Music and Mayhem in Mirboo North

Twice a week Mayhem breaks out in the life of Gippsland based Singing Leader, Jane Coker. This has nothing to do with escaped chooks or lost car keys, Mayhem is a music and drama group, organised by Scope and facilitated by Jane, for adults from day centres in Traralgon, Wonthaggi, and Warragul. Everyone comes together at the Grainstore, a beautiful old wooden building in Mirboo North, to sing and dance and meet other people. It’s about therapy, fun and having a good time together. It’s about making a racket and making a mess. And it’s awesome.

The group are extremely wide ranging in their abilities, some people are really high functioning, others communicate with the blink of an eye and Jane runs the group by herself. Five or six carers come along and take care of the physical needs of participants, assisting them with morning tea at the start of each session and with lunch at the end, as well as helping them to take part in the activities.

The group was established by Jane’s mate, Kate Jackson, who recognised a need in the area for this type of group and was doing all she could to enable people to have a creative experience. When the time came for her to hand over to somebody else, she approached Jane who had no previous experience of leading a group of people with such diverse abilities.

“Kate was getting people singing, she was getting people dancing, she was doing a bit of drama. I looked at it and thought, well, I reckon I’ve done enough of this in my life, I think I can probably have a go at that and I’ll treat it as a training course because everything I’ve ever learnt around Community Arts Development in my life has been learnt on the job.”

Jane decided to train herself, try leading Mayhem for a year and see if she liked it driven by her guiding principle: To find a way to enable everyone in this group to participate in some way in what’s going on. The next question then, was how? How to do this with such a mixed group?

To begin with, Jane took a lot of guidance from the carers. While it’s obvious to see when some people are participating, with others this is more difficult particularly if you don’t recognise the significance of the sentiment they’re relaying with their eyes or from their movements or the sounds that they make.  For one or two of the participants, it is hard for anyone to decipher whether they’re benefitting from taking part or not and for them Jane believes Mayhem has to exist as a sensory experience in as much as they’re having something happen as opposed to having nothing happen around them and this, perhaps,  is as participatory as it can be.

Jane approaches leading Mayhem as she does all her other groups. People are people.

‘If my main aim is full participation and I’ve got to fathom out how to get somebody to participate where it’s not obvious and it’s not easy, the only way to go about facilitating that is (a) To collect as much information about each person as I can, and I engage the carers to make sure they are part of the whole process, and (b) to actually engage with that person as much as I possibly can and try to find out how I can have a relationship with them. It might just be the tiniest thing like a finger uncurling when I touch their hand but if that happens repeatedly, that’s feedback and that’s me developing a relationship with that person.’

Over the course of the past four years, Jane has learnt a lot about the subtlety of changes in the facial expressions of  participants: ‘I’ve really learnt to to recognise the sounds and the subtle little changes in their faces and their eyes….I’d never had that experience before and it has been amazing.’

Jane begins and ends each session with the same song. To begin with she thought everyone would grow really bored of this, but the opposite has happened, and they love it. And the more they do it, the more they know it. For some of them, it has taken four years to develop the confidence to sing that song and Jane recognises this as something working with Mayhem has taught her: there is so much to be said for repetition of material.

Using the same song also acts as an effective signal to everyone that the class has begun, and that it has ended so that even if they don’t really know what’s going on, people have a sense that something is in process and that they are a part of it.

Music played on the PA gets the Mayhem mob dancing and taking it in turn to pick the tunes which vary from ABBA to YMCA, to Pink and everything in between, reflecting the range in their ages.  While the dancing is taking place, anyone in a wheelchair is helped to move by Jane and the carers: ‘It’s dancing in the broadest sense with some people dancing in their minds.’

‘One guy’s into really heavy aggressive rap, and I draw the line there as the material isn’t suitable to impose on other people and politically I can’t play it myself, but he participates fully in other ways, and I talk to him about why I don’t play his stuff and I think he gets it!’

Singing through the microphone proves popular, offering a lot of fun and visibly increased confidence to the singers. Jane says ‘I never thought I’d think that was a good thing to do but I do! Because it’s what they see on the TV and it enables them to do something that they recognise and they have a LOT of fun doing it… And while they’re doing that, everyone else is dancing and using really nice bright coloured pom poms and stuff to dance with, twirling around, there’s a lot of colour and everyone’s doing their own thing, and it is, well, mayhem!!’

jane
Jane in dress-up mode at CMVic’s 2016 Music Camp

Jane uses a big pile of percussion and dressing up clothes with Mayhem. Because there’s no funding for this, she spends spare time scouring op shops for anything they can use in the group. For anyone who can’t physically grip a shaker or move their hands, Jane has made velcro variations and modified instruments which can be strapped onto an arm, enabling that person to make music and she’s always on the look-out for instruments that can be adapted. Soft stuff comes in handy too, as there are a lot of participants who throw things.

“If I can find a soft ball with a bell inside it, that’s perfect because it can be used as an instrument but when it’s thrown, it doesn’t decapitate anybody…”

Call and response features heavily in Mayhem, techniques learnt by Jane through voice-work training workshops. “I make sounds  to the group, they make sounds back at me, and it’s a beautiful thing because people who are non-verbal do still use their voices a lot  and will do that when invited to do so. So they’ll make sounds and we can make them back, and in this way they are participating fully.

There is a basic sign language called Key Word Sign used by the carers to indicate food, going to the toilet, etc, and Jane feels this is a skill which should be developed and taught more widely: ‘If I was able to go on some sort of course to learn Key Word Sign, or the appropriate sign language to use with people which is used across the board in those kind of facilities, that would really add to my skills.’

