performing, and growing community, Aboriginal, and locally based music that comes from actual human situations and real life experiences, has a unique power to enliven, build and strengthen human societies and economies. Local song and local culture sharing and exchange between groups can, and should, be permitted to drive powerful cultural currencies that enhance mutual respect. Karaoke parrotting of imported cover songs is indeed fun, but it doesn’t build or support local cultural understanding, or local social networks.

The myth that promoting local Australian music will produce jingoistic nationalism, xenophobic hatred and war, is groundless. Where healthy local intercultural dialogue, assisted by song dialogue and exchange, is well funded, and provocative mass media reports inciting hatred, are erased prior to publication by responsible editors, peace has a chance to flourish. The proliferation of imported global music is still smothering local Australian music. which is characteristically respectful, and features intercultural sharing. Using music in good ways, local Australian musicians have outlawed deliberately offensive behaviour; many Australian songs promote justice by exposing and discrediting mischief making rumours that incite conflict.

Cultures that articulate and celebrate themselves in music, while engaging with environmental, spiritual and cultural concepts and structures, find ways to communicate peacefully with other cultures. Australian musicians have intelligent, inoffensive ways of agreeing to disagree, while expressing culture based viewpoints strongly. As their community music is heard and discussed, local audiences forge and maintain sensible behavioural boundaries, with humour and wit. In Western Sydney in the early 2000s, Australian Bishop Kevin Manning tested and proved this beyond doubt, when he organised a productive, peaceful series of interfaith conversations between large congregations of Christians and Muslims. These sessions included diverse local musics, and the discussions that ensued quickly restored community peace after an isolated but extremely provocative incident. It became evident to all that sharing common ground, singing together, clarifying intercultural issues and utterly discrediting false media myths, has an unrivalled power to promote and restore not only passive peace, but proactive, strengthened, responsible community relationships.

Songbooks such as the Dhungala Choral Connection Songbook and CD, produced by Deborah Cheetham, Toni Lalich and Jessica Hitchcock in close collaboration with several Australian Aboriginal communities, also foster community peace. Such resources are valuable local community building tools for the challenging pandemic era we are living through.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Dhungala Choral Connection Songbook and CD is available at http://www.shortblackopera.com

So, how much health-bestowing local community music is being produced and consumed by Australians, right now? Where is it performed and heard, how is it managed, recorded, licensed and distributed, and who is still making it? When an Australian musician or composer writes, performs and records some of their own music, how do they get it heard by Australian and international audiences? Are they expected to give their music away free of charge, to be heard?

And are Australian governments able to add to our National assets, by including the value of our national music in the National Budget, as an asset? Is wide, government sponsored media distribution provided to our Australian musicians, so their loyal, pandemically challenged fans can access it? And if our local music is being drowned out by insistent promotion of non-Australian music, why is this so?

Have a look online. Many unfunded Australian Aboriginal communities in remote and urban areas are making magnificent, uniquely Australian music. Many non-Indigenous Australian musicians and ethical researchers are collaborating with these communities, to grow uniquely Australian community music repertoires with a powerful Australian sound and presence. This is a learning process, that deserves music policy support. When every Australian gives first priority to supporting uniquely Australian music, instead of believing the globalised media hype that promotes non-Australian performers and imported music genres above our home grown music, local community music, community cultures, and community peace, will flourish healthily, and grow.

Obviously, Australians don’t dislike overseas musics, they are all wonderful, but why should Australians prioritize non-Australian music genres, or promote them above our own musics, to the detriment of the strong internal multicultural musical bonds we have always lived with and built? All Australian citizens have a cultural right and duty to support, grow and enjoy our very own music, that connects us to, and takes pride in, the beautiful country we are fortunate to live in.

Australian community music is slowly re-emerging from the cultural silencing that the post World War II flood of imported and globalised music induced. We are beginning to realise that muting our local musicians’ voices, obediently patronising, consuming and imitating the avalanche of non-Australian music genres that were, and in some cases still are, permitted to dominate our airwaves, and allowing overseas music scholars to interpret, pass judgement on, and appropriate our home grown Australian music cultures, is not likely to benefit Australia. We can and should take credit for our own musical prowess. Australia is no longer stuck in a colonial music time warp, that wrongly deems all imported music and opinions superior, and all home grown music irredeemably inferior. However, many Australians think it safe to sit timidly on a musical fence, and are still vacillating between patronising non-Australian music, and prioritising our local music.

Can Australia’s thirst for our own sovereign music really be fulfilled with instore muzak such as “In the Bleak Midwinter”, “White Christmas”, or “Jingle Bells”, to cheer us through our smoky heatwave-and-bushfire summers? I don’t think so. Sadly, the yawning gulf that divorced the community music (of both Aboriginal and immigrant origin that many older Australians still know and love), from the overwhelmingly foreign music repertoire studied and performed in Australian Universities, Conservatoria, and concert halls, has certainly not been bridged.

Hands up, if you’ve heard identifiably Australian music, performed, recorded and distributed by Australians, in Australia, on an Australian-produced radio or TV program, or a streamed podcast. Hands up, if the adoring praise Australian media curators and announcers heap on the imported music of Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, Mozart, and American style jazz seriously outweighs their half hearted, grudging endorsement of “second class” Australian music. Hands up, if you’ve heard, played or sung Australian music in the last week. Music by non-Australian composers of non-Australian music genres, still floods Australian airwaves, and is still promoted by massive government handouts of public money, that all flows out of Australia. This money should be flowing into local Australian community music systems, to support and grow homespun Australian music.

Supporting local music is not narrow parochialism or isolationist nationalism, nor is it driven by anti-competitive rhetoric. It’s commonsense local social capital building. Many researchers claim that academic studies of “popular music” such as hip hop, rock, soul, electronica and gaming music have broken through the academic / community music divide, by validating the selection and insertion of a carefully selected canon of globalised ‘popular music’ into Australian school and academic curricula. The theory behind this policy, is that establishing a secularised global music repertoire shared by all, will eliminate intercultural and interreligious conflict – John Lennon’s utopian “Imagine” vision of world harmony. But despite this populist educational policy, a strict academic / community music divide survives, and is promoted by, imported music teaching and examination systems that many Australian music teachers are required to endorse. Grass rooms musos are studied by Australian music scholars, but how many of them read, or are permitted to respond to, the thousands of academic papers written about local Australian abd Aboriginal musicians? Popular music syllabuses that include lists of set examination performance pieces, and also teach computer music skills, are shaping future Australian musicians, but only a tiny percentage of the teaching repertoire included in these syllabuses is composed by Australians, or supportive of uniquely Australian and Aboriginal music genres and performers.

So what can be done to promote and support the growth of health-giving Australian community music systems and repertoires?

1. Immediately reduce the high percentage of non-Australian music heard on Australian airwaves, by 50%, and replace it with uniquely, recognusably Australian music, funded by Australia, and performed by Australians.

2. Teach and show Australian children that healthily home grown Australian music is highly valued by Australians, and is just as good as any music of non-Australian origin, or music based on a non-Australian genre, or music composed, produced and distributed by non-Australian musicians and companies.

3. In our present pandemic situation, generously fund and facilitate the creation and local community performances of uniquely Australian music content, by Australian born and raised composers.

4. When the coronavirus pandemic subsides, fund healthy, safe live local music events directed and staffed by local Australian musicians, and endorsed by local Australian Aboriginal Elders as fully supportive of our sovereign Australian cultures and ecologies, instead of draining Australia’s music coffers by importing or promoting “big names” who don’t actually need promotion, and who often put youth audiences at risk by staging drug-ridden megaconcerts, and then depart, taking our funds with them.

Australian Music at Llewellyn Hall, ANU Canberra

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2020. All Rights Reserved.

When I began Postgraduate composition studies at the Australian National University School of Music, Canberra in January 2020, my academic skills were, to say the least, a bit rusty. But having lived through and survived the Australian summer bushfire crisis, the effects of the devastating hailstorm that hit Canberra, and the Covid-19 pandemic that followed, in Semester 2 2020 I’m continuing with my Postgraduate studies, working at upgrading my academic and technology skills with expert help, ploughing on with composition, writing my thesis, and preparing video presentations.

Click on the link below to see what I’m doing at ANU this Semester.

https://music.cass.anu.edu.au/scholarship-spotlight-elizabeth-sheppard

ANU School of Music (aka Llewellyn Hall) and its web of dedicated multidisciplinary music performers and researchers, is both challenging and inspiring. ANU Chancellor Julie Bishop, Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt and Professor Kim Cunio are the driving forces behind this Australian Music School, that welcomes talented musicians from diverse backgrounds to explore, perform and develop uniquely Australian, and often cross-cultural, musical repertoires. Currently, ANU music students include hip hop artists, gaming music researchers, orchestral musicians, jazz musicians, community music specialists, audio engineering trainees, music therapists, Indigenous composers, opera singers, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and diverse ethnic musicians who specialise in performing and recording culture-based traditional music. Their talent and diversity, together with the reliable support of the ANU School of Music admin and academic team, and the admin and academic Colleges that support them, makes every encounter, whether live, or on Zoom, an informative, productive, collaborative adventure.

