Camerata sent Connor D’Netto ahead of their trip to the Maranoa region in 2016 to gain inspiration and ideas, and his trip was meant to include a visit to the famous Charleville Cosmos Centre, and a daytime “joy flight” among other things.
In the end, the weather forced a cancellation of these activities. A call out on social media for other ideas, led to Camerata supporter, Toni Baker indicating that her aunt Joan Houghten was still living in the area after many decades and that Connor should visit her. At 94 years-old, smoking like a chimney, sharp as a tack and driving to do her own groceries, Joan was full of life and stories, including those of how she of met her husband while playing piano at parties after the war. She allowed Connor to look about her home which was a step back in time. Joan was still playing piano daily (at the time she was learning a new tune – Michael Jackson’s “Ben”).
None of this is tangibly present in Air & Fantasy, but the music is evocative of the western Queensland landscape and atmosphere, particularly that of Charleville where Camerata gave the official world premiere performance at the Charleville Racecourse.
Connor writes: “For someone who had spent his whole life living in South-East Queensland, there was something that immediately struck me when I landed in the South-West corner: It’s flat. So flat. The roads go on forever, straight out to the horizon.
Plains of grass and bush sprung from the red earth – unending, spotted with wire-like trees. The breeze filters through everything; distant winds blow down the high-street. There’s a stillness out there, cut by the wind. But, the sky moves with the wind. Within a moment, grey becomes blue, thick cover clears; the depth of the night sky is unlike anything you see in the cities. And then it’s gone again.”
Connor D’Netto on Air & Fantasy (2016)
Learn more about Air & Fantasy and Connor's creative process and challenges.
- What inspired you to compose your piece specifically on?
I had the pleasure of heading out to Charleville with Brendan to do a little reconnaissance mission head of their 2016 tour just as they’d approached me for the is commission. It was a cute trip, full of meeting local resident, some radio interview etc., but what struck me most as soon as I arrived was how flat the landscape was – roads stretching to the horizon, vast plains of red soil sprouting tall dry grass and scattered trees, with a strange stillness cut by the wind. It was my first time out west and like nothing else I’d experienced before in Australia.
But the highlight of the trip was something completely unplanned. We were tipped off that we should meet a local named Joan Houghten, who had been playing piano in Charleville for the last half a century. 94 years-old at the time, still smoking like a chimney, and sharp as a tack; she told us stories of her life, how she met her husband playing piano at parties after the war, and let us look about her home, which was a step back in time. She even played us a tune. These were just some of the memories on my mind while writing.
- How would you describe your creative process?
My process tends so be pretty methodical and straightforward: starting with general brainstorming, thinking of different musical textures and ideas I’d like to explore with the instruments at hand; then organising these, thinking about different combos of ideas or how one might progress to the next; I then take a step back and look at the piece’s structure as a whole, work out it’s proportions, measure out how many bars each section will be; from there I work at the piano, staring with some improvising and then working out and writing all the main themes, melodies, harmonic progressions etc., possibly even writing out entire sections at the piano; then finally on computer, bringing all this together and filling fleshing out all these materials.
- What would you consider the most challenging aspect of creating your piece?
This piece actually ended up being quite a challenge simply because of the timeframe – around the time Camerata approached me about the commission I was deep in to the honours year research project at university, at was in the road a lot for various things, so other than that trip to Charleville with Brendan I think I only had about a week window write the whole thing, and I’d I remember correctly, half of that I was in Melbourne, so without access to a piano!
- What would you like your listeners to take away from your piece?
I tend to like my pieces to be pretty open-ended, a canvas of sorts for anyone to bring whatever they’re going through to, without needing to know the backstory of the music, and find something that resonates with them. That being said, for me this piece has a prevailing sense of calm and stillness, so I hope people might find some of that for themselves.