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.
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.”
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.