wheatbelt is an a cappella vocal setting of WA poet Kevin Gillam’s poem of the same title. In it, I have attempted to stay true to his wonderful evocation of the West Australian wheatbelt and my own experiences of that strange semi-wild environment.
In addition to emulating native Australian bird calls and wind noises, the choir are required to play harmonic whirlies, wind chimes and small hand percussion instruments. These are utilized in an attempt to highlight the stillness and vastness of a countryside that dwarfs its human inhabitants while, paradoxically being utterly changed by them. Harmonically, I have emphasised modes utilising the flattened 2nd – an interval which Henry Tate in Australian Musical Possibilities (1926) suggested he heard in the call of the butcher bird and could be the basis for a characteristic “Australian scale”(Skinner, 2006).
This work was composed for the wonderful WAYM Chorale and their conductor Dr. Robert Braham, having been commissioned by the organising committee of the 2007 ASME National conference with funding assistance from ArtsWA. It is dedicated to Dr. Margaret Pride, who had a hand in the genesis of this work, and to whom I am thankful for teaching me so much about choral writing.
from the wicker chair on the verandah
lift your eyes above
the balustrade, see how heat
whitens the day,
hear the easterly stirring the peppermint leaves,
the screech of pink and grey galahs as they
feed in the shade of the ghost gum.
hold this tree,
feel its smooth cool torso, then rise
and drift across fields brown as lager,
follow the rumble of trucks into town
where sun glints off rusted tin and
the wind works like sandpaper on the bricks
in the old silo. now lift again
and rest on the burnt bones of the tuarts
on the ridge as a raven scrapes its cry
then drowns in blue.
finally, run your hands across these wheatfields,
and remember the blanket of fabric scraps
under which you slept on this verandah
and know that this land won’t bleed if
you cut it, and won’t cry
when you leave
© Kevin Gillam from the anthology Other Gravities by Kevin Gillam published by Sunline Press (21 Jarrad St, Cottesloe 6011) Reprinted here with permission.
The University of Newcastle Chamber Choir | This Land
Music Study Guide available from the Australian Music Centre here