In May 2018, Dr Deborah Cheetham AO accepted the Dean’s offer to become the Patron of the Girls’ Voices of the Cathedral choir. Dr Cheetham – a proud Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator – has been a leader in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years.
Dr Cheetham had early successes with one-woman shows Short Black Opera Café, Death Scenes and Drama Queens and ’Til The Black Lady Sings which combined her talents as a writer, performer and entrepreneur. In 2007, she was awarded a two-year Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, giving her the opportunity to create Australia’s first Indigenous opera. Pecan Summer, which tells the story of the 1939 Cummeragunja walk-off, premiered in October 2010 with an all-Indigenous cast, and its success led to the foundation of Short Black Opera Company, a national not-for-profit opera company devoted to the discovery and development of Indigenous opera singers. As Artistic Director of Short Black Opera Company Deborah has assisted many Indigenous singers to find their voice through the powerful medium of opera.
In the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Deborah was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, for encouraging the development of Indigenous artists, and for innovation in performance.
Having grown up in a Baptist family, Deborah has a strong affinity for church music. She first came into contact with St Paul’s Cathedral when she sang at the State Funeral of Sir Ninian Stephen last spring, and has since then attended a rehearsal of the Girls’ Voices and met on several occasions with a leadership team from the Girls’ Choir School, the Cathedral and Music Foundation. She is very pleased to be formalising this association through her patronage of the Girls’ Voices, and has been delighted by the warmth of her welcome into the Cathedral community. We share her delight, and are honoured to name her our patron.
Dean Andreas said: ‘My conversations with Deborah have reminded me why we invest so much time and so many resources in our ministry of music: because we believe that music is able to bring together people and enable them to share in community, and – especially when singing hymns and spiritual songs – in communion with God’.