A forum was held at the recent CMVic Singing Camp between singing leaders working with marginalised sectors including disability.  Jane found being a part of this conversation invaluable because it reinforced her belief that the best way to develop confidence and strength in your own ability is to network with other people who are doing the same kind of thing:

‘Have a phone conversation with somebody, go to their group, see what they’re doing and participate. If you can apprentice yourself to somebody else who is doing it, that would be amazing, but this is a little bit unlikely, given that we are so few and far between. It might work better in the city…’*

Now into her fifth year working with Mayhem, Jane reflects on how it has become easier as time has gone on. “I’d say the training course took two and a half years of me leading the group once a week, and since then I’ve led it twice a week. And now I feel confident in doing what I go there to do. It’s about the fun, the relationships and the positive attitude…

“I love the fact that I’ve proved to myself that the principle of as much inclusion as possible, in the moment that you’re in is the one that works best.”

 Article by Deb Carveth with Jane Coker

 If you have any percussion instruments, shakers, bells, or things which are fun to play that you would like to give Jane and Mayhem, let us know!

RESOURCES:

If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on jane.coker@bigpond.com

*Music Action is a closed Facebook group run by Melissa Murphy for people facilitating all abilities music groups for adolescents and adults. It’s an ideal forum to share ideas, news and conversation.

In celebration of Singing from Country

by Jackie Kerin Storytelling Australia Victoria

Now and again an opportunity comes along that speaks to the heart.

In January 2014, I met Terry White at the Turramurra Folk Music Camp. I was there in my capacity as a storyteller, having been invited to run some workshops.

Most likely I was on a riff about the role storytellers might play in connecting folks to Australian landscape and the places they called ‘home’. I carry this niggling idea that it’s actually really important to take some responsibility for the patch of earth that we walk, and this requires a little ‘land literacy’.

It seems that Terry had me spotted as a kindred spirit, and by the end of the weekend, I had been woven into his vision of bringing scientists, traditional land custodians and songwriters together, the purpose being: to create new songs to celebrate old wisdom and knowledge about Country, the kind of songs that can be arranged for community and children’s choirs to sing, celebrate and learn about land.

What followed was over two years of meetings where partnerships were developed, grant applications wrestled and the idea was given a name, ‘Singing from Country’.

The big vision of  ‘Singing from Country’ is to divide Victoria into about seven bioregions and commission songs that explore these. However we thought it best to start with a pilot project with four songwriters and focusing on the Central Victorian Goldfields area.  The pilot was launched as a ‘festival within a festival’ at the Maldon Folk Festival this year. This experience proved invaluable – giving the committee a chance to navigate the difficulties and cheer when things go to plan.

workshop-uncle-rick-nelson-smoking-cermony
Uncle Rick Nelson conducts a smoking ceremony as part of the Welcome to Country at Maldon (photo: Bruce Watson)
terry-and-rebecca
Rebecca Phillips                                                                              Terry White

At Maldon we opened the process to the public with a day of presentations from local naturalists, Geoff Park, Andrew Skeoch, and Rebecca Phillips who spoke about the Dja Dja Wurrung language reclamation project and the protocols around use of this language. Uncle Rick Nelson performed a Welcome to Country ceremony, and a group of children from The Meeting Place (Nalderun) sang the Loddon River Song, led by Kerrie Patmore.

In the evening the four selected songwriters ‘unveiled’ the work they had created in response to the commission to write two new songs each.

After so much thinking and dreaming and so many, many meetings, I was deeply moved by the concert, the vulnerability of the writers who were revealing (in some cases) works in progress, and songs never before aired in public.  I was brought to tears by how deeply and respectfully they had explored the concept. Local a cappella choir, ‘The Chat-Warblers’ led by Jane Thompson rose to their feet and sang at the top of their lungs, exemplifying the power of singing about place.

chat-warblers
Jane Thompson leading members of the Chat Warblers in song (photo: Deb Carveth)
songwriters
The four project songwriters, clockwise from left: Eva Popov, Carl Pannuzzo, (Alvin Briggs) Kavisha Mazzella, Neil Murray (photos: Deb Carveth)

Spring in Victoria has been fabulously wet and the rain has brought the country alive. Swathes of wildflowers have burst through the ground and the birds are singing out loud, building nests and raising chicks. Carl Panuzzo’s song evoking the dance one does when walking through the bush in spring elicited cheers of recognition from the audience.  For me the wonder of Terry White’s vision is the willingness of people to come together, share what they know and add to the body of song that will teach and connect people to place, strengthening a sense of responsibility.

I feel gratitude to the four songwriters who committed to the ‘Singing from Country’ pilot, Neil Murray, Kavisha Mazzella, Eva Popov and Carl Panuzzo.  I give thanks to the artists who demonstrated their belief in us and assisted our grant application with letters of support, and thanks too, to project manager David Juriansz, for pulling the threads together.

The ‘Singing from Country’ pilot is led by Community Music Victoria in collaboration with VACL (Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages) and Connecting Country, and has received grant funding from the Regional Arts Fund.

I’m looking forward to the next phase of the project as a member of the steering group, and hanging out in the meeting rooms at Ross House with Bruce Watson (chair), James Rigby, Oli Hinton, Paul Paton and of course, Terry.

sfcblogcover1
Images of wild Spring flowers around Maldon (photos: Jackie Kerin)

Jackie Kerin is an author of children’s books and storyteller working in the oral tradition. She is the current president of Storytelling Australia Victoria.

 

 

 

From Northcote to the Netherlands: How a CMVic skills day started an unexpected voyage into the world of Dutch pop

You never know what you’ll take away from the experience of attending a CMVic event. A banana peel desting to languish longtime in the seam of your bag, maybe. A head filled with fresh material and exciting inspiration; the buzz of being surrounded by your tribe and an empty water bottle, definitely. And for one Melbourne based singing leader who attended a CMVic Skills Day in Northcote last year, a chance meeting unexpectedly led to a whole new chapter of cultural and linguistic discovery and personal learning.

Twelve months ago, Jeannie Marsh, an experienced Melbourne based singing leader, was feeling the need to learn new songs, see what people were up to generally, and meet up with like minded souls. So she booked herself into a CMVic Singing Leaders’ Skills Day at Jika Jika in Northcote, a one-day Spring workshop, run by Jane Coker and Margaret Crichton.

