Playing Natureís Music

An interview with Maya Ward
Musician and Community Festival Creator

Maya Ward plays inspirational music. We first heard her play in a forest of mountain grey gums in a place known as the Cathedral at Moora Moora. We were part of a gathering celebrating the spirit of place and cool and wet spring day we stood in the forest in a circle and as Maya began to play her flute we were suddenly enveloped in a soft lyrical sound that evoked the spirit of the forest and the Great Dividing Range beyond.

Maya works as Festival and Events Assistant at the CERES Environment Park, an area close to the inner city situated on the edge of the Merri Creek dedicated to environmental education, alternative technology, community gardening, land restoration, and celebrating the return of the kingfisher to the Merri Creek.

She has recently been involved in a project which expresses the essence of the seasons in the Melbourne region through music, known as the Six Seasons Project.

The Six Seasons of Melbourne

The heart of the Six Seasons project is learning about the place where we live. We have been working on a musical calendar that draws on the nature of our place, using the voices of the birds, frogs and insects of our bio-region in the seasons they are heard. It is based on naturalist observations about the seasons of the Melbourne region.

The idea came from the Gould League, an Australia-wide natural history organization. Their aim is to rediscover the indigenous seasonality across the country, in every region of this continent. This local knowledge was destroyed along with destruction of the local Aboriginal culture. The invaders overlaid the four seasons structure from home on to this landscape. They were unable to see the nuances of the land that Aboriginal people were aware of. In places like the Northern Territory the artificiality of the four season is obvious and has been dropped in favour of the wet and the dry, and even in Melbourne, there are ways of better describing the yearly changes. The idea of six seasons more accurately reflects the area and the music is part of the celebration of this knowledge.

Being involved in the Six Seasons project and writing music for places and for land, about special places, has been a wonderful experience for me. Nature inspires me to write music, specifically through my relationship with birds. Birds are a focus of the Six Seasons because of my instrument the recorder which actually means "to sing like a bird" in old English.

It has been wonderful to see the other musicians I work with get inspired by the idea of the Six Seasons. As part of the process we have gone camping along the Yarra River, the river that runs through Melbourne. Playing music in place, inspired by the environment and the sound around us has been the main joy of the project for me. Learning about our place together.

My inspiration is to listen to the calls and then play them back, play them literally and extrapolate from that. And because the recorder sounds like a bird, I try to become that creature and I express my feelings about what I am doing and what they mean to me through the instrument. Throughout my life I've had special occasions where I play recorder in the backyard and birds come up and talk to me, and they chirp at me and I chirp back at them. And sure, it is a territorial war that we are having but I anthropomorphise it as a communication between the animal and the human I think, because I so crave ways of communicating with the non-human, and this feels a little like communicating with animals on their terms. I give back my love for them. I feel that a role we have as humans is to express love for the world; I like to think that is why we are here. I reckon that's a big responsibility that we humans have been shirking. So I believe my role is to tell the animals and birds how much I appreciate them through the music.

When I think about composition, it doesnít seem to have much to do with me at all. It seems more about being a channel. I don't mean that in an esoteric sense other than I believe in the collective unconscious, and I believe in music as an outlet for subconscious knowledge. Nature is my inspiration. It is bigger than me and it puts me in my rightful place as worshipper of the world. That's when really incredible experiences begin to happen, whether they be natural events like storms or rainbows or sunsets. Itís like a voice talking to me, a reminder of what I see as the incredible beauty of the world.

A life of music in nature

Music is something I fell into when I was younger. I used to play the recorder in primary school and when my father asked me if I wanted to play an instrument. I thought, well I've got a recorder so Iíd better play that. Iíve always had a poverty mentality that we didn't have any money. So I continued to play that little plastic recorder all through high school, even though it was quite a daggy thing to do. Then I got involved in the Victorian Youth Recorder Consort which was an amazing group and we played many concerts and those moments, for me, were the first realisation of what music could bring.

Now Iím in a band called Lothlorien - Lothlorien is the word for the Elven Forest in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, and it is a place that can never be harmed. Itís a magical forest protected forever and, as an environmentalist, that is basically my dream. In a special way we are identified as a band with an environmental consciousness as we donate thousands of dollars to the Bush Heritage Fund which buys up land to protect it forever, and that is a practical way I can fulfill my dream. The other is through my work at CERES.

Celebrating CERES

CERES is located on the edge of the Merri Creek. When it first started, the area was a rubbish dump and the Merri Creek was full of rubbish too. But over the years the land has been restored and the birds and animals have started to return to the area. One of the most exciting things that happened was the return of the Sacred Kingfisher. It became such an important event at CERES that each year we now hold a festival to honour the bird who flew back to the creek. The Kingfisher Festival celebrates the return of wildlife brought back through the successes of revegetating and cleaning up our waterways. It is gaining in strength each year.

Just the fact that CERES exists is important for people. It brings them together to celebrate the relationship between community and environment. Part of the task at the events and festivals that we run at CERES is to create ritual for the community. We are aware of the way that CERES can provide both religious and spiritual experiences for the modern religion of environmentalism. It is religious in the sense that our events attempt to create mass ritual, with practices such as dance and song. And spiritual in the sense that in a culture like ours where so much of our daily experience denies what we feel is right, what CERES attempts to do can simply make the heart sing. To me it is a spiritual experience to watch Aboriginal and African, Indonesian and East Timorese people as well as hundreds of local schoolkids come together to celebrate the migratory return of a little blue bird.

The Long Merri Walk

This was just one of the best adventures! Three of us involved with CERES set out one fine spring day, on a mission to discover the source of the Merri Creek, somewhere in the Great Dividing Range.

I walked all the way from my home on the river trail, half a kilometre to the Merri mouth where I met Freya and Cinnamon, and we kept walking for seven days. We collected about six hundred school kids from the local schools over the first two days. They would walk a little way with us and we would tell them about looking for the first of the Kingfishers flying in from Queensland and about the importance of cleaning up the creek. We tried to make their place more special to them.

We saw it as a pilgrimage and people understood it in this way. We stayed on peopleŪs farms, in paddocks, sheds, or spare houses. It was such a joy to me that people were really touched and interested in what we did- so much so that CERES people want to make it an annual event. In no way was it artificial or tongue in cheek- it was a spiritual journey for the three of us. The last day was very potent; after all the scarred and uncared-for land that we passed through, to see this gorgeous little trickle of drinkable Merri was incredibly precious.

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