The Dreaming Land (1997) for SA choir and orchestra was commissioned by the Department of School Education NSW Performing Arts Unit for performance at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House by the NSW Combined Primary School Choirs and NSW Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra at the 1997 Primary School Choral Concerts.
The work comprises three songs entitled “Desert Dawn”, “Galah Song” and “Aflow”. The words of these songs are drawn from poems of the same names by three Australian poets: Rex Ingamells, Kenneth H. Gifford and Kevin Gilbert. While the unique ‘fingerprints’ of the three poets lend contrast to The Dreaming Land, all of the poems reflect something of the immense beauty, austerity and spirituality that is evident in so much Australian poetry penned in response to aspects of Australia’s inspiring land, sea and sky.
The first song, entitled “Desert Dawn”, after the poem of Rex Ingamells, reflects on the wind and stars in the desert and on the long hush before the sun’s rise. It commences with tuned percussion, ethereal strings and voices whispering softly of “the long hush, the long, long hush, under the starlight in the desert with the winds”. The song moves towards a gentle flowering, and then to a further climax near the end of the piece when the choir sings of “waiting, waiting, waiting the sun’s rise”. Like a frame for the work, the tuned percussion, strings and whispering voices return in the closing bars of the song.
“Galah Song” is a bright setting of Kenneth H. Gifford’s poem of 1944, about the far reaching voice of the Galah. The song begins with a distinctive melody which returns between each of the strophically set verses. Each time the opening melody returns, an added element is introduced, such as a rhythmic drone sung by the choir (“Tapping the lifeblood of the dreaming land”) or a sung countermelody (Ga-lah, la, la, la). The music broadens as the choir sings the final verse and the song concludes with a final rendition of the opening melody.
“Aflow”, the final piece in The Dreaming Land, is based on Kevin Gilbert’s reflective poem about the offering of thanks as he glances up at the evening star. The song starts with a calm, flowing melody which gradually grows as the choir sings of being thankful for having “lived and seen creation in its majesty”. With these words the music flows into the middle section of the song, and the orchestra carries us forward with a new theme. The whole choir, singing of “creation in its majesty” soon joins the orchestra to form the climax of the song. Having reached a crescendo, the orchestra returns to the opening music as the choir sings softly to us of being aflow with awe and thankfulness for a life which saw “your hand in the evening star”.