So, on with the music!

Pandemic Distancing in Live Music

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2020. All Rights Reserved.

As Australia comes to terms with COVID-19 protocols, musicians and composers are working out how to “do” music online. If we had a choice, live music would win. These photos of our Ngarra Burria Composers recording sessions at the Australian National University Studio in 2017-2018, and the first Ngarra Burria concert at Eora Aboriginal College in 2017, show how contemporary musicians (Claire Edwardes, Ensemble Offspring, and the five inaugural Ngarra Burria composers Rhyan Clapham, Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Tim Gray and myself) normally work together, in close proximity, to make music. But it is also possible, as demonstrated by the brilliant Lux Aeterna virtual choir a few years back, to gather in virtual spaces to make great music. The current COVID-19 crisis is pushing musicians and composers towards online collaboration. And as an accommodation to social distancing, Italian balcony music also seems to have taken off! So despite my advanced years, and my unfamiliarity with webcams, video conferencing, podcasting, and Skype, I’ve decided to jump into making balcony music, video conferencing, jamming and broadcasting virtual music online. Yes, I do have a balcony – in fact, two balconies! And hearing Mikey O’Neil’s presentation on interactive gaming music at ANU School of Music last week was a great introduction to crafting multiple responsive loops.

Composing in Canberra

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2020. All Rights Reserved.

As an Australian composer and singer, I make music that’s deeply engaged with, and inspired by, the vast, wonderful country that has always nourished and sustained my people. My music records and celebrates the everyday lived experience of my generation, my communities, and my ancestors, from one Australian woman’s perspective, over a lifetime. In 2019 I was awarded a Postgraduate Scholarship from the Australian National University in Canberra, to study and develop my Australian composition, document my music, and create new works. My course requires me to “develop an online presence” as a composer, so links to my music, writing. and published scores will be posted on this blog. Click on the My Music tab to see / hear audio clips or purchase my scores.

Female Church musicians in Australia

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2015. All Rights Reserved.

There are thousands of skilled female Church musicians in Australia. Two of the most skilled and dedicated practising Church musicians I know are my friend Antonia Deasey, an Anglican music teacher at Trinity Grammar School, Sydney, who also has private pupils and sings in a Cathedral choir, and my Anglican sister Anne Speer, who teaches violin at three Church schools in Western Australia, teaches private pupils, directed her local parish choir until recently, and plays with a regional orchestra. These two gifted, talented women are well employed by the Church, but are owed much greater recognition as professional Australian Church musicians and teachers. The private recognition they receive is not comparable with the public adulation regularly heaped upon their male Church music colleagues. Among many others, Rosalie Bonighton (dec.) is another under-recognised Australian Church musician who springs to mind, together with my Presbyterian aunt Jean Fullard nee Simpson, who served as the organist of St Andrew’s Peace Church, Wonthaggi, Victoria, for many years, and Robin Ruys, current Music Minister of the Anglican Parish of Hunters Hill, Sydney NSW.

In Australia, it is not unusual for fully trained, qualified female Church musicians to be undervalued, underpaid, and grossly overworked. Reform of this aspect of Church music ministry is overdue. Part of the problem is the assumption that technical skill and a willingness to serve voluntarily, is all that is necessary to be a Church musician. In reality, much more is required, including ethical Christian conduct and many years of enculturated, disciplined liturgical experience. Male Australian Church musicians seldom show concern about neglect of female Church musicians – on the contrary, indulgence in tasteless jokes ridiculing female Church music performers and composers, while basking in mutual male praise, is common among Church men. I have been fortunate, in my own Church music work, to be regularly employed as a Cathedral Cantor, and I learned much from the professional example of Catholic Cantor Kathleen Boschetti of St Francis Church, Melbourne, Anglican Church music composer Rev. Elizabeth Smith, and Catholic Cantor Donrita Reefman of St Ives Cathedral, Sydney, about working with clergy and lay ministers and requiring their respect. I trained entirely at my own expense. In 2013 I wrote a blog about my positive experience of being a Cantor – see

http://australianchurchmusic.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/the-growth-of-women-church-cantor.html.

MF2-2005

Elizabeth Sheppard vested for Church Cantor ministry, 2010

I loved Church Cantor music ministry and was praised for my success at it. In addition to exercising musical, liturgical and compositional skills, it required tactful multi-skilled liturgical coordination with a large group of male clerical and lay supervisors and female assistants. When liturgical worship is smoothly coordinated and the whole community is in tune with the Holy Spirit, Cantor ministry has its own very special rewards and fruits, not the least of which are enduring community friendships.

