Introducing Sandra Milliken
Sandra Milliken (b. 1961) is an Australian composer, arranger, conductor, adjudicator, music educator and teacher based in Brisbane, Australia. She specialises in choral music.
My tertiary studies began at the University of New England where I undertook majors in Musicology and Ethno-musicology, as well as completing my teaching qualifications. After moving from Cairns to the state capital, Brisbane, I read for a Masters degree in choral conducting at the University of Queensland under Dr Ed Bolkovac. After completing my Masters, I worked part-time at the University of Queensland, lecturing in the Master’s Degree Program as well as the Summer Music Program. During that time I conducted the university’s premiere choir Concentus.
Whilst living in Cairns and Brisbane I spent several years as a classroom music teacher in both the primary and secondary sectors, teaching classroom and instrumental music and conducting vocal ensembles.
In the late 1970s I established my own music teaching practice, specialising in piano and voice – something that I continue to do today.
My extensive experience with choirs began with the Cairns Choral Society in 1979 – first as a singer, then as accompanist and also as conductor of some of their small ensembles. In 1995, a year after arriving in Brisbane, I was invited to join the staff of the Queensland Youth Choir (now the Queensland Show Choir), conducting several of their ensembles up until 2008. In 1998 I had been appointed musical director of their senior ensemble VoiceWorks and in 2006 became the Choir’s inaugural Artistic Director. For several years until early 2010 I conducted two junior choirs at Cannon Hill Anglican College. In 2007 I took up the position of Conductor of the award-winning Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir where I remained until 2016. I then went on to direct the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir until April 2018. Currently, I am the musical director of Bayside Divas, a women’s choir based in the Brisbane suburb of Sandgate.
The Cairns Choral Society not only maintained an award-winning SATB choir but also produced, each year, one or two music theatre productions. This provided me with extensive experience in this field both as a performer and a musical director. My directing credits include Annie, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Man of La Mancha and the world premiere amateur production of Chess.
My skills as an accompanist have provided me with the opportunity to work with choirs, small ensembles and solo performers in Australia, England, Finland and the USA.
Since 2000 I have found myself in demand as a music educator and adjudicator, working both in Australia and overseas.
I have long held a strong interest in, and commitment to, providing music education for conductors, fostering youth and women’s choirs and developing initiatives to ensure that choral music maintains a high cultural and community profile in Australia. I am also committed to enhancing the awareness of Australia’s choral music profile in overseas countries.
In 1996, I established the choral program for the annual Northern Territory Youth Music Camp and have conducted workshops for the Early Music Society of Queensland, the Canberra Choral Society and various school and community choirs throughout Queensland. In November 2001 I was invited to visit Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China as guest conductor at the Asia Pacific Activities Conference (APAC) Choir Festival. In January 2002, I travelled to Finland to present a series of choral workshops and lectures on Australian choral music at several leading tertiary institutions and also to continue my Finnish choral repertoire research and language studies. In 2003 I presented a paper on Australian choral music at The Phenomenon of Singing International Symposium IV, part of Festival 500 in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
In 2008 I was a member of an adjudication panel of international choral music specialists appointed by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs to select the winner of a competition to compose a choral anthem for the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN). From 2010 to 2015 I have adjudicated at the Singapore Youth Festival organised by the Singapore Ministry of Education, and in 2012 I was invited to join the American composer Libby Larsen as one of two mentors for the Youth Inspiring Youth choral composition competition conducted in the USA and Australia by the WomenSing choir based in San Francisco.
I was particularly impressed by the choral traditions and performances of the choirs I visited in Finland. On my return to Australia I decided to undertake Finnish language studies and returned to Finland the following year to further advance my language skills and to renew my Finnish choir associations.
I was able to spend further time in Finland in early 2003 and 2004, where I worked with a number of noted Finnish composers including Harri Wessman, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Jyrki Linjama and Juhani Komulainen.
In 2001 I turned my hand to composing, with a particular interest in choral music. My Churchill Fellowship experiences had awakened in me a creative urge to commit my own choral music ideas to paper. My first composition – Fanfare of Praise – was written on my way back to Australia from the USA, and was dedicated to Patty Hennings and the Peninsula Women’s Chorus of San Francisco. Patty’s zest for life, deep sense of care and compassion, and passionate belief in the power of music, had a profound influence on me, as in fact it did on all people with whom she came in contact.
I now find myself in the position of having achieved international recognition as an Australian composer of choral music. Since 2005 I have had my own choral music series – Choral Vivace – which is published by Edition Peters London. There is also an earlier collection of mainly a cappella works in English, Finnish and Latin published by the Finnish company Sulasol.
Whilst I still maintain a particular interest in Finnish music, my composing is strongly influenced by all things Australian, including an interest in indigenous languages, our unique flora and fauna, and texts by contemporary Australian writers. My works are now performed by choirs in Europe, the United Kingdom, North America, south-east Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Many have also included selections from my repertoire in their CD recordings.
As a conductor I have produced, with my choirs, a number of highly-acclaimed choral recordings including the premiere Australian recordings of the Ramirez Misa Criolla and Navidad Nuestra; a collection of new Australian Music titled New Leaves; A Cambrian Collection – an eclectic collection of repertoire from around the world; and Haydn Sunrise featuring selected works by Michael Haydn and the Sunrise Mass by Ola Gjeilo.
Throughout my composing career I have been commissioned to write a number of works. Badagarang, which features a text based on the word meaning “kangaroo” in several Australian Aboriginal languages, was commissioned in 2002 by the Cantinovum choir based at the Jyvaskyla Polytechnik Institut in Finland. Water for Life was written in 2006 at the request of the Queensland Government to be a focal piece for the City of Brisbane’s celebration that year of World Water Day. Missa piccola, a short mass in four movements, was written for Gary Graden, choral director at St. Jacobs Church and the Stockholm Cathedral, for presentation at the IFCM World Music Symposium in Kyoto, Japan. In 2005, an SSAB setting of Anthem, for massed choir and orchestra, was commissioned by the Redbridge Music Service for performance at the Redbridge Schools’ Choral Festival, held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 2008. In 2009 I was commissioned by the Tampere (Finland) male choir Mieskuoro Laulajat to write a setting of O magnum mysterium for soprano soloist and double male choir. The Dawn Wind and Music Comes are both pieces commissioned by the Singapore Ministry of Education as set works for the 2011 and 2012 Singapore Youth Festivals. In 2012 I was commissioned to write arrangements and medleys of several iconic Australian popular songs for performance by the massed choir at the Australia Day Concert held in Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl.