William Barton

My favourite indigenous classical musician is William Barton, didjeridu player extraordinaire! We were privileged to hear him play in 2006 on a barnstorming tour with the Sculthorpe Quartet, playing a Peter Sculthorpe piece sent by fax that very day. The whole building (the Moruya Mechanics Institute) turned into a musical instrument, with floor boards vibrating to the strings and the didjeridu, holding us all spellbound long after the last note faded.


Here is a video of William Barton playing Didjeridu with guitarist Anthony Garcia. They have recently released an album called Desert Stars Dancing. Keep watching to enjoy the very interesting abc radio interview with them both, and an excerpt from the new cd! I also love William Barton’s work Kalkadunga Yurdu with the Song Company.

William Barton is considered one of Australia’s leading didjeridu players and composers. Born in Mount Isa, he was taught to play the instrument from an early age by his uncle, an Elder of the Wannyi, Lardi and Kalkadunga tribes of North Western Queensland. In 1997, at the age 17, he made his classical debut with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Now based in Brisbane, William’s recent Australian performances have included the Sydney Festival’s Symphony In The Domain with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Huntington Festival, The Brisbane Festival, Australian Festival of Chamber Music and with The Song Company.

International performances have included Canada’s Edmonton Festival, the Estonian Music Festival, the Wassoi World Music Festival in Japan, and the Phoenix and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras.

In 2003, William was a joint winner of the Music Council of Australia/Freedman Foundation Award for Classical Music. He views this award as recognition of his instrument as a valid classical instrument. William wants his audiences, many of whom have not encountered an Aboriginal Australian, to see the didjeridu as a living dynamic thing with a vital presence in contemporary classical music.

In 2003 William was Artist-in Residence at The Queensland Orchestra, which saw William touring Queensland schools with his unique blend of traditional didjeridu fused with classical music, contemporary rock and fusion-techno. William composed and performed a major commission for the Queensland Biennial Festival of Music called Songs of Mother Country. He also performed it at the Colorado Music Festival.The Queensland Festival also produced Kalkadoon Man, a documentary screened on the ABC, which sees William journey back to his homelands to find and make a didjeridu out in the bush.

William has developed a strong bond with Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, who has re-written some of his key works to include parts for the didjeridu, including Earth Cry, which William has performed with The Queensland Orchestra in Brisbane and Tokyo. William featured in the Australian premiere of Peter Sculthorpe’s Requiem, a major work for orchestra, chorus and didjeridu, with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the 2004 Adelaide Festival and with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the Lichfield Festival, UK. He reprised this performance in 2005 in a number of performances, including with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra at the Ten Days On The Island Festival. The Four Winds Barnstorming Tour in March 2006 (when we heard/saw him) and the Four Winds at Easter in April feature three of Peter’s string quartets with didjeridu and also Jabiru Deaming for percussion and didjeridu.

Peter Sculthorpe said at the time William received the MCA/Freedman Award “Music for the didjeridu is improvised. It can be notated but graphic symbols are too restrictive. Over the years I have worked with a number of didjeridu players, with works of mine for both chamber ensemble and orchestra. All splendid performers, they have tended to play the instrument with little regard for the other players. William is the only player that I know who makes a careful study of the music. After listening to it countless times, he is then able to complement the sounds made by the chamber group or orchestra. His performances are a true collaboration between performer and composer.” Music Forum, Aug-Sept 2003.

In 2005 William made his debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, worked with the Goldner String Quartet in a national tour for Musica Viva and at the Aldburough Festival (UK), and was a featured performer at the 90th Anniversary Anzac Day Commemoration Service at Gallipoli.

William also appeared as a featured soloist in the 2005 Queensland Music Festival’s – Credo The Innocence of God, a project by Fabrica with the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe. Composed and conducted by Andrea Molino, this multimedia music theatre work was performed simultaneously via satellite in Belfast, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Brisbane.

William’s ongoing collaborations and commissions with orchestras, choral directors and composers in Australia, America and Europe are creating a strong and positive sustainable future for the instrument and Australia’s cultural heritage.

Through such collaborations and projects, William Barton aims to present the virtuosic potential of his instrument and richness of his Australian culture to audiences throughout the world. He hopes they will see this music, not just as an illustration of some exotic antiquity, but as a living, dynamic process, requiring considerable technique, stamina and study, equal to that of any conventional classically trained professional musician.

William’s performances for children are becoming legendary. The quote above was from a report of an end of year concert at Virginia State School in December 2005. This was broadcast live around Australia on ABC Classic FM. The report also says “Kookaburra calls, dingo howls, beatboxing, turntable scratching, tropical rainstorms – if you closed your eyes it was easy to forget that this was really just one man with a piece of wood.”

Link to his CDs

This post is part of my response to Frizz BBB challenge: BBB is for Barton, breathtaking and beautiful!

16 thoughts on “William Barton

  1. Whenever I hear the word ‘didjeridu’, I always think of Rolf Harris. 🙂 Love this music, Christine. Anthony Garcia is a brilliant guitarist, and the two instruments together are very exciting to listen to.

    • i just loved William’s playing from the first time i heard him with the string quartet, then i found Kalkadunga Yurdu with the Song Company, and so on, but i too love his work with Anthony Garcia …. i think we will have to get that cd!

  2. I couldn’t seem to get sound–hahaha! I think there’s some kind of international restriction, but I’m going to do my homework and I’ll find a recording of William Barton on a didgeridoo! I really want to hear him play an instrument I really do not know! Imagine making his debut at 17 with the Queensland Symphony! I have a little homework to do, but I will acquaint myself with his work!

  3. I have a dream where… for the highest good… Australia’s indigenous culture becomes recognised, welcomed and appreciated as part of the wonderful multicultural offerings of our country, such as this music 🙂

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