By Bruce Richards

Nearly 15 years ago, I came across an album by the Southern Cross Soloists from Australia. (Peter Luff, horn)  The album, Song for the Shadowland, featured music by Paul Stanhope. The title piece is a four movement work for soprano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano. This includes four settings of aboriginal poems by Oodgeroo Noonuccal.  The first, second and fourth movements are sung, but the third is a solo for horn entitled Interlude.  This solo horn piece was so successful that Paul Stanhope published it separately under the title Dawn Interlude.

Here is an excerpt of the description that Stanhope gives to the solo: 

“This piece is in some ways a commentary on Oodgeroo's poem Dawn Wail for the Dead but also, in its own way, a personal gesture of sorrow for past wrongs perpetrated against Indigenous Australians.” 

A video interview with Australian composer Paul Stanhope by Bruce Richards (with French subtitles):

stanhope interview

Used with kind permission by the Liège Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Belgium

The aboriginal people of Australia have the most powerful, sombre, glorious and moving rituals for the loss of a loved one, and all the movements of Shadowland have a depth which touched me, and the poetry of Oodgeroo is filled with pain, suffering, and hope.  I knew that I wanted to play this music. 

Three years ago I finally had the chance to program Songs for the Shadowland, and as part of the preparation and publicity for the project I asked Paul Stanhope for an interview. I recorded the interview via Skype, and it became a unique way to learn more about his music and Dawn Interlude in particular.  The video made for the Happy Hour chamber music series with the Liège Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Liège, Belgium) may be seen on Facebook or via Dropbox

Dawn Wail for the Dead
by Oodgeroo Noonuccal 

Dim light of daybreak now
Faintly over the sleeping camp.
Old Lubra first to wake remembers:
First thing every dawn
Remember the dead, cry for them.
Softly at first her wail begins,
One by one as they wake and hear
Join in the cry, and the whole camp
Wails for the dead, the poor dead
Gone from here to the Dark Place:
They are remembered.
Then it is over, life now,
Fires lit, laughter now,
And a new day calling.

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