Word of mouth plays a big part in recruiting singers to the Euroa Vocal Nosh,* an informal community singing group run regularly for almost seventeen years and counting. That and the fear of missing out…
One evening last year, a couple were driving past Strathbogie church where one of the Nosh leaders, Di Mackrell was holding a session of the Strathbogie singers. Seeing a significant number of parked cars along the roadside, the couple pulled up to find out what was going on and were invited in by one of the choir members, whom they happened to know. In the funny fateful way life sometimes has, this pique of curiosity brought them straight into a setting where one of them would later find unexpected closure.
Having been told by a teacher to “mime not sing” at the age of just five, this woman’s confidence in her ability had remained squashed flat for her entire life. Once they stepped into the Strathbogies’ session, it wasn’t long before Di had them joining in with the singing.
“You should have seen her face at the end of that choir session, it was just beaming. Then I had this little thought that maybe Vocal Nosh might be something they’d be interested in and I dropped a program into their mail box – they came to the next session and were just blown away by it – and they’ve lived in Euroa longer than I have…”
Like most singing leaders, Di encounters singers who have lost confidence because of cruel or thoughtless comments made in the past ‘all the time’. Being able to turn this around is heart-warming for everyone.
“It just makes me think YEEEEEESSS! That’s what it’s all about!!!”
Di Mackrell is a little bit biased about the transformative power of Euroa Vocal Nosh with good reason and actually, this is where the story starts.
At the final 2017 session of Euroa Vocal Nosh, there were 26 singers in the room which prompted Di to celebrate and reflect on the magic of this phenomenon which has been a regular fixture on the community music calendar there, for sixteen years.
The group was established in 2001, but Di didn’t take a central role until one of the original leaders had to move away and a second leader felt it was too much continue running alone.
“I didn’t think that I could ever lead a group but I thought, well, I don’t want it to stop either!”
Di then attended a series of CMVic leadership training days during the early 2000s, which she says were ‘just amazing.’ For repertoire, the group uses the CMVic Songbooks and lots of recordings from the older training days, as well as songs shared more recently too:
“We came back from Amberley (CMVic Singing Camp) with lots of things, I’ve always got my recorder on the lookout for things that would work.”
The Nosh leaders continue to teach songs aurally, something Di values the challenge of:
“It’s a head stretch and it’s good for you! The ability to keep things in our memories is one we are using less and less. We only occasionally hand out song sheets but sometimes I’ll write the words on a piece of card which we put in the middle of the circle. If we hand out pieces of paper, noses tend to get stuck in them, so if we can avoid doing this, we do.”
Di attributes the ongoing appeal of Vocal Nosh to the philosophy, