Supermarkets, as we previously saw, can make an unlikely location for live music but one that can work in terms of adding a certain ambiance to people’s shopping experience. Obviously though they hardly amount to offering a concert environment. Cemeteries, on the other hand, while they might be an equally surprising place to encounter live music, have been shown to be more suitable for a number of reasons.
One might think of cemeteries as places for private contemplation, not as places where music might be performed. However, it seems the two can go together if a survey of recent activity is any judge. At Penguin General Cemetery near Devonport in Tasmania, a music event called Music Among The Tombstones was held in 2015 to honour of 80 unknown people whose graves are there. Flute, violin, singers and highland pipes took part.
Last year, a twilight In Remembrance concert was held ahead of ANZAC Day last year in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery, in which singers, a pianist, violinist and members of the Brisbane Regional Youth Orchestra performed. Also in 2017, Adelaide held its first Death Over Dinner event at West Terrace Cemetery, at which an acoustic guitarist provided “mood music” as people arrived.
In Melbourne, there is a growing realisation that cemeteries represent some of the last green urban spaces available for public use, and during summer some host cinema screenings and afternoon concerts featuring classical music ensembles. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure for green wedges in future cities,” explains Jacqui Weatherill, chief executive of Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust. “Cemeteries will play a role as we continue to demystify what they are about.”
One of the most original musical projects to take place at a cemetery was in Perth in 2016 in the hands of classical guitarist Jonathan Fitzgerald. As artist in residence at East Perth Cemeteries in 2015-2016, he planned a Sound From the Ground concert to pay tribute to more than 10,000 early settlers interred at this historic site. Organised through the National Trust, it took the form of concert in St Bartholomew’s chapel in the cemetery grounds with a guitar quartet and soprano Jenna Robertson. Amongst the music they performed was the commissioned work Stone, Shell, Bone and Feather by Duncan Gardiner, himself a member of the quartet.
Fitzgerald describes it as “the most unusual and rewarding performance experience of my career” and explains here how it came into being.
“The concept was to create a kind of musical narrative that told the stories of those buried at the East Perth Cemeteries, and the stories of the place itself. This took the form of a ‘curated’ concert, with each piece chosen to represent some element of the Cemeteries.”
“In some cases inspiration was drawn from a physical object at the site, like the slate and marble grave markers; in others it was a direct connection to one of the early settlers for whom it was a final resting place. We actually uncovered several compositions by prominent settlers buried in the Cemeteries, and performed them again in Perth for the first time since the nineteenth century.
“We held the concert in the small church on the cemetery grounds, which originally was used as a mortuary chapel. Having the performance at the cemetery – in the very location that inspired the repertoire I had chosen, and the new work we had commissioned – created a very powerful and immersive concert experience that simply could not have been matched in a traditional performance venue.”
Fitzgerald believes most of the audience had never been to a classical guitar concert and attributes this to the concert’s unusual location. He says: “Performing in non-traditional venues, and particularly on projects with a cross-disciplinary approach beyond just music making, certainly adds additional layers of meaning for the audience, and likely draws from a more diverse populace than would typically attend a traditional “classical music” concert.”
Here is a video of the event.