Dr Christopher Sainsbury

Dip Mus - Composition (1984-86), BA - Comp (1988), Grad Dip Ed (1991), M Mus - Comp (1999-2000), PhD (2009 - 2012)
Senior Lecturer in Composition, Songwriting, Australian Indigenous Music (Contemporary), Australian Music Studies, Founder and Artistic Director Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers Program
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 02 612 51228

Areas of expertise

  • Music Composition 190406
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Performing Arts 190401
  • Curriculum And Pedagogy 1302
  • Musicology And Ethnomusicology 190409

Research interests

  • Music composition
  • Australian Indigenous music (contemporary)
  • Indigenous education
  • Contemporary guitar composition
  • Regionalism in music composition
  • Surf music


In 2020 Christopher Sainsbury was the winner of Australia's highest classical/jazz music award, the APRA Art Music Inaugural National Luminary Award, which was awarded for effecting an overdue cultural and practical change in the landscape of our classical music sector through the Ngarra-burria First Peoples Composers program.

As a composer Christopher Sainsbury has made a sustained contribution to Australian music since the mid-1980s. As an educational manager he worked for 23 years as the Head of Arts & Media at the Eora Centre—an Indigenous Tertiary College in Sydney. He is an Australian Indigenous composer and since the 1980s has artfully articulated his heritage through many of his works. 

Early career commissions were from the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) in 1987, leading instrumentalists (eg; Australian flute elder Gordon Yemm) in 1987, the Newcastle Bi-centenary Authority in 1988, and more. This has sustained through until today with recent commissions from the Friends of Chopin Australia in 2018, works for the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) in 2019 and 2021, for our nation's flagship choir The Australian Voices in 2020, and a commission from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) conducted by Marin Alsopp in 2020. 

Sainsbury bases himself in professional, regional and community music arenas. He explores Regionalism and also Indigenous narratives through composition, also surf music in his popular and orchestral compositions, and contemporary guitar composition. He maintains an active career as a guitarist and in 2020 published a new CD (Ocean Song) with Australia's most recorded jazz guitarist of the 1980s - 2000s Dr Guy Strazz.  

He is the founder and artistic director for Ngarra-burria: First Peoples Composers (earlier known as the Indigenous Composers Initiative). This is a major new national initiative that is having positive impact on a national and international level. See link here: https://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/news/christopher-sainsbury-wins-major-indigenous-composer-grant/ He was also artistic director for the Sydney Acoustic Guitar Festival 2002 and 2003. 

Recent major traditional publications include a Platform Paper 'Ngarra-burria: New Music and the Search for An Australian Sound' through Currency House Sydney, and co-author for a Chapter in the 2nd edition of the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia. 



Researcher's projects

Current selection of music composition commissions, lectures, and Indigenous music projects (2018 and 2020):

In 2020 I continue as Artistic Director for the Indigenous Composers Initiative (new name Ngarra-burria: First Peoples Composers). See website listed on this page.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra commission of a new work. 

Griffyn Ensemble's commission of Red Kangaroo Standing (a vocal work based on Minister Ken Wyatt's maiden speech to parliament).

2019 Currency House publication (Platform Paper) Ngarra-burria: New Music and the Search for an Australian Sound. (See reviews at my website listed below).

2019 launch of the new Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia. Chapter co-author. 

Chapter co-author for upcoming text the Cambridge Companion to Australian Music. 

Co-author for Digital Teaching Kit on Ngarra-burria, published on the Echo site via the Australian Music Centre, a high school education kit - the first on Indigenous composers. 

Curation of leading Indigenous musician guests to teach into the first Contemporary Indigenous Music Studies course at the School of Music, ANU, the first such program in Australia. 

ANU Research Seminar presentation - The Influence of Surf Music in My Composiitons - focussing on Malibu Blue from the Spirit Land piece.  

ANU Research Seminar presentation - Regionalism in My Compositions.

The Arrival for piano, commissioned by Friends of Chopin Australia – for pianist Edward Neeman, performed at the Polish Centre Canberra Nov 2018. 

Bark of the 'bidgee for chamber ensemble commissioned by the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) conducted by Roland Peelman, May 2019. 

