Singing about separation

For most, traditional choirs are not considered vessels of political change.

But for renowned organ virtuoso and choir director Douglas Lawrence, they can be a powerful platform to spark important conversations.

Lawrence’s latest work with the Australian Chamber Choir By The Waters of Babylon is a program of music inspired by Psalm 137 and the plight of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia.

The program’s title is drawn from an elegy in the Christian Old Testament that tells the story of the Israelites, in despair over their capture and removal from Jerusalem and the promised holy land.​

Mr Lawrence said he curated the program around this “profoundly moving text” prompted by his “horror at what our government is doing [to refugees]”.

“It’s very topical and very real,” he said.

Combining elements of Bach, Palestrina, 16th century old English pieces, and contemporary Australian composers, Mr Lawrence said the program is “a very interesting and challenging piece.”

“It wasn’t a difficult one to put together because there is so much written about the plight of refugees in history,” he said.

But it is difficult to perform, according to Mr Lawrence. He said the contemporary pieces are especially technically complex, proving a challenge even after performing them 16 times.

“The modern pieces are extremely difficult. If you looked at a piece of 18th century music, it would look logical. But these contemporary works… the time changes nearly every bar,” he said.

The program features an original piece from Melbourne based composer, Tom Henry, called Uncertain Journeys. It includes stories from asylum seekers awaiting their cases to be assessed.

”Most fine music means different things to different people. But I think that there is definitely something in this concert for everybody,” Mr Lawrence said.

“It’s political and it’s passionate.”

The Australian Chamber Choir will perform By The Waters of Babylon at St Jude’s Anglican Church from 7:30pm, Saturday, August 26.

Photo: Emma Phillips.

As published in the Southern Highland News, August 25. 

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