The Night Parrot Is Back: Jessica Wells Explores A Mystery For Queensland Music Festival

  • Written by  Cooper Flick
  • Thursday, 04 July 2019 16:15
Published in Arts  
'The Night Parrot' 'The Night Parrot'

The plight of the elusive and endangered Night Parrot will be recreated in the world premiere of the commissioned work by Australian composer Jessica Wells.


Immortalised as one of the world’s most mysterious birds, the Night Parrot will be the centrepiece of inspiration in the upcoming musical work of the same name as part of Queensland Music Festival. Disappearing at the end of the 19th century, bird enthusiasts and scientists alike became fascinated in following clues and tracking down the nocturnal bird, which went on to inspire a novel about a man who drives himself insane with his relentless search for the creature.

Jessica Wells, one of Australia’s most celebrated composers, was set the task of putting this story to music for a performance that would bring the message of environmental conservation to people in a different way.

“I thought that this was a really great way of bringing the message to people in a different way, that we almost lost this bird and now that we've found it again, we've gotta protect it. It's a really wonderful message to say that we can do it, we can do these things, preserve what we have,” Jessica explains.

“I love travelling and since having kids we really enjoy going to different places and looking into the wildlife and flora and fauna of the area, we've been to some pretty cool places. Just snorkelling in the beautiful pristine coral reefs that we have is just stunning, and it's very sad to think that we could be losing our coral reefs up in Queensland because of the bleaching and other problems with climate change. Those things are always in the back of your mind when you're travelling and looking at what we have.”

In order to create a piece which successfully paints a picture of the Night Parrot, a lot of research had to be done, but with the help of her father, a former journalist, Jess had no problem getting what she needed.

“I didn't know anything about this Night Parrot story and we were thinking, 'what're we gonna use for text?'... My dad and I were working together at the time. He'd written one of my opera pieces before so I sent him off to the library and he spent a lot of time researching this story. There were books, there were movies, documentaries, articles, so many areas to explore and the history of this little bird is pretty crazy.

“Everyone thought it was extinct and didn't see it for 100 years until finally they had some evidence that it could still be around, and they found it in 2013. So he did all the research and wrote the text and I worked on it a bit with him as well and now we have a pretty amazing result.”

Jess says that she relied on videos, images and Google Earth and other technologies to assist her in recreating a landscape which she had never seen before.

“The piece starts off with a very landscape-y feel, I’m trying to give the impression of being out in Winton. I’m very excited to go there for the premiere because I’ve never been out someone like that before so I’ve had to rely on imagery, videos and stuff like that, Google Earth, just to see what’s out there and to try to capture the feeling of that landscape.”

Possibly Jessica’s hardest task was the recreation of the bird’s unique but conservative call.

“It's a very quiet little parrot. It hides away, not like these big squawky parrots, it has quite a tiny little ‘ding ding’ kind of call so it’s very delicate and I’ve had to place that very carefully into the composition in a couple of spots. We have a pretty amazing result. There will be some visuals, poetry and humour as well but it’s also laced with horror that this is what used to happen, so it gets the message across in a fun way about what we’ve done as human beings and how we need to change.”

'The Night Parrot' will have its world premiere in at Shire Hall Winton, the home of the Night Parrot on 17 July, before heading to Queensland Performing Arts Centre on 19 July.

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