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Julia Gillard's misogyny speech gets choral makeover

Features - Classical Music

Julia Gillard's misogyny speech gets choral makeover

by Clive Paget on March 17, 2014 (March 17, 2014) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
Rob Davidson's setting of "that speech" might just go viral thanks to Gordon Hamilton and Australian Voices.

Composer Rob Davidson has set Julia Gilliard’s famous “Not now. Not ever!” speech of October 9, 2012 as a piece of choral music and it looks set to become as popular worldwide as the original.

Gordon Hamilton and Australian Voices launched their performance on YouTube earlier today and it has already had over 1500 hits, garnering 73 thumbs up (as opposed to 3 thumbs down).

“Rob had already turned PM Kevin Rudd’s historic apology speech into a fantastic work for The Australian Voices, and we naturally looked next to Gillard’s defining moment in parliament,” said Artistic Director Gordon Hamilton.

"It struck me that behind the politics there was a lot of personal feeling being communicated," said composer Rob Davidson. “I wanted to put a frame around this slice of time, to heighten my perception of what was being said behind the words, in the intonation of the voice, and in the dynamics of what was being said in interjections and reactions.”

There were a number of challenges in lining up the speech with live singing, according to the participants. The composer had to precisely notate the rhythm and melody ‘sung’ by Gillard in the speech. After learning it, the ensemble aligned it with a click-track which only the conductor could hear.

“The Australian Voices are the ideal performers for such a work,” said Davidson. “These brilliant young artists threw themselves into the highly unfamiliar approach to choral singing.”

On the question of Gillard’s accent, Hamilton comments: “We faced an interesting decision early on: should we imitate Gillard’s distinct accent? She actually almost says “boy this man,” rather than “by this man”. Although our attempts at her accent elicited howls of delight during rehearsal, we decided that it was best to remain detached from her accent, like a Greek chorus, commenting rather than participating.”

The Australian Voices premiered the piece live last week at the launch of the Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane. LNP Arts Minister Ian Walker who was present  praised the composition, cheekily requesting that his own speech be turned into a cantata.

Despite its mixed reception at home, the former prime Minister’s speech went viral around the world, widely praised overseas for forthrightly addressing an important modern-day political issue. Davidson’s setting, which works along similar lines to verbatim theatre, utilises the speech rhythms of the original and takes advantage of the repetitive nature of Gillard’s swingeing delivery.

“I hope that Gillard appreciates it,” Hamilton says. “Indeed, the same goes for Tony Abbott and listeners of all political stripes. The work is not intended to be a political statement; it’s just a piece of music. It presents Gillard as a character with something to say. Rob has also created music out of Bill Clinton, Gough Whitlam and Hitler speeches, and those too has the same non-partisan tone.”

Davidson’s Not Now, Not Ever! looks set to join an illustrious line of musical takes on political speeches incuding Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait and Michael Daugherty's setting of JFK's Ask not what your country can do for you in his opera Jackie O.

The 21 singers (Lachlan Weh, Sam Boyd, Amber Evans, David Faraker, Christina Mairs, Martin Cardell, Alma Brock, Jacob Ballard, Eliza Scott, David Brodsky, Eleanor Streatfeild, Andrew Firth, Tali Kellam-Pearson, Lisa Cheney, Dhanika Rubasinghe, Georgie Ostenfeld, Nathan Falkenhagen, Jenny Pan, Bevan Moller, Dani Settle and Dominic Hefferan) don’t just sing, they effectively inhabit the piece acting it out with voices and engaged personalities.

Enjoy!