Globalisation in Australian Church Music

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The effect of globalisation on Australian Church music has been as dire as its effect on that Aussie icon, Vegemite. Although many talented Australian composers continue to produce uniquely Australian Church music in many genres, Australian Church music governing bodies and clergy are paying minimal or no attention to local Australian Church music. In Australia, Church music licensing is dominated by globalised corporations who promote non-Australian Church music over the work of local Australian and Aboriginal composers. Australian Church music selection committees overwhelmingly favour non-Australian music over Australian Church music. Some Australian parish music programs use exclusively non-Australian music repertoires and genres. Public infusions of forward-looking, hopeful, uniquely Australian musical expressions of Christian faith are increasingly rare, ephemeral, and excluded from music examination lists.

For insight into why this has happened, read Jeffrey Tucker’s 2002 article about a multinational corporate Church music publisher whose policies and business ethics are not in tune with Christian beliefs, principles or practice (see link below)

The Hidden Hand behind Bad Catholic Music

The globalisation of Church music is also discussed in depth by a shocked Richard Barrett on the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (Orthodox Christian) blog –

http://orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org/2013/01/29/the-hidden-hand-behind-bad-music-could-it-happen-here-american-catholic-worship-and-orthodoxy-in-america/

Church Music App-ologetics

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Even in Church music, the smart phone app has its uses. Church music geeks compose and make music online as well as in real time, with human hands and feet and eyes and ears and voices.

The phenomenon of the virtual choir (if you don’t know about this, google Eric Whitacre) has blown preconceptions about tying Church music to a particular time and place, sky-high. Whatever the virtues of real-time interaction (which are unsurpassed, and should never be discounted), as Church musicians we are now stuck with the digital app addictions of the upcoming generation for a long time.

In cyberspace there’s an app for every task you can possibly imagine. Enterprising Church musicians design and market Church music apps, thereby solving their income problems forever. Apps that help with a specific task can be uploaded to smart phones or computers quickly, and used immediately. For instance, I have a virtual piano keyboard on my iPhone that I use for composing.

This is not an app marketing blog, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. From time to time I’ll be reviewing Church music apps (e.g. ear training apps, chant databases, music theory apps) that I’ve found helpful and time-saving. Make your own judgements!

App-phobia has crept into the mindset of many Church musicians who

  • obsessively photocopy, distribute, retrieve and file print scores
  • don’t own a smart phone, or are computer-phobic
  • believe that Church music could never be improved by technology
  • devote no time to app discovery and selection
  • think that rehearsing well, with no technology aids, is sufficient

Changing deep-set attitudes like this takes miracles. Hang on, Christians believe in miracles!

If you have a music director that insists on making your church music work as difficult as possible by refusing to adapt to digital technology and app networking, or doing a go-slow on this, it might help to pray loudly and publicly about it.

Highbrow, Lowbrow, or just plain Pastoral?

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Accusations of “high-brow” elitism in Church music are often levelled at Anglican High Church (i.e. episcopalian or Anglo-Catholic) parishes in Australia.

At the other extreme, the so-called “low” Anglican Churches of the evangelical persuasion, who have simplified their Church music repertoire in an attempt to increase congregational participation in Church music, are often accused of “low-brow” banality, or outright iconoclasm. This debate generally disguises the real issues. i.e. music costs and music ministry time commitment. Small parishes cannot afford the luxuries of paid orchestras, professional choristers, or a pipe organ, no matter how much they want these. The fix-it-quick option for a cash-strapped parish with no hymn books, organ, or organist, is a limited hymn copyright licence, projected slides, and recorded music accompaniments. The longer-term option (and in the long run the more productive one) is a firm commitment to weekly Church music education for all ages. Parishes with internet access (that is not always available in Australia) can organise hymn practice sessions easily, otherwise CDs can be used. The Royal School of Church Music provides Church music training resources, and many Anglican schools and dioceses, ethnic Churches and ecumenical associations organise Church music schools, camps and conferences.

