Dr Christopher Sainsbury

Dr Christopher Sainsbury

Senior Lecturer
School of Music

Room 504, ANU School of Music, Building 100, William Herbert Place


+61 2 6125 1228

BA (NRCAE), GradDipEd (UTS), MMus, PhD (Sydney)

Dr Christopher Sainsbury is an accomplished composer and a highly experienced music educator. He is also a guitarist, and a musician who is as much focussed on community as he is on industry. For some 35 years he has made a steady and sustained contribution to Australian music as a working composer in both professional and community music arenas. Some early premieres include by:  regional ensembles around Gosford City (his long time home) 1982 - 83, the Manly-Harboard big band at the Manly Jazz Festival 1985, and the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra for the New Music and the Orchestra series at QPAC 1986.

His output ranges from solo instrumental works to children’s songs, jazz to folk, and chamber works to large orchestral works. He finds fun and meaning in it all, and at any level! His influences include the mid to late C20th Australian composer James Penberthy (Sculthorpe and Sitsky’s elder by 20 years), and musicians as widely varied as American bassist and composer Steve Swallow to German composer Hans Werner Henze. He is also influenced by jazz music and surf music, including Australian band Taman Shud.

Early on Sainsbury won the Young Australian Composer Award in 1986, the College Medal from the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education (NRCAE) in 1986,[1] and was commissioned in 1988 by the Australian Chamber Orchestra for his Homage to TS Eliot. Later, in 1994 his incidental music for the play Aboriginal Protestors (directed by esteemed Indigenous director Noel Tovey) was featured at the Sydney Festival and the Weimar Festival, in 2002 his Concerto for Guitar written for Spanish virtuoso Jose Maria Gallardo Del Rey was commissioned for the Darwin International Guitar Festival 2002, and in 2004 his work My Eye Has Seen My Desire was toured by renowned Nederlands new music ensemble Duo Bosgraaf-Elias. In 2010 his orchestral work First Light won an international scores competition hosted and performed by the New England Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston, USA. The Boston Globe cited his music as being ‘cinematically tonal’ and ‘vivid’.

Sainsbury is a member of the Dharug nation (the Indigenous people of Sydney). He explores ways to sound his Australian Indigenous heritage, and draws upon sounds from his ‘aural homelands’ of Sydney and the Central Coast, referencing these in his music. This dovetails in well with his research focus on regional and community music. In 2015 he was the recipient of an Art Central Grant from Regional Development Australia (Central Coast) for Civic Melancholy and Brackish Songs. In 2016 he had commissions from Primal Dance Company for the modern ballet work Scar Tree (for the Sydney Fringe Festival and East Coast Tour), and also from former Senator Bob Brown to arrange The Earth Song (written by Brown) for community choir and for performance at Canberra Writer’s Festival 2016. In 2019 his regional narrative-based work Bark of thebidgee has been commissioned by the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF).

Sainsbury previously held a full time position at Eora College—an Indigenous college in Sydney—where he was both a Music Teacher and/or Head of Arts and Media for 25 years, from 1990 - 2015. He has also taught at UTS and at Avondale College. His work with other Indigenous musicians has resulted in several major APRA grants 2016 – 2018 for the Indigenous Composer Initiative (now known as Ngarra-burria: First Peoples Composers) in which he works closely with Moogahlin Performing Arts Redfern.

In his long-term home of the Central Coast he was director of a large community choir for several years. He has also been musical director for many Aboriginal theatre and music events in Redfern including Sydney’s first Koorabaret in 1992. His own group ‘A Band Called Bouddi (1992 – 1996) performed his song cycle based on a lecture by Dr David Suzuki which was premiered at the UNSW Environmental Symposium 1994 where Suzuki was a guest speaker. He has performed his own compositions from his solo guitar CD Anima at venues in all the south-eastern states.

Scores and recordings of Christopher Sainsbury’s works are available from the Australian Music Centre, Wirripang, the National Library Australia, as well as his website www.sainsburymusic.com

[1] CAEs were one of the main training institutions for artists, media practitioners, teachers and many musicians in the 1970s and 1980s.  

Updated:  29 January 2019/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications