Musicians and icons come together to heal the harms of war

Claudia Vannithone 4 June 2021
Normie Rowe in Vietnam

Fifty years on from Australia’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War, musicians like Australian singer Normie Rowe are coming together for the Vietnam Requiem this weekend. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Premiering this weekend, The Vietnam Requiem, a concert created by some of Australia’s leading composers, musicians and historians, will see hundreds of musicians give their hearts to an emotional demonstration of the power of music.

Following extensive veteran and community consultation and research, the concert has been designed to help heal the great wounds created by the Vietnam War. This month marks 50 years since Australia’s withdrawal from and the concert will acknowledge the price paid by all.

Chris Latham

Chris Latham at rehearsal with the orchestra. Photo: Agency 9.

Creator and director of The Vietnam Requiem and Artist-in-Residence at the Australian War Memorial Chris Latham says, “To be touched by the Vietnam War was to be burned. It was a war that tore apart families, communities and has left deep wounds”.

“Music is powerful. It stirs emotions, brings people together, and can uplift and it can help heal. We are doing this to try to heal a great tear in the fabric of our nation.”

The Vietnam Requiem is the third of seven commemorative works that Chris is creating to mark Australia’s experience in war over the last centenary. These include the Gallipoli Symphony (2015) and Digger’s Requiem (2018).

Chris says that this instalment has been the most emotionally difficult, but has also been a cathartic experience with the veteran and Vietnamese communities coming together to aid the project and help in the healing process.

“At every turn, this war has caused a great deal of pain. The South Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people lost loved ones, not only to the conflict, but also the many who later fled as Boat People and were never seen again,” Chris said.

“During this time, the Australian community had differing opinions and experiences. On one side were those who believed that we needed to fight to save our way of life and, on the other, were the protesters who strongly felt that we had no right to be there.”


READ ALSO: Fifty years on, Little Pattie hopes for a nuanced reflection on Vietnam


Then there are our Vietnam Veterans, the majority of whom were young men conscripted into service, putting their lives on the line, only to come home and be vilified for their involvement in the war.

“Throughout the 18-month process of creating this event, what continues to catch me off-guard is how grateful the veteran and Vietnamese communities are for what we are doing. They have come together to support this event and have worked tirelessly beside us so we can enhance the understanding of those touched by this war,” says Chris.

The Vietnam Requiem will be performed in Canberra on Saturday, 5 June and Sunday, 6 June at Llewellyn Hall. It will take audiences on a musical journey as stories come to life through music and projected imagery. The concert has two distinct halves.

The first half will see pop songs of the era performed by Aussie icons like Little Pattie, John Schumann and Normie Rowe under the direction of Australia’s most experienced jazz musician, Bill Risby.

The second half features new works created by renowned Australian composers Elena Kats-Chernin, Ross Edwards, Graeme Koehne, Andrew Schultz and more. It will feature William Barton on yiaki (didgeridoo), the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and guests, members of the RAN, Army and RAAF Defence Force Bands, ANU Chamber Orchestra, Brisbane Chamber Choir and combined Canberra Choirs.

Book your tickets today through Ticketek.


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