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  • Amy Maddison

Focus on stars, not darkness

📷Image: Caerwen Martin, with her daughter Aralyn.   © Charles Bickford.

Today we are reproducing a piece written by musician Caerwen Martin for Resonate Magazine at the Australian Music Centre. Caerwen describes her new work 'Stars come out in a Midnight Sky', composed for the Hush Foundation's forthcoming CD with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. She movingly evokes her responses to attending music therapy sessions with young hospital patients and the creative impulses which arose from these experiences:

This year, I was commissioned to write for the Hush Foundation's 18th CD, as part of the project instigated and run by Dr Catherine Crock. The piece is to be recorded and performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2018.

Writing for the Hush Foundation's project has been a strong experience. I went into the Royal Children's Hospital and the Monash Children's Hospital under the mentorship of Prof Stuart Greenbaum. Together we were introduced to adolescents in the chronic health and mental health wards who were a part of the music therapy programs. We took part in some music therapy sessions with the adolescents, which I found profoundly affecting. Working with the music therapists was engaging and fun, but it was also far-reaching and brought out a lot of inner thoughts to consider.

The brief of the commission was to write a piece that would support patients, their families and medical health professionals as they navigate the hospital environment. I found this brief personally challenging. The music is there to soothe but not patronise, engage without distracting, be uplifting without being inappropriately joyful, and to offer understanding without hitting too hard on a nerve. This is a hard line to walk for me, musically speaking, as my music often goes to the extremes of human emotion and experience. So, finding a middle ground that fulfilled all of these needs took a lot of inner listening and reflection. I needed to obtain a place of calm within myself, which is easier said than done in a busy life of children, music, theatre, study and work, but it was achievable in small moments, and when I was in this calm state, I kept coming back to a single idea that seemed to soothe and interest me.

The idea was of flowing quavers, moving like the surface of a large pool of water, with a single note that repeats itself in a phrase that could be considered melodic if it varied in pitch. From there, a duet between the 1st and 2nd violins emerged, something that reaches for all of the hopes that we have, and then eventually returns to the original, resting water idea.

The title I chose was Stars come out in a Midnight Sky. The meaning behind this title is best described by a quote by Martin Luther King: 'Only in the darkness can you see the stars.' What I take from this quote is that, during times of great trial and hardship, we reach an understanding of the magnitude of life. The choice of setting the stars as harmonics was an obvious one but it suited the brief as this piece draws on the common vernacular of familiarity and popular music. What I focused on in my writing was the stars aspect, not the darkness. I wrote for the young people that I met during my time at the hospitals, for they are all stars in their own right.

Further links

Caerwen Martin - AMC profile

Hush Foundation (

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