Steve Francis on Bennelong: Music Note

  • Sydney
  • Music, Behind the Scenes, Program
Writing original music for any production is always a journey of discovery and Bennelong is no exception.

When Stephen and I had our first meeting, he told me he was interested in creating a work that not only honoured the amazing story of the man himself and those around him, but also one that spoke to the past and the present. A work that was both narrative and yet abstract; operatic one moment and intimate the next. For me it was a challenge that was exciting and equally scary.

On the anniversary of David’s passing, we watched an interview with him where he talked about the process of writing. He spoke of sitting for days in the studio trying to create without joy and then how sometimes music just flowed through him and a new piece would come together in a matter of hours. I’ve always said that I don’t really know where the music comes from, so hearing David’s thoughts reassured me that if it wasn’t coming that I should try and be patient because it could at any time. I had hoped to honour his legacy on this production and I will admit that when I was blocked I would often ask for his help and some of the resulting music that “flowed through me” I felt was a gift from him. Of course, as was his way, sometimes he would tell me ‘You’re on your own … you’ll be right” as a way of pushing me to strive for something better. If you have a keen ear, you will hear a couple of tributes to his music in this score.

Many creatives speak of the value of collaborators but on this production I cannot stress enough the importance of them.

Firstly Stephen Page. We have spent time every day since starting this journey riffing, investigating, laughing and inspiring each other. His amazing storytelling and imagery are the core of this work and have informed the music more than I can express. On top of this, the layer he adds to the music with his choreography always amazes me. Watching his work during rehearsals inspired me to aim higher as I created music for the upcoming chapters. Matthew Doyle is an exceptional human whose personal quest to rekindle his culture has been instrumental in so much of the creation of Bennelong. He has shared with me not only his stories and language but also his beautiful voice and original songs that have elevated the music to new heights.

Alana Valentine is a friend and a gifted playwright. I wasn’t sure how Alana’s work might be incorporated into the score but in the end her words have been an unexpected highlight. Whether it’s the scrambling of her poem in Rewind/ Onslaught/ Repatriation, the reimagining of a working chant in Responding or the spoken word of Hunter in Rejection, Alana’s input has been instrumental in pushing me to create what I hope are some very unique pieces.

I have tried to create an eclectic score so alongside the more expected Bangarra music, don’t be surprised when you hear some strains of Rule Britannia, a touch of Waltzing Matilda, some Haydn and a rekindling of a salty old sea shanty. I also need to make a shout out to all the performers especially the dancers who have contributed to the soundtrack, the David Page Fellowship recipient Tristan Field for all his help with the research and also to Jake Nash, stage manager Matthew Schubach and Bangarra’s rehearsal director Anton for their support.

I hope you enjoy.

Steve Francis