Christopher Sainsbury
Composer - Songwriter - Guitarist - Educator


Christopher Sainsbury - composer - songwriter - guitarist - educator

I base myself in regional, community and professional music settings. I'm passionately interested in the interpretation of my home region of the Central Coast of NSW and Sydney through my works. This stems in part from my Australian Indigenous heritage - I am a member of the Dharug peoples. Regionalism in music is where one draws upon motives and images of their local region and reconstitutes them in new ways through creative works that in turn fortify a sense of regional identity. It's stuff is largely to do with the local geography and the broader cultural biography of a region.

I was previously Head of Department in Aboriginal Visual and Performing Arts at the Eora Centre, an Indigenous Tertiary College in Sydney for 23 years. The 'yadda yadda' stuff includes commissions from the ACO (1987), from Australian flute elder Gordon Yemm (1987), from the Newcastle Bicentennial Authority (1988), the World Expo Brisbane (1988), all the way through to recent times including commissions from the Central Coast Youth Orchestra (2014 and 2015), from the Canberra International Music Festival (2019 and 2021), and from the SSO (2020).

In many of my works one may expect to hear the guitar, my main instrument. I maintain an active career as a guitarist performing jazz and contemporary, surf music and new music styles. Hear Ocean Song (performed by the Random Earth Band) at: Ocean Song Also see Guitar music page.

The 'yadda yadda' stuff:

Early composition highlights include:

(Yes, lots from the 1980s. I'm older than I realised!)

1986: Winner of the Young Australian Composer Award for Australian Concert Overture.

1986: Winner of the College Medal (Northen Rivers College of Advanced Education, Lismore) for academic excellence.

1986: Queensland Theatre Orchestra programmed my ambient orchestral work Horizons for QPAC performances and regional tours.

1987: The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) commissioned my string orchestra piece Homage to TS Eliot (then under director Carl Pini).

1994: Aboriginal Protestors, commissioned incidental music by leading Aboriginal theatre director Noel Tovey) for the Sydney Festival and the Weimar Festival Germany.

2002: Concerto for Guitar for Spanish virtuoso Jose Maria Gallardo Del Rey, commissioned by the Darwin International Guitar Festival.

2004-2005: My Eye Has Seen My Desire commissioned by the Netherlands renowned new music ensemble, Duo Bosgraaf-Elias (bass recorder and guitar).

2010: First Light won the New England Philharmonic Orchestra Boston composers competition 2010-11.

Past compositions include commissions/performances: the Crossroads Festival (Australia 2010), the Swedish New Music group Levande Musik, cor anglais player Rachel Tolmie and the Central Coast Concertante Ensemble (cond. Chris Bearman), guitarist Ken Murray, contemporary pianist Michael Hannan for the Newcastle Bi-Centennial Authority 1988 and the Blue Mountains New Music Festival 1988, the Central Coast Philharmonia, the Central Coast Symphony Orchestra (home!), the World Expo Brisbane 1988, and many more. Much of this goes back into the mid 1980s, and much articulates community engagement.

Recent highlights:

Red Kangaroo Standing, a new commission from Canberra's leading contemporary group the Griffyn Ensemble, 2020. An interpretive setting of Indigenous Minister Ken Wyatt's maiden speech to Parliament. Lyrics by Melinda Smith.

From the Deep, for double bass solo 2020. Commisisoned by the CSO Australian Miniseries. For Max McBride.

If I Were A Semi-tone, a new commission for The Australian Voices, cond. Gordon Hamilton.

Bardo, flute trio for Mark Xiao and friends, for the Australian Flute Festival July 2019, Sydney Conservatorium.

Clock and Bells, for Oriana Choir (directed by Dan Walker), co-composed with Aboriginal musician Darryl Griffen.

Mari yanna, a Graduation/ceremonial piece commissioned by the ANU Chancellery, with Indigenous context, for ANU orchestra directed by Chris.

A new Sydney Symphony Orchestra commission, directed by Marin Alsop, August 2020. (Now to be scheduled in 2021).

The Magic of This Dawn, performed by Yale Concert Band, Yale USA, 2019.

Bardo, flute trio for Mark Xiao and friends, for the Australian Flute Festival July 2019, Sydney Conservatorium.

Weereewa/Lake Music, a commissioned installation piece in collaboration with the photo-media artist Rowan Conroy, Goulburn Regional Art Gallery July - September 2019. Now part of their permanent collection.

