Copyright ©️ Elizabeth Sheppard 2019. All Rights Reserved.
My first blog post about the scandalous absence of Australian Aboriginal church music in Australian churches, except for token performances, has sparked positive responses from concerned Australians and prominent musicians.
Anong these are Dr. Roland Peelman, Director of the Canberra International Music Festival, who championed Australian Aboriginal church music by including the Pitjantjatjara language hymns of the Ntaria Ladies Choir from Central Australia, in the 2019 Canberra Festival. Yorta Yorta opera composer and singer Deborah Cheetham took Australian Aboriginal church music to a new level, with her Eumeralla Requiem in Gunditjmara language, performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Chorale, and the Dhungala Children’s Choir, at Hamer Hall on July 15 2019.
In 2018 I was fortunate to have one of my Noongar language church music compositions, Kaya Mary (Hail Mary) recorded by the ABC, and broadcast on Stephen Adams’ New Waves podcast. This piece was commissioned by Mooghalin Arts, the Australian Music Centre, Eora Aboriginal College and the Australian National University, and composed with mentorship provided by Dharug Elder Dr. Chris Sainsbury’s Ngarra-Burria First Peoples Composers program. The podcast also includes powerful Australian Aboriginal music by Ngarra-Burria composers Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Rhyan Clapham and Tim Gray.
To listen, click on the link below :
But despite these efforts to promote Australian Aboriginal church music, grass roots inclusion of Australian Aboriginal church music in immigrant churches is not fully under way. There are many historical and ideological reasons for this, but there is no doubt that Australian churches are missing out on a great faith resource that has unrivalled power to connect Australians realistically, to Country.
Australian Aboriginal church musicians and their communities are clearly not welcomed into Australian immigrant origin churches as full liturgical participants, with the unrestricted rights to speak and sing their own languages, that immigrant participants enjoy. In our churches, Australian Aboriginal church musicians and Elders are treated very differently from non-English immigrants, whose cultures are warmly celebrated, and collaboratively included in all forms of church worship and social activities.
Two hundred years of genocidal bans on speaking and singing in Australian Aboriginal languages have retarded the development and acceptance of uniquely Australian church musics and cultures. This gross injustice is slowly being addressed, as Australian Aboriginal church music emerges from the deep shadows cast by racist colonialism. It is important to understand that acceptance of Australian Aboriginal music into any church repertoire, does not mean that immigrant church musics are being rejected, considered inferior, or downplayed. It just means that a just balance is being restored, and that Christ’s law of love and equal sharing is being carried to its proper, peaceful conclusion. Australian churches are journeying together, through the Cross, together with Australian Aboriginal church communities, and the story of our long journey can and should be told truthfully, in our church music. All Australian church musicians and their communities have an obligation to engage intensively in this healing, restorative process, as respectful friends and colleagues of their local Australian Aboriginal church communities.
Reversing the almost total exclusion of Australian Aboriginal church music from all Australian denominational church music publications, is one achievable goal, that can be accomplished quickly, with proactive goodwill. Local Australian Aboriginal church music could be commissioned, selected and approved by Aboriginal church music consultors of the correct clan group, appointed to each local church music management Committee. All churches have these Committees. Churches that manage their music regionally or nationally, or from overseas, should seek advice from Australian Aboriginal church music consultants who are familiar with both the repertoire, and local cultural requirements. This process will take time, but there is no reason why it should be delayed.
Many Australian church music managers who have been charged with reviewing and approving a range of church music for inclusion in official worship books, and promoting selected compositions and composers, have rejected Aboriginal church music as ineligible for inclusion in worship. Pressured by unsustainable theological and moral objections, these managers have summarily excluded the vast repertoire of Aboriginal church music from church approval. As a result, Australian church music publishers, as an inflexible rule, still give pride of place to any and all immigrant church musics. This censorious behaviour of church music afficionadoes began with the 1788 British invasion of Aboriginal Australia, and is still mandated by illogical fears of moral contamination, that are used to perpetuate apartheid church music policies. So our immigrant Australian church parishes remain ignorant and deprived of magnificent Aboriginal Australian church music, and (apart from token annual “native performances”) uncharitably neglect the talented Aboriginal church communities that produce it.
In Stephen Adams’ first Ngarra-Burria music podcast, broadcast by the ABC in November 2017, my church music composition Walken Rainbow, performed by Ensemble Offspring, was played. This instrumental piece was inspired by the words of the Noongar Prayer, which is a translation of the Our Father into the Noongar language of South West Western Australia. In Noongar culture, the Rainbow, Maadjit Walken, is the female Creator Spirit who gives birth to the male Rainbow Serpent, who then shapes the ancestors, the land and all its creatures, harmoniously. This Noongar theology is taught in Aboriginal churches, supports ecological sustainability, and is considered compatible with the Christian theology of the Trinity.
To listen, click on the link below :
Written by Elizabeth Sheppard