Songs from the Heart at Christ Church Cathedral with Antony Pitts, Sonya Holowell, Elias Wilson and The Song Company

At Newcastle’s Christ Church Cathedral yesterday, The Song Company performed Songs from the Heart, a mainstage program of twenty four SSAATTBB choral responses to the Uluru Statement from the Heart from three Australian First Nations composers – Dharawal soprano Sonya Holowell, Arrernte composer and artist Rhubee Neale, and myself. My seventeen Songs from the Heart pieces, that I’ll comment on in my following blog posts, are arranged in ten sets. Some are choral settings of the Uluru Statement text, some are settings of my own poetry, some have improvised sections, and all of them required extended liaison and collaboration with academic and Indigenous communities, appropriate Aboriginal Elders, and colleagues at The Song Company and the Australian National University School of Music.

L-R Dharawal composer and soprano Sonya Holowell, Artistic Director and Conductor Antony Pitts, Biripi opera tenor Elias Wilson, and composer Elizabeth Sheppard after the Songs from the Heart premiere at Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle NSW, 29 September 2022.

‘Cross Country (Elizabeth Sheppard)

This strophic piece, the introduction to Songs from the Heart, is a choral verse setting of my English language poem ‘Cross Country, that describes how Australians can all walk together across Country respectfully, as communicated to me over the years by many Aboriginal Elders. The title is a play on the double meaning of “across” and “cross”, because this lifelong intercultural walking together is not always easy, and continuing along the track often involves identifying and changing offensive behaviours, addressing confusion, and accepting necessary sacrifices. Aboriginal Elders have always taught that we can find a just and fair way through these divisive difficulties, through listening, truth telling and genuine amendment – as the Uluru Statement from the Heart recommends.

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