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Aus Music Month: Elena Kats-Chernin interview

We reshare our interview with the brilliant Australian composer, who shares the secrets of creating compelling music for children.

“Composing for children is my favourite thing. I close my eyes and imagine children in the room, and ask myself what they would want to hear.”

Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, who is known for writing for children among her acclaimed works, describes loving everything about creating with young people in mind.

“Perhaps it makes me myself feel younger,” she laughs. “No, I know what it is: it’s such a beautiful world. It’s innocent, it’s joyful, it’s pure, and it makes you happy. And usually, even when you have some kind of evil character, the good character always wins. I love happy endings.”


On writing for the ACO’s How to Catch a Star

She wrote the music for ACO Families production, How to Catch a Star, which premiered in 2022. 

How to Catch a Star follows the story of a boy who loves stars, and wishes he could have his own star, and so he hatches a plan to catch one. It's a fable of perseverance and the power of friendship.

“When I was writing the music for How to Catch a Star, I wasn’t necessarily writing it as music just for children. And children can be very adaptable anyway, so the music doesn’t have to be totally tailored to beginners – it doesn’t have to be The Wiggles all the time!”

Elena wasn’t afraid to create a beautiful, complex score for young ears, taking the star as the starting point for her composition.

“A star is something that sparkles, something that shines,” the composer says. “It gives you light, it gives you fun. It’s something you aspire to.”

Elena asked herself what would the star sound like if it was an audio element? and gave the music plenty of zig-zagging textures and spikey rhythms that will keep ears, young and old, engaged.

“I ended up composing something that is really spirited: there’s a lot of plucked string sounds and there's a lot of lightness, sparkle, uplift and joy.”

“Composing for children is my favourite thing. I close my eyes and imagine children in the room, and ask myself what they would want to hear.”

The music is written for string quartet, and was performed in the show's premiere season by a quartet of performed by ACO Musicians, including ACO Violin Ike See and ACO Cello Melissa Bernard.

“I love composing for string quartet,” Elena says. “There are no constraints because strings can do so much – they’re very rich instruments. They’re very full of different colours, and different textures, and different ways of articulating things.

“And these particular string players in the ACO are world class, they’re the best. I mean, they can do anything: they can strike with the back of the bow, they can do percussive sounds, they can do unexpected noises, they can do really high sounds… They can make the music sound like a landscape, it’s wonderful.”

The quartet will perform on the stage at the heart of the action, and children will have the chance to meet the musicians, and get up close to the instruments, after the show.

“What’s not to love?” Elena smiles.


How to Catch a Star tours nationally in 2024.