Lake Music an installation piece for Goulburn Regional Gallery. A commissioned collaboration, working from large scale digital images and with photographic artist Dr Rowan Conroy, July 2019. 

Bardo for flute trio, for Australian Flute Festival July 2019.

Publications from the 1980s - 2000s: archival commissions and events

1987 - Arthurs Cave for solo flute. Commissioned by Gordon Yemm (ex-WASO flautist) with a grant from the Music Board of the Australia Council. Performed at the New Music Series Richmond Centre Lismore 1988.

1987 - Homage to TS Eliot. Commissioned by the ACO with a grant from the Music Board of the Australia Council. Performed St. Andrews Cathedral, George St, Sydney. 

1988 - Voyage of the Endeavour - a Cantata for voices, flute and piano, for the Nouveaux Singers Lismore and the World Expo in Brisbane 1988. This work is a mix of Aboriginal and European expressions about the arrival of the Endeavour on Australian shores.  

 1989 - Dream Journey - a Cantata for children, with lyrics by Melbourne poet Isobel Robin (published by Five Islands Press). Scored for singers, undesignated treble and bass instruments. Completed during a Composer Residency at the Lismore Conservatorium Centre 1989.

1990 - The Mayfly - a song-cycle based on a lecture by Dr David Suzuki, for low female cabaret singer, flute, guitar and percussion. On environmental themes.  Repeat performances including at the Gasworks Arts Centre Lismore, UNSW Solar Energy Symposium Sydney, Wollombi Folk Festival, and at various other events 1989 – 1996.

1991 - Paper presentation, Indigenous Music Education - the Need for Institutional Change, UTS Sydney. 

1992 Music director for Koorabaret (Sydney’s first Koori cabaret) at the Pact St Theatre Erskineville.

1993 Music director for Terrence Nullius and the Crime Ministers – co-devised show for the official Eora College new venue opening.

1994 - The Flowergirls - for solo oboe. Original version for flute performed by ‘A Band Called Bouddi’ flautist Anna Parker at various recitals including for the Wollombi Music Festival 1994. Later recorded by Rachel Tolmie (on oboe) for the Australian composers label Wirripang (2011). Upper levels competition set piece for Australian Double Reed Society competition 2016.

1994 – Composer for Aboriginal Protestors directed by leading Indigenous director Noel Tovey, for the Sydney Festival 1994 and the Weimar Festival 1995.

1994 - Seascapes for string quartet, funded by the Australia Council.

1998 - Jago Jago CD by A Band Called Bouddi (with CS musical director). Frequent performances include opening of Japanese Gardens Gosford City, Wollombi Folk Festival, Greencoast Festival, Kincumber Mountain New Music Series, Brackets n' Jam Central Coast, UNSW, the old Beachfront Cafe Avoca Beach, and more. 

2000 - North Country Sketches - for solo guitar. An AMEB upper grades listed work from 2013. Ken Murray recorded it for ABC (repeated broadcasts). Other international performances include by Gian Marco Ciampa (Italy and Australia 2016).

1999 - 2009 Co-director for Bouddi Voice Choir, Gosford City. Frequent performances included St Albans Folk Festival, Greencoast Festival, St Josephs Chapel and more. 

2002 – Concerto for Guitar, for Spanish virtuoso Jose Maria Gallardo Del Rey, commissioned for the Darwin International Guitar Festival 2002.

2002 - 2003 Artistic Director Sydney Acoustic Guitar Festival.

2007 - First Light, commissioned by Central Coast Symphony Orchestra with support from CreateNSW. Repeat performance by New England Philharmonic Orchestra Boston, 2010.

2008 - Each Field A Window for solo flute (tenor saxophone or clarinet). For performance and recording in the Live Elevator Music Project - Goteborg Book Fair Sweden, 2008.

2008 Anima – solo guitar CD

2010 - Lydian Caprice for string quartet commissioned by the Australian Crossroads Festival with support from CreateNSW.

2011 - Concertino for Clarinet (revised, orig. 1993) the Central Coast Concertante Ensemble directed by Chris Bearman with soloist from the RAN Band Greg Turner. 

2014 Beach Holiday for youth orchestra. Written with financial assistance from CreateNSW during a Composer Residency with the Central Coast Conservatorium Centre, Gosford. 


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  23 June 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers