Griffith University: The healing power of song

The Doctor of Musical Arts candidate was evacuated from her home at Lower Beechmont and came close to losing everything in the blaze – a traumatic experience she is now exploring through music.

Written for solo soprano, chamber orchestra and chorus, Spirit Orphan was inspired by Jenna’s night alone in an evacuation centre after the fire.

“I’m an artist, an opera singer and performance maker and I make works that help us make sense of the world, something that is needed now, more than ever,” she said.

“My home in Lower Beechmont remains, thanks to our incredible firefighters, and the memories of the fires and evacuations are still fresh.

“I allowed all of those emotions to flow into this project.”

The stories of residents of Beechmont and Lower Beechmont, who shared their memories of the fires with Jenna, will be woven into the opera.

“Before the pandemic, I was often away travelling for work and I didn’t know anybody on the mountain,” she said.

“Talking with community helped me to make new friends, find meaning in our shared experience and inspired this new opera, which is all about belonging and healing.”

The creative collaboration involves Griffith University students and alumni, including creative writing doctoral candidate Alexandra Dunn, who is helping write the libretto, and film alumnus Salvador Cantellano, who is documenting the project.

“There are so many Griffith connections, it’s wonderful to be able to tap into that network of creatives,” she said.

The Scottish-Australian soprano has performed across Australia and has just embarked on her doctorate at the Queensland Conservatorium.

Jenna’s PhD will explore the creation of new, experimental work and Spirit Orphan will inform the research.

“Making a new opera is like building a house – it can take years,” she said.

“It’s a big project, but I have a life-long passion for music that keeps me going.

“This is my way of contributing to the evolution of opera.”

An excerpt from the production will be debuted to audiences as part of the Brisbane Musical Festival later this month, and a short film about the project will debut at the Gold Coast Film Festival on 17 April.

Spirit Orphan is being produced with the support of Opera Queensland, HOTA, World Science Festival Brisbane, Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane Music Festival and the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund.

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