Big Desert Sing Song: Community musicking in Central Australia

Presenter: Dr Julie Rickwood.

Music exists within space as social practice. Within the context of community music, musicking exists, enriches and enables within spaces as social practice. In the past, group singing traditions were embedded within geographical place, connected to specific cultures and most often performed for cultural purposes. Over time, and as a result of colonisation and globalisation, the advent of technology, the inclusion of more and more global musics within popular music as both creative and commercial product, and the increase in cross-cultural exchange, this is no longer necessarily the case.

This paper will examine the development of cross-cultural community musicking in Central Australia. It is based on an historical account of two community choral events: The Big Sing in the Desert, a weekend workshop that has evolved since 2010, and Desert Song, a community choral festival that developed from the Alice Desert Festival and emerged as a separate entity in 2012. While two distinct events they are closely linked in the enriching and enabling of musical practice in Central Australia, particularly for Aboriginal singers. The paper will analyse the social practices that exist within these spaces of musical practice and argue that community musicking is inherently an interconnected and complex practice that has social, cultural, political and musical impacts on the singers and their audiences.

Dr Julie Rickwood is currently a lecturer at the School of Music. She has been a Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Humanities and the Arts since completing her interdisciplinary cross-culture doctoral research project We Are Australian: An ethnographic investigation of the convergence of community music and reconciliation. Julie has degrees from ANU and a teaching qualification from the University of Canberra. She has published articles and book chapters on popular and community music, exploring themes such as cross-cultural exchange, place, gender and political activism.

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