My husband Terry and I live on Phillip Island (Millowl) and we love Western Port Bay. We love its beauty and its stillness and we love its birds.
It is from this place of love that we have been writing songs, making films and bringing community members together though music in response to a proposal by AGL to moor a regasification plant at Crib Point and build a 60 kilometre gas pipeline from there to Pakenham. We want to celebrate the richness of life in Western Port and stand up for its protection.
We are now at a critical point in the community conversation. The issue has been in our awareness for years, but we have a short window now to gather our collective strength, listen to the science and do what we feel the future is asking of us. We strongly believe Western Port is not the right site for industrialisation. The eco-system of the Bay is too significant and fragile to risk the irreparable damage that would be caused. We respect the significance of the UNESCO Biosphere reserve and the Ramsar wetlands that support and sustain migratory birds and many other interconnected forms of life.
The COVID times we are living through have heightened our perceptions of what matters most and how interconnected we all are. The economic imperative is not the main narrative here. It is life itself and our collective responsibility to care for it. Wendell Berry has a version of the golden rule that applies in this situation.
‘Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you’, he writes. ‘Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.’
We will be including links to these films and songs in our written response to the Environmental Effects Statement and the call for submissions which is open and receiving submissions until August 26.
Here are links to three of Terry’s films which contain songs from the Western Port Bay Song Cycle, (below).
‘Blessings’ is a call for justice and a song of love for Western Port Bay. It recognises the future impact of decisions being made about the proposed AGL Regasification Plant in Western Port Bay and appeals to the best in everyone involved.
‘No Way’ features members of our local community as well as choir members from the Climate Calamity Choir, led by Jane Coker and the Melbourne Climate Choir, led by Jeannie Marsh. Both choirs collaborate on environmental actions, drawing together members from different choirs from Gippsland, Melbourne and beyond. They have developed innovative ways of facilitating and recording virtual choirs.
‘Time to See’ focusses on the significance of Western Port as a Ramsar site. Inverloch-based community musicians Lyndal Chambers and Brian ‘Strat’ Strating have added recorder and accordion to the song. Drone footage of Queensferry Jetty and the Bass River taken by Mick Green has also been incorporated into the film.
WESTERN PORT BAY SONG CYCLE
Here are SoundCloud links, descriptions and lyrics of the seven songs in the Western Port Bay Song Cycle.
1 Time to See
Migratory birds enlarge our worlds. They connect us to places across the planet and to those who share our love for them.
2 Flowing On
Everything is interconnected. The past flows into the future, carrying the memories and the stories of the living beings who have preceded us.
3 No Way
Some things in life are so precious, they are priceless. The AGL’s proposed gas facility in Western Port Bay highlights the question of what we value most.
4 Beautiful Bay
Clean water is central to all of life, everywhere. It is the source of life. There is a Slovakian proverb which says, ‘Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine’.
5 Taking a Stand
As we witness the damage being done to the Earth, we are all diminished. We experience the sense of loss and it is profound.
6 Out on the Bay
Life has its own rhythm. The seasons and the cycles of the natural world keep it steady and balanced.
We are in relationship with Country. First Nations people around the world wait for us to listen and learn and so does the Earth.
We are sharing these films and songs with the community and with decision-makers as an act of hope and in solidarity with the natural world. In Albert Einstein’s words, it is time to ‘widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.’
We warmly encourage you to take your place in this widening circle of compassion and to raise your voices on behalf of Western Port Bay.
Submissions are going to be reviewed by an Inquiry and Advisory Committee, led by the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne. A directions hearing will be held on September 17, followed by a public hearing starting on October 12 which is likely to run for eight weeks.
“I really only work through the arts, and I think that community resilience and bonding and all of those things can come through the arts.” This conviction combined with a natural ability to strategise and inspire people has led Margaret Summerton to find herself holding a position of responsibility for CFA Volunteers and Sustainability across the South East Region of Victoria; an area of the State covering 2 million hectares, from Bairnsdale to Mallacoota, Omeo to Lakes Entrance. This region was hit hard by the devastating bushfires, last summer.
“It was burnt to a crisp here, 60% of our land mass was burned and as happens with bushfires and disasters we continue to be heavily affected in so many ways.”
When Margaret applied for the role a year ago she wasn’t sure that her arts-based approach and style of delivery would be compatible or aligned with a paramilitary organisation.
“After a few weeks in the job, I walked into the District Manager’s office and said that we needed really needed to start a choir! He was speechless and looked at me like WHAAT? and I said, ‘no, let me explain!…’ ”
Margaret’s reasoning was while you are singing for an hour and a half, you are not thinking of your problems. “You are not thinking of how your dog needs to go to the vet or how your car has broken down, you are thinking about singing, and you’re thinking about breathing, and you’re thinking about listening to each other…you are thinking about the music -just that, I mean just totally that!”
The District Manager listened to Margaret’s idea which she offered as part of a bigger strategy plan that included how the arts can activate their stations. After hearing her out, he simply said. ‘I love to sing’.
“That surprised me! Then I asked him ‘how do you feel when you are singing?’ And he said, ‘I feel great!’ and I said ‘of course you do!’ ” And almost on the spot, the Cann River CFA Community Choir idea was launched as a vital part of a bigger plan to promote positive health, healing and well-being within the brigade and community.
The Cann River CFA Community start-up choir now has seven members; the singers are comprised of CFA volunteers, a member of Bushfire Recovery Victoria, and locals working with the Bush Nurse, a sculptor and retirees. In addition to providing an opportunity for first-responders to come together for mutual support, connection and an escape from the demands of their roles, it’s truly a community choir and that’s the primary aim. Since June, the group has met weekly for a sing in the brigade shed, with a repertoire ranging from Talking Heads to Janice Joplin.
