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Once upon a time...

An ironic melodrama for speaker and ensemble

Instrumentation: speaker; fl/alto fl/pic; ob/cor ang; tbn; xly/perc; pf.

date: 1985.   duration: approx. 20 m

Once upon a time... is a music theatre work exploring the relationship between words and music, the format of which (speaker and tape playback) was premiered at the 1987 Australian National Playwrights Conference, Canberra. The music was originally written on the Fairlight Computer for the dance theatre production, 'Family Portrait' (1985), produced by the One Extra Dance Theatre Company (Sydney).  Once the dance production season was over, the music was repurposed to tell a story about a nuclear family. Click here for more information. 


The repurposed version for musical instruments and speaker was premiered by the Pipleine Ensmble in the Broadwalk Studio, Sydney Opera House, 1988. The work was later recorded by Pipeline in that same year at the North Melbourne Town Hall with Mary Sitarenos as the speaker. 


Score, parts (and also a version for flexible instrumentation) are available by contacting the composer

Once upon a time...

While the first performance and recording from 1988 included the Fairlight computer, the computer part was removed from later performance editions and arranged for the other ensemble instruments, Some of the speaker's texts have been slightly revised.


The recordings below consist of:

i)  the original recordings from 1988 of the Pipeline ensemble that didn't involve the Fairlight computer; and

ii) re-orchestrations of the original movements that involved the Fairlight computer .

The original recordings are performed by Mary Sitarenos (speaker) and the Pipeline music ensemble.

1. Once upon a time, but not so very far away, there lives a family. Here is the father. He is making a telephone call. He wants to find a job!

00:00 / 00:51

re-orchestrated version

6. A visitor! It is the man next door. He wants to borrow the father’s lawn mower so that he can mow his front lawn early in the morning.

7. Bedtime. Here is the father making love to the mother. The mother... dreams of younger days.*

8. Later on, an argument! The father and mother are having a fight!

9. Here are the father and mother trying to make friends with each other after the argument.

10. Ten years later. Here is the son leaving home with his suitcase. He is renting a house with some friends.

11. Here is the daughter. It is her wedding day. She is very happy.

12. Here are the mother and father making preparations for a special dinner. They are very excited. The son and daughter are coming home.

13. Later on, it is time for the son and daughter to go back to their own homes. Here are the son and daughter kissing their parents goodbye. The father has a tear in his eye.

2. Here is the mother. She is doing the housework. She has plenty of jobs.

15. The end!

3. Here are the children. A son and a daughter.

5. Here is the family sitting down for dinner. They don’t know what to say to each other, but they try very hard.

4. Here are the children being yelled at by the father for not putting away their toys. The father is very tense. (revised text)

14. But life goes on! Here are the parents cleaning up after the special dinner. They put on their pyjamas and go to bed

00:00 / 01:31

original recording

00:00 / 01:00

original recording

00:00 / 00:30

re-orchestrated version combined with

original text

00:00 / 02:28

original recording

00:00 / 00:39

original recording

00:00 / 03:32

re-orchestrated version 

(see below for original version with Fairlight computer sample)**

00:00 / 00:26

original recording

00:00 / 01:19

original recording

00:00 / 01:10

re-orchestrated version

00:00 / 01:02

original recording

00:00 / 00:32

original recording

00:00 / 02:03

original recording

00:00 / 00:49

re-orchestrated version


* Depending on the audience context, the following alternative text is suggested for No. 7:

Bedtime. Here is the father kissing the mother good night. The mother dreams of younger days.

** For reference, the original version of 'Bedtime' demonstrating the multiple use of tempi; and the simulated low 'grunting' sounds from the Fairlight computer can be heard here.

00:00 / 03:49
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