The last rays of a Tuesday evening sun can often be glimpsed glinting off the brass horns, drums and other instruments of the Sunshine Street Band by the runners and dog walkers soaking up day’s end on Albion’s oval.
Every second week, the band throw open the doors of Albion Community House to allow strains of ska, jazz, whatever they’re currently playing to escape into the evening air and across this little patch of Melbourne’s West.
Peter Hinton, band founder and self professed freewheeling trombone player, sees the Sunshine Band as a ‘perfect gateway into playing in a group where different instruments are represented.’ Players of any acoustic instrument are welcome, with age and a lack of experience no barriers to joining. Some people follow dots, others play by ear.
As one of the inaugural bands in the StreetSounds project run by Community Music Victoria, the Sunshine Street Band is a real collective and has evolved to run as a collaborative model after a large dose of input, encouragement and mentoring in the early stages, from Lyndal Chambers, guest tutor Robert Jackson, Brian Strating and Katie Rose Fowler, who still plays with the band.
Peter considers the band an effective way to combat social isolation and improve connectedness between like minded people living in and around Sunshine: ‘It’s a very healthy thing to have a connection with your community..’
Hinton was the catalyst in getting the band started because he was keen to find somewhere for himself and his family – specifically his teenage daughter, to play music together with others and because there was ‘genuinely nothing else like that around where you could play music for the joy of it, where auditions and an expected level of experience didn’t apply..’
With some musical experience playing guitar with friends who then moved across town, Peter was keen for himself and his daughter to have the freedom to try new instruments and keep music going as an ‘outside of school type of thing’. After a spot of googling, and deciding that a local community band open to beginners would be the most rewarding thing to be part of, Peter discovered Community Music Victoria and picked up the phone.
His timing was perfect. Funding for StreetSounds had just been granted by the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust and the RE Ross Trust, and Lyndal Chambers was in place as project manager. Peter’s passion and palpable conviction of the need for a community band in Sunshine were the perfect sparks to ignite the project, and the Sunshine Street band, and the project, were launched.
‘Without Lyndal, this wouldn’t have started… she had all the contacts… Together with Strat she helped set the culture in the first couple of sessions .. they made it clear that you don’t have to be professional to be in a band, there were no wrong notes! It was all motivation and encouragement. And she found us the room too. (thanks to Brimbank Council).’
The band is evolving into a real collective in the way they choose what to play and the way they play it. ‘Katie knows which instruments play in which key which has really helped cos you need somebody like that… and we’ve found there are heaps of good reasons for all sharing the leader role, everyone has a say and when they have a say they feel more involved and connected. It also feels more sustainable and means that all the pressure isn’t just on one person.’
As the numbers increase, Peter says people are being drawn to the community vibe of the band. ‘There are some strong players coming in now from Sunshine West way, and you can tell from the way they play they like their music.’
As a band open to players of all abilities and musical tastes, Peter believes the key to participants getting the most enjoyment out of belonging to the Sunshine Street Band is to be open to trying different styles of music, be supportive of each other and ‘don’t expect too much, too fast… you have to make the commitment.’
From a personal perspective, Peter says that ‘being in the band and playing a brass instrument has opened up a new world for me… I’ve never done something like this before… It’s loosened up some inhibitions in me, you can feel constrained trying to play by the book and I was feeling musically detached, playing a bit of guitar but not socially, so being in the band is really important.’
The door to the Albion Community Centre is open for the duration of the band’s rehearsals every second Tuesday, and newcomers from absolute beginners to experienced players are always welcome: Drop in and try it out!
The Sunshine Street Band: Meets fortnightly at Albion Community House, 61a Selwyn St, Albion, VIC 3020 For dates and further information, go to www.cmvic.org.au
Article by Deb Carveth with Peter Hinton; feature photograph courtesy of Angela Casella