“Anyone can join and that’s been great. We have seven people who come every Thursday night, who just sing their guts out, which is wonderful, just wonderful.” The choir keeps in contact during the week via the Community Centre’s Facebook page. During the week the posts fly with happiness. Margaret’s favourite post to date is “Christmas has come early, and it’s in the form of a choir!”
The CFA Choir is run with funding support from Regional Arts Victoria and the Australian Government Regional Arts Fund to support its director, Cindy Parrett. “Cindy is fabulous, an ex-Cabaret singer who teaches singing and music at the local P-12.”
Sometimes things are just meant to be, even in these COVID affected times, and when Margaret collided with Cindy, it was a case of the stars aligning.
“It was an extraordinary coincidence, I had just started at the CFA, and my choir idea was bubbling along. I was visiting the town quite often, meeting all the community leaders; the high school principal, the community centre manager; who I got to know quite well. I was in a meeting with the high school principal that has been at the P-12 for 40 years, and every year he has written an original play for the school with a role for every single child. He’s phenomenal. I told him how I was wanting to start a choir in the CFA shed, and he said, “Well fancy that! I have just hired a singing teacher for next year”. It was destiny.
Fast forward to June and being in a remote part of the state not affected by lockdowns or too many restrictions, the singers were able to meet weekly. “We’d take our temperatures, sanitise our hands, and stand at a distance. But once the second wave took over; it didn’t feel healthy to be singing behind a mask. We had no choice but to postpone.” The choir is currently in hiatus, and this breaks Margaret’s heart.
“I am madly in love with this choir, and I know that they are just super sad that they can’t do it right now.”
Margaret has been driving two hours each way to sing with the Cann River CFA Community Choir, and together with her partner sings all the way home into the darkness; not just because it is her baby, but because she has always been in a choir and she loves singing.
“Getting people together to sing, bonds us in some weird way, I mean it doesn’t matter what walk of life you are coming from, once you are singing it transcends everything else. It’s fundamental and it feeds your soul on so many different levels and I’m so glad that the District Manager of the CFA understood that. I mean, if he hadn’t, I don’t think any of this would have happened.”
“At a time when many people are feeling isolated and disconnected, it is an important reminder that we are going through this experience together. There are many ways we can be here for each other and connect, even across distance.” – Laura Brearley
Something wonderful and ridiculous took place a few weeks ago during the depths of the first COVID lockdown. Community music leaders from Inverloch, Lyndal Chambers and Brian ‘Strat’ Strating, brought people together from far and wide and led a Virtual Street Band Parade. It was colourful, joyful and totally absurd.
Normally, at the end of May, Community Music Victoria (CMVic) hosts a Music Camp at Grantville. People of all ages and levels of musical ability come together for a weekend of music-sharing, workshops and performances. The Music Camp always culminates in a Street Band Parade in which people dress up, play music and parade their way around the camping ground.
The times we live in are far from normal, and so this year, the CMVic Music Camp was conducted on-line. Up for the challenge, Lyndal and Strat led the Street Band Parade in front of a computer screen in their lounge room. The experience broke through the two-dimensions of Zoom with its small boxes of seemingly disembodied faces. It was a testament to their years of experience leading Street Bands down real roads, that they were able to pull it off. It also revealed the sense of fun in the community and their willingness to experiment playfully in the virtual world. Most of all, it demonstrated the power of music to bring people together.
Lyndal and Strat have long understood this. Generosity and warmth have been underpinning principles of their community music practice throughout their lives.
‘Music is the universal language’ says Strat. ‘Music touches us in the heart and so then we connect. It’s about the access and welcome, the inclusivity of making music together.’ Lyndal also believes that music is a unifying force. ‘Music ties people together’, she says. ‘Music brings a sense of joy and life and connection.’
Even against the backdrop of the suffering and sorrow of the pandemic, an experience like this reminds us of our resilience and our capacity for joy. At a time when many people are feeling isolated and disconnected, it is an important reminder that we are going through this experience together. There are many ways we can be here for each other and connect, even across distance.
In the words of the nineteenth century English novelist, George Eliot ‘What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?’
Terry Melvin’s short film ‘The Extraordinary Virtual Street Band Parade’ can be seen below and on the following links:
As the tentative optimism emerging for some community music groups in term 3 was crushed by COVID once more, devising a resource to support leaders to facilitate online music making or to squeeze the most out of their current online practice became a priority. Saddened by the clipped wings of songbirds and the frustration of instrumentalists playing alone into the ether almost everywhere, CMVic began working on the development of resources to support an online take off as a way for groups to keep connected.
The result is a fantastic, seven page, website resource called Leading Community Music Online, researched and written by CMVic’s newly appointed tech advisor, Craig Barrie. Together with his partner, Nicki Johnson, Craig has been singing and strumming and keeping the spirits and morale of community music-makers raised up through lockdown since the very start of this corona-induced hullaballoo. Offering multiple online opportunities for people to participate and engage through his work with Nicki as part of All the Way Home, With One Voice Greater Dandenong, and as an independent music teacher, has required Craig to experiment extensively and continually refine what he’s found works best and what is better avoided from both a delivery and engagement perspective, using this format.
Craig has now written up his findings together with some of his top tips into a highly informative, engaging and accessible resource designed to support and enable community music makers’ to enjoy positive tech outcomes and less glitches. It includes advice and help-guides about how to get the best results with limited time and a limited budget.
This is all now loaded and shared on the Community Music Victoria website and we very much hope that the following index of info will help you and your groups to turn iso into calypso and remain tuned in with each other until normal service can be resumed, however far off that is, whether you’re locked down in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire or restricted in regional Victoria. The options discussed have been tried and tested by music leaders in the CMVic family since physical distancing measures took effect in March 2020 – we thank them for so generously sharing their knowledge and experience in the peer-sharing spirit of Community Music Victoria.
