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, Convenor for Indigenous Studies Honours and Masters Programs
College Arts & 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


As a composer Christopher Sainsbury has made a sustained contribution to Australian music since the mid-1980s. And as an educational manager he worked for many years as the Head of Arts & Media at the Eora Centre—an Indigenous College in Sydney. Significantly he is an Australian Indigenous composer, being a descendant of Australia's first settled Aboriginal people - the Dharug (also known as Eora) of Sydney and surrounds. He artfully articulates his heritage through many of his works, and has done so since the mid-1980s. 

Early career commissions were from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, leading instrumentalists (eg; flautist Gordon Yemm – ex-WASO), the Newcastle Bi-centenary Authority, and more. This has sustained through until today with recent commissions from the Friends of Chopin Australia – for pianist Edward Neeman, and a new work for the Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) conducted by Roland Peelman, 2019, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in 2020. Recent international performances include by the Yale Concert Band (USA) in 2019.

Sainsbury bases himself in professional, regional and community music arenas. He explores Regionalism in music composition, surf music in popular and orchestral contexts, and contemporary guitar composition. He maintains an active career as a guitarist performing jazz, contemporary and new music styles.

Apart from teaching at the ANU and educational management at the Eora Centre he has also taught composition and ethnomusicology at Avondale College. 

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. 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 publications include a Platform Paper 'Ngarra-burria: New Music and the Search for An Australian Sound' through Currency House Sydney, and a contribution to 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 2019):

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.

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

September 17, 2019 launch of the new Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia. Chapter contributor. 

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. 

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

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.

Archival publications from the 1980s to the 2000s: commissions and events (not listed below)

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.

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.

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:  14 August 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers