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Stories of the Dead a celebration of life and beyond
Last Sunday night the Arts Centre was the venue for a truly Melbourne event. The Wheeler Centre's gala opening of its literary year turned Hamer Hall into a hub for books, writing and ideas: a fitting reminder of this town's status as a City of Literature.
On a beautiful late summer's afternoon, a steady stream of logophiles trooped into the darkness of Hamer Hall to hear twelve people talk, play and sing their way through their own story for the dead. The urbane Michael Williams of the Wheeler Centre kicked off with a quote by William Faulkner: 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.' He shared his own story of his grandparents: 'Every time I fall short as a human being, I think about my grandparents,' a sentiment to which many of us can relate.
As part of Asia TOPA, the gala brought together artists from across the region, starting with Japanese lute player Kakushin Nishahara, whose haunting tremolo voice and fan-shaped plectrum made for the kind of sounds that both jar and intrigue listeners new to the Satsuma biwa (lute). Eddie Ayres read a fan letter to Beethoven ('May I say you're a f*****g genius? The opening of your ninth symphony is only four notes and three of them are the same') that compared classical music to the silence after a bomb. Ayre's time in Kabul was the basis for what was a far-reaching and thought-provoking take on life and death in a war zone. Eko Supriyanto, Deborah Cheetham, Pichet Klunchun, Candy Bowers, Ramona Koval, Myf Warhurst, Clementine Ford and David Astle followed, each with their own version of what death means to them. Special mention goes to Astle for managing to make us laugh and cry within the space of ten minutes, not once but multiple times.
The evening finished half an hour overtime with first-time mother Amanda Palmer at the piano: 'There's nothing like a baby to make you focus on death.' Her wry song 'At least the baby didn't die' touched a chord but may have distressed some in the audience who hadn't been as fortunate as Palmer. That quibble aside, the evening was yet another example of the Wheeler Centre's happy knack of providing opportunities for members of the writing community to gather together and celebrate all things literary.