*Members of CMVic can also book a one-to-one tech help appointment with Craig Simply email: firstname.lastname@example.org with your issue specifying when you are available for a call or Zoom chat. Please include a description of relevant hardware (e.g. laptop/tablet/phone, Mac-IoS/PC-Android).
**Keep an eye out for upcoming CMVic Zoom sessions on specific tech related topics. These are advertised in CMVic’s Shout newsletter as well as the CMVic Singing Leaders’ Lounge and Music Group Leaders’ Lounge on Facebook, and include ongoing discussions of what our clever, creative folk are doing to make the best lemonade out of the lemons that 2020 has supplied in abundance!
Written by Deb Carveth with Craig Barrie for Community Music Victoria
It is something of an understatement to say that recent months have transformed our modes of assembly. COVID-19 has forced us to rethink and regroup how we gather, and the extraordinary proliferation of musical and other creative activity that we have seen on our screens and been part of since March is testament to how important the experience of assembly is to our spirit, our sense of community, and our intellectual nourishment. The pivot to online gatherings has seen many artistic plans and projects fall by the wayside in 2020 and perhaps beyond, and many of us are grieving these “untold losses” of art and artists and creative experiences that might have been. https://parliamentofdreams.com/2020/06/21/untold-losses/
But some forms of gathering were surely due a shake-up. If there are silver linings to the pandemic, one is that it has forced many customary ways of gathering to be questioned and re-conceived. Conferences are surely among these. They are important spaces for disseminating research and connecting with colleagues, but they are expensive to attend (especially if you don’t have the financial support of an institutional employer behind you) and environmentally damaging when you think of all those delegates flying from their home countries to gather on the other side of the world.
So for me and my colleagues on the Community Music Activity Commission of the International Society of Music Education (ISME), the ‘new normal’ of social distancing and staying close to home represented an opportunity to try an alternative platform for sharing community music workshops, ideas, and the latest research. Our biennial international seminar was originally scheduled for July 2020 in Helsinki, but that got cancelled back in April. We decided to offer our delegates an online alternative.
A challenge was when the gathering should take place. With our team of commissioners spread across New Zealand, Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, and Australia, we already knew there was no ideal timeslot for meeting. Therefore, we steered away from running the conference over the usual ‘3-consecutive-days’ timeframe (which timezone would we privilege?). Instead, we are presenting five weekly Assemblies, each scheduled to accommodate two of the three main timezones (Europe, Americas, and Asia-Pacific). Of course, anyone can attend an Assembly, but the two that are timed to suit Asia-Pacific participants will be during the day or early evening, rather than the middle of the night. Assembly 3 (Wednesday 8 July, 10am) and Assembly Five (Tuesday 21 July, 6pm) are the ones for Asia-Pacific people to mark in our diaries for synchronous participation!
Each Assembly will have a number of parallel sessions (short spoken presentations in some rooms, workshops in others), as well as roundtable discussions and opening and closing plenaries. Posters will also be presented in two of the Assemblies. The content will be pre-recorded but the discussions with presenters will be live. And every Assembly will be recorded and available for viewing later on the CMA Youtube channel.
ISME has waved the usual membership requirement to participate, so the Assemblies are free and open access. All you need to do is register (go here: https://www.isme-commissions.org/cma.html) and you will receive a link to a zoom meeting on the ISME platform. The schedules and other details can be found at the same website.
The conference theme is #theyareus: Conversations of Inclusion, Disruption, and Connection. We warmly welcome CMVic members and all community music leaders and enthusiasts to join us for these conversations. Given that the next ISME conference and Community Music Commission seminar will be held in Australia in 2022, pandemic permitting, this is a chance for Australia’s community musicians to see what the CMA has to offer you and your practice without having to get on an airplane.
Assembly 1 – 23 June (24th June at 4am for Australians)
Assembly 2 – 30 June (1st July at 4am for Australians)
Assembly 3 – 7 July (8 July at 10am for Australians)
Assembly 4 – 14 July (15 July at 4am for Australians)
Assembly 5 – 21 July, 6pm
By Dr Gillian Howell – University of Melbourne, and Commissioner for Community Music Activity Commission in the International Society for Music Education
“As singing leaders, we have a responsibility to make a decision that’s going to be best for the safety of the whole group. All our groups desperately want to get back together but unfortunately, it’s not safe yet and that’s a really clear directive from the medical health professionals that it’s not on the cards right now. Rather than grieving that, I think I’d done that earlier, I’ve kind of moved on. I mean the priority is keeping community together and staying connected; we can work on our harmonies when this is over!”
-Jane York, Just Holler
I remember the evening, clearly. It was a Friday back in March and just days earlier, Daniel Andrews had announced a state of emergency. It had been a fraught week as shops and offices began to close and the shelves began to empty. Lockdown was imminent and panic was tinging everything. But one person had it together and, as the rest of the world worried about loo roll and how long they could live on half a bag of pasta, Jane York donned a spangly jacket, picked up her beer and started to sing around the piano in her lounge room. Jane’s personal motto is ‘if in doubt, sing’. And she was, and she did. Online, using Facebook Live and she’s been doing it daily ever since.
“So many things were unknown and out of our control both personally and as a leader of groups, but one thing I could do was sing.” Jane laughs as she thinks back to that first Friday night singalong.
