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Deborah Cheetham : Represented Artist

Music is my way of knowing the world and giving meaning to everything in it.

Random Audio Sample: Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace (multiple choirs with full orchestra) by Deborah Cheetham, from the CD Women of Note

Photo of Deborah Cheetham

Photo: Kristina Kingston

Deborah Cheetham AO, Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for 'distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance'.

In 2009, Deborah Cheetham established Short Black Opera as a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers. The following year she produced the premiere of her first opera Pecan Summer. This landmark work was Australia's first Indigenous opera and has been a vehicle for the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers.

In March 2015 she was inducted onto the Honour Roll of Women in Victoria and in April 2018 received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of South Australia for her pioneering work and achievements in the music. In 2019 Deborah Cheetham received the Merlyn Myer Prize to create a new work for the Melbourne based ensemble Syzygy.

Cheetham's list of commissions for major Australian ensembles continues to grow, including works for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australian String Quartet, West Australian Symphony Orchestra String Quartet, Rubiks Collective, Plexus Ensemble, Flinders Quartet and the Goldner Quartet.

Major compositions

  • Pecan Summer, Yorta Yorta and English. Australia's first Aboriginal opera. On-country premiere 2010
  • Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace. Large scale work for soloists, choirs and orchestra. Sung in the language of the Gunditjmara people. Australia's first resistance-war commemoration for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal performers. On-country premiere October 14, 2019 Port Fairy Spring Festival.
  • MPavilion Acknowledgment to Country Series, Boon Wurrung language. Commission for the Naomi Milgrom Foundation to inaugurate a summer cycle of cross art-form programming. Since 2014 (continuing)
  • Dhungala Choral Connection Song Book, various languages
  • Ancient Land Processional, Kaurna, Boandik and Barngarla languages. Commission for the University of South Australia. Recorded by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra 2018
  • Woven Song Embassy Tapestry Series. Singapore, Dehli, Tokyo, Paris, Rome, The Holy See, Washington, Dublin, Beijing
  • Beneath the Wings of Bunjil. Commission for the City of Casey 2018 opening of Bunjil Place.
  • Tarami Nulay, Gadigal and English. Commission for St Andrews Cathedral School 2017
  • Eternal Birrarung. Commission for the City of Melbourne upon the restoration of the Federation Bells 2013
  • Dali Mana Gamarada, Gadigal language. Commission for the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Deborah Cheetham — current to February 2019

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for
2019 Melbourne Prize for Music Winner - New Melbourne Prize for Music 2019

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Dali Mana Gamarada (sa choir with solo soprano) Commissioned for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
Ghost Light : full orchestra (2021) Fifty fanfares commission
Above Knowing : soprano with ensemble (2020) Commissioned by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Bundjil Ngalingu (duos: 2 sopranos with chamber ensemble) (2019) Commissioned by the Naomi Milgrom Foundation in 2019 as the 5th work in the Wominjeka Song Cycle
Digital sheet music sample Tarimi Nulay : Long Time Living Here : SATB choir with chamber ensemble (2017) Commissioned for 20th anniversary of Gawura College at St Andrews Cathedral School.