Music provides longest-running community engagement 


One of the most successful community engagements over the past two decades has been the relationship between Charles Darwin University’s music department and musicians from around Darwin.

This engagement has led to the establishment of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra  under associate professor Martin Jarvis, the recipient last month of an Australia Medal for his services to music and the community.

The orchestra is made up of amateur musicians from the community, with a sprinkling of music staff from CDU. The orchestra rehearses regularly on the Casuarina campus and gives a series of concerts each year – often in unique outdoor settings that take advantage of the Territory’s splendid landscape.

“When I arrived in Darwin in 1988 my brief was to build an orchestra for the NT and establish the demand for orchestral performances,” says Jarvis.
“Not an easy thing achieve in the smallest Australian capital city. However, we had and had the opportunity to develop an orchestra that, from the outset, could be part of a new vision for orchestras.”

To achieve the aim of establishing a symphony orchestra, programs of study were devised at the University and talented amateur musicians encouraged to enrol in order to improve their skills.

“Over the 18 years of the Orchestra’s existence the focus has been on “Community Music”; that is to say full engagement with the general community, with the emphasis on involvement in music making for those with a performance aptitude,” says Jarvis.

Since those early days the DSO has given performances in some of the remotest places in the Northern Territory; from Katherine Gorge to Glen Helen in the West MacDonnell Range Gorge, Simpson’s Gap, Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsular and many other places.

“In engaging with the Indigenous Communities of the NT we had to change the attitudes of many people who were somewhat negative and sceptical. Connections  had to made, a bridge across the musical cultures had to be built, and mutual trust established,” explains Jarvis.

“To achieve these new dialogues, whenever performing on “traditional land”, we have always involved the traditional owners it some way, either through traditional ceremony or involvement in the performance with dancers and musicians, via a local “rock” band, or, a ladies choir.”

For more information on the Darwin Symphony Orchestra contact or telephone 08 8946 6532

For more information on community engagement contact Linda Cuttriss, Coordinator Community Engagement, or telephone 08 8946 6336. Visit the community engagement website at