“It was completely disorganised, it was literally just me pressing live on my phone with an iPad to look up chords and getting drunk. It went for 2.5 hours and by the end of it I was so emotional. It was so interactive, I’d thought it would be me doing a one-way thing and it wasn’t that at all, it was all these people that I love and sing with regularly, and also people I hadn’t seen in ages from all over the country which was something I hadn’t thought about – accessibility by geography and how online we can extend our community – and people were literally tuning in from South East Asia and from Germany. So, at the time when I was thinking ‘we’re going to be isolated’, it was the opposite and it was really emotional that first one.”
Jane finds having structure a really important thing and got to thinking about all the other people at home who were no longer working, who were all in a state of flux and in need of anchoring and she came up with the idea of doing a daily lunchtime sing at 1pm, no matter what else was going on. “It was about a little bit of calm in the middle of the day.”
Jane got started and people were tuning in everyday to say ‘hi’.
“My mum tunes in everyday from Queensland which is very lovely cos we don’t actually get to sing together very much, and we get to sing five days a week now!”
The songs Jane chooses are well-known, easy to sing classics, from Lauper-esque hairbrush anthems of the 80s to Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Johnny Cash. If there’s anything anyone desperately wants on the bill, they are free to make recommendations in the chat.
Early on in lockdown, The Guardian mentioned Jane and Just Holler in an article by Anna Sublet about online singing, “that was kind of freaky, of all the things to be in The Guardian about, me in my robes singing into my phone! Our choir had sung the year before at Hamer Hall to no press and then there I was in the Guardian for not showering and going online”.
That week, Just Holler got 300 new likes on its Facebook page as part of what Jane calls ‘this isolation moment.’ This ‘moment’ has meant that our singing communities have become broader and when Jane saw the Guardian write-up she realised this element of connection could actually be the silver lining of sharing our music online.
“I realised that I could go and attend other people’s workshops and I could attend things not in Melbourne but also that I could invite people from anywhere to Term 2 of our choir. Just Holler online now has people from New South Wales, regional Victoria joining in, which is great. Being in the business of building community and connection, we take a lot of time discussing how to we get more people to come to choir and all of a sudden we’ve gone to them and boom.”
This has shifted Jane’s thinking about the future of community music and she is considering maintaining an online element to rehearsals once lockdown lifts, to ensure that the people who have joined from afar and become a part of the Just Holler community, can remain so.
Singing daily at 1pm means that Jane has to fit the rest of her life around that time. That’s easy to do when she’s at home but last week she was driving and had to pull over at the side of the road to deliver the goods. “It’s been a great exercise in not being precious about having things perfect at a performance level, some days I have literally never played the song through before! I always feel weird doing something by myself, it’s just not my style so it’s been really good for me in that way because it is up to me to sing the whole song through but it’s not centring myself in that experience, it’s still a facilitation thing because I want people to sing along from home.”
Regulars know that Jane likes to shake up the backdrop. She’s sung to the world from the bathtub, behind the clothesline, out on the deck, inside the garage, and out the front of her house with her neighbour. Her son and her partner pop up and accompany her. There have been pyjamas and slippers and keeping it real is part of the charm. On Tuesday she sang from Violet Town with a backdrop of beautiful gum trees and unexpected accompaniment from a garbage truck as it rumbled slowly past.
The chat is where the connection with the outside world takes place as people greet Jane and each other and comment on how well the houseplants are looking or whether Jane got a haircut. “It’s cute, it’s lovely, it allows people to be active participants.”
A couple of months ago, Jane decided she wanted Friday lunchtimes off to sing with Sue Johnson’s online choir and had the genius idea of inviting guests to take over the Friday slot.
All good things must come to an end and, as lockdown lifts and the world shakes its feathers and returns tentatively to the old routines of 9-5, Jane’s thinking about wrapping up the 1’o’clock singalongs possibly in a couple of weeks at the end of this term. But this isn’t set in stone,
“I don’t want it to become a chore I want it to stay a thing I’m still engaged with.” So set your alarm for 12:55, hop onto Facebook and sing along with Jane while you still can.
Feature photo supplied by Jane York featuring, l-r: Jane and her neighbour Shannon; Jane, Lewis and Solly on family band day; Jane alone in her bedroom.
It was participating in an online music session for pre-schoolers which turned around Brian ‘Strat’ Strating and Lyndal Chambers’ thinking about playing and delivering instrumental music online.
“We were invited, us and our grandchildren, to participate in a family session for Drummond Street by Amanda Testro, and it was really interesting. We learned a lot being participants in that group. The fun thing was seeing all the little screens of people doing the same thing or people doing the actions to a song in their own remote locations. We all started off together and then slowly the kids began rambling around the lounge room, you know it’s kind of really interesting and fun to see everyone doing the same thing in different places and we learnt from that experience that things with actions work much better than trying to play music.”
There’s no getting away from it, the communal aspect of instrumental music making online can be dissatisfying for a number of reasons: you don’t have your external speakers cranked up; you don’t own external speakers, your own instrument sounds way louder than what’s coming into your room so there’s no hope of playing along with the facilitator because you’re struggling to actually hear the music itself. And then there’s the unavoidable reality that in real life sessions, everybody’s bits go together to create a tune and while one person on their own might fumble and stumble over their part or lose the beat, it is everybody playing together in real time that makes everything work and is beautiful.
So how can we make the most of collective instrumental music-making opportunities during these times of physical distancing? After all, they’re a great vehicle for checking in and hearing how everyone’s doing.
As highly experienced community music facilitators and musicians, this quandary is something Lyndal and Strat have spent many hours contemplating and experimenting with since COVID put an end to most of their other commitments – and income – overnight.
“As a practitioner delivering music online, you need to think about ‘how do I make it work, what’s the reason for doing community music online, and then if you decide to do it, how do I make it successful? Because, you know, if somebody really wants to learn a tune, they can sit in front of a video on YouTube, they can learn the tune slowly and repeat it as many times as they like.” But this isn’t fun, nor is it what brings it to life. We get together in groups because we want to be with other people.”
