Sydney choir take musical stand for ecology

August 13, 2019

Green Footprints

If you like political music, and appreciate the power of many voices singing and harmonising together, then you should get a hold of this 2018 offering from Sydney-based choir Ecopella.

The collection starts with "Acknowledgement", a vocal acknowledgement of country, written by soprano Deb Jones, also the director of Sydney’s Solidarity Choir, a sister organisation to Ecopella. Deb explains how the song came about: "The choir were on the lookout for a song that gave voice to how we as non-indigenous Australians feel about what’s been going on. So I decided it was time I gave the Acknowledgement a shot. It’s an acknowledgement and a promise, really. We acknowledge injustices done in our name to the Aboriginal people of this country, and we will step up and speak out."

The members of Ecopella are all active in the environment and social justice movements in some way or another and the tracks are all skilfully arranged by musical director, Miguel Heatwole.

The second track, "Listen Deep to the Land" is a strong piece, with beautiful harmonies, written by tenor Dallas De Brabander. The only instrument present is a mandolin, which lifts to the song, complimenting the prominent alto voices in this piece. The song was inspired by the words of Aboriginal writer Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann who describes deep listening, "dadirri", as "quiet, still awareness … and the waiting". The song came to Dallas as she walked in the national park near her home in Bundanoon.

"Wolli Creek", written in 2014 by soprano Sue Gee, celebrates a victory -- the conservation of some rare urban bushland. It has a hymn-like quality, as do other tracks on the album, including ”Newell Highway” – written by John Warne which is set to a late 19th century tune, by English composer Charles Parry.

"Of Trees and Humankind", another strong track written n 1982 by Wendy Joseph is “a passionate view of the impact on forests and indigenous people made by brutal invaders in Europe and Australia. It is rendered in a sophisticated choral format. Ecopella and the Solidarity Choir also sing this together.

"Whisper on the Waves" was written by Ecopella member, alto, Kaye Osborn, who describes her very first song as being 'about one of my saddest sadnesses'. In it she displays musical and poetic sensibility, but also a deep understanding of the environmental crisis.

"The Last Leviathan" was written by Andy Barnes in the 1980s about the impact of whaling and is still relevant today. Ecopella keeps singing this song, “because the ban is routinely defied by Japanese whalers, the killing of whales is an unnecessary cruelty, and the song is so beautiful it makes our altos cry”.

The album includes a cover of Cole Porter’s 1934 song "Everything Goes" – fittingly rebooted, with new words by Ecopella’s musical director, Heatwole.

Video: Everything Goes. Ecopella. TenorGuitar1.

Extractivism and its impacts on the earth feature in another strong track, "Oil on Snow" written by Brian Jonathan. Inspired by oil drilling in the Arctic, the strong poetry and melody of this song led Heatwole to create an intricate choral arrangment.

Alto, Christina Mimmocchi’s song "Let There Be Peace", was “my small personal way of dealing with what I see in the news every day. War and its glorification, abuse of refugees, the death penalty, climate change … you know the deal (Terrorists! Ebola! What they put in Coca Cola!)".

"Unnecessary Things" was written by Melbourne songwriter Annie Kennedy, who once sang this moving piece to Heatwole at the Nariel Creek Folk Festival. Another moving piece is “Fear” written by Ecopella bass Paul Spencer and full of emotive harmonies.

The two final tracks were written and arranged by Heatwole. "Earthly Love", a hymn celebrating the bond shared by all people who take action for the planet, whether they've met personally or not, is nicely contrasted by the final track, "Blue and Emerald", which is a rousing call to action, a celebration of solidarity and the struggles of the many against the greedy few. It makes for a strong finish to the collection.

Go and see Ecopella live when next they play, but be sure to add this CD to your political music collection in the meantime.

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