The creative process and journey of Ben Robinson’s ‘A Place to Grow’

As part of our 20th anniversary celebrations, St Columba Anglican School has commissioned a school song to commemorate this special occasion.

In our search for an appropriate composer, we realised how fortunate we were to have such a talented and diverse range of alumni in the performing arts field to draw on. In early 2022 we approached Class of 2014 alumni Ben Robinson and were delighted to have him agree to compose a piece for us.

After graduating from SCAS, Ben studied a Bachelor of Music (Composition) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he was awarded the Raymond Hanson Memorial prize for excellence in composition. Despite the effects of the global pandemic, Ben has kicked off his career with commissions for the Australian National Academy of Music’s bold project The ANAM Set, Sydney’s charismatic orchestral collective Ensemble Apex, and the Sydney Opera House. He has also composed for a number of prestigious development programs with Ensemble Offspring, the Australian Youth Orchestra and Gondwana Choirs, being praised for his “idiomatic writing, clear sense of musical intention and cohesive language”.

Ben’s music has been performed in local festivals including Vivid Sydney and Extended Play, as well as internationally in the U.S., the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, and the Asia Saxophone Congress in Shanghai. Outside of composition, Ben works with Australia’s musical trailblazers Ensemble Offspring to commission and perform more new music than any group in the country. He also tours around Australia and the UK with the absurd, Georgian-inspired vocal group The Spooky Men’s Chorale.

We spoke to Ben about the process of composing this captivating work and how his journey at SCAS inspired him.

Ben, what did you think when you were asked about creating a piece of music for our 20th anniversary celebrations?

I was totally stoked to be commissioned for this. I’m sure at least a few people have relatively awful memories of being forced to sing a not-so-inspiring school song as a kid, and as an alumnus of SCAS, it was this integral link to the School’s identity which made this commission particularly significant – and exciting!

What was it like composing a school song and how did you approach this unique endeavour?

First of all, it’s actually an instrumental work for wind band and strings – not exactly a ‘song’, but rather a kind of processional piece for important school ceremonies. I quickly realised that writing this piece was a chance to create something fun for the students to play for years to come. A piece that allows them to create something exciting and beautiful together while comfortably sitting within their musical abilities – a fanfare.

How did you capture what ‘a school’ sounds like?

It’s a tricky question to answer. Thankfully, I had a few years of first-hand experience with the School and community to help me find a solution. Reflecting on my time as a student at St Columba, I began composing this piece by trying to describe how it feels to grow up at SCAS and the word that came to mind very clearly was ‘safe’. Above all, SCAS is a safe place – to find friends, to figure out who you are, to discover your passion, to dream big…even to love Star Wars or join the choir. Musically, it seemed fitting to capture the School’s warmth and quirkiness, stitched together with a driving youthful energy.

Tell us how the progression of the composition ties in with your reflections on SCAS.

The fanfare maps out the journey of growing up in a community like SCAS, with each stage having its own musical theme in the piece:

  • The first step – starting school wide-eyed and ambitious.
  • Curiosity – asking questions and finding your feet.
  • Thriving – settling in with friends and routine.
  • Passion – finding your passion and a thirst for knowledge.
  • Farewell – graduation; saying goodbye to the community that shaped you.
  • A new adventure – the next school, the next job, the next step; the journey starts again.

Thanks, Ben. We look forward to hearing the piece performed at its premiere in December, as well as at special events and occasions for many years to come.

Thank you. I really look forward to heading back home to Port Macquarie and meeting the students who will bring this music to life!

Ben’s captivating work, A Place to Grow, is now ready for our students, alumni and other invited musicians to start rehearsing in Term 4. This will culminate in a premiere performance at the end-of-year Celebration Concert at the Port Macquarie Glasshouse on Wednesday 7 December.

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