Playing with the pre-schoolers led Lyndal to realise how dancing and responding to action songs works well online because it doesn’t matter if you’re hearing the tunes with lag, you can still do the actions. “At one point, Amanda said ‘go on kids go into the kitchen find your pots and pans’ and they all ran off eagerly to go and get their pots and wooden spoons, and so I ran off and got this big pan and wooden spoon! And when I went to play along, my pans were soooo loud, I couldn’t hear a thing from the computer! We learnt that not only can you not play in real time, you can’t even hear what’s going on unless you have some decent external speakers set up on your computer.”
What both Lyndal and Strat enjoyed most was the social aspect of participating in something in this way. “Our grandkids, all three of them – and one is only 18 months old – are in Blackwood and we are in Inverloch, and we are all watching Amanda’s show and we can all see each other!”
So the main purpose of all being online together is to maintain that social connection which we all need and seek out, and music is still that common thread.
“In our physical groups, music-making is a vehicle for us getting together and we can all play together which is just not possible with the technology that we have. At least not without phenomenal expertise and state of the art equipment. The reality we’re stuck with is we’re not going to be able to play real time music together in virtually any online context anytime soon because there’s such huge variability in everyone’s situation. There are barriers such as internet speeds, internet cabling. And some people don’t have a good, functioning computer with a good camera and good audio, some people don’t have internet at all, and some people are too old to wrestle with technology.”
The takeaway from their experience of online participatory music making has shown Lyndal and Strat the importance of identifying a clear purpose at the start of the online session, articulating this as a group and agreeing on an expectation of what everyone is trying to achieve together. “It’s the same as those values we use when we are face to face.”
Lyndal and Strat were recently invited by Aaron Silver to do a Virtual Bush Dance for the Turramurra community. “When we started trying to work out how to do it, we figured that we needed to actually get up and moving ourselves to get other people off their bums, so we did a practise, and videoed ourselves calling the dance and playing the music simultaneously, and it was hilarious.
“The bush dance worked really well but it took a lot of preparation. We had a dry run with around ten people before the session and discussed which settings were needed on Zoom, what settings people should change, and all the technical stuff. Even this was an opportunity for fun and reconnection, we were all laughing and talking to each other, so the social thing was happening even then. This small group of testers were able to say whether or not they could hear if Lyndal danced away from the computer, or when they stood away from their own computer.”
“When it came down to the actual event we were dancing and moving around at the same time as everyone else, we could still see the concert view on our computer and there was everybody dancing in their living rooms. Mark Jackson took a video of himself and Jane with us in the background on the telly and it was so hilarious, so funny!”
As part of Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020), Strat and Lyndal will be re-visiting this approach and facilitating a Virtual Street Band Parade! The tune is available and can be downloaded ahead of camp so that anyone preparing to play in the virtual street band will be familiar with it. Lyndal and Strat would like more than anything for this workshop to be about letting go, healing and having fun.
“We want it to be a lively thing, a joyful experience! We want it to be ridiculous, a coming-together and dressing up; a fooling around opportunity, a joyful, love-filled safe place!”
“We’ve recorded a multi-track tune ourselves so that there are lots of parts. On the day, we’ll press ‘play’ and everyone will be able to hear the pre-recorded piece of street band music which they’ve also been learning and it will have the counting, and everybody can play along on mute, or sing, or dance or even just mime! And they won’t just be playing on their own, they will actually be playing and singing along to a full band sound in their lounge room, bedroom or study or wherever they might be, or even outside on the veranda! Our aim is to light up the screen with participation.”
In considering the transitioning of their leadership skills into the virtual space, Lyndal is reflective about the challenges of maintaining diversity and inclusion.
“Thinking about the values, this idea of ‘from one to many’ is not my ideal for community music making, I think that’s a real stumbling block for me. In a real-life situation, there may be a nominal leader or a leadership team, and you’re allowing everybody’s voice to contribute ideas to the circle and they feel invested. When you have an online platform there’s one person is sitting in front of the computer directing the actions and everyone’s speakers are on mute, its completely the antithesis of the kind of ideal for me of a democratic community music group…”
Strat agrees, “I think it’s impossible in the online setting, so yeah that’s a great challenge, and the other thing is the thinking that if your normal session goes for an hour, have an hour online. You absolutely cannot! With the bush dance, we would usually go through something like that twelve times, whereas online we went through it just three. The elements that are most important are dancing and movement and linking up and having a great time.”
“Enabling people to do their own dressing up and their own dancing allows them to participate as much or as little as they can, or want to or feel able to, while still contributing. And if we can record it, which I know is possible, there will be this amazing collage of everyone doing their own thing in their own way and interpreting it somehow in a way that’s personal to them.”
“And, because you’ll be muted if you have always wanted to play the trumpet in a street band but don’t actually play the trumpet – now’s the time! If you’ve got a trumpet, pick it up and be able to play without any bum notes, straight off the bat! This one of the advantages of the virtual street band; anything goes. There are no limits!”
“Oh my gosh” says Lyndal, “The No Limits Street Band…
Music is known to provoke the senses, give pleasure and sometimes move people to tears. Surely this has little to do with mathematical models which are so frequently associated with cold and rational logic. So what can maths tell us about this powerful phenomenon closely connected to the emotions? Can mathematics help us measure what’s sublime or ineffable about a piece of music?
Music evokes strong emotions such as frisson (goose bumps), awe and laughter – and has been found to use the same reward pathways as food, drugs and sex to induce pleasure. A shiver down one’s spine or an uncontrollable guffaw when listening to music is most often a case of the music defying your expectations. Expectations can be defined in two ways: schematic – knowing how a genre of music is supposed to go – or veridical – knowing how a particular piece of music unfolds.
