Katie Noonan’s latest collaboration building bridges

Katie Noonan with the Australian String Quartet.
Katie Noonan with the Australian String Quartet.

WHAT do you get if you combine the breathtaking voice of Katie Noonan, the virtuosity of the Australian String Quartet and the poems of late Queensland Indigenous activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal?

The answer is one of the most important recordings of 2019, The Glad Tomorrow, which aims to build a bridge between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

Oodgeroo, who was formerly known as Kath Walker, died in 1993 but she left behind a wealth of poetry documenting Indigenous experience.

Noonan was first exposed to her work as a child in Queensland.

“I’ve been an admirer of Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s work and activism since I was little,” Noonan said.

“I first got her book My People when I was in school. It was for an English assignment.”

Noonan said it was the directness of Oodgeroo’s words that struck a chord and inspired a life-long interest in the culture of First Nations People.

“I wanted to celebrate her poetry and celebrate her life,” she said.

To do that, Noonan commissioned 10 Australian composers to set Oodgeroo’s poems to music, among them Carl Vine, Richard Tognetti and Iain Grandage.

She said the pieces were not collaborations and were exactly as the composers intended.

“I think a commissioner should never direct an artist,” she said.

Some of the results are incredible, such as Tognetti’s Son of Mine in A Minor, which features spectacular interval leaps that pushed Noonan’s voice to the limit.

Noonan said her chief goal was to expose more Australians to Oodergoo’s poetry and now the project is hitting the road.

A national tour kicks off at the Sydney Opera House next Monday before hitting Perth’s Heath Ledger Theatre on Wednesday, November 6.

Noonan was touring the country with rock band George 20 years ago and you might think travelling with Australian String Quartet would be more civilised, but she quickly dispelled that notion.

“They can be pretty rock and roll too,” she said.

THE ESSENTIALS
What: The Glad Tomorrow national tour
Where: Heath Ledger Theatre
When: November 6
Tickets: www.ptt.wa.gov.au