Musical Bridges

Your support is helping young indigenous students find their voice

The goal of bridging the education gap afflicting young indigenous students is an ambition shared by many Australians. With your support Musica Viva is helping to address this problem by providing schools with the tools to engage their indigenous students through the medium of music.

A  recent example of this was our 2011 collaboration with the Mildura Arts Centre to bring renowned Aboriginal opera singer, composer and educator, Deborah Cheetham, to Mildura.

Deborah Cheetham is an exceptional Australian soprano, actor and teacher who builds bridges between black and white Australia with compassion and grace. In 2008, she created the Spring Intensive Opera program to discover and develop Indigenous talent from around Australia. This culminated in the world’s first Aboriginal opera, Pecan Summer, which was written, directed and produced by Deborah.

Together with members of her Short Black Opera Company, Deborah Cheetham presented a 3-day residency at Mildura Primary School in November of last year.

With an indigenous student population of over 30%, and more than a quarter of its students coming from a non-English speaking background, Mildura Primary School draws most of its students from neighbouring public housing estates. As unemployment in the area is above the state average, many of these students  are from families which are socio-economically disadvantaged.

Increasing school attendance rates through improved student engagement was one of the key aims of the residency. To this end, Deborah and her company worked with the school’s year 5 and 6 choirs, together with a group of indigenous students from years 4-6.

Students were given basic music training which encompassed rhythm and movement, basic singing techniques and an opportunity to learn music from Pecan Summer - an opera that tells a story from their collective indigenous history.

The school residency culminated in a gala concert for the school community, attended by proud parents, friends, teachers and even the Mayor of Mildura. Much to the delight of the audience, Short Black Opera members introduced the world of opera  by performing pieces from The Marriage of Figaro.

But undoubtedly the true stars of the concert were the Mildura Primary School students who performed an entire scene from Pecan Summer. The excited youngsters enjoyed a positive performance experience in front of teachers, students and families, enhancing their self-confidence and fostering a strong sense of team work.

Just as significantly, the residency encouraged participation in the broader arts arena, giving these children an invaluable opportunity to succeed in an area they previously knew little about. As Debra Cheetham notes, “It encourages Indigenous kids to believe they can achieve in any endeavour - if they can ‘do’ opera, they can do anything!”

Following the residency, Short Black Opera was invited to perform at the Murray River International Music Festival held in January 2012. Musica Viva partnered with the Festival and Artistic Merit to bring 6 members of the company to Mildura to perform.

This sold-out concert featured a number of young participants from the November residency, providing them with a priceless opportunity to perform alongside international artists and shine in front of the wider Mildura community.


Mildura Primary School Students attend a Short Black Opera workshop