On one end of the spectrum, a performance or a piece of music that does just what you’d expect runs the risk of becoming banal. On the other end, music like that of PDQ Bach – which uses tongue-in-cheek egregious violations of known expectations – makes many people laugh.
PDQ Bach: The Short-tempered Clavier: Minuet in C. EC, Author provided735 KB (download)
The craving that comes from musical anticipation and the euphoria that follows the reward have both been found to be linked to dopamine release. As a result, performers and composers alike play with listeners’ expectations, often going to great lengths to carefully choreograph their expectations, and then sometimes breaking them, to provoke and heighten emotional responses.
Playing with expectations
In tonal music, which is almost all of the music that we hear and can be thought of as being based on a scale, the note sequence sets up expectations, then suspends, fulfils, or violates them. For a simple example, sing the first three phrases of “Happy Birthday” and stop at the end of the penultimate phrase.
Anticipation for the resolution to this musical cliffhanger creates a palpable knot in the gut. This hollow feeling can be further intensified by delaying the final phrase. The release is evident when the final phrase is heard and ends happily on the most stable tone.
Two things are at work here in this miniature example: tonality and time. Tonality provides a framework through which expectations are formed – and the play on time, the delaying of expectations, uses the framework to create a musical cliffhanger and titillate the senses.
Where maths comes in
Expectations can be modelled mathematically and time can be measured – so the shaping of both expectations and time can be described in numbers. Over the years, in my research lab, we have developed models and computer algorithms for quantifying tonal properties and expressive parameters in music. Many of the tonal analysis algorithms are based on what is known as a “spiral array model”.
The spiral array can be plotted in 3D to allow us to visualise the dynamic evolution of musical keys and spot when the notes and their timing combine to do something interesting to tug at our emotions.
As music is heard, the notes can be mapped to the model, duly weighted and summarised as points inside it. Movements in the space inside the model allow listeners to see deviations from expected tonal behaviour.
Just as pitches that sound close one to another are spatially near each other; the converse is true: pitches that sound far from one another are spatially far apart. Feelings of tension translate to quantifiably big distances – notes mapping to widely dispersed points or pulling far away from an established centre of gravity.
Composers actively vary the tension over time to generate interest and captivate the listener’s attention. The shaping of tension over time also helps create meaningful long-term structure. It is notoriously hard for computer algorithms to generate music with long-term structure. But the MorpheuS system, developed by music researcher Dorien Herremans, circumvents this problem to generate music with a pre-set narrative structure by using a tension model based on the spiral array. Listen to this version of JS Bach’s “Minuet in D”:
MorpheuS-Bach: A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena: Minuet in D. EC, Author provided582 KB (download)
It follows the tension profile, rhythms, and repetition patterns of the original piece from A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach:
JS Bach: A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Minuet in D. EC, Author provided605 KB (download)
The notes of the generated piece also conjures up similar degrees of tension to the original music. For example, discordant sounds follows the same patterns of discord in Bach’s original piece.
Not only do notes themselves create tension, a performer can delay resolutions to heighten suspense. Judicious use of timing is one of the most potent expressive devices for eliciting emotional responses. The right amount of delay can sweeten the anticipation – but take too much time and the performer risks losing the listener.
In music with a beat, the musical pulse forms a baseline grid on which to measure timing deviations – prolongations and reductions of the time unit. In extreme cases, these warpings of musical time produce tipping points, the feeling of being poised at the brink of an abstract hill in an imaginary roller coaster.
We can use maths to present this graphically. When a piece of music is performed precisely as written, it is displayed as a flat line in these graphs. But music is almost never played exactly as written. Performers often exercise significant creative license; as a result, anomalous peaks signal the evocation of musical tipping points.
By elongating specific notes – or words or syllables – the performer draws the listener’s ears to details that might have been missed or glossed over. Because the listener often knows what’s coming, the delay prolongs expectation – creating drama and exaggerating emotional cues.
Mathematics is the language through which scientists understand the nature of the universe. However, the extent to which numbers can explain the ephemeral experience of music has yet to be fully explored. Why does music move us? How do its variegated structures translate to musical expectations? How do performers and composers exploit these expectations to craft profound and moving musical experiences? Our mathematical forays into these questions are but the tip of the ice berg.
Waiting for a room to fill up with people feels so last year. These days, community choir leader Jeannie Marsh waits for the little squares on her screen to blink into life to signal her group’s singers have turned up and tuned in ready to join in an evening of singing from their lounge room, bedroom or wherever the acoustics work best and there’s the option of a closing door.
Over the past month in response to physical distancing and self isolation, a new online world of community music has sprung up, close and personal in a whole new way as pets, partners and kids wander in and out of focus, and we find singing and playing in our pj’s easy and oh so cosy. For the time being, Zoom‘s the room and anything goes in this virtual space as we each adjust to living in this brave new world.
While this approach won’t work for everyone, the option to take things online offers a way for community music groups to continue to connect socially whilst remaining apart. It addresses our basic human need for something to look forward to, is an opportunity to share hope and reassurance with each other and navigate a way through the strange times we find ourselves in. It’s a great excuse for a quick tidy up, too.
“Right now, I’m seeing my role as just trying to help people stay positive, that’s all I can do! Keep people singing and helping anyone feeling overwhelmed to get through this.”
For Jeannie, engaging with online platforms has been something best done on her own terms, in her own time; she’s the first to admit that she dislikes Facebook.
“When social media came out, I just thought ‘no, no, that’s not how I’m going to stay sane’. I feel pretty equipped technically, but I mean you know…”, she laughs, “I don’t have technical skills but I’m not afraid of asking for help and we all have to learn, we are all learning together. With ZING! we had to make the transition very early on and held our first session via Skype which was kind of weird, but it was a way to keep in contact and I was able to teach some songs and then for our most recent rehearsal last week, we switched to Zoom, which was much better.”
