… singing up Australia …

Archive for the ‘music repertoires’ Category

The Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary: An Australian Songline Culture Revived


Click on this WordPress Podcast to hear about the Australian research behind the Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary, recently published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Songline terms and references pervade Warlpiri culture. Linguistics researcher Mary Laughren describes the terrible poverty and disadvantage that neglected Warlpiri First Peoples communities have endured for hundreds of years of colonial rule, and her research with brilliant American linguist Ken Hale, (who followed up in the linguistics work of Elkin and Capell, described the phonology of Warlpiri in consultation with Warlpiri Elders, and compiled the first Warlpiri Dictionary) and many other researchers.

Songmaking in Post Referendum Australia

Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Looking beyond the ever-so-long-coming Australian First Nations Voice Referendum, I hope to see Australia’s wonderful First Nations’ music cultures more diligently promoted. With better, more reliable marketing support, enhanced media presence of groups like the Tiwi Strong Women and the Ntaria Women’s Choir would quickly redeem and sustain Australia’s flagging national reputation. Short term grants are not enough – these amazing musicians are proven Living National Treasures who deserve ongoing, full time incomes. The human and Indigenous rights of Australian First Nations are greatly respected and recognised in UN and global forums. Reliable government support for their work, and relieving them from competing for short term grant income, would enhance Australia’s international standing. The great advantage of uniquely Australian music making is its easy, speedy dissemination; there’s no reason to refuse or delay funded production and marketing of this music.

PM Anthony Albanese’s acknowledgement of Australia’s First Peoples’ right to justice and a better future, echoed the Australian electorate’s endorsement of the full 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. Since this was mandated by the outcome of the 2022 Australian election, the Uluru Statement must be implemented in full. Continent-wide, economy-boosting support for First Nations led music reforms is a top priority of the new Australian National Arts Policy. This prioritised agenda should be enacted globally, nationally, regionally, and at grass roots level, in all Australian schools and Universities. Just and equitable Australian government promotion of First Nations’ musics does not – as some have claimed – pose any threat to established immigrant Australian musics, which are all well established, generously funded, and highly competitive by corporate interests.

Introducing cultural reviews and equitable rebalancing of Australian school music curricula and music performance repertoires that have previously prioritised foreign music pedagogies, is not a difficult task. It doesn’t mean erasing immigrant music cultures, as First Nations communities agree that all musics have a right to exist and flourish. Australia’s First Nations’ musicians have demonstrated their willingness to work collaboratively and productively with immigrant Australian musicians for many years.

However, Australia’s immigrant musics alone are, by definition, incapable of providing the Australian state with a unique musico-cultural identity, because their content promotes non-Australian cultures. Immigrant music pedagogies and repertoires are therefore not entitled to exclusive monopoly rights that minimise or exclude Australia’s First Nations musics and languages from Australian schools and Universities. Australian First Nations music cultures, and their expert tribal and contemporary practitioners, should be centrally honoured and promoted in Australian music industry systems, not sidelined or exploited. Australian First Peoples musics are central to Australia’s global identity, and this brilliant, ecology based music, that supports sustainability, should be placed at the very centre of a uniquely Australian ecological music pedagogy.

Centralizing Australian First Nations songmaking in Australian schools and Universities is not yet a reality. Although Australian First Nations songmaking is booming in 2023, foreign music repertoires are still encouraged to predominate in Australian schools and concert halls. The influential Quadrant journal is still publishing indignant letters from conservative Caucasian listeners, who complain about invasive broadcasts of Australian Indigenous music contaminating classical playlists. In Canberra, attacks on the full implementation of the First Nations Voice, via affirmation of the full 2017 Uluru Statement, are confusing, and may impede, the proposal and enactment of just solutions. And on the government registry of new Australian compositions, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander compositions are still obstinately misclassified as “Non-Traditional.” This is inexcusable, since Australia’s Native Title law courts have, in hundreds of cases, admitted that the contemporary (as well as the ancient) songs of the oldest First Nations cultures in the world are indisputable evidence of an ancient, continuous, firmly emplaced artistic tradition. However many Australian government officials seem to be obstinately ignorant of this fact.

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.


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.