A musical transformation for late Prime Minister’s speech by The Australian Voices.

The Australian Voices’ performance of composer Rob Davidson’s musical setting of Julia Gillard’s famous “Not Now, Not Ever” anti-misogyny speech (made in response to Tony Abbott’s attempts to have the Speaker of the House removed for making sexist remarks in 2012) became a huge online hit earlier this year, receiving over 188,000 views on YouTube to date.

The Australian Voices

Now in tribute to the late former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Rob Davidson has created a setting for the Australian Voices of Whitlam’s iconic “Well May We Say” speech, made by Whitlam in 1975 following his dismissal during the Australian Constitutional Crisis. In a similar vein to Davidson’s Gillard setting, the music juxtaposes the Australian Voices’ distinctive close harmony sound with specially edited recordings of the original speech. Davidson has cleverly extrapolated the accompanying harmony from the natural melodic contour of the recorded spoken elements, transforming them into lyrical, musical lines.

“Davidson has the men of the choir mimic the exact intonation and rhythm of Whitlam’s voice,” says Gordon Hamilton, the Artistic Director of the Australian Voices. “For the listener this results in the almost comic realisation that all spoken word is in fact singing.”

Davidson’s innovative combination of spoken language and song does pose some challenges for the ensemble. “A question we’ve faced has been to what extent we should imitate the accent of the speaker,” Hamilton reveals. “In Not Now, Not Ever! it was a particularly pressing question, because Gillard’s accent is so distinctive.”

The solution to this potential pitfall, The Australian Voices discovered, has been to borrow a technique from ancient, Classical theatre. “We’ve found that the form works best when the choir adopts a non-accented ‘Greek Chorus’ approach,” says Hamilton.  “We don’t participate in the action, but instead comment from afar, using a pure choral tone.”

For details of upcoming performances by the Australian Voices, visit their website.

Contribute to Limelight and support independent arts journalism.