Sound from the Ground

In 2015, the National Trust (WA) approached my husband, Dr Jonathan Fitzgerald, and asked him to create two concerts which would form part of the National Trust's 2016 Heritage Festival. His goal was to curate a program which provides a musical narrative about the collection of graves at this historic cemetery site.

For years, I have been driving past the East Perth Cemeteries. I had never known of the incredible history held within the grounds, or how strangely peaceful and quiet the cemetery is considering its proximity to the CBD. As part of Jonathan's research process, we were able to spend time wandering the cemeteries. I discovered names of important Western Australians who have shaped our state. As a Perth girl, it was fascinating to learn more about our history.

Using the information gathered, Jonathan created a varied concert program which both told the stories of the early Swan River colonists, and reflected musical tastes of the time. In addition, Perth (now Brisbane-based) composer and classical guitarist, Duncan Gardiner, was commissioned by the National Trust to compose a suite for guitar quartet (Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather), which was his response to the collection of graves and physical elements he discovered while spending time at the cemeteries.

The end result was two sold-out concerts in April 2016, held on site in the cemetery's old mortuary chapel. Most of the program featured the Perth Guitar Quartet, and we were lucky to also have Jenna Robertson (soprano) join us for several pieces.

This year, the National Trust (WA) won the 2017 Museums & Galleries National Award for Interpretation, Learning & Audience Engagement Level 2. The judging panel described it as:

"A complex and multi-layered project which unearths much early WA colonial history through the gravesites. The innovation displayed by the musicians in undertaking research, composing music, threading old musical scores and then producing a quality performance night shows a commitment to excellence and innovation in this new National Trust environment. The filming, tv exposure, blogging and very professional program ensures the project is well documented and hopefully the music will be used again in some other context. An impressive and original public program to enhance and promote the stories associated with an unusual collection."

Sound from the Ground was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing projects that I've been a part of. It was an experience that I'll never forget!

The official program can be viewed here, and more information can be found on the National Trust's website.

The opening night's concert is on YouTube.

Other award winners in the 2017 Museums & Galleries National Awards can be seen here.


Melissa Fitzgerald