One composer’s response to environmental issues is to send a musical as well as a political message.

The attempts by our current government to de-list so much of the currently World Heritage Listed Tasmanian forests is beyond awful. How they think they can blithely ignore the advisory bodies to UNESCO is beyond my comprehension. Even Terry Edwards, the head honcho of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, has been quoted as saying “We don’t support any or all exceptions to the world heritage area”. Clearly, nobody wants this.

And so I wrote some songs. That’s the skill I have to offer the world, a political statement of support in the form of an artwork. How is this helping? For me, art provokes thought and discussion, it both entertains and enlightens, it allows us a space to react emotionally to things we feel strongly about and perhaps then make the decision to act upon those feelings by exercising our democratic right to disagree publicly with the powers that be. Some people write subversive and witty signs and post photos on the internet of themselves marching the streets with them. I write songs instead.

It’s not only the political message I wish to communicate by composing these songs. It’s to show that the classical music world cares too. We are human beings who live in the real world and have strong opinions about things and given that we’re in the arts, you’d think that we’d be all over it, taking our opinions to audiences everywhere. Some are, many are not. 

The classical music world is always talking about how to increase our ‘relevance’ to the modern world, particularly with younger audiences. I dislike the use of the word ‘relevant’ in this context. I prefer ‘meaningful’ and ‘immediate’. Those classical musicians who spend at least a portion of their musical life making the effort to tell contemporary stories through the medium are the ones who are making a real difference. Other classical performers will of course have a harder time of it. Beethoven symphonies and Rossini operas are wonderful but are often too far away from the lives of your average Joe to be meaningful to very many people. The universal themes presented in classical music, those of conflict and resolution in whatever guise they take, abstract or narrative, operas or symphonies, chamber music or recitals; these things are in fact very now. We just need to learn to communicate it with people. Therein lies the challenge.

For myself, it’s a little contemporary eco-allegorical choral work that I’m contributing to both causes. It was commissioned by an amateur community choir the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus directed by Michelle Leonard one of the most adventurous classical music professionals I know, so it’s breaking down the barriers again between ordinary folks and classical music folks. And it’s an issue about which we all care very deeply. I’m pretty frickin’ proud of that.

Leichhardt Espresso Chorus performs music by Sally Whitwell June 14-15