Since every Church is committed to promoting Christ’s teachings and way of life, there is no mandate for Christians to bicker over selecting their worship music repertoire, or greedily engaging in attention-grabbing media beat-ups that gleefully escalate inter-church music squabbles. Obviously, different Church cultures and backgrounds will favour different, legitimate Church music repertoires, and there is no harm in this. Church music governing organisations, Church schools, and parish music directors are charged with ensuring that Church music in Australia is well composed and performed, that it proclaims Christian teachings, and that it is well integrated with worship. In Western Sydney, it is not uncommon for 40+ different languages to be spoken in one Church parish, but in the interests of preserving Church unity, congregations still manage to learn and sing a core repertoire of hymns. Annual, monthly, or weekly monocultural liturgies, and special feast day celebrations, fill the need for each cultural group or faction to perform and hear their own Church music in various locations, but there is also an unspoken hospitality rule, by which an invitation is always extended to visitors from other cultures to attend and observe ethnic or denominational liturgies and music, where they should be treated as honoured guests.

By visiting all parishes, and not indulging in excessive partiality re music genres within their diocese, clergy can exert a considerable charitable, pacifying influence that promotes unity in Christ, even where differing music repertoires, doctrines and texts tend to divide. The strongest unifying force for any diocese is an authentic Christian witness, where Church people join in caring pastorally for those in need, and encouraging intercultural friendships. When peaceful Christian work of this kind takes priority, Church music repertoire issues are often reduced to their proper perspective.

The Great Aussie Church Music Cringe . . .

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Lamenting the great Aussie government-induced church music cringe. See link at

Michael Kieran Harvey: What Would Peggy Do? – Arts – Browse – Big Ideas – ABC TV

This online lecture (see link above) refers mainly to contemporary secular Australian art music composition, but it is also relevant to Church music in Australia. I love classical Church music, and many other music genres, and I support maintaining a repertoire of “traditional” Anglo-European Church music. But I object to the way non-Australian Church music repertoires have recently been imposed holus-bolus on Australian Church communities, without parishioners’ consent – just when a new crop of brilliant Australian church music composition was taking off.

Imposing this overseas monopoly has smothered and stifled Australian Church music, and has created a musical generation gap in many parishes, that seriously impedes local religious and cultural education. The practice of culturally gagging Aussie congregations and ordering them to worship God with second-hand imported music, has done enormous cultural damage to Australian churches.

The fact is, imported non-Australian Church music repertoires, however excellent (or cheap), come from a different time and place and population. Although we may empathise with and appreciate non-Australian musical expressions of Christian faith, it is impossible to reach the deeper communal levels of faith as Australians living in Australia, unless we worship God directly with our own unique Australian music, that comes from the beating heart of Australia. Much of our Australian Church music (from such tiny colonial churches as the one pictured below, at Greenough, Western Australia) has not been fully documented, and many original scores are stored in the Australian National Library in Canberra, awaiting re-discovery and re-publication.

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Greenough Village Church, Western Australia

A survey of just how many Australian-made compositions are included in, and excluded from, Australian Church music repertoires and licensing lists, is badly needed. Editing out or minimising local Australian compositions in our church music repertoires degrades, and threatens to destroy, our living, dynamic, developing, inherited tradition of Australian Church music. Australians who attend Churches are often musical, and many have produced original musical concepts, ideas and creations. Our original music is expressed and sometimes briefly admired, but our work is seldom promoted, simply because the composers are local, Australian, and therefore deemed unimportant. Australian composers and performers who hope for proper recognition or publication are currently forced to seek this outside Australia, and once recognised, few of them return. Promoting a token number of Australian Church music composers is seen by Church music repertoire selection committees as an acceptable, cheap and easy solution, but why should the majority of Australian Church music composers be relegated to oblivion, to benefit a privileged, elite few?

Typical Church music repertoires in Australia include only 5% of Australian Church music compositions at best. Overseas visitors, who expect to find a flourishing local Australian Church music repertoire, find this extremely odd. The percentage could easily be increased, as many new Australian compositions are available. Unfortunately, those responsible for Church music selection are often in economic thrall to corporate or monocultural giants, and this hampers their ability to promote locally enculturated faith development through local Church music.

If there is an Australian Church music composer in your congregation or nearby, you should seek them out, encourage them to continue composing, listen to / workshop their music with competent performers, and arrange for it to be included in church services on a regular basis, with the usual royalty payments that all overseas composers receive. There are composers of all ages and cultures in Australian church communities, and their works reflect significant Australian faith experiences of many different generations. Ask your local composers to compose easy versions of their music, and publish them as audio tracks and pdf lead sheets, for online purchase. Buy them and play them as background tracks at parish parties, and provide lead sheets purchased from the composer, to spread the word and familiarise parishioners with the tunes. Research your local Australian Church music, and compile a local Church music list for family and church group services. You may be surprised at the quality of the compositions you find, and their morale-boosting effect on your community.