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February 15, 2024

Six minutes of music to save the Earth

In the middle of a climate emergency, a University of Adelaide jazz ensemble is promising a ray of hope through its performance at Floods of Fire – Our Voices Our Dreams.

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  • This article was produced in collaboration with University of Adelaide.

Composer Mark Ferguson wants to communicate a sense of agency through his newest work that will be performed during Adelaide Festival.

The piece, loosely titled Live and Die with Butterflies, Part Two: On a Knife’s Edge, was written in response to climate change and is part of Floods of Fire – Our Voices Our Dreams, a large-scale community music making event in response to climate change, conceived and directed by Airan Berg, and led by the University of Adelaide and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

If the work’s title sounds familiar, Mark says it was inspired by a Barnaby Joyce comment from 2017 in relation to people opposing fossil fuels. Back then, Mark wrote his first response for a full orchestra plus big band. This piece is written for the intimate Madley Studio at the University and a six-piece jazz band (with gender parity) comprised of some of Mark’s third year students – double bass, drums, two saxophones and a trombone player – with him on piano.


World premiere Floods of Fire is part of Adelaide Festival.

Experience Our Voices Our Dreams and Our Citizens’ Orchestra for free on Saturday, March 16 at the University of Adelaide.

Tickets to the third instalment Our Celebration with Electric Fields & the ASO can be purchased here.

The Floods of Fire – Our Voices Our Dreams format will see more than 70 groups from across the community performing music, songs, theatre, dance, creative writing and storytelling at locations across the campus. Each one will take to the stage four times, playing hourly.

The University of Adelaide is contributing seven pieces – all of them showcasing the talents of its Elder Conservatorium students and alumni using music as a vehicle to communicate the importance of place and action on climate change and its attending extreme weather events.

Climatologist Darren Ray, a researcher and guest lecturer with the University’s Environment Institute, collaborated with Mark.

“Darren’s an amazing scientist and a passionate campaigner for doing what we can to improve the world in light of the climate change we’re experiencing,” Mark says. “He’s a really inspiring human being to spend time with [and discover] that it’s not all doom and gloom, even though it feels like it.”

Mark himself has environmental leanings and getting involved in Floods of Fire – Our Voices Our Dreams enables him to use his platform as a lecturer to encourage students to think about taking action to mitigate climate change.

Demonstrating this agency via the six-minute-long ‘Live and Die with Butterflies, Part Two has meant creating the work in two parts and in the lead up to March, he shares that he and his students are “still working out the logistics of it”.

“We’re all jazz musicians, so there’s going to be potential for improvisations,” he says about the audience’s choices impacting the performance.

“We’re trying to make it feel like we actually can have an impact with decisions we make.”

The three-part instalment of Floods of Fire during Adelaide Festival is part of a calendar of events for the University of Adelaide’s 150th celebration.

The University’s contribution is being coordinated by Emma Gregan, a professional French horn player and composer whose PhD focused on community music making. Like other graduates from Elder Conservatorium, she’s been able to make a portfolio career doing what she loves.

The opportunities offered to its students are many. Emma says the University and Adelaide Festival have a long-standing partnership, with students taking up internships. Likewise, with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

“There’s a very strong relationship with ASO and this year, we’re launching a new internship program,” Emma says.

“We also have a conducting Master’s program, the most desirable in the country. Those students conduct for ASO four or five times a year. It’s a really integrated part of their coursework.”

For Floods of Fire – Our Voices Our Dreams six of Elder Conservatorium’s departments will be represented: Classical Performance, Popular Music, Sonic Arts, National Centre for Aboriginal Language and Music Studies, higher degree and Jazz Performance. As well, there’ll be students from the University’s Open Music Academy (OMA).

“It’s a young conservatorium programme that we run to make music education with top-level educators accessible to kids from all backgrounds and ages and from the state’s regions,” Emma says.

Students from OMA have been working with jazz violinist and composer Julian Ferraretto, composing a piece which they’ll perform at the March event.

Meanwhile, Mark has also done the orchestration for a newly commissioned piece from Electric Fields, to be performed with ASO as the final instalment of Floods of Fire.

Being part of the University of Adelaide’s contributions to Floods of Fire – Our Voices Our Dreams is a “no brainer” for Mark.

“And it’s great for audiences, who can experience music that’s inspired by the way we’re all trying to deal with climate change,” he says.

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