The Art of Speech: Australian Rhetoric in Music — 2017 CMIF

Political speeches can be even funnier when set to music

Three groups, Brisbane-based Topology, Luminescence Chamber Singers and The Australian Voices, came together to create the musical setting for some of the most iconic speeches and moments in Australian history.

The texts of the penultimate concert of the 2017 Canberra International Music Festival came from artists’ works and speeches by politicians from over the last 100 years.  We heard the voices of David Malouf, Jessie Street, Charles Kingsford Smith, Tony Abbott, many other politicians and artists.

The Art of Speech: Australian Rhetoric in Music — 2017 CMIF
Photo by Peter Hislop

Topology opened the concert with a clear bright composition titled “Round Roads”, written as a dedication to Canberra, composed by Robert Davidson who tours regularly with Topology and is also the Head of Composition at the University of Queensland. Unfortunately, the muted and poor sound quality of the digital piano compared to the acoustic instruments detracted from the overall presence of the ensemble.

The Art of Speech: Australian Rhetoric in Music — 2017 CMIF
Robert Davidson (with Double Bass) photographed by Peter Hislop

Several of the compositions were humorous, but some were deeply moving. “Dark Hour”, composed by Gordon Hamilton, artistic director and conductor of The Australian Voices, put together this piece that touched everyone. The music was set to the speech Billy Hughes gave about the young men who died in Gallipoli.

In several of the pieces, the music closely followed the speech patterns and the pitch of the spoken words. Listening to the violin, piano, bass and saxophone, emulate the rhythmical patterns, and tones of a person’s speech showed us just how musical our talking can be.

Many of our favourite political speeches were included in this concert

The Art of Speech: Australian Rhetoric in Music — 2017 CMIF
Gordon Hamilton (Conducting) photographed by Peter Hislop

Like Gough Whitlam’s famous speech after his dismissal on the steps of old parliament house. Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, Kevin Rudd’s apology, and two highlights were Julia Gilliard’s misogyny speech and Noel Pearson’s eulogy for Gough Whitlam.

Who could forget Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech?

Gillard’s speech received a rousing round of applause from the audience: it was the strongest work of the day. Pearson’s words when transcribed for the singers, which was first performed in front of Noel Pearson on the ABC program Q&A in 2014, brought a hush to the audience, such was its power and beauty.

Towards the end of the concert, we were given a cavalcade of ignoble sound bytes set to music from politicians, titled “Unrepresentative swill”. This amusing piece represented possibly, politicians at their worst. Such as, Tony Abbot’s comment about “The suppository of all wisdom”, George Brandis and his statement, “People have a right to be bigots”, Abbott again with shirtfronting Putin and Gillard’s,” Moving forward means moving forward”.

In the encore, they couldn’t let the opportunity pass to send up perhaps the master of silly and sexist statements, Donald Trump. Set for the singers and Davidson on double bass, we heard many of the crazy things the president of America has uttered. It was frighteningly funny.

This article first appeared in CityNews

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