Song To The Earth – Open Letter From Composer/Artistic Director Corrina Bonshek

'Song To The Earth' 'Song To The Earth' Image © Spill Photography

Acclaimed string ensemble DeepBlue, Australian percussion icon Michael Askill and his gong orchestra, Greta Kelly, and Redlands Coast performers present 'Song To The Earth’.


Playing Redland Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) in Queensland, 'Song To The Earth' is a euphoric musical experience over three acts, paired with awe-inspiring light installations. It takes place both indoors and outdoors, with an original score inspired by patterns in nature, by classical composer Dr Corrina Bonshek.

Things begin on the RPAC Performing Lawn for Act I. Then, for Act II, the string players will move to the beat of the rainforest in the Events Hall, before a powerful finale for Act III.

It's an opportunity to experience music intimately and up close to the players.

Here, Corrina Bonshek pens an open letter detailing the beginnings of 'Song To The Earth' and how it came to be, before it plays Redland Performing Arts Centre.

“I first had the idea for 'Song To The Earth' around 20 years ago when I was visiting Melbourne. I was walking through Federation Square and looked up and saw a flock of birds circling above. The patterns they made were so beautiful that I started to think, what would this sound like with instruments. Could I write a piece of music for acoustic instruments that had a swirling motion with the audience in the centre?

Fast forward 15 years and change of address to the Gold Coast, and I found a context to make this idea a reality – Bleach* Festival, one of Australia’s leading site-specific festivals.

There were many creative unknowns at the start. I was lucky to incubate my early ideas in the inaugural Generate GC programme by City of Gold Coast, and as part of Meredith Elton’s community engaged work 'Inherit The Wind' at Bleach Festival 2017. I had the idea of a large string ensemble spread out with the audience roaming around them. During 'Inherit The Wind', Kristian Baggerson had the awesome idea of making a circle of light sculptures that the performers would perform inside. This idea stuck.

SongtotheEarth DerekRepchuk
Image © Derek Repchuk

'Song To The Earth' grew from those early beginnings into a 90-minute, immersive, contemporary classical music event with awe-inspiring lighting installations.

Mimi Dennett created 18 x 2m high 'bloom' light sculptures that are an amazing canvas for the lighting design. Each is able to be programmed with different colours and patterns in time with the music. A number of lighting designers over the years have brought their flair and creativity to them including Wes Bluff and Jonathan Heeley. We can’t wait to see what Freddy Komp will come up with for our shows at Redland Performing Arts Centre.

Tiffany Beckwith-Skinner created small, wearable light sculptures that create clouds of light around the musicians’ faces. These solved an early problem of not being able to see the performers’ faces when they were in the middle of the circle away from the lights on the edge!

Musically, 'Song To The Earth' prompted me to think about the relationship of instruments, audience and space. From that first 20-minute pilot, it grew into three 30-minute parts, that prompt the audience to explore in different ways.

In the first part, the string players are positioned in a mandala-like pattern, and the audience is invited to walk through and between them. You can even look over a musician’s shoulder and see the score. The musicians pass the notes to each other in circles and spirals. One of the lovely things about working with DeepBlue is that they are so physically expressive and like to incorporate gesture/movement to express the music. Their movements really amplify the music as they catch notes and send them on. Experiencing this movement is like walking through a forest of musicians.

SongToTheEarth Art Work
Image © Art-Work

I recently received a 2022 Queensland Music Award Contemporary Classical Category for concert adaptation of this music, which I called 'Dreams Of The Earth'.

I wrote the second part after getting to know DeepBlue’s style better which I think is infectious and fun. This section is melody driven, with big joyous moments, and pulsing rhythms. The music keeps changing and transforming so it is like a river sweeping you along. I began to think about melody in terms of ripples of variation, so that where you stand determines what variant of the melody you hear. I love how DeepBlue have interpreted this music choreographically. At times, they dance around the performance area with their instruments. This acts as a big invitation for the audience to move too. Younger audience members especially enjoy following the 'pied-piper like' performers!

The final, third part features Michael Askill’s amazing collection of gongs, and acclaimed world musician Greta Kelly as a soloist on Persian violin. I imagined this section as the voice of the earth speaking back. It includes big, powerful waves of sound on the gongs as well as deeply evocative and soulful melody on shah kaman. What’s interesting about this section is that audiences often like to sit down. There is something about the slow time of the gong's long resonance and the complex frequencies that makes people want to go slow and even lie down! Audience members have been known to treat this section like a sound bath. At Redland Performing Arts Centre, audiences will have the benefit of a carpet should they wish to recline and enjoy.

'Song To The Earth' at Redland Performing Arts Centre is supported by Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund – an Australian Government Initiative, and is presented by Redland Performing Arts Centre, Corrina Bonshek & Collaborators, and DeepBlue. Corrina Bonshek & Collaborators is supported by the City of Gold Coast.

'Song To The Earth' was originally co-commissioned by City of Gold Coast, Bleach* Festival and the Queensland Government through the Regional Arts Development Fund and the Office of the Commonwealth Games and other funding sources. It was produced by Bleach*Festival.

It had its first stage creative development as part of 'Inherit The Wind', a collaborative and community engaged performance project directed and produced by Meredith Elton, with circular light installation concept by Kristian Baggerson.”

'Song To The Earth' plays Redland Performing Arts Centre 21-22 May.

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