In March, the ACO Inspire Quartet (with the support of Total E&P Australia) travelled to Gordonvale, outside of Cairns, to give a concert for the students of Djarragun College, a day and boarding school primarily for Indigenous children from Cape York, the Torres Strait Islands, Yarrabah and Cairns and surrounding areas. Over 200 students, particularly those in years 5 and 6 who take part in the ACO Music & Art Program, were enthralled by the Quartet’s performance.
Djarragun College School Concert. Photo credit Lyn Williams.
From there, the Quartet travelled up the Gillies Highway to Yungaburra in the Atherton Tablelands for the Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir Camp at Lake Tinaroo. The Camp was a fantastic weekend for all involved and a wonderful cultural exchange on so many levels.
During the two-day Camp, the Quartet members Peter Clark, Jenny Khafagi, William Clark and Paul Zabrowarny worked intensively with about 40 young singers aged between 9 and 17, led by Gondwana Choirs Artistic Director and Founder Lyn Williams with conductors Chris Burcin and Violet Hari and pianists Lauren Hannay and Sam Allchurch. In addition to workshops on a range of music for choir and strings, each member of the Quartet worked with small groups of choristers on a composing a piece in response to Stan Grant's recent speech as part of The Ethics Centre debates. Working in small groups, the choristers chose sections of the speech with which they connected, set them to music and performed for the group. This was a thought provoking and profoundly moving exercise for all involved. Here are just a few of the words of one composition:
"Who are we and what do we want our country to be?
Rights for our homeland - Education for everyone - No stereotypes - Freedom for Indigenous – Recognition - Equality
That's our dream and we will succeed in spite of their dream."
ACO Inspire Quartet with Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir. Photo credit Lyn Williams.
The Quartet also gave a dynamic, interactive and engaging performance for the Choir of music by Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart and Piazzolla. For some, it was their first classical concert, while for others who learn musical instruments, it was an opportunity to hear and see a professional performance up close. There were dozens of questions for the Quartet at the end of the performance.
After the final rehearsal on the last day of the Camp, the choristers were keen to share some of their music with the Quartet and teach them some traditional Torres Strait Islander dances, with the help Gondwana Indigenous Choir Mentor Sani Townson, a former Principal dancer of Bangarra Dance Theatre. There was a special performance in Cairns for the choristers’ families and friends to end this unforgettable weekend.
ACO Inspire Quartet rehearse with members of Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir. Photo credit Lyn Williams.
ACO Inspire Quartet cellist, Paul Zabrowarny said of the Camp: "The students approach their music with such joy and responsiveness that it inspired all of us. My personal highlight was the composition workshop. Talking through the strong issues raised in the suggested text, and working together to create a small performance was a pleasure. They had so many creative ideas. But who could forget learning the traditional Torres Strait Island dances! It was such a pleasure to watch the choristers thriving in the movement and music – all the while we were struggling to remember which limbs we were supposed to be moving, and in which order!"
Lyn Williams echoed Paul’s feelings: "This weekend could not have been more successful. The four members of the Inspire Quartet engaged so generously with the singers of the Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir. They not only shared their own string playing skills but enthusiastically undertook composition workshops, and even enjoyed learning Island songs and dances from the children!"
And the choristers themselves were just as enthusiastic about the weekend: “They taught me that if you work hard you will succeed,” said one student. “I learnt that you can have fun while working, and if you can work hard you can succeed. And you can also talk and tell stories from playing music,” said another.
In July, the ACO Inspire Quartet will start working with Worawa Aboriginal College, a school for girls in years 7 to 10 in Healesville Victoria, on an adaptation of the ACO Music & Art Program. And in August, the Quartet will return to Cairns to perform with the Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir and students of Cairns High School at the official opening of the Parklands arts precinct.
The ACO is proud to acknowledge National Reconciliation Week 2016 and notes the special place, cultures and contributions of the first Australians.