• Ross Edwards
  • Sacred Kingfisher Psalms (2009)
    (for Mixed Choir)

  • Wise Music G. Schirmer Australia Pty Ltd (World)

Programme Note

I began to compose Sacred Kingfisher Psalms immediately after completing another a-capella choral work, Missa Alchera (Mass of the Dreaming) for the Brisbane Chamber Choir. I compiled texts excerpted from the Latin Vulgate versions of Psalms 1 and 130 as well as the names of birds in the language of the Aboriginal people who inhabited the district that is now Sydney long before Europeans arrived in Australia. These ancient texts have in common a strong sense of the spirit and significance of place and an awareness and acceptance of implicit natural laws recognized throughout the ages as being essential for balance and harmony, renewal – and, ultimately, survival. I have treated them musically as both chants and praises with a strong connection to the earth.

The work springs abruptly from the interiority of Psalm 130 into a vigorous ‘bird chant’. In this ritual chanting of bird names, prominent among them dyaramak, the sacred kingfisher, a close relation of the kookaburra, there are many resonances of earlier material as well as a return to the Phrygian mode and its pentatonic derivatives which underpin the psalm settings. No attempt has been made to mimic either Aboriginal music or birdsong: the rhythmic patterns and drones are directly influenced by my subconscious absorption of the sounds of the south-eastern coastal environment of Australia where I have spent most of my life. The spontaneous appearance of some universal characteristics of children’s song seemed in keeping with the theme of renewal.

Sacred Kingfisher Psalms, composed in Sydney and the Blue Mountains west of the city, was commissioned by Ars Nova Copenhagen, the Edinburgh International Festival Society, The Song Company, and Father Arthur E. Bridge for Ars Musica Australis. The first performance was by The Song Company, conductor Roland Peelman, on May 22, 2010, at The Fitter’s Workshop for the Canberra International Music Festival.