Jeannie invested in a headset and has found having better quality sound makes things far easier in her new-found role as an online leader. She’s made other discoveries too. For example, it wasn’t really working for Jeannie to use a call and response approach in her early online work with ZING!:
“I was leaving a gap to go, you know, ‘your turn’, so they would all sing the part at home, but people said that they didn’t really like that because they could just hear themselves singing and found this confronting. People don’t join a choir to hear themselves sing on their own. As a singer in a choir in the room together, you are surrounded by everyone else and they are pulling you along, and the leader is singing, and there might be accompaniment, all those things, and then suddenly it’s just you in your spare bedroom singing on your own, completely on your own without even the leader helping you.”
Taking on feedback from her singers, Jeannie’s abandoned this approach, “I’m not going to be trying that method anymore, I’m just going to demonstrate and repeat, then people can sing along with me, whether it’s a phrase of a song or a warm-up activity. This means that people will always have the security of singing with somebody else.” But Jeannie notes that all this might change as the process evolves over the coming weeks, and as people become more familiar and at ease with singing on their own.
The other disconcerting issue as an online leader is the problem of delay which it seems we’re all stuck with for the time being. “I can see who’s in the room and call them by name, I can say ‘Sue, unmute yourself and tell me what favourite song you have been listening to this week’. And then I can hear them, everybody else can hear them, it’s good for maintaining connection and I make sure we have a lot of laughs, which I think is important. We have warm-ups with music too. I’ll put on some lively latin dance music at the start of a session and we do a little warm-up dance sitting down or standing up… these sorts of things are a bit of fun.”
Jeannie is in the process of exploring possible ways for online social activities to be included in the virtual space, given this is such an important aspect of community choirs. Her ideas include scheduling a break time during the rehearsal when participants can grab a cuppa, beer or whatever, come back and have freeform chat. “In real life, Zing will rehearse for a couple of hours and then we usually go across to the pub and have another hour or so of socialising. We are working out a way to build that in: You can chat, have your drink in your hand and show and tell, whatever people want to do!”
Other Zoom issues to navigate include the inability to see everyone on screen simultaneously.
“Yesterday I did a first online zoom rehearsal for Climate Choir Melbourne with about thirty people, and I couldn’t see them all onscreen at once, I had to scroll across and found that quite difficult… I’m going to have to get into the habit of looking at one panel and then shifting to another panel so that I can see who’s in the room. Their names are there and their faces are there, and I can talk to them individually, so yeah I think that’s going to be challenging but I can see ways to make it work.”
Ensuring singers have all the resources required for each session is also important in supporting their online participation. Jeannie believes this means a potential increase in workload for leaders during the initial planning stages.
“If I walk into a face-to-face choir rehearsal tomorrow and we are working on six songs and people have the music and the word sheets, I stand in front of them, and we practise the song, it’s so straight forward! And you can improvise around your structure, you know, abandon one song if people aren’t getting it, or go to another….but when you are doing this online you have to have the materials all lined up ready to go and you have to keep on delivering, you have to keep talking and singing basically, so you’re on all the time.”
To compensate for this, Jeannie and ZING! are considering reducing the running time of their online rehearsals by half an hour. Jeannie is also planning to delegate online tasks to volunteers from within the group. “If somebody wants to take something on, ask them for help with the technical side of things like setting up a group space for example. I don’t want to be the one setting up the socials but there are plenty of people who would love that! For people with time on their hands, this gives them a supporting role in the same way that volunteers used to set out the tables and chairs in the room before choir. Or maybe they can be the person who sets a musical quiz for everyone or something along those lines.”
Recording and sharing backing tracks to enable singers to rehearse their parts at home is another thing Jeannie plans to provide. “I usually only start producing rehearsal resources halfway through a term, I’ll make little recordings. It’s time-consuming, I mean it’s straight forward and fun to do but it takes hours! I think leaders are going to have to produce backing tracks for people to sing along and harmonise with for practise at home in between sessions, especially if we’re charging money.”
With financial hardship hitting so many leaders and participants alike in this Covid-affected world, Jeannie is re-considering the financial structure of how she runs her choirs to find a way which works fairly for everyone.
“The last two weeks of term just became this weird thing which some people had already paid for, so how do we manage that? Do we make other activities available by way of compensation? And then do we charge less for online choir for term two? The advantage of running online groups from a leader’s perspective is you can have a virtually unlimited number of people, which could effectively also generate more money. On the other hand, people aren’t getting the same amount of experience as they would in a face to face scenario. Also many of them have lost their jobs and I want to make things more accessible than they have ever been, with so many people in trauma.”
One of Jeannie’s ideas is to implement a triple tiered payment system to attend choir. People who are able pay the full amount as normal, a discount is then available to anyone facing financial hardship, and finally, there is a rock bottom rate which is free.
“I think that’s the only way to go really: waged, under-waged and then rock bottom. But as the choir leader also has to live, I think it’s fine asking the people who can afford to pay, to do so, and subsidise those who are struggling.”
An advantage of migrating to online delivery is that ZING! now has people based regionally and interstate who couldn’t physically come to Melbourne before, who are able to join in.
“I feel really happy that this is happening, and I think all we need to do now is set up some payment structure. When people join one of these online sessions, I think it’s important to know that the person, whether it’s me or somebody else, is still trying to run a business here. This is the time we need to step up and really find creative ways to support each other.”
Jeannie is staying focussed on music as a way to navigate these strange times. She’s also supporting the local economy of the community where she lives.
