Connecting with Country at nayri niara good spirit festival

This year's festival was held from 22 – 25 April and TSO players, William Newbery, Dinah Woods, Martin Penicka and Jules Evans participated, collaborating with First Nations spoken-word artists and musicians on a journey of deep listening and response. William reflects on this transformative experience.

After mentioning to several people that I would be attending the Nayri Niara Good Spirit Festival on Bruny Island for the first time and being assured that it was a unique and uplifting experience, I was excited to depart on Thursday April 21.

Friday evening was the opening ceremony, and I was offered a chance to contribute musically. After speaking a few words, I played a short piece composed by Angus Davison. My offering took place at the end of the ceremony, amongst the smoke, and alongside several beautiful aboriginal ceremonies and creative performances from Drill and Second Echo. It was a moving experience.

Friday evening was the opening ceremony. I was offered a chance to contribute (musically) to the ceremony. After speaking a few words, I played a short piece by Australian composer Angus Davison. My offering took place just before the smoking ceremony, several beautiful aboriginal ceremonies and creative offerings from Drill and Second Echo. It was a moving experience.

On Saturday morning, I collaborated in an improvised ‘sound bath’ with three trombonists. In the afternoon, Martin Penicka, Dinah Woods, Jules Evans and I played in an improvisation session in the Story Dome with artists we would perform with that evening. The session involved discussion of themes and creation of musical characteristics to complement their poems. It was well attended, and the audience were fascinated to watch and listen to us collaborating.

When our performance time ‘arrived’ (and that is what all of the performance times did… arrive cheerily, independent of the schedule, as per the spirit of this festival) we hopped onto the main stage – inside an open-air tent in 4 degrees. We improvised with three spoken word artists, and, in the final poem, local Aboriginal musician Warren Mason joined us on guitar. The audience was clearly excited having orchestral musicians contribute to the festival. Martin and I discovered that the speed with which you can play pizzicatos decreases dramatically in 4 degrees, and Jules was quick enough to observe that Warren had warmed up in E minor just before we played with him! The final poem, written and delivered by poet Young Dawkins, aimed to conclude by music swelling to a climax. The first part went well, but then we were all too polite to indicate an end, so we enjoyed several minutes on the stage before finding a natural conclusion.

On Sunday we all gave spontaneous performances on site, and I stayed for the closing ceremony, which was as beautiful as the opening. Throughout the festival, we saw traditional songs and stories as well as wonderful contemporary Aboriginal musicians. They gave beautiful and compelling performances.

Several times during the festival, Director Ruth Langford expressed her delight that the TSO had supported players to attend and contribute. For those of us who went, it was an adventure and a privilege to perform in a way that we very rarely do otherwise, to experience the festival and to meet members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal artistic community, as well as First Nations people from other states.

William Newbery

TSO is committed to a process of reconciliation with First Nations peoples. To learn more about why we value and prioritise reconciliation visit Reconciliation Australia.