Exploring Tasmania’s History and Landscape in Music for Children’s Performance: Don Kay’s There Is an Island (1977)

Holly Caldwell, Carolyn Philpott and Maria Grenfell 

University of Tasmania

Context 48 (2022): 1–20.

Published online: 31 Jan. 2023


Tasmanian composer Don Kay (b. 1933) has made a significant contribution to music in his island state and in Australia more broadly in a career spanning over six decades. Many of his works explore aspects of Tasmania’s landscape and history, especially its Indigenous past, and of his 300 works, approximately ten percent are designed specifically for children to perform. Through these latter works, Kay has made a substantial contribution to educating children about locally relevant topics, a practice often overlooked within the context of art music and education. Kay’s works are regularly performed and held in high regard, particularly in Tasmania; however, his music has rarely been discussed in detail in the literature before now.

In this article, we begin to address this gap by examining one of Kay’s most successful works for children to perform, There is an Island (1977), within the context of his work as a composer and educator. Drawing on primary data collected from the composer via interviews and surveys, relevant existing literature and our analyses of the score and recording of There is an Island,the article aims to illuminate the processes Kay has employed to write music for children that connects them with Tasmania’s landscape and history; and to demonstrate the ongoing relevance and significance of such work within Australian music.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.46580/cx46584