A creative composition project connecting regional South Australian high school students celebrating National Reconciliation Week
In a celebration of National Reconciliation Week, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra partnered with the Hackett Foundation, SA Power Networks and the Department for Education, Music Education Strategyto provide secondary schools from Loxton High School and Berri Regional Secondary School with the opportunity to work alongside composers Julian Ferraretto and Belinda Gehlert with Robert Taylor, a proud Ngarrindjeri, Nganguraku, Kaurna and Narungga man. The students worked with Robert to create brand new music inspired by his cultural heritage for the ASO as part of its Silos & Symphonies composition project.
Created in 2020 in response to COVID restrictions, the project was conceived to enable the orchestra to work with students regionally utilising technology connecting students with the ASO via Zoom and live-streamed performance.
Robert, Julian and Belinda visited the Riverland schools in March 2022, with Robert sharing cultural stories from the Ngarrindjeri people with the students. Building on this connection to place, students explored their connection with the region and developed musical ideas to form the basis of these new pieces.
On 19 May, students joined Robert, Julian, Belinda, and the orchestra to workshop the music. Some students attended in person while others connected via a live stream. Students were able to provide immediate feedback to the ASO’s interpretation of the music, before it was filmed on Friday 20 May. The resulting films will be released as part of the ASO’s Virtual Concert Hall series during National Reconciliation Week in 2022.
Robert Taylor was honoured with sharing with the students the dreaming story of his great warrior Ancestor Ngurunderi the creator of the River Murray and described it as a very spiritual experience. “Being on my grandmother’s country and sharing the story with students who both live and grew up along the river is a great way for myself, others and the students to connect with each other.
“Music has always been such an important part of our culture and to take traditional Music and collaborate with the students and ASO to compose a contemporary piece of music from a traditional foundation is a show of modern-day trade and sharing of cultures”, he said.
Belinda worked with Loxton High School students, her composition was inspired by Robert sharing his Dreaming of the Ngarrindjeri People, the story of Ngurunderi and how the river Murray was created. Together they composed with the students a piece called ‘Carving the River’, it tells part of the story where Ngurunderi chases the big fish ‘Ponde’ down the river. Belinda says “Ponde slaps into the land and carves out the cliffs, Ngurunderi spears him and chops him up into little pieces to create all of the different types of river fish. We focussed on four types of fish found in the Murray: the Murray Cod, Callop, Eel-tailed catfish and the Coorong mullet. We looked at pictures of the fish and the students came up with shapes to represent each fish and which instrument they would like to characterise it and I turned those shapes into melody lines.”
Robert mentioned that one of his favourite river sounds is the pelicans landing on the water in the morning, so the piece begins in this way. Robert plays the boomerangs representing the pelicans as a solo viola plays a melody line that follows the curve of the river Murray that passes through Loxton.”
Next is a dramatic section of music representing Ngurunderi chasing Ponde down the river and spearing him. The final section is about each of the river fish swimming in the Murray. The piece ends peacefully back on the Murray and a pelican landing is the last thing we hear.”
ASO Learning and Community Manager Elizabeth McCall says, “ASO is deeply committed to ensuring more South Australians have access and engagement with the arts. This project allows regional South Australian students to create and be inspired by live orchestral music to which they might not necessarily be exposed within their community. We believe that everyone has the right to experience good music-making and not just good music listening but to be a part of that creative process”.
Silos & Symphonies allow rural students the same opportunities as their city counterparts, Julian said the incursion into regional SA was welcomed with great enthusiasm and warmth. Julian said, “For students, who perhaps have limited access to world-class ensembles, the opportunity to play alongside and create with the ASO presents a positive model for career paths as instrumentalists. It strengthens and enthuses the wider local music community as the new works composed are specific to the stories and landscape of each area. The region forms a long-lasting and tangible connection to the Orchestra and its growing library of new works.”
Julian said it was a privilege to work with Robert and create a work that connected to his country, he said “Our piece was inspired by the ancestral Ngurunderi Dreaming story as retold by Robert. The title, “Ponde” refers to the giant Murray River Cod which Ngurunderi chased in his canoe trying to spear the giant fish as its enormous tail thrashed and widened the river.”
Our piece paints a picture of three images from this ancestral story. The first is the image of a still water that is suddenly pierced by the throwing of Ngurunderi’s spear. The spear misses Ponde but lies in the river and forms Long Island, near Murray Bridge. The second image is that of Ponde in full flight – the heavy giant fish slapping its tail, widening the river. The third image describes the stage of the journey where Ngurunderi abandons his camp after Ponde has been speared, his discarded bark canoe rises into the heavens and becomes the Milky Way.”
Berri Regional Secondary School Music Teacher Brenden Baldock was thrilled to see Robert inspire the students to develop their connections to the region, he says “As Robert shared his story, students imagined themselves at the locations he was telling us about. They have their own memories of meeting with family and friends by the river, sports, and recreation, the river is so important to our community. The sounds they imagined were evident in the rhythms, melodies and soundscapes they created with their musical instruments. When students heard Julian’s final composition, they recognised the motifs they had played. The final piece was a collection of their stories and Robert’s stories woven into a musical celebration of our community.”
Participants involved have found it immensely validating to hear their ideas and experiences transformed into music, and to have been meaningfully involved in the creative process.
ASO Silos & Symphonies Virtual Concert performances are being released to celebrate National Reconciliation Week and can be viewed online at www.aso.com.au from Friday 27 May
Silos and Symphonies generously supported by:
SA Power Networks
Department for Education, Music Education Strategy
Cheree McEwin, Publicist Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
08 8233 6205 / 0416 181 679 / email@example.com