Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon is leaning on a black piano and looking ahead with a smile.  She is at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon joins Sydney Conservatorium of Music

21 February 2023
Celebrated soprano and composer appointed
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music welcomes renowned First Nations soprano, musician, composer and educator Deborah Cheetham Fraillon as the inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies. She will commence as Professor of Practice (Vocal Studies) in February 2023.
Deborah Cheetham Fraillon is a woman in a white jacket and black pants standing while surrounded by smoke from a smoking ceremony at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon at the welcome smoking ceremony at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in February, 2023. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim

As a practicing artist, Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon will be lecturing and mentoring students in vocal and opera studies and composition. She will also conduct research delivered as performance practice.

Professor Cheetham Fraillon AO is a Yorta Yorta/Yuin soprano and composer specialising in chamber, orchestral, choral and operatic settings of First Nations traditional languages and narratives across Australia. She is widely celebrated and a leader on the subject of the importance of cultural authority in the Art Music space. Professor Cheetham Fraillon has championed the voice and visibility of classically trained First Nations musicians through her achievements as a composer, performer and artistic director of the Short Black Opera and Ensemble Dutala. 

The position is funded thanks to a generous bequest from the late Elizabeth Todd OAM. Ms Todd was a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before joining as a lecturer in singing in 1948. She continued to teach until 1985, retiring as Senior Lecturer and Head of Vocal Studies. Her well renowned passion for music and love for teaching leaves a lasting legacy for future generations of students.

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon is the Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon sitting at the piano smiling at Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon is an acclaimed singer and composer. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim

Professor Cheetham Fraillon graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with a Bachelor of Music Education in 1986 and returns this year as the inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies.

“It is a great honour to return to my alma mater as the Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies,” she said. “Ms Todd was a revered singing teacher and I had the great good fortune to sing for her on a number of occasions when I was a student in Sydney.”

“I look forward to this opportunity to contribute to the development of the next generation of musicians at Australia’s most prestigious conservatorium. My aim is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of the true purpose of music as central to our way of being,” she said.

“Whilst the Elizabeth Todd Chair is a new initiative it is built on the continuation of a long and celebrated tradition of vocal studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and I am looking forward to working with esteemed colleagues in the vocal department.”

Composer, soprano, educator

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon and Anna Reid sitting in theatre seats together at Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon and Professor Anna Reid. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim

Professor Cheetham Fraillon is much in demand as a composer having established her credentials in the early 2000s after receiving a commission to write and perform an original work as the welcome to country for the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Her most recent major commissions include works for The Australian Ballet (The Hum 2023), Sydney Symphony Orchestra (Ghost Light 2022), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Baparripna 2022), and Victorian Opera (Parrwang Lifts The Sky 2021).

Professor Anna Reid, Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, said: “Deborah Cheetham Fraillon is the single most outstanding Indigenous classical music artist that Australia has produced. This is possibly one of the most important appointments we have made. She is the Artistic Director of Australia’s national Indigenous opera company Short Black Opera where she plays the role of composer, soprano and educator. This, amongst her many achievements, demonstrates her ability to transcend musical and cultural boundaries to create music, and education, that inspire our current generation of musical artists.”

“The Sydney Conservatorium of Music is simply thrilled to bits to have Professor Cheetham Fraillon join our faculty – an artist of this calibre and experience will profoundly change the learning environment for our students and the manner of our engagement with faculty.”

Professor Deborah Cheetham Fraillon describes herself as a “21st century urban woman who is Yorta Yorta by birth, stolen generation by government policy, soprano by diligence, composer by necessity and lesbian by practice.”

The inaugural Elizabeth Todd Chair of Vocal Studies is a bequest from the Estate of the late Elizabeth Todd.

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