Composer Notes: Owen Elsley and Boori Guman

20 Sep 2017 Composer Notes: Owen Elsley and Boori Guman

In late December 2016, I travelled to Cairns to meet with Gudju Gudju of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji to begin what has been a tremendously rewarding collaboration. In the heat and humidity of the Cairns wet season, we travelled to Copperlode Dam where Gudju Gudju, Lyn Williams and I spoke of the project ahead and the excitement of bringing together choirs from all over the world. I had never been to Cairns before, but being there, seeing the beauty of the landscape and lifestyle left an impression that continued to inspire me as the new commissioned work, Boori Guman, was created.

Boori Guman is based on the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji fire story. In the beginning, Gudju Gudju (the Rainbow Serpent) was the only one who had fire. In order to cook food and to warm themselves, the people resolved to get the fire for themselves. They chose the three most powerful warriors in the village: Djudulu (the pigeon), Jinjarlum (the grasshopper) and Badjin (the little black bird). Each tries in turn to get the fire, but it is swift Badjin who succeeds, taking the fire back on her tail. The people celebrated and chased Gudju Gudju into the water of the cascades, where he can still be seen warming himself by the sun in the form of a rainbow.

One of the greatest tools afforded me as composer of this work was to have the opportunity to write for three world-class youth choirs with such unique sounds and approaches. The story suits this three-choir structure perfectly, with each choir representing a warrior and bringing their distinctive character to each. The Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir sings Djudulu, the Wiener Sängerknaben sings Jinjarlum and the Sydney Children’s Choir sings Badjin before being joined by the massed choir in the celebratory final section.

When sharing the story with me, Gudju Gudju allowed me to dictate melodies from the songs of the story to include in the final work. Excerpts of the melodies appear both in full and incorporated into my own original thematic material to bring together our different musical and cultural identities and to share (to paraphrase the title of our upcoming concerts) “songs of our countries” with a wider audience. It was a real privilege for me to have the opportunity to collaborate with Gudju Gudju on this work and I am honoured to have had this story shared with me. I am beyond excited to hear the work in full at the premiere in the Sydney Opera House in October.

Commissioning of this work was supported by a grant from the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF), a partnership between the Queensland Government and Cairns Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.

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