Nil Sine Labore: Our School Song

‘We teach music because it is unique and good. We teach music so that children can make their own music. We teach music because it acts in a unique way on the heart, mind, soul and spirit of the child, stimulating thought and imagination in very special ways.’ Dr Richard Gill, Sydney Morning Herald

The composer of our School Song, Dr Richard Gill OAM, was arguably the most influential figure in music education advocacy in Australia. He was passionate and insistent: everyone can sing; and everyone can compose music.

In 1999, Principal, Mrs Judith Hancock, commissioned Dr Gill to compose our School Song in celebration of the 125th year of the School, coinciding with the turn of the millennium. Originally, it was to be a full orchestral work beginning with a prelude and leading to the song, ‘somewhat like the Brahms Academic Festival Overture’ (Correspondence, 1999). Working closely with Mr Mark Sullivan, Director of Instrumental Music at the time, Dr Gill, aimed to capture the ‘youthful spirit of the students’ (Spring Gazette, 2010).

Mrs Svyetlana Hadgraft, a beloved English teacher who was keenly involved in music, had been tasked by Mrs Hancock to pen the text. With the Principal requesting references to the past, the present and the future, Mrs Hadgraft’s timeless solution was to focus on the enduring ethos of the School: ‘Maintain our founder’s vision bold: a life enriched by learning’.

Dr Richard Gill’s musical gestures are bold, and he played with phrase length and melodic contour. For instance, the opening ‘Nil Sine Labore!’ is repeated and declamatory, while ‘Dare to let your dreams take wing and soar’ is drawn out as a longer, rising sequence of notes, pivoting into another universe and ending in a modulation to another key. As Mr Sullivan recalls, Gill also composed the busy semiquaver accompaniment in the verses specifically to capture the industry and energy of the girls.

First officially performed at the School Executive Induction on 15 March 2000 at City Hall, our School Song was ‘heralded as a great success by the girls’ (Annual Report, 2000).

Later, Miss Elizabeth Hatton provided a fine assessment of the subsequent impact of the School Song on our School community: ‘Written to unusual and challenging music, the lyrics have imaginatively and succinctly captured our past, our present and suggests the multi-faceted nature of our future’ (BGGS News, Vol 26 Issue 18).

Our current Music Captain, Annabelle Khoo (12W), notes the endurance and individuality of the song:

Nil Sine Labore remains an inspiring and uplifting piece of music that accurately reflects the spirit of Brisbane Girls Grammar School. When I was first learning it in Year 7, I remember noticing that it was unlike any other school song I had heard before. Its persistent tempo and driving melodic line invoke a real sense of School belonging, very reminiscent of the pride I feel for my school.

Mr Andrew Pennay
Director of Creative Arts

*Banner image: original sheet music of the School song


Gill, R. (2013, August 12). Music holds key to providing a quality education system. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from


Dr Richard Gill with former Director of Instrumental Music, Mr Paul Holley, at the 2000 Foundation Day Assembly.

Mrs Svyetlana Hadgraft (lyrics), Dr Richard Gill (composer) with Principal, Mrs Judith Hancock 2000.