Emergence (Deborah Cheetham)

Program note

Portrait of a woman
Deborah Cheetham AO, Australian composer (Image: Frank Farrugia)
DEBORAH CHEETHAM AO, YORTA YORTA WOMAN, SOPRANO, COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR HAS BEEN A LEADER AND PIONEER IN THE AUSTRALIAN ARTS LANDSCAPE FOR OVER 25 YEARS.

In the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for ‘distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance.’

In 2009, Cheetham established Short Black Opera as a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers. The following year she produced the premiere of her first opera, Pecan Summer. This landmark work was Australia’s first Indigenous opera and has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers.

In 2015, Cheetham was inducted onto the Honour Roll of Women in Victoria and in April 2018 received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Australia for her pioneering work and achievements in music.

In 2019, Cheetham established the One Day in January project designed to develop and nurture Indigenous orchestral musicians, launching Ensemble Dutala in 2021. She received the Sir Bernard Heinze Memorial Award for service to music in Australia and the Merlyn Myer Prize for Composition, the Melbourne Prize for Music, and, in 2019, was inducted onto the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll. 

PROGRAM NOTE
DEBORAH CHEETHAM AO (B. 1964)
Emergence

World premiere, new National Museum of Australia commission

Are we there yet?

Frankly the answer is no. But we are emerging into the new normal. Even though it has been quite a while since I have heard that term used, I know that for artists our life, our community – in fact the whole world – looks nothing like what I considered to be normal pre-pandemic.

Yet here we are.

The play on the words emergency and emerging captures with reasonable accuracy my feelings around the new form of denial we are living in.

I ask myself, what just happened? I have no real answer to this question.

For the best part of a year I have felt as though I was caught up in a kind of silent emergency. Sirens are wailing but can anyone hear them anymore?

We look for certainty. When we find it in this work it is celebrated with verve and a kind of abandon which I thought had abandoned me.

I am no longer the same person, composer, soprano as the one who entered into 2020 in good faith. Am I more? Am I less? Time will tell.

For now I am content to emerge and see what path can be forged.

© Deborah Cheetham AO

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