The Chocolate Lily is a hardy plant well suited to group plantings with a coping mechanism for surviving all weather conditions. Not dissimilar then, to Nerida Kirov’s community singing group of the same name which has just won an Australia Day award.
The award for Community Group of the year was given in recognition of the contribution made by the Chocolate Lilies to the fabric of the Nillumbik community for their ‘can do attitude, pitching in and sharing their talents freely to contribute to their community, as well as their work in helping hundreds of singers gain confidence, a sense of community and have fun.’
Nerida described the news they had won as ‘rather humbling and wonderful’…
‘it was a huge surprise and we are so grateful and blown out by the nomination.’
The Chocolate Lilies, led by Nerida from day one, has been empowering people from the area to come together and sing since its inception in 1993.
Over the past 22 years, a phenomenal bond has developed between members of the group. They have sung together In celebration and shared tears with each other through the tough times, The fires of 2009 caused devastation and loss to many and from within the Chocolate Lilies alone, people lost friends; people lost homes and partners.
Throughout that period, the Chocolate Lilies continued to reach out to those suffering grief and loss and to meet and sing, not only in Hurstbridge and Warrandyte but in Strathewen where 15% of the community perished.
Talk was not necessary; singing together was primal and healing and offered an escape from the terror and grief of the fires.
Immersing themselves in beautiful songs and being bathed in beautiful sound was a form of recovery, and singers, old and new to the group forged a deep sense of connection through their support for each other. It’s now seven years later and many of the people who were inspired to sing with the Chocolate Lilies at that time have stayed on.
With between sixty and seventy regular singers, the group is based across two venues, Allwood Neighbourhood house in Hurstbridge and Warrandyte Mechanics Institute & Arts Association, with everybody coming together for voluntary performances within the community, as many as twenty times a year. A dozen or so of the original members remain from 1993, and the group now feels like a family from which other networks have emerged and grown.
Nerida Kirov believes that when leading a community group it is vital to be instinctual in the way you approach things where people’s emotions are invested, and involved.
‘You cannot be contrived, be empathic with people (who have experienced trauma). It is very important to be sensitive and aware of the dynamics.’
There is a strong social conscience within the group, and as well as attending and performing at community events, many members of the choir frequently go on marches to demonstrate their opinions. The poignancy of the awards being tied in with Australia Day which is also seen as Invasion Day is not lost on Nerida.
‘Aboriginal Elders had a significant presence at the Awards Ceremony and spoke about the history of the day from their perspective. They spoke of the wonderful diverse Australia that we are working towards and the struggle we have been through to get here, and how it is insulting and disrespectful to tie that recognition to the day that began the wipe out of our indigenous people.’
Nerida feels while it is important to acknowledge and celebrate all the great things happening in our communities that possibly, this could happen on a different day.
Many of the songs sung by the Chocolate Lilies have a political angle or issue at the heart of them, and the group also sings original material written by Nerida. One of her songs, ‘Sleepless’ was published in CMVic songbook, Short Stuff. This song was then seen by a Canadian woman who decided to get in touch with Nerida after identifying, bleary eyed, with the words of her song.
A connection was established and the Chocolate Lilies now include material written by that person in their repertoire. Material sent from one singing leader to another, in a song swap across the seas. Which pretty much sums it all up: Singing is a fantastic way to connect!
It provides us with the encouragement we need to reach out and connect, and to remind ourselves of the rich and diverse ways we can each contribute to our society. It brings together people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and it is fabulous that Nillumbik recognises the positive values and impact of the Chocolate Lilies on connectedness, health and well being, within its community.
So congratulations Nerida Kirov and the Chocolate Lilies! And while we’re at it, congratulations to singing leaders and their groups everywhere, for enriching life, for promoting positive ageing, for providing the perfect stress outlet and moral support through the trials and tribulations of life. And if Nerida has one piece of advice to share?
“Integrity. Love what you’re doing. It’s the bottom line. Pass on the joy of what you do to the people around you.”
For more information about the Chocolate Lilies, contact Nerida Kirov: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article written by Deb Carveth with Nerida Kirov