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Brilliant musician, composer and educator Deborah Cheetham Fraillon appointed to key role at Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Rhiannon Clarke -

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the University of Sydney has welcomed renowned First Nations soprano, musician, composer and educator Deborah Cheetham Fraillon as the inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies.

Professor Cheetham Fraillon AO is a Yorta Yorta soprano and composer specialising in chamber, orchestral, choral and operatic settings of First Nations traditional languages and narratives across Australia.

Widely celebrated and a leader on the subject of the importance of cultural authority in the Art Music space, the Professor has championed a voice and visibility in the classical music field.

Prof Cheetham Fraillon describes herself as a "21st century urban woman who is Yorta Yorta by birth, Stolen Generation by government policy, soprano by diligence, composer by necessity and lesbian by practice".

She has classically trained First Nations musicians and worked as a composer, performer and artistic director of the Short Black Opera and Ensemble Dutala.

A graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with a Bachelor of Music Education in 1986, Prof Cheetham Fraillon returns this year as the inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies.

As a practising artist, she'll be lecturing and mentoring students in vocal and opera studies and composition and will also conduct research delivered as performance practice.

"It is a great honour to return to my alma mater as the Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies," she said.

"Ms Todd was a revered singing teacher and I had the great good fortune to sing for her on a number of occasions when I was a student in Sydney."

Elizabeth Todd was also a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before joining as a lecturer in singing in 1948.

Ms Todd continued to teach until 1985, retiring as Senior Lecturer and Head of Vocal Studies. Her well renowned passion for music and love for teaching leaves a lasting legacy for future generations of students.

"I look forward to this opportunity to contribute to the development of the next generation of musicians at Australia's most prestigious conservatorium," said Prof Cheetham Fraillon.

"My aim is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of the true purpose of music as central to our way of being.

"Whilst the Elizabeth Todd Chair is a new initiative it is built on the continuation of a long and celebrated tradition of vocal studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

"I am looking forward to working with esteemed colleagues in the vocal department."

A talented and much in demand composer, Prof Cheetham Fraillon has established her credentials in the early 2000s.

She received a commission to write and perform an original work as the welcome to Country for the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Her most recent major commissions include works for The Australian Ballet (The Hum 2023), Sydney Symphony Orchestra (Ghost Light 2022), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Baparripna 2022), and Victorian Opera (Parrwang Lifts The Sky 2021).

Professor Anna Reid, Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, said Prof Cheetham Fraillon is "the single most outstanding Indigenous classical music artist that Australia has produced".

"This is possibly one of the most important appointments we have made," she said.

"She is the Artistic Director of Australia's national Indigenous opera company Short Black Opera where she plays the role of composer, soprano and educator.

"This, amongst her many achievements, demonstrates her ability to transcend musical and cultural boundaries to create music, and education, that inspire our current generation of musical artists."

Prof Reid said the Sydney Conservatorium of Music is "simply thrilled to bits" to have Professor Cheetham Fraillon join the faculty.

"An artist of this calibre and experience will profoundly change the learning environment for our students and the manner of our engagement with faculty," she said.

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