Once upon a time...

An ironic melodrama for speaker and ensemble

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

Performance Texts and Music

date: 1986.   duration: 21 m

A version for flexible instrumentation is also available. Contact the composer
Once upon a time... (Revised text)

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 dinner preparations. They are very excited. The son and daughter are coming home for a special dinner.

13. After dinner, 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.

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


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

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

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

Score and parts are available from the Australian Music Centre

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' (1986), 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. See above link About Once upon a time...


The repurposed version for musical instruments and speaker was premiered in the Broadwalk Studio, Sydney Opera House, 1988. While the first performance included the Fairlight computer, the computer part was subsequently arranged for the other ensemble instruments, and removed from later performance editions. Some of the speaker's texts have been slightly revised.

Once upon a time... (Original Performance recording)

Date of recording: 1988

Venue: North Melbourne Town hall.

Speaker: Mary Sitarenos

Ensemble: Pipeline and Fairlight computer

1. Here is the father...
2. Here is the mother...
00:00 / 01:36
00:00 / 01:32
3. Here are the children
00:00 / 01:02
4. Father yelling at children...
00:00 / 00:35
5. Family sitting for dinner
00:00 / 02:33
6. A visitor....
00:00 / 00:39
7. Bedtime...
00:00 / 03:49
8. An argument,,.
00:00 / 00:28
9. Making up after...
10. Son leaving home...
00:00 / 01:20
00:00 / 01:43
11. Daughter's wedding day
00:00 / 01:06
12. A special dinner
00:00 / 00:35
13. Son and daughter saying goodbye
00:00 / 02:06
14. But life goes on...
00:00 / 01:43
15. The end.