Launch of Songbook warrma piipa

September 7, 2023

Photo Glenn Campbell

It was a beautiful Monday evening when a group gathered on the banks of the river, right here in Meanjin, on the lands of the Turrbal and Jagera people. Guests met at the Maritime Museum at the tip of South Bank to honour elders, story and music … especially music. In a new joint initiative Queensland Symphony Orchestra along with longtime QSO friend and the foremost didgeridoo player in the world, William Barton have partnered in an extraordinary new project. This project, called Songbook warrma piipa seeks the next generation of storytellers and song – makers to collaborate and express a song to Country.  

Welcomed to country we heard stories of the land on which we were standing, before William and his family gathered to share the beginning of this unique story. Warma piipa, kudu patija, ngata waru (Songbook: My Story; Your Story; Our Journey) is a unique and ambitious multi – year, multi – art form project that weaves stories, song, music and creative expression into a cross – Queensland Journey composition. 

This journey commenced in William Barton’s ancestral country Mount Isa / Kalkadoon last month where a Ceremony was held to open a collaborative circle with QSO. It will continue with William and the QSO visiting communities including Cairns/ Yarrabah, Rockhampton/Woorabinda, Gold Coast/Yugambeh, Charleville/ Bidjara (which is William’s mother’s country) and finally to close the circle of the warrma piipa (Songbook) Ceremony back in Mt Isa/ Kalkadoon. 

QSO Chief Executive Yarmilla Alfonzetti, who accompanied William and his mother, Aunty Dalmae Barton, to Mount Isa/ Kalkadoon for the Ceremony said warrma piipa (Songbook), was a pivotal imprint for the company. 

“As our journey deepens and ultimately gains momentum, and we have made a pledge to lead with compassion, to listen closely, and to find ways and places in all that we do for our First Nations kindred spirits to become part of QSO evermore, “ she said, “We are fortunate to have William Barton lead us in this extraordinary partnership.”

William has been a part of QSO since he was 17 years old. And he has had a rich 25-year history with the orchestra. She said, “Travelling and working alongside William, making music and visiting communities to find the next generation of First Nations storytellers and song – makers will be one of the most powerful experiences we will all have, and we are committed to ensure it will last for generations to come.”

William said that warrma piipa was a pathway to change. 

“We are in a time of great change and process, and  warrma piipa is how I am using my voice together with the sonic voice of Queensland Symphony Orchestra, plus the intimacy of individual instruments to represent ideas and interpret the legacy of landscape, and the hope and potential of those who live on it.”

The closing Coroboree will include musical performance and song and dance from each of the five communities. A collaboration of visual artists will create a canvas to celebrate and represent warrma piipa (Songbook) enabling the message to be passed across the landscape of song-lines of woven stories, language and music. 

We were lucky enough to see the message stick which will be used to spread words of this incredible journey, and in a modern twist, the message sticks have a USB inside to record the journey. William Barton’s music and story – telling have won him Arias and have taken him to concert halls and cities the world over, but it is his home country and his home Orchestra which he has chosen for warrma piipa (Songbook). 

When William was gifted his uncle’s didgeridoo this was a rare occurrence. 

William says, “When my uncle passed, I was given the special privilege of holding on to his didgeridoo …when an old song man passes away, they usually put the didgeridoo to rest, to silence the sound forever, and the next ambassadors keep the spirit alight through fire of the night and the legacy of lullaby and landscape.”

We were all mesmerised as William Barton spoke, sang and played his didgeridoo. His is a beautiful voice, well worth listening to. Warrma piipa (Songbook) is just the beginning of this unique journey and this writer felt very privileged to be a part of it. I will be raising my own voice and telling these stories to continue the journey for the future of my own grandchildren and our community.

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