“It’s a way to stop feeling so overwhelmed by everything, I hope. To focus on the things that are within our locality, or within our own skill set, things that we know how to do well, and deal with every day. Now is the time to look at how we spend our money, now is the time to buy that digital download, now is the time to buy CDs, support artists we love, now is the time to buy a ticket to a live streaming concert. And if purchasing things isn’t an option, send those artists an email or get in touch and simply say ‘I really love your work and I want to support you the best I can, through this time, what can I do for you?’ ”
The little rows of numbers take up their place across the page of the project spreadsheet. Adopting an orderly fashion, the lines serve the purpose of a groove marked in the soil by a gardener before planting can begin. These rows are the unsung heroes of community music, the basis from which the seeds of community music can grow. They give structure and scaffolding to all CMVic’s projects and programs, forecasting growth, duration and outreach. And while the figures are only the start of the story, it’s all a bit of a chicken and egg situation when it comes to applying for funding.
Over the next page or so, CMVic’s ‘head gardener’ Administration and Finance Coordinator, John Howard, talks about laying the groundwork and shares his tips on the hard graft of applying for project funding, the font of so many wondrous things. Thankfully, John not only sings numbers he can play them and juggle them too, something he really enjoys. As he says, “I kind of don’t get what’s so weird about numbers.”
Over the course of the past year, John has spent a considerable amount of time researching grants and exploring funding options to sustain and develop some of Community Music Victoria’s current key projects.
One of these projects is Growing Community Music (GCM) which has just reached the end of phase one, a state-wide gathering of information from community music leaders and participants about what they need to support their practice, led by Jane Coker and Lyndal Chambers.
“Growing Community Music (GCM) is what Community Music Victoria is all about as an organisation, it’s what we’re doing“, says John. “We’re growing community music and growing participation. One of the things to emerge from the first phase has been the need for local catalysts, a bit like CMVic had back in the days of big funding from Vic Health, and the opportunity to actually employ people to do that work of mapping what’s there and connecting people up. That’s what we’d like to try and do as part of the next phase of GCM, and I think also having a local steering group in place in each of the regions. To do this would be upwards of around $700, 000 bucks, but any amount can kick it off and get things started.”
Because of the scope and financial requirements of the project, John is looking to secure funding from multiple sources. “If we apply for $90,000 from one funding body, that’s not going to go very far but maybe some of the other applications will come through and that will be fabulous!”
It isn’t easy applying for funding, it’s time consuming and there are invariably knock backs along the way. One rule of thumb is to apply to funding bodies with whom you have a working history who are already familiar with your work. “I think what we’re likely to do is to approach Helen Macpherson Smith Trust because they know us, they know what we’re doing is fabulous and they have a history of supporting what we are doing.” In considering the next phase of GCM, John believes it’s imperative to demonstrate to potential funding bodies the activity and outcomes which’ve been effective and ongoing, since the concept of regional catalysts was originally implemented to support community music making across Victoria.
As the primary funder of Community Music Victoria, Creative Victoria serves as an advisory body offering support and advocacy about where to go and who to approach for grants pertaining to specific projects, and when to do this. Given that applying for grants is a fairly ongoing pressure, what is it, other than his own passion for community music making, that fires and inspires John to put pen to paper and fingers to keys when he’s faced with a funding deadline?
“Sometimes I feel like it’s such relatively piddling amounts of money that we’re asking for in the grand scheme of things, but what happens to people when they take part in making music is fantastic. We get to see that a lot and I love that and I live for that in some ways, it’s a big thing in my life, making music in various contexts and I just think it’s a wonderful thing for human beings to do, so let’s make it possible for everyone to do, or as many people as we can!”
One of the challenges John finds is expressing this joy in the comparatively formal style of writing required: “It can be hard to express this in the dry fashion within a grant application, you know, the ‘research shows that blah blah blah’ side of things. And different things go to different mobs. Sometimes you have to write a lot, and sometimes you just send in a pro forma about your organisation and what your main priorities for funding are, with a link back to the website.”
John feels that in terms of funding it is good to think both big and small. “I think the small is sometimes more likely and if we can get a bit of a start to allow local groups to be set up and help them apply for money from their local councils, that’s another way to get something happening. The Ian Potter Foundation is a lovely foundation to approach as they only fund upwards of $100k!” Even if you approach an organisation and get knocked back, nothing is ever wasted as they will have become aware of your work and you may be lucky with subsequent applications. It’s about building rapport and it’s important to be recognised as a charity that does bloody good work!”
Before applying for a grant, John suggests it’s well worth making time to establish a rapport with the relevant project officer and tailoring the nature of the content for your audience. Consider the style of language used by the funder. Are they looking for ‘excellence’? Do they refer to practitioners and participants as ‘artists’? Is their focus more ‘high end’ ie, the Ballet or the Opera. “There’s a lot of good stuff out there to advise you in how to approach a grant writing application. Use plain English, that’s meant to be good. Be direct and clear about what you’re applying for. So much depends on who’s giving the money and what they’re asking for. Our Community is a good place to go for advice and you can find out what grants are available as well as info about courses on how to write good funding applications. It’s generally about reading the guidelines and ascertaining upon what basis they’re going to decide to allocate.”
If you require an incorporated organisation to auspice your grant application, John recommends getting in touch with Auspicious Arts Projects. “They will meet with you at their place next to the Malthouse in South Melbourne, help you with your grant application, and will only take money from you if you actually get your grant – and they will have helped you build in their 5% auspice fee too. I can’t recommend them too highly.”
Lastly, don’t worry! As John says, while applying for funding can sometimes feel tenuous in some ways, keep in mind that when the outcome is successful, amazing things happen. Think positive, do your research and as you write visualise all the great things you can achieve with the funds.