Patyegarang: shaping the music

  • Sydney
  • Music, Songs & Language, Highlights, Behind the Scenes

'I’m not one to analyse my creativity and I’m not sure where all the songs come from, but generally they appear to me in my dreams. Of course everywhere we go, everyday, there’s inspiration all around us waiting for a creative soul to embrace it and tell the stories in the only way they know how; and my way is through music.' - David Page

'I love writing music for a narrative, it takes me back to early Bangarra days when writing the music for our first full-length production Praying Mantis Dreaming. So to help celebrate 25 years, Stephen has chosen another narrative; to tell the story of a young, beautiful Eora woman, Patyegarang.

In the late 18th century Patyegarang befriended the colony’s timekeeper, Lieutenant William Dawes. In Dawes’ notebooks were transcripts of this interesting cultural exchange and these transcripts were where I began to approach this composition; opening the door to Patyegarang’s existence.

It is a great pleasure to be introduced to such a beautiful spirit in this way. To create the musical soundtrack of this remarkable moment in time has been very challenging, but gratifying. Stephen is salubrious, as always, he embraces every story with great passion and respect. We have had the most in depth discussions about when, what, how and who this courageous young women Patyegarang was. Dawes’ diaries allowed us to imagine what she looked like. They allowed us to imagine what her voice sounded like. But most of all, they told us about her extraordinary display of trust and friendship with Dawes. Patyegarang shared her language with him, helping him understand the importance of her world. Now allowing us to ask questions about what it must have been like living on the Eora nation during that period. But the biggest question for me was, ‘how close was their relationship?’

The style of music for Patyegarang has evolved organically. After Stephen and I talk about each section, I’ll dream up a melody on the piano and structure an arrangement, resourcing sounds of modern vocals and melodies with hints of classical instrumentation and electronic phrasing. Every work I’ve done for Bangarra features traditional language from the area where the story is based or from. In this case it is the Darug language of the Eora nation. My brothers are the gatekeepers in accessing the language and translation from English to language sentences, phrases and song lyrics. I am instantly inspired as soon as I hear the melody of spoken traditional language. It opens my creative world and allows me to dream and hear the songs, which make choosing the instrumentation easier. I always make sure I keep the arrangement simple and try not to let the music get in the way of the choreography.' - David Page