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The Owl and the Orchestra

Witladla tells the story of a little Muk Muk (owl) who’s lost his treasured necklace. Penned in 2017 by Larrakia Elder Aunty June Mills, she’s performed her beloved tale on various occasions over the years. This month, Aunty June’s teamed up with an ensemble from Darwin Symphony Orchestra (DSO) to present the special story accompanied by an all-new, beautiful soundscape.

By Kate Conway

After being captivated by a performance of the play, DSO Education and Outreach Officer Tara Murphy was keen to collaborate with Aunty June. Two years later, the meeting happened in the most Territory of ways, following a chance encounter at a local produce market. Expanding on the music accompanying the story had been the kernel of an idea for Aunty June, and the project was born.

“It was always only performed with the guitar, if anything, and I was thinking ‘wouldn’t it be nice to tweak it here and there?’ for the entertainment value, to see how the music can come alive and make it more fun for the kids. Then this happened,” Mills says.

“I was gobsmacked! I’ve never heard of an orchestra contacting an Elder from Country, picking up a story and working with them. I’m so excited, I’m beside myself really.”

The ensemble is made up of string instruments, with the woody, melodic clarinet on hand to portray Witladla the Owl’s hoo-hoo sound. Classical music has a long tradition of symphonic storytelling – think Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – making it the perfect medium to add depth and atmosphere to the story.

“The wonderful thing about the instruments we play is they don’t have any text or lyrics associated with them … Our instruments are  really good at creating a mood, and also providing support for the voice,” Murphy says.

From the puppets handmade by Mills, painted with traditional ochre paint, to the language, story and songs, this special performance presents a unique opportunity to learn about Larrakia culture.

“The Larrakia language still exists and is still there for people to learn about if they want to. This could be a springboard or gentle introduction to Larrakia land, animals and language,” Mills says.

“When you come and hear about all the animals, you get their traditional names and you’re learning Larrakia language. Even the places the little Muk Muk flies over reference areas that have Larrakia names.”

Harmoniously merging two ageless artforms, Witladla creatively weaves classical music with traditional Larrakia storytelling in a mesmerising, delight for young and old. Don’t miss it!

WHEN SAT 22 APR | 9.30 & 11AM
COST $15 | $5 CHILD | $35 FAM

Photos: Supplied by Artback NT. Photo: Renee Warland

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