Anne Marije Bussink, a young Dutch woman active in the Dutch community had also booked in, keen to see if she could gain enough skills to get a singing group or community choir happening at the Dutch Club in Carnegie. Anne Marije had noticed that people at the Club had an interest in singing songs together and thought a choir could be a really great way to tap into people’s interests across the generations. Jeannie recalls Anne Marije introducing herself along the lines of: ‘I’m not a musician, I’m here to learn the skills to teach the songs myself….  I love to sing, don’t know anything about leading a choir but I’ll give it a go….’

Thinking this was an amazing act and totally heroic, Jeannie approached Anne Marije at morning tea, confessing, ‘I don’t speak Dutch, I have no Dutch heritage but I do run choirs.’

Leading multi cultural choirs is something Jeannie is experienced in and loves to do, whether or not she speaks the language:

“It really interests me and giving people the opportunity to sing in their language is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to do for people.”

As well as working with the Iranian Women’s Choir through the Boite last year, Jeannie was involved with Canto Coro, a choir based in the Greek and Chilean communities for eleven years. Jeannie became totally immersed in learning the background, history and struggles of Latin America and her involvement with these communities through running the choir:

‘It was a seminal moment of my life across every level, a total highlight so much so that it became a major part of what I do… I was intoxicated, meeting all these amazing people and learning about their stories, as many of them had come here as exiles from their own land and just how much singing in their own language and singing their own music which had been banned in their land, (because it was used as a rallying cry in the times of the generals in Greece and Pinochet in Chile and singing national songs literally put you in the firing line.) meant to them.’

This experience opened Jeannie’s eyes to the people around her here in Melbourne and the power of the music and words to bring communities together and bearing witness to extraordinary things that had happened in people’s pasts. It also reiterated to her the need to form joyful, welcoming communities where people can just come and be with others who have either shared similar things or are empathetic towards them and prepared to fight for social justice.

Teaming up with Anne Marije and the ‘Dutchies’, was a step Jeannie felt able to take, in spite of not speaking any Dutch and because Dutch people speak such excellent English, Jeannie is able to conduct each session in English. If that sounds easy, Jeannie’s applied herself to teaching all of the songs in Dutch, seeking helpers who could translate the lyrics to give herself an understanding of context, emphasis, etc. beforehand. Otherwise, she says, “it’s just sounds.”

Back in March, Jeannie set aside time with Anne Marije and Margreta Kuijper, another Dutch woman, for a crash course in translation and pronunciation. This involved getting a rough idea of what a particular song was about, recording, listening and repeating the material slowly with rules of pronunciation emerging along the way and Jeannie taking notes.

Including Anne Marije and Margreta a core of about five people emerged giving time, energy, and vital support to get the Dutch Choir up and running. Resources were rustled up, dictionaries and websites were offered, even Skype sessions, it was obvious that Jeannie and Anne Marije had tapped into something people were receptive to and ready for. A trial run in June saw over 25 people turn out to sing at the Dutch Club Abel Tasman in Carnegie.

Biting the bullet, Jeannie booked the space for a further 10 sessions and committed to two community gigs at the club, which the Choir recently completed. Membership over the course of that period settled to a core of about 16; meeting on Saturday afternoons in the little heritage centre at the back of the club, surrounded by memorabilia of Dutch heritage from various periods, somewhere Jeannie describes as a very special place.

The Dutch have an incredibly rich and traditional culture not widely recognised internationally beyond iconic images of tulips and windmills. They love to sing and they love singing to a bit of Nederpop This love affair dates back to the 1940s and 50s with post war Cabaret style singing emerging with artists such as Wim Sonneveld. While Eurovision and Abba mania was rife across the globe in the 70s and 80s similar equally catchy material was being written in Holland but remained largely undiscovered: while Bjorn Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid were singing in English, in the Netherlands the songs were mostly written and sung in Dutch.

Now Jeannie and the Dutch Choir are doing their bit to give these pop songs a new lease of life, dusting them off, a tweak here and there in the arrangements and an airing to audiences in the Australian sunshine.

Het Dorp is a song from the 60s about nostalgia for the fast disappearing traditional village life which evokes tears when people sing it; as with all multi cultural choirs, the migration thing is complicated. Some choir members grew up here and are reclaiming their Dutch heritage; others who lived there for most of their lives and moved to Australia for family reasons may feel torn between two cultures and places to call home. Singing brings these emotions to the fore.

161108blog1One of the earliest songs Jeannie sang with the choir was a simple children’s song about a chicken and a rooster with beautiful feathers and beautiful colours. It was easy for Jeannie to understand, simple to teach, and not at all daunting to the singers, some of whom hadn’t sung since primary school who were all familiar with it. In terms of establishing a bond within the new group it turned out to be gold. Everyone was inspired to share stories and childhood memories, and connections were quickly established.

The love of Nederpop within the group has led to Jeannie finally mastering Sibelius, something she has been meaning to get to grips with for a while, and she now sits down to arrange tunes, on pretty much a weekly basis. Naar de Zee is one of these, a boppy catchy pop song from a few years ago about riding to the beach on bicycles and having a great time with your mates. Sinds een dag of Twee is another fun pop song from the 80s that everyone seems to know and love to sing along with. Jeannie particularly recommends Brandend Zand which she describes as a ‘big tune, very well known and great for choir.’

And it isn’t just Jeannie who’s developed new skills through leading the choir; two of the singers, Chris and Margreta, picked up their guitar and clarinet for the first time in years and now accompany the choir for some of Jeannie’s arrangements, performing at the last gig.

‘Margreta was playing in this beautiful tone as though she’d only played yesterday. We workshopped things together and they both loved that aspect of practising. It’s about people reclaiming their instrument and being open to stuff and it’s what happens with a new group like this: you have no idea what’s going to happen and you have to be open to it… and stay calm!’

