So it turns out I AM an Australian composer.

When asking if I am really an Australian composer, and if it mattered all that much anyway, I was asking for trouble.  Especially in the week preceding Australia Day.

Comments posted to my Facebook page convinced me that when I questioned the value of national identity I did so in a myopia of macro-thinking (thinking “do I represent this nation?”), and was forgetting all about the micro-realities about identity (“do I live in my community?”).

Of course it matters if I am Australian to the children from Australia who play my music: me being from where they are from tells them that composers live in their community, which is a double shock to some people (the fact that composers are alive at all, and that they live down the road).  It matters to the Kiwi kids who find out I grew up half an hour away from where they live, or I went to school at their high school.

Knowing that someone just like you (who lives in your street, who went to your school) has grown up to be a composer tells children that this is a perfectly legitimate career choice for them to make, and that real music (published and all) is composed in the very community they are living in.

This can be a transformational realisation, especially in a world (classical music) where so many of the heroes are from a foreign country and well dead.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a piano student in Germany, but it has to be an entirely different sensation, knowing that the Beethoven sonata you are learning was composed in a house only a short trip down the road, or that the Bach Prelude and Fugue you are practicing was first performed in the neighbouring town.  It simply has to change the way you set about the task, playing something indigenous, something local.

Then there’s the other aspect to my ambivalence about claiming to be an Australian composer: what does that even mean?  Well, Prince William’s speech writers summed it up for me on Thursday when they said that Australians are notable for their vibrancy, their straight forward ways and their classic sense of humour.  I caught a sound-bite of Prince William (participating in the state of Victoria’s Australia Day celebrations) listing off these admirable Australian attributes, and I realised that, on the basis of these qualities, I am entirely and deeply Australian, and my music is even more so.

What a relief.

2 thoughts on “So it turns out I AM an Australian composer.

  1. Sometimes I think Australian is applied to anyone famous who has lived for at least a few minutes in Australia. [Percy Grainger springs to mind.]

    But also, Australians are people who identify themselves as Australians, and Percy certainly did that and deliberately used Australian terminology and wrote on Australian themes.

    He could be a bit pompous, but!

    I agree with you that it is good to know that someone lives where you live and shares the same values.

    I enjoyed presenting a U3A program of Australian music last year, and was thrilled to be able to play the Classicla Destiantions theme by Paul Terracini who actually teaches at our conservatorium in Bathurst [amongst other roles], a new song by by Lawrie Orchard, who was our first director and the first Bathurst U3A Music Appreciation presenter and also Earwig by Tim Hansen, who hails from Orange. [Though Bathurst and Orange have a Melbourne-Sydney rivalry when it suits…]

  2. I believe that your identity is within you.

    Your mind interprets experiences, reactions (perceived identity of you from others) and feelings to create that identity.

    No certifiable, legislative body can totally embrace, reconcile or ratify it for you.

    There are English people here (that’s the only passport they have) that feel they are Australian. [Percy in reverse.]

    There are up to 15th generation Chinese oriented people here … and they identify as Australian.

    There are people here of my birthroots who have traded with Torres Strait Islanders ALL through their known hi-STORY-ical millenia because they belong to the same area…yet they are NOT Australian, but TSI people are.

    And today, I am. When I was born, I was. The legislation changed. I wasn’t. I certified it. So I STILL am!

    It may not add up in a government process or someone else’s oratorical version of who you are…

    …SO I can only deduce that our SHARED experience of Australia as a birth or home environment – be it legislative or empirical – can only be confirmed by our actions to BE and DECLARE that we are Australian before the world…

    …even if you’re waiting for the piece of paper to prove it!

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