By Gabrielle Cadenhead.


Narratives and storytelling are among the core aspects of being human.

The stories we tell about others and ourselves shape our relationships and reflect our beliefs. And it is stories that help to inspire empathy with those in situations far removed from ours.

We express these narratives through word of mouth, through novels and poetry, through dance, crayons, video and music. We perform our realities and receive others’ in the exchange of stories that is art. And we live, move and have our being in the wonderful, creative story of God.

My practices as a writer and composer constantly overlap, and at their intersection lies faith. Art is inherently sacred, in the way we were created and are able to create in the image of our creator God.

Although not all of my art is explicitly “Christian”, by creating art I enter into the narrative of God’s creation. Through my poetry, prose and music, I endeavour to tell stories which are important or overlooked, and these art forms allow me to explore and express my faith creatively, and to share my discipleship with others.

I am particularly passionate about creating art that gives voice to social justice issues. Art and artists are often at the forefront of protest movements, and church traditions such as hymn singing continue to be used as a form of peaceful protest, such as in the incredible work of Love Makes A Way.

In 2016, I made the conscious decision to become more political with my art making. For my major work at University that semester, I composed a piece of music entitled Asylum, for baritone voice, euphonium and water percussion. This piece blends traditional Arabic scales with sounds produced by found objects in water to form a three-part structure. 

The beginning section portrays the violent persecution faced by ethnic and religious minorities in places such as Burma/Myanmar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq. The middle section describes the complicated journey of people seeking asylum as they pass through different countries and board leaky boats in the hope of resettlement in Australia. The third section portrays the endless waiting they face upon arrival, during their detention on Nauru or Manus Island.

The aim of this piece is to encourage empathy through storytelling, so that more Australians take a stand against the blatant, needless injustice inflicted by our government. This topic is one I am continuing to delve into through my music and writing.

Challenging traditional Australian apathy and highlighting issues our society prefers to ignore became the centrepiece for a collaboration with visual artist and composer Liam Mulligan at the beginning of this year. We chose five key topics we felt were important, about which I wrote poems based on objects associated with these issues. Liam created videos to accompany each poem that revolved around these objects. Then we both took to the recording studio and improvised music to the videos, to create an inter-disciplinary meditation on some of Australian society’s blind spots, a series entitled The Invisible.

Both of us strongly believe in cross-disciplinary art as the future of music, and in promoting awareness and empathy around our chosen topics: climate change, Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum, mental illness, domestic violence, and disability. In nine lines of poetry and three to five minutes of music and video per issue, not much can be said on each subject, but we created a cohesive body of work which reflects both the direction of our creative practices and the way in which we hope storytelling can touch and shape opinions. Liam and I will be improvising live to these poem-videos again on 31st August at Konzertprojekt presents: Conductive.

Cross-disciplinary art is something I am continuing to explore, and on 25th August, I will be performing my own composition for poetry and solo flute, entitled ‘Echo’. This work incorporates both my art forms, and describes my experience of practicing flute in a church.

It is an incredible feeling to be alone in a church, and when equipped with an instrument that can fill the space with sound, this carries a certain power. For me, this represents a profound connection with God, and the deep sense of home I feel in a church.

The majority of my life has been spent living next door to churches, attending church at least once a week, and using church spaces for music practice. These feelings I captured in a poem in 2017, entitled ‘Echo’, and the next logical step was to construct a solo flute piece to further reflect on this concept. This poem and the resulting flute piece will be performed alongside each other at Extended Play Festival of New Music.

As an artist, I feel a responsibility to tell the important stories of our time – to convey narratives through poetry and music, to engage audiences and allow them to empathise with people and situations beyond their own. And to also unashamedly but thoughtfully explore faith, grief, politics and humanity through both my art forms, whether separately or intertwined. I pray that God might be present within this art making.

Gabrielle Cadenhead is an emerging musician, writer and composer and is currently club secretary for Christian Students Uniting at The University of Sydney. Gabrielle studies English Literature at the University of Sydney and Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and her pieces have been performed by youth orchestras and professional musicians alike. ​Hear her in concert at Extended Play Festival of New Music on August 25th and at Konzertprojekt presents: Conductive on August 31st.