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In conversation with Rexleigh Bunyard: “What keeps me hopeful is nature’s prolific and ongoing abundance…”

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By Praveen Gupta

· 4 min read


Dr. Rexleigh Bunyard is a highly trained classical performer and composer. She has always had one foot in lighter music of various genres and has freelanced in several capacities in the “light” music industry. These have included partnerships, including with composer Louis van Rensburg, for whom she was the music producer for the TV series Kinders van die Sabbatsee, (Children of the Sabbath Sea) Arende 1 & 2 (Eagles 1&2) and the full-length movie, The Fourth Reich.

Her interests include ecology and she runs a humanitarian arts-in-service-of-community public benefit organization called Requiem for the Living NPO.

Rexleigh is an M.Mus in piano performance (1983) from the University of Cape Town, a Diplộme Supérieur d’Exécution from the prestigious École Normale in Paris, France (1985), and a D.Mus (Composition) with Honorary Academic Colours, from University of Pretoria (2010).

The interview

Praveen Gupta: How did your interaction with Nature influence your early evolution as a musician?

Rexleigh Bunyard: I spent a lot of my childhood playing in our garden, taking long walks on the local golf course, camping with my family at the seaside, and listening to nature in forested areas on holiday. Sharing my father’s love for birdcalls, and appreciating the voices of insects and frogs. We lived in a windy city; the varying sounds of wind, of leaves rustling, and of dramatic thunderstorms with rain and sometimes hail, all played a role in my youthful soundscapes.

“Certainly these sounds and those of wild animal calls heard in nature, and the desert silences or the singing of cicadas in summer heat, influenced my musical evolution…”

PG: In what ways do climate stressors impact your musical journey?

RB: My awareness of climate stressors started early, in 1970, which was “water year” in South Africa, where we have always faced (and are still facing) water challenges. Right up until today, when my focus on water as the elixir of life propels my vision and activities towards wave research, and towards supporting “water technologies” via my ecological fantasy concept, called The Rainbow’s Child. 

PG: What keeps you hopeful rather than despairing? And how does that manifest in your creative work?

RB: I think I naturally lean towards optimism as a personality; what keeps me hopeful is nature’s prolific and ongoing abundance, my jungle-garden, sunsets, the sounds of the ocean, and good sleep! (plus sensible food and exercise). This manifests in my creative work as improvisation on the piano, and a spontaneous inner world of ideas, some of which are sonic.

PG: Was ‘Requiem for the Living’ one such project?

RB: Requiem for the Living was a musical work I created in support of the AIDS orphans and people who have suffered devastating loss. It premiered in 2016 in Johannesburg and Pretoria. I tried to illustrate our natural connectedness to all living things in some of the movements from this humanitarian oratorio.

It was a journey of personal re-integration. A turning around from death to life. It contains a lot of references to the natural world, including humpback whale calls, the dance of the cosmos expressed in a very slowed-down “kwela” (African music style). And the sounds of creeping crawling nature, bells and storms, reflected through orchestral instruments and my orchestration choices. 

PG: Outside of music – what are the key influences that give you conviction in the regenerative powers of Nature?

RB: Experiencing the huge power of Nature in natural childbirth, and from my observations of nature re-establishing itself, whenever human influence is removed, when areas are cleaned up, or when rewilding is encouraged. Watching my garden-jungle growing before my eyes in summer heat and rainfall, in Johannesburg. “Weeds” growing in pavement cracks. Goats fearlessly bouncing from one cliff to another!

PG: Does a lot of what you do focus on children?

RB: The child spirit in all of us, yes. And children, literally, through my lifetime of music teaching and generating educational tools involving stories, games and music.

PG: How could music restore our lost connection with Nature? Any thoughts on the forms of music prevalent in other creations?

RB: Music can induce awe, and this can reconnect us with our own nature, with each other, and overlaps with the awe we experience when exposed to the wonders of nature. Rhythm and flow and the capacity to connect and communicate subliminally, are present in all artistic creations, in varying degrees. Music helps us to re-pattern and resolve our inner conflicts.

PG: You’ve lived in very momentous times in South Africa’s history. Any outstanding recollections?

RB: The release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and later, his attendance at a dinner in his honour in Johannesburg, where he and famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin came together, as part of an international initiative to deliver violins to local children. 

PG: Many thanks, Rexleigh. May your music continue to induce awe, reconnect us with our own nature, and with each other, and may it overlap with the awe we experience when exposed to the wonders of nature.

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About the author

Praveen Gupta was the second most-read author in the environment and sustainability space for illuminem in 2022, and the third most read in climate change during 2023. A former insurance CEO and a Chartered Insurer, he researches, writes, and speaks on diverse subjects. His blog captures much of the work.

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