Celestial Emu ("Dhinawan") is a collaboration between Keyna Wilkins, Gumaroy Newman and The Metropolitan Orchestra. Although the didgeridoo was originally a sacred ceremonial instrument for northern First Nation Australians, this ancient instrument is being heard increasingly in contemporary classical Australian compositions. This major new work focusses on intergrating and unifying the sounds of both musical cultures, while showcasing the virtuosity and diversity of the instrument. While the orchestral parts are full notated and the didgeridoo part is only partially notated, with sections of structured improvisation.
The work is based on the legend of the constellation "Emu In The Sky", from the Kamilaroi people from Northern NSW, where Gumaroy is from. According to Aboriginal legend, emus are creator spirits that fly and look over the land. The constellation appears south of the Southern Cross; the dark cloud between the stars is the head, while the neck, body and legs are formed from dust lanes stretching across the Milky Way The constellation begins to show in March and is fully visibly in April-May, when is appears as if it is running across the sky. In June and July, the appearance of the Emu changes, as the legs disappear. The Emu, which is now male, is sitting on its nest, incubating the eggs. Later in the year, around November, the Emu once again changes appearance and becomes Gawarrgay, a featherless Emu that travels to waterholes and looks after everything that lives there.
The first movement opens with the didgeridoo soloist off stage performing an improvised cadenza-like introduction on the D# didgeridoo. As the soloist walks in, the lower strings enter with enigmatic and haunting melodic fragments and cluster chords, which gradually build to a dramatic climax under the didgeridoo solo. A viola opens the second movement with a Debussy-like slow and ethereal melody, as if in the distance. The C didgeridoo enters and plays a slow and rich melody, in between the viola melody. A waltz emerges with string and woodwinds under a mysterious and meandering lyrical melody. Dialogue between clapsticks and timpani heralds the transition to a song about emu eggs in the indigenous Kamilaroi language, composed by Newman.
The final movement begins with driving 4/4 rhythms in the string section, with woodwinds and brass eventually joining resulting in the full and vibrant sound of the whole orchestra. The F didgeridoo enters improvising along to the 4/4 driving rhythm. After a crescendo and conclusion of the 4/4 section, the didgeridoo has a virtuosic solo. For the ending, the driving rhythms of the initial 4/4 section return, finalising with a large crescendo to reach a fanfare-like climax.