Last Saturday night I had the most amazing experience of my writing life. One of my poems, Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre, was granted a new life, taken out of my hands and transformed into something ethereal and powerful by a host of talented individuals. A few months ago I was contacted out of the blue by Christie Anderson, the artistic director of Young Adelaide Voices. She asked if I would be interested in allowing the poem to be used in a commissioned work of choral music by internationally renowned composer and conductor Stephen Leek.
Yes. YES. There was no hesitation whatsoever. But I have to be honest and admit that secretly I wondered how on earth it would sound. To me, the poem didn’t seem particularly musical since it didn’t rhyme or possess any kind of meter. Well, what did I know? Nothing, it turns out. This just goes to show the incredible potential of artistic collaboration and how a piece can be granted a completely different life in another medium.
My excitement really started to build when my lovely friend, short story writer Rebekah Clarkson, told me her daughter Ruby had just brought home some sheet music and noticed a familiar name attached to the lyrics. Ruby is a phenomenally gifted singer and musician and one of her many outlets for musical talent is singing with Young Adelaide Voices. The choir had just started rehearsing the piece and when I asked about it Ruby was very diplomatic, saying it was “not for the faint-hearted choir” with its eight separate time changes and tricky lines of tongue-twisting alliteration. Rebekah sent me a photo of the pages and for a musical illiterate like me all those strange and frantic markings made it look like a piece of alien legalese.
The night of the performance arrived. The lovely people of Young Adelaide Voices gave me the full VIP treatment and ushered me to my seat in the front pew of St Peter’s Cathedral. Soon row after row of black-clad choristers aged from 5 to 35 were filing into the sanctuary. The choir was huge, about 120 strong, and their sound was absolutely incredible.
There’s something about the pure, unadulterated sound of massed human voices – to listen is a transcendentally beautiful experience. You can feel yourself being uplifted. I was almost in tears and this was well before they got to the final piece, Stephen Leek’s composition “Flying in the Lake, Swimming in the Sky, Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre”.
All I can say is that Stephen and the Young Adelaide Voices choir created something absolutely exquisite. I was swept away. Hearing those familiar words embedded in such music transformed those minutes into an experience of beauty beyond anything I could have imagined. The tears would not stop rolling down my cheeks. Thankfully, Andrew recorded it for me because I was so transfixed that when I try to recall how it sounded I get all teary but can’t actually remember much detail. I’ll post the video below but unfortunately his battery ran out a minute or so before the end.
Everyone was so gracious and generous; Stephen invited me up to join him in taking a bow at the end of the performance and choir presented me with a gorgeous terrarium full of succulents. It was a completely joyful experience and I’m still on a high today.
That night opened my eyes to the alchemy that becomes possible when creative people combine their talents. Words, music and voice; those distinct elements of last night’s performance were transformed into something greater and more beautiful than the sum of their parts. Artistic collaboration. I’m a born-again fan.
Many thanks to to the wonderful Rebekah Clarkson and the Washington family for the photos.