Jeannie’s tips for other choir leaders who may be trepidatious about leading songs in a new language is simply not to be afraid. ‘You can work it out… don’t let the language be a barrier, it’s all possible and it’s a very interesting process. For everyone.’

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Jeannie Marsh. 

Jeannie will be presenting a workshop about her experience with the Dutch Choir on Sunday, as part of the 2016 CMVic Singing Camp, this weekend, November 11-13, and the Dutch Choir’s new session block begins this Saturday, November 11.

Dunroamin? Just startin! A hot stepping new street band hits the streets of Dunolly

Picture the scene: a large group of leather clad bikers on a pit stop; add a healthy dose of community musicians into the mix, and what do you get? Broadway, a street through the small, regional town of Dunolly, last Saturday afternoon.

image7
A scene from Broadway, Dunolly

The latest addition to the CMVic StreetSounds project shook its collective feathers and stepped blinking into the light at 2pm last Saturday as the new and perfectly formed Dunolly Street Band. Emerging from the Ministry of Fun after less than two hours playing together, the fledgling band wasted no time in taking their newly learnt tunes into the street, where the bikers proved an enthusiastic audience for the horns, ukes, flute and accordion players.

Anna and Phil Ashton who organised the afternoon in collaboration with StreetSounds project manager, Lyndal Chambers, declared it it loads of fun and a total success.

“It was nicely low key and I don’t think anybody was scared!”

Anna was inspired to start a Street band in Dunolly after hearing about the opportunities offered by other bands emerging from the project, particularly the Kyneton Street Band, led by Andy Rigby, but still more than an hour’s drive from Dunolly. For Anna and Phil,

“It didn’t make sense to be part of a street band anywhere else.”

The last community brass band in the town finished up about fifteen years ago. A Ukulele group formed a couple of months ago, but for players of more honky and stronger sounding instruments, an opportunity to gather regularly has been a long time coming. Once she knew support from Lyndal Chambers and Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds* project would support her vision of a Street Band for Dunolly, Anna felt the idea was too good to pass up and set the wheels in motion, posting publicity within the community and on Facebook. A street band is a fantastic way to bring together local people from all age groups and backgrounds, playing different types of instruments in different ways; a wonderful smorgasbord of sounds and skills.

As the promotional poster for Dunolly Street Band promised, ‘absolutely no experience needed, just come and play for fun.’

Anna admits she felt a bit nervous about numbers ahead of the gathering on Saturday. Strat (Brian Strating) and Lyndal were travelling up from Gippsland to help facilitate and Anna wanted them to have a good ole group to lead when they arrived. She needn’t have worried. Keen community musos travelled from the other side of Newstead and Bendigo to join local Dunollians, including a musician fairly new to the area which is what it’s all about, after all.  Anna knows other people are out there and keen for the band to happen, who simply couldn’t make it along last Saturday.

Following this hugely successful inaugural get together, there are plans to carry the band forwards into a bright (and brassy) future, and working together with Phil’s uke group. Anna is also hoping to encourage local school kids and their families to try it, too.

By the time the StreetSounds festival rolls around next May, it sounds like there will be a thriving Dunolly contingent out in the throng on the streets of Geelong.

And what happened to the bikers? They gave the new Dunolly Street Band an encouraging round of applause before heading off through the Central Goldfields, chasing the dissipating, freed-up notes of newly learnt tunes as they dispersed into the atmosphere.

Below is a video clip of the band in action, out on Broadway. (Thanks to band member Judy Meldrum for the footage)

Article by Deb Carveth with Anna Ashton

Join the Dunolly Street Band! The band is in the process of arranging its next rehearsal. To be a part of it, contact Anna and Phil: 0490 077 902

*StreetSounds is a major project that resulted from the Victoria Makes Music Program and started in January 2015 with the help of funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the R E Ross Trust.  The project aims to create at least 10 new street bands in Victoria and will run until Dec 2017 – find out more about StreetSounds here.

 

 

Where StreetSounds Meets Sounds of Country

Dr Laura Brearley

Last week, members of Boomulele, the StreetSounds Street Band from Morwell, took part in a Ceremony at the Latrobe Regional Arts Gallery to mark the end of the Sounds of Country exhibition and to celebrate the community of Aboriginal artists within it. The Sounds of Country exhibition explored the Aboriginal concept of Deep Listening, revealing the relationship the Aboriginal artists have to the land and to the natural world.

The Sounds of Country Ceremony was conducted as a Deep Listening Circle. About 45 people participated in the event which included local Aboriginal artists, community members, guests from the Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place, the Torch Project and staff from local organisations and educational institutions. The oldest participant was 89 and the youngest was 10.

It was the first time the Boomulele Ukulele and Percussion Group had played in public and they did a marvellous job, performing strongly and including everyone. Boomulele is one of ten Street Bands within the Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds project, each of which is making a unique contribution to cultural community development within its region.

img_9052
Mick Harding ‘Taungwurrung Goork-Ngada Biik Blood Country, 2016 with Lisa Kennedy and Laura Brearley’s ‘Magic Dilly Bag Circle’, 2016

Before the Ceremony, Lyndal Chambers and Brian (Strat) Strating led a rehearsal with Boomulele and other community members, creating a sense of fun and inclusivity. Ronald Edwards, a Traditional Custodian then welcomed people to his Country and Boomulele led everyone in a Gunaikurnai Acknowledgment Song. During the Ceremony, artists and community members shared stories about their creative practice and a dancer from Wulgunggo Ngalu spontaneously performed a Creation Dance around Ronald Edwards’ painting which lay in the centre of the Circle. At the end of the Ceremony, Boomulele performed ‘Djapana (Sunset Dreaming)’ and it raised the roof.