Bark of the 'bidgee, Small mixed ensemble work commissioned by Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF), cond. Roland Peelman, May 2019.

The Arrival, for Teddy (Edward) Neeman solo piano, commisioned by the Polish Festival Canberra October 2018.

Djagamara, 2018, for the Griffyn Ensemble (flute and harp) performance at the Canberra Sorry Day concert.

Spirit Land, 2017, commissioned by documentary film maker Robert Doyle.

Mud Moon, a string trio 2017, Commissioned to celebrate the Australian Ceramic Artist, Ros Auld

The Sphinx, for a cappella choir 2016-17, Commissioned by Avondale Conservatorium for choir "The Promise"

Scar Tree, 2016, commissioned by the Primal Dance Company (for the Sydney Fringe Festival and East Coast Tour).

The Earth Song, 2016 by former Senator Bob Brown, commissioned by Bob Brown to be arranged for community choir. Performed at the Canberra Writer’s Festival in 2016.

The Magic of This Dawn, commissioned by the North Sydney Symphonic Wind Ensemble (NSSWE) and performed at the NSSWE Festival, Chatswood, 2016 and their Japan tour.

Australian Concert Overture was performed by Symphony Central Coast, December 2016 at the Central Coast Grammar School Auditorium. This is the first performance of this work for 30 years, since it won the Australian Young Composer Award in 1986.

The Flowergirls, for solo oboe, a set work for higher level competitors Australian Double Reed Society National Conference and Competition, Sydney, 2016

North Country Sketches, performed by guitarist Italian virtuoso Gian Marco Ciampa in 2016 (Australia and Italy).

Brackish Songs, for mezzo-soprano and guitar, featuring Giuseppe Zangari and Michaele Archer, hosted by the College of Arts and Social Sciences Indigenous lecture-recital, ANU, October 2016.

Ratoos, for flute ensemble. For the Flutation Festival, Central Coast Conservatorium 2016.

Civic Melancholy, 2015, recipient of an Art Central Grant from Regional Development Australia (Central Coast).

Brackish Songs, 2015, recipient of an Art Central Grant from Regional Development Australia (Central Coast).

Gallipoli Sensings, 2015, for the Wind Trio of the Royal Australian Navy Band Sydney. Installation with the Contemporary Gallipoli exhibition. Macquarie University Gallery, Cowra Regional Art Gallery and Grafton Regional Art Gallery.

Beach Holiday, 2014, and Where Cooling Zephyrs Breathe, 2015. I was commissioned to complete two new works to contribute to the youth orchestra repertoire, an important initiative by Australian conductor Patrick Brennan. Beach Holiday was performed by the Central Coast Youth Orchestra in 2014, and Where Cooling Zephyrs Breathe was performed by the same group in 2015.

Education and other:

I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Composition at the Australian National University (ANU). Previously I held a full time position at the Eora Centre—an Indigenous tertiary college in Sydney—where I taught from 1990 and later was Head of Aboriginal Visual and Performing Arts from 1993 - 2015. In this role I supervised numerous programs in music, theatre, screen studies and Aboriginal Arts. My team ensured that our graduates are represented at the top level in todays Indigenous music sector, the Indigenous theatre sector, in the Indigenous film and TV sector, and in major galleries of NSW and Australia. I also taught briefly at UTS (Curriculum Studies), and also at Avondale College (Australian Music Studies, Ethnomusicology and Composition).

In community settings I was director of a large community choir 'Bouddi Voice' for several years on the Central Coast. I have also been musical director for many Aboriginal theatre and music events in Redfern including Sydney’s first Koorabaret in 1992.

I am the founder and artistic director for Ngarra-burria: First Peoples Composers in Australia, (previously known as the Australian Indigenous Composer Initiative). See earlier link here: Also see Ngarra-burria page.

As a guitarist I have played in all the south-Eastern states at various clubs, pubs, cafes, surf clubs and festivals going back to 1979. My solo guitar album Anima has featured on ABC broadcasts (particularly with Lucky Oceans - The Planet), and more recently I am a guitarist in the Random Earth Band. In addition to the 'classical' based material I have written around 200 jazz, folk and rock tunes/songs, and surf music tracks, much with a guitar focus. Recent examples are on the Guitar page at: Guitar Music

Scores and recordings of my works are available from the Australian Music Centre, Wirripang, and the National Library Australia, as well as this website. I maintain an 'indie' approach as much as possible.