There is always the danger that if I attend any event in a darkened room at the end of a stressful day, I will fall asleep. The Undercover Artist Festival kicked off in Brisbane’s Bille Brown Studio with the launch of Emma Bennison’s album, Fine Line. It was early evening. I got out of the taxi, rushed in. The stage was set. Minimalist, Chiaroscuro, Emma sitting at the keyboard, under a narrow stream of light, and the woman AUSLAN interpreter dressed in black, standing to the side, only her face and hands illuminated.
Emma sings ‘Monsters’. Her voice is clear folksy, Rock-Pop, grounded by the piano. I listen attentively to a powerful account of the experience of anxiety, the feeling of dread, monsters lurking in the shadows. “Oh the words they say will haunt you, and the fear it will taunt you.”
The lyrics of the songs represent Emma’s journey over the past three years as the CEO of Arts Access Australia, a working parent, an artist, a sister, volunteer with Blind Citizens Australia, a disability advocate. She explains this is the first time she has written songs that honestly express her fears and joys, the highs and lows of her experiences, as opposed to writing what she thinks the music industry wants to hear. ‘Guilty’ is another example of this honesty where she writes about the feelings that overwhelm her when she leaves her family to travel.
Another suitcase, another place.
Another unfamiliar face.
Taxi’s waiting, another rushed good-bye
And I’m trying trying trying so hard not to cry.
And I wonder if you realise I wonder if you know,
Just how badly I don’t want to go.
I’m definitely not falling asleep. Emma is a singer/songwriter, a storyteller and nothing holds my attention more than a good story. She says, “I think it is time these stories were heard. Not only because they are my stories, but because I never hear songs about myself or others like me on the radio and I want to change that.” Fine Line is an album that challenges us to think about representation, the importance of role models and leaders in creating a more positive future for people who face discrimination, specifically people with disability.
Wendel is on duty throughout the performance. A black, guide dog, he lays quietly in the shadows of the keyboard. Emma chats to us about people’s weird and wonderful responses to him and then sings, ‘He’s not Human.’ The song is funny and poignant. The audience laughs.
Every day when I walk down the street,
People ask me questions.
And with most of the people I meet,
I have no objections.
Some of them are thought-provoking . . .
Some of them I wonder, are you joking?
Cause he can’t see when the lights turn green and he can’t read the signs on a TV screen
Cause guess what? He’s not human!
And he can’t read the numbers on the elevator floors and he can’t read the numbers on my hotel room door
Cause guess what? He’s not human!
Emma’s love of singing developed at a young age. She participated in the Christmas and Easter choirs at church, loving the harmonies and often sang the descant parts. She has fond memories of singing ‘Good King Wenceslas’ with a boy soprano, and for two years running performing ‘The Little Drummer Boy’. “It actually became quite lucrative at one point . . . a stranger would come over to me afterwards and press a $100 note into my hand telling me to buy a present for myself.” She has a Bachelor of Music from the University of Queensland and would like to continue writing, touring and performing. With the launch of Fine Line she hopes people will hear and enjoy her music, and that they will understand more about universal access.
The Fine Line CD cover and booklet are accessible. Emma worked with Access2Arts to create a professional audio description of the visual elements, and recorded the cover notes as an audio file and as an electronic file accessible to screen reading technology. She has included the lyrics for people who are hearing impaired or Deaf and made some videos so Deaf audience members can get more of a sense of the music in addition to engaging with vibration. For the audio description and cover notes go to: https://emmabennisonmusic.com/access-the-fine-line-album-cover
The album cover is black and white, minimalist, like the stage design. The songs too offer us dark and light, depth and subtlety, expressing the pathos and the shadows, and always the humour of life.
I am hoping for and looking forward to the Fine Line tour, Emma performing in festivals, and mainstream venues, accompanied by a band, and backing singers.
The winds of change are blowing strong
They’re moving the mountains that have stood in our way for so long.
And we’ve gotta make sure they keep on blowing
All proceeds from the launch were donated to the SAFE Fund – providing professional development grants and an annual award to Queensland artists with disability.
Gaele Sobott is a writer and producer, disability advocate and director of Outlandish Arts.
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