I wrote a grand total of two pieces of music during 2020/2021 and one of these was a very short piano piece. The other, Power in Stillness, a more substantial work for SATB choir commissioned by the Australian Chamber Choir, will finally see the light of day next month when the choir kicks off its 2022 season. This is a joyful thing, for several reasons. It means musicians are again able to put on concerts, audiences are again able to hear music live and experience music in shared spaces with other people, and on a personal level I get to hear my music brought to life by a group of fabulous musicians.
It has been a long time between drinks - 2020 and 2021 were lean years for many people in the creative and performing arts. But I feel that this period of lockdown, isolation, strangeness, introspection, loss and anxiety is giving rise to many new creations that attempt to reflect on or make sense of this weird time. My first outing to a live music concert in quite a while was to Claire Edwardes’ performance at the Melbourne Recital Centre, featuring compositions from her new CD Rhythms of Change, at least two of which reflect on aspects of the covid pandemic. There will no doubt be many more works emerging across art forms exploring these themes. Reflecting on lived experience is one of the things artists do, and this has certainly been one of the driving motivators in my work for some time.
I composed Power in Stillness during the covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, while navigating the reality of having two teenagers at home attempting school and a husband in the next room attempting to teach high school English remotely. It was a very strange time and I remember feeling that time itself had taken on a strange quality. There were long periods of time where not much happened, long pauses, a lot of waiting, a lot of time to sit and think and just be. As a family we spent a lot of time together in the same place, and daily ‘mental health walks’ became a necessity. We live near a hidden gem of a creek – Edgars Creek – that snakes quietly through some of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, the land of the Wurundjeri / Woi Wurrung people. Many of my walks would be along this creek, through groves of eucalypts, past rocky escarpments, listening to the quiet, the waters gently passing over mossy rocks, the native birds, particularly the kookaburras. It was a time to breathe, to listen, to feel the ground under my feet, to spend time with trees and the feeling of slowness they evoke, the sense of connection to the land and the land’s history reaching back before European voices were heard here. I loved these walks: the connection with stillness and the land, listening with my whole body. The concept of listening to the land, ‘Deep Listening’, is as old as the land itself: it reminds me of the immense wisdom and knowledge of First Nations peoples, it reminds me to be humble and grateful. In composing Power in Stillness I sought to evoke these qualities of stillness, of listening to the “spaces between”, and also reflect on the concepts of isolation and connectedness that the various lockdowns seemed to bring into focus.