One of the participants in the Circle was Jeannie Haughton, a local playwright. This is how she described her experience of being part of the Sounds of Country Ceremony:

I feel

the embrace

of a safe place

it wraps me in welcome

I listen

heartfelt words

and pictures leave

traces and tracks in the air

breathe deeply

a long slow outbreath

letting go of everything

but the now

stories

the unspoken

reading wisdom in the lines

on faces

voices from the strong

the fragile cradled

all joining in song, and dance

connecting as one

The combination of music, dance, art and the exchange of stories at the Sounds of Country ceremony led to a strong feeling of community and connection in the room. It was a living example of Deep Listening, a way of listening which goes well beyond what we can hear with our ears. To listen deeply, we need to take time to engage and to create space in which genuine contact can be made.

Boomulele and the SteeetSounds project are making a significant contribution to creating spaces like these across the State.

Feature image: Ronald Edwards: Telling stories on Gunai Country, (detail)2016 acrylic on canvas 

For more information about the StreetSounds project, go to https://cmvic.org.au/pages/streetsounds

 

Ready, willin’ and able: generosity and solidarity are key components of Williamstown singing group

Leaving Melbourne via the Westgate Bridge on a Wednesday evening, clouds of steam cluster and dissipate into the darkening sky. It’s fair to assume these plumes are output from the factories and refineries dotting the coast like pins in a board from Port Melbourne to Geelong. It’s also possible that part of the component entering the atmosphere is a heady mix of CO2 and endorphins being exhaled by the Willin Wimmin of Williamstown, having their weekly sing.

10583998_1446634612280983_6251822852438359669_nWillin Wimmin past and present were reunited last month to celebrate 25 years as a community choir giving voice to women, and spreading the joy of singing and community to audiences in the west and beyond. By their reckoning, this amounts to roughly 1000 rehearsals, more than 200 performances, over 300 songs and 250 women who have been involved since the inception of the singing group.

Worthy of a knees up, by anyone’s standard. The room was filled with friends, partners and family, everyone brought their own dinner, there was support with sound and lighting from their mates at the Newport Community Choir: it was a community event in every sense of the word.

The group sprung from the John Bolton Theatre School which was based in Williamstown, back in 1991. John employed Bronwen Barton as his music teacher who, with John’s partner and a few friends started singing together. The seeds for Willin Wimmin were sown and interest quickly caught on among the community. The singers were not only Willin Wimmin, they were feisty women with a will and the current members continue to embrace this identity: They set out as sisters doing it for themselves, collaborating as a cooperative and proudly eschewing the committee way of doing things until more recently.

The increasing requirements of funding bodies and venues requiring insurance over the years created a gradual push to become incorporated and adopt a more formal arrangement. Willin Wimmin eventually (reluctantly) bowed to the external pressure, formed a management committee and became incorporated last year.

Back at the start, Bronwen was a great vocal coach whose philosophy that anyone can sing set the value of inclusivity which has underpinned the group ever since. There have never been auditions and the women make it clear that no singing experience or knowledge of music is necessary. A good sense of humour, the will to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity and a shared belief in supporting, and welcoming one another is what counts. Willin Wimmin sing with heart and choose their material from an eclectic selection of genres including world, folk, choral and contemporary.

Julie Merritt has sung with Willin Wimmin for 18 of its 25 years, joining when the youngest of her three children was around 12 months old. The social side of belonging to the group drew her in; she felt a sense of belonging and like she’d found her tribe.

A strong social justice theme runs throughout the choir, and Willin Wimmin have sung on demonstrations and rallies, at sport, art, health and women’s issues events. They’ve trodden the boards at a variety of venues, too: Deakin Edge Theatre, Melbourne Recital Centre, the NGV as well as Fairlea Women’s Prison and Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, to name but a few.

Willin Wimmin have been helped along their journey by the commitment from their leaders:

“We have been fortunate with our directors – they have each been fabulous, feisty, fearless, sometimes fearsome.  Each of them brought unique gifts and talents with warmth, patience and fun.  Without them, there is no Willin Wimmin.”

Bronwen Barton took the helm for the first ten years, followed by Jo Lange, Dan Scollay, Jennifer Lund, and since 2014, the group has been lead by Steph Payne. Collaborations with other choirs have enhanced their song filled journey, too. Willin Wimmin teamed up with Mark Seymour and the Victorian Trade Union Choir to sing in Dust, a musical by Donna Jackson about the devastating impact of asbestos. They were also joined by the VTUC and Newport Community Choir to sing excerpts of Dust when Donna’s book ‘Art & Social Change: Dust, a Case Study’ was recently launched.

Keeping Community and Women’s issues in their hearts and at the forefront of their philosophy, Willin Wimmin have sung at Reconciliation demos; the National Women in Construction awards and at the Victorian apology to women forced to give their babies up for adoption, where they sung for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers (ARMS). The list doesn’t end there.

Willin Wimmin were also way ahead of the current media frenzy that has gained such rapid momentum around women’s football, and sang at the Women’s AFL grand final before women’s footy was officially deemed cool.

“We have, very importantly, also just sung for each other, in times of sadness, joy, longing, celebration and always with love.”

The wimmin are willin in more ways than one and are happy to offer inspiration and support to everyone who comes into their orbit, irrespective of how long they choose to stay on and sing with them.

About five years ago, Julie recalls an influx of women to the group, aged around 40. Each and every one of them found their voice through the supportive environment before moving on to form off shoot groups or find other, more challenging ways of nurturing their singing souls.

Julie doesn’t pause as she emphatically describes this as ‘brilliant’, seeing it as a natural part of what Willin Wimmin exists to allow; an integral component of its entity and a tangible example of the generosity required for a happy, cohesive community spirit. She acknowledges that seeing people move on is bittersweet “like a parent waving a child goodbye”, but that it is more wonderful to enable people to literally find their voice.

Many members have a story of ‘finding their voice’ thanks to Willin Wimmin.

