The site of the first gazetted burial ground for what is now the city of Perth, was the unexpected place that enabled contemporary audiences to connect to some of the thousands of lives that played out for better or worse in the formative years of the colony.
Classical guitarist Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald was Artist in Residence at East Perth Cemeteries in 2016. He was given total artistic freedom to interrogate the powerful themes and stories represented by the collection of graves. Jonathan’s residency developed into Sound from the Ground, a powerful and unforgettable musical experience.
The music narrative, both historical and contemporary, revealed new and unexpected layers of significance and stories told by the Cemeteries’ graves. A highlight of the residency was the commission of an original work by Perth composer Duncan Gardiner titled “Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather”. The first seven movements begin with direct quotations of hymns that were historically performed at funerals or music associated with mourning for each of the seven faith traditions represented in the Cemeteries. The piece continues, inspired by the musical themes and emotions inherent in the pre-existing works. A powerful reminder of the layered nature of heritage and the shared human experience, it concludes with an eighth movement, as an offering to the Indigenous people of Perth.
Sound from the Ground culminated in evocative performances by Jonathan and members of the Perth Guitar Quartet, Duncan Gardiner, Melissa Fitzgerald and Jameson Feakes in St Bartholomew’s Church. It attracted sell-out crowds. The music, performed in a heritage place and surrounded by the graves formed a full immersive, memorable and unique experience.
The project won the 2017 Museums and Galleries National Awards in the Interpretation, Learning and Audience Engagement category. The judges described Sound from the Ground as:
“A complex and multi-layered project which unearths much early WA colonial history through the gravesites. The innovation displayed by the musicians in undertaking research, composing music, threading old musical scores and then producing a quality performance night shows a commitment to excellence and innovation in this new National Trust environment. The filming, tv exposure, blogging and very professional program ensure the project is well documented and hopefully the music will be used again in some other context. An impressive and original public program to enhance and promote the stories associated with an unusual collection.”