NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Edition 44

The ANU School of Music is currently pursuing a bold and progressive approach to the way it engages and does business with First Nations’ People and communities. At the heart of this approach is a recalibration of relations with First Nations’ Peoples and communities through a fundamental reorganisation of relations of power and influence within the institution based in principles of Indigenous self-determination and (social) justice.

When a Music School gets it right pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement a certain feeling grows within the school. “Feel” is a word that I intentionally borrow from music-making … First Nations peoples must feel that they have a place and a sense of directing certain things.

Yamaha is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments … It feels good to work for a company like Yamaha, knowing the significant contributions it has made to music making all over the world over the years. However, sometimes “Yamaha” feels like a distant idea. Being an old brand and originating in Japan, it can feel foreign and disconnected from local life here and now in Australia.

In 2020, the ANU School of Music devised an innovative research project aimed at engaging Indigenous composers with an old keyboard instrument, the Henrion piano.

There are many things that need to be remembered in relation to Indigenous Australians. Here are three we may have chosen to forget or have faded enough from our collective memory that they may be considered as forgotten.

The title of this edition is a provocation. While it is not too late, we at the academy have for too long done too little, and this issue takes a journey into the life of a music school that has decided to get on the ground and do its bit.

My office in the ANU School of Music shares a wall with Yil Lull studio, one of the few studios in Australia dedicated to recording First Nations’ music. The walls are thin. I often hear the wonderful music taking place on the studio floor.

I am really proud of our music school. It has accomplished a great deal, rebuilding, decolonising and allowing an evolution in First Nations practice to occur … But this is the easy part, the Western way, the way of doing. What I wish to explore is a process of building regard as we undertake transformative work.

Many wander through life unaware of the real story that led to their existence and the course their lives have taken. Is it important? For many, not really, for me, vitally important.

Professor Frank Millward talks to Will Kepa, producer, engineer and director of the Yil Lull Indigenous Recording Studio at the ANU School of Music.