Confidence, courage and strength are uncovered through singing and performing within a group of supportive, welcoming women, week in, week out. Julie offers herself as a prime example and has felt her confidence grow gradually “not just enough to sing in small groups, but to be back-up conductor, speechmaker, even president of the committee.” This has extended beyond the context of Willin Wimmin and into other areas of her life, proving once again, how impacting and profound the values and benefits of community musicking can be on the lives and well being of its participants.

So congratulations to Willin Wimmin on 25 years of singing together, supporting each other and creating opportunities for community cohesion and connection in lucky old Williamstown. There’s no sign of the sun setting in the west, anytime soon.

14063852_1764585623819212_225801658279332189_n
members of Willin Wimmin celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary back in August

Written by Deb Carveth with Julie Merritt, President of Willin Wimmin.

If you’d like to join Willin Wimmin, they meet on Wednesday evenings at 7.30-9.30pm during term time, and further information is available here.

Tides of Welcome keep on rolling: A Queenscliff community choir celebrates 13 song-filled years

Tides of Welcome Choir has been celebrating diversity and harmony through a shared passion for singing, and has just blown out the candles on its thirteenth anniversary cake. The choir comprises locals from Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, who enjoy the experience of singing together and creating soulful harmonies under the direction of their dedicated leader, singer songwriter, Andrea Robertson.Tides of Welcome

Based in Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House, Tides of Welcome has never struggled with numbers enjoying a consistently strong turn out and cohesion from day one, back when it was lead by Sarah Carroll and known as The Ripchords.

Carolyn Williams is one of the founding members, and has been heavily involved in the development and evolution of the choir from its outset, participating in the fun stuff at the front end, and overseeing the administrative nuts and bolts behind the scenes:

“Myself and a few other people were keen to start up a choir and had been for some time but we knew we had to find the right person to lead it, somebody charismatic who would bring people along with her or him. And we found Sarah Carroll who at that stage was in the Melbourne based country band, Git, and had recently moved down to the Bellarine Peninsula. We approached her and she was very keen, so we advertised and on the first night we had about 40 people. Given that Queenscliff is a small population this was a real coup!”

So was it something in the sea air, or was there simply a gap in the singing market?

Carolyn believes it was Sarah’s reputation that drew singers in and the hard to resist attraction of what she had done previously in her own musical right. The group found a home in the senior citizens centre in Queenscliff, changed their name to Tides of Welcome Soul and Gospel Choir, and remained singing with Sarah, for the next 7 years.

One clear problem emerged extremely early on, during the group’s first year, and stemmed from an ebb and flow in the number of people attending. “At times there were 20 people who’d turn up, while on other nights there’d be 40. Sometimes there would be an entirely different group from one week to the next based on who came to sing and who stayed at home. “

This caused a few challenges around the practicality of teaching songs to a group whose dynamic would shift and change, and where people were remembering the repertoire in varying ways and to differing extents.

The choir committee decided to nip the problem in the bud by introducing termly rates, and this immediately fixed the problem. “Once people weren’t paying on a weekly basis it really sorted things out, reiterated everyone’s commitment to the group and regardless of whether you were on holiday half way through term or whatever, you were in it for the duration.”

By 2004, the choir was performance ready and scored themselves a spot at the Queenscliff music festival. Their debut turned into an annual place on the bill, and offers incentive and focus to the singers, and a shape to the year.

A strong set of values underpin the group. As an inclusive community choir, there are no auditions and everyone’s welcome. Tides of Welcome have had a range of experiences over the years including recording five CDs and the production process has been so tight that every voice counts. There are people within the choir who are happy to do solo spots while others can think of nothing worse than being out there by themselves. If a person joins the group who is less confident in their ability to hit the notes, they’ll be put alongside stronger, more confident singers until they find their groove.

So what’s the secret in the success and longevity of the choir? Carolyn believes that comes down to a combination of factors such as the willingness of individual choir members to support the group. For example, they’re fortunate to have a guy who makes time to record all the songs and put them on Soundcloud so that everyone can rehearse in between choir practise, and who has also prepared the website, a fantastic resource richly populated with photos of the group in action, songs and lyrics.

Another huge bonus is the auspicing received by Tides of Welcome from Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House. Not only does this assure them a rehearsal space, it means the administrative and financial needs of the group are all taken care of by the House; the emails which need sending around; the printing of the lyrics, any photocopying; the list of admin and back house tasks which are necessary to underpin all community music groups, are entirely taken care of. And the cherry on the cake is that Carolyn is not only a founding member of the choir, she is the Coordinator for the neighbourhood house, too.

“We have always had the wider community as our heart and the Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House as our heart beat.”

A small Tides of Welcome executive committee meets regularly to take stock, review guidelines and ensure things are on track for everyone, while the final choice about material sung by the group, is made by the leader. During their incarnation as a soul and gospel choir. Sarah Carroll sourced some amazing and rare gospel songs for the group to sing, “what she’d call white gospel from the southern states of America.” Tiffany Eckhardt who went on to direct the choir later on, wrote songs specifically for the choir which was also wonderful, and choir members are always welcome to contribute ideas for material, at any point in time.

Tides of Welcome have benefited from three sessions of professional development over the course of the past 13 years, including a ‘tune up’ from Jonathan Welch, which Carolyn feels was extremely valuable. They continue to be led by experienced leaders, rich in musical background and experienced in teaching a variety of age groups and abilities. Local musician and educator Andrea Robertson is the current director.

“Andrea is a singer songwriter based in Ocean Grove… whilst new to directing a choir like Tides of Welcome, she is an experienced singing and piano teacher and has worked with children’s choirs and church groups. We were very fortunate to have Andrea join us. She’s embraced the role of Director and continues to teach and inspire us to create our soulful sound layered with rich harmonies. She’s also expanded our repertoire to include many songs that she has written specifically for us.”

Thirteen years constitutes many, many weeks of singing together and a handful of the original singers involved since the start are still coming back for more.

While people come and go, for Carolyn, it’s the camaraderie of being in a group and just the fun of singing together that keeps her engaged.

“There is something undeniably powerful about the experience of singing together where the feelings of warmth, joy and harmony are enjoyed and shared…people will often say “I’ve had a really hard day and I didn’t want to come tonight but I forced myself and I feel so much better.”

Tides 13th Birthday
The 3 founding members still involved with the choir: Janelle Jenkins cutting the birthday cake, next to Jacinta Farrugia and Carolyn Williams, standing.

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Carolyn Williams.

Join Tides of Welcome in concert to celebrate their 13 year anniversary on Wednesday September 14th,from 7.30pm at the Uniting Church in Queenscliff or join them at 6pm for a community meal (by donation). For tickets and further information, click here.

Sharing more than song: Singing life back into an old, old concept with a brand new barter choir.

‘If I can reduce my living expenses significantly that’s as good as making money.’ says Werribee singing leader, Steph Payne, who recently established ReciproVocal, a Barter Choir where instead of paying a termly fee to join, participants are invited to share and exchange skills and trades and even sing for their supper. (Steph dreams of dentists, desperate to sing, and who wouldn’t?)

At ReciproVocal, your money won’t get you anywhere! Steph’s vision is for the group to experience not only the bond of solidarity and support for each other common between members in community singing and music groups, but to educate themselves in ways of bartering and skills exchange that will extend out to enrich and sustain the wider community in unforeseen ways.

The idea for ReciproVocal germinated from a seed sewn at an inspirational workshop run by community facilitator, Debby Maziarz, at the Wyndam Arts Incubator, in Werribee. The workshop focussed on bartering and the establishment of mutually beneficial connections between artists and businesses, an idea that resonated heavily with Steph, inspiring a steep and positive learning curve. While she is in no doubt about the sense in trying this ‘revolutionary-retro’ approach, Steph acknowledges that she, herself, had to learn a lot of lessons in the lead up to the launch of the singing group, and that other people may also need time to come around to the concept:

 “There needs to be a huge amount of education around bartering and trading. People can’t see how bartering fits into their world because they’re used to a money based currency.”

Steph has also noticed that even amongst her existing  network of singers and ukulele players all keen to continue working with her, there is often the initial response of ‘but I don’t have anything to trade.’

“But they do! We are all so used to being valued monetarily and comparing ourselves based on what we have. People just don’t realise they have loads of things to trade and that you’ve got to look at it more creatively.”

To encourage new participants to dip a toe in the ReciproVocal waters, Steph is willing to accept money from her singers to begin with, gradually introducing the barter model as the group grows and develops its collective understanding of a non-monetary based currency.

image1
Steph leading Williamstown based singing group, Willin Wimmin

“We’re all fixated by the concept of money. On the one hand it’s a leveller because everything has a monetary value, it’s very open and clear and you can see what you’re buying into. But on a whole lot of other levels it’s incredibly unfair and messed up. Money’s convenient, but it’s a real trap and it only gives things one value, when certain things hold much more.”

A significant piece of the sociological scaffolding required to support the bartering model, is trust. Trust in the validity of the concept by the participants is crucial, and belief by Steph that the services and goods offered will be forthcoming in the way they are promised is important too. A clear, shared understanding of the need for mutual boundaries between the definitions of professional and personal space between members of the group is equally important. This line in the sand is necessary for the sake of all participants because the variety of tendered tasks require varying degrees of access to areas of each other’s lives.

And while response to the idea of ReciproVocal has been hugely positive Steph believes it will be a slow burn to reach a sustainable level of interest, and is prepared for this to take time.  She’s excited by an awareness that the more people she can engage and educate about bartering, the more likely it is that there really can be a functioning level of trading going on, with the possibility of a real alternative economy starting in Werribee.

To help people get their head around the type of things they can bring to the table, there’s an area on the ReciproVocal website which offers examples of what 8 weeks in a choir is worth. Steph has supplied this as a guide to allow people to work out for themselves the equivalent ‘value’ of what they might like to offer.

Again, a sliding scale of value applies because the value is not just monetary. It’s not as simple as being a term’s worth of singing valued at $150. Singers might offer a service which will save Steph time, or produce something she needs or simply just wants, or be able to arrange a lead into further work for her. The option of third party trade also exists. For example, you may not be willing to mow Steph’s lawn but you might know somebody who is for whom you can babysit, who will then mow the lawn and the chain of exchange grows longer and more embedded.

Steph is always looking to enrich and develop communities through the groups that she runs. It’s a strong part of what drives her. In the past she’s run a singing group in a pub because of the immediate social set up, and she’s hopeful that Reciprivocal will grow to enrich the community in a myriad of ways. Her hope is that once people are engaged in the trading and bartering concept, they will extend those terms and values of collaborative, sustainable living to each other, and eventually to people and life situations beyond the singing group:

“There’s a great level of satisfaction in getting your needs met in a way that’s not financial. As a person with something to offer, as a product as a service, any of us have a choice in how we exchange that. We have our needs, we have our resources, it’s about how to match those two things up. “

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, in collaboration with Steph Payne.

RECIPROVOCAL SEEKS SINGERS!! Open to adults of any age and experience. Rehearsals are Thursdays 7-8.30pm 8 weeks per term. Starting July 28, 2016-08-04  Venue: Wyndham Arts Incubator, Old Shire Offices, Room 4, Cnr Watton St & Duncans Rd, Werribee.VIC 3030 www.reciprovocal.com.au  www.facebook.com/reciprovocal  Email: unstrungmusic@gmail.com

 

 

Singing to be Strong: Overcoming anxieties through song

Last Thursday, singing leader Richard Lawton woke up planning to head to the Royal Melbourne Hospital as he has done for the past eight weeks where he runs a singing group for outpatients living with an eating disorder. Except last Thursday Richard felt “a bit crappy with bit of a headache and feeling sludgy.” He could feel his resistance before he’d even emerged from under the covers.

“I was wondering ‘do I have to?… I’d rather stay in bed …’ and it’s a familiar voice in my head because as a card carrying introvert, every night before choir (I have four now) I have to walk myself through this, and it’s the same voice that says ‘I really don’t want to expose my self and be seen by a room full of people’ which is of course what a singing leader does.”

So last Thursday morning, Richard persevered and as he reached the entrance of the hospital it dawned on him how he probably wasn’t alone in his thoughts and how difficult it might well be for the outpatients heading along to his group. Anxiety and eating disorders are good friends, and eight weeks is a relatively short period of time in which to feel completely at ease in a new and unfamiliar situation. Richard senses an element of uncertainty lingering among his singing group at the Royal Melbourne and works to create a welcoming environment in which the outpatients can let down their guard and relax in a safe and fearless space.

“The chairs all have cushions on, and for the first couple of weeks people would come in, sit down and put a cushion on their lap. So they were putting up a defence immediately… There’s a lot of shame involved among patients with eating disorders and it’s important to be mindful of this as somebody encouraging them to open up and let go.”

Supported by a psychologist from within the department, Richard takes guidance from the singing group about ways to put the singers at ease and overcome challenges particular to them, often having to modify approaches and practice he would use readily with his other groups.

Care also has to be taken around use of words. No allusions to image or physicality or exercise. These boundaries are set by the singers who make it clear that to do so will provoke unnecessary anxiety among them. The group Richard works with does not comprise solely of the stereotype teenage girl. Participants range in age from Year 12 to their 40s and while there are guys in the inpatients at the hospital, Richard’s current singing group is all female.

Not knowing the background or the trigger of the illness among the individuals with whom he is working, it is also important that Richard allows them the freedom to choose which songs they sing to avoid material with unsuitable content or unwelcome connotations which may, again, instigate anxiety and prevent people from taking part. “The Cups song from Pitch Perfect is a favourite, and ‘Titanium’ is another one they like.”

Early on, in the inpatient program, only a handful of patients chose to take part in the singing group and it was a challenge to get those who did come along to sing at all during the hour long session. They looked so glum, Richard was wondering if he’d ever be able to break through. It was feedback from the psychologist which encouraged him to keep going in those initial weeks. Even if few of the patients were singing for the entire session and giving no outward signs of engagement or pleasure, their feedback was that they found it relaxing. In the outpatients program, more of them are singing and the numbers have increased.

“Anxiety levels are high. You want control. The thing about purging and eating is that you feel like you don’t have control over your life or your environment and this is one thing you can control. So when they talked about finding singing a relaxing thing, I thought, “oh right, so it’s doing something.”

One exercise Richard uses to combine movement with sound encourages everyone to stand up and shout as if hailing a taxi: Hey! Heeeey! HEEEEEEY!.. with each exhalation and sound growing louder and more sustained. The group cooperate well with this one, becoming less self conscious and more engaged as time goes on. It’s an activity that produces good vibration and masses of endorphins, too.

“When you enter the building everything is so quiet but when the group leaves, they are vocal and enlivened. They have found their voices. They also appreciate the act of singing together, of doing something with other people.”

Anyone who has sung regularly with a singing group will identify with the sense of connection which develops between members of the group. The act of singing facilitates this bond and even aligns the heartbeats of people singing together. Experiencing this sense of connectedness is an important contributor to mental health recovery and a sense of individual peace and wellbeing.

Richard works to empathise with the group, sharing his own doubts and insecurities. The more they feel at ease, the more they will open up and sing. The more they sing the better they will feel and hopefully, the stronger they will grow. And it really seems to be working.

“Last week, when I started the session I could tell that a few of them were having a rough day and I told them a story about how the night before I’d gone to a Contact Dance class for the first time in months. Contact Dance is something I used to be very good at, but it’s mostly a young person’s form, and my mind was coming up with all the familiar excuses as to why I should stay home. Then, when I was almost there I couldn’t find the venue, and almost turned back. Eventually I got through the door and it was wild – I had a ball.

When I told the singing group that story, a couple of them said ‘yes, I had so many excuses for not leaving home today,’ and ‘I got as far as Central station and very nearly turned back.’ So we talked about the importance of ‘getting through the door,’ and how so many times in life we allow our fears to hold us back, and how important it is to get ourselves through the door…

The door metaphor is about how we sometimes shy away from the very thing that is good for us. We know that singing makes us feel better and yet sometimes it still feels too hard.”

For Richard who leads the singing group on a voluntary basis, reward comes from feeling his work is having a positive impact on the lives and the recovery process of the singers.

“I think what touches me about working there is about those days when my skin feels too thin to be out in the world, to be seen, to have to show up, (and as a white male I have it stacked in my favour). When I’m with these women who are wrestling with the human condition there’s a part of me that’s very humbled. And there’s another part of me that wants to wave a magic wand so they can see how most of the negative thoughts they have about themselves are a cruel illusion. “

While magic wands are scarce, Richard’s work in the outpatients’ department might be the next best thing. The group reports feeling calm, more free and relaxed after singing together.  “A lot of them are perfectionists, seeking something they can never have. Eating disorders are one of the few mental illnesses which can kill you or from which you can make a full recovery. It is very hard to measure the success rate of patients who are discharged as they go off and live a full life.”

As each weekly session ends, the group leaves and the hospital corridor echoes with voices raised in more chatter with less silence. The soothing balm of singing works its wonder, the endorphins flow, and the world feels a better place for it. Just last week, Richard heard from the supervisor how after the group had finished, the singers went out to a café where they were much more upbeat and talked about how much they’d enjoyed getting up on their feet and singing and moving that day. That’s pretty magical.

facebook banner
Richard at work, leading one of his regular weekly singing groups in Elsternwick
Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria, with Richard Lawton. 

 

 

We can all make music

%d bloggers like this: