First Nations Composer Program 2020

2020 First Nations Composer in Residence – Brenda Gifford

First Nations Composer Program is the first of its type in the art music sector in Australia.

The program is designed to play an active role in addressing the disparity in opportunities afforded to Australia’s First Nations’ musicians and consists of a suite of activities with partnerships key to our growth in the First Nations music sphere.

Activities include Ngarra- Burria: First Peoples Composer workshops, recordings and performances (with partners Moogahlin Performing Arts, Australian Music Centre and Australian National University), our inaugural First Nations’ Composer in Residence who in 2020 is Brenda Gifford and community workshops and performances as part of ‘Baiame’s Ngunnhu Festival’ in Brewarrina (presented by Moogahlin). 

Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers is a two year program and it had its first iteration in 2017. The program is aimed at supporting and mentoring emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander composers in developing new techniques and skills in instrumental composition and notation, as well as industry knowledge and relationships to build their craft and networks into the future.

Ngarra-Burria are Dharug words meaning to hear, to sing, and this program is intended to build bridges for First Peoples’ musicians to step forward, further develop their composing skills, and connect with the art music sector. Originally called Indigenous Composers Initiative, the program was initiated in 2017 by Aboriginal composer Chris Sainsbury, and the words ‘art music’ here refers to the vast spectrum of contemporary classical/new music, contemporary original jazz and improvisatory practice, experimental practice, including sound art and installation, computer music, and more.

The first cohort of composers (2017-2018) were Brenda Gifford, Troy Russell, Elizabeth Sheppard, Tim Gray and Rhyan Clapham. The second cohort of composers (2019-2020) are Nardi Simpson, Eric Avery and James Henry.


17–19 April

Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers
Wednesday 16 December
, 7pm,
Eugene Goossens HallABC Centre, 700 Harris Street Ultimo FREE


New Work by Nardi Simpson, James Henry, Eric Avery and more


Claire Edwardes (percussion)
Lamorna Nightingale (flute)
Jason Noble (clarinet)
Freya Schack-Arnott (cello)

Past Media

Read an article by Chris Sainsbury, composer and concept creator of the Ngarra-Burria (First Peoples Composers Initiative 2018) in Resonate Magazine.
Listen to ABC Classic FM’s special podcast on the 2017 Ngarra-Burria (First Peoples Composers Initiative 2018) here.

Read about our experiences at Baiame’s Ngunnhu Festival in April 2018 here.

Download Chris Sainsbury’s Currency House Platform Paper here


Ngarra-Burria: First Peoples Composers, is delivered by a partnership between Moogahlin Performing Arts, Australian Music Centre, ANU School of Music, and Ensemble Offspring, with funding support from APRA AMCOS, and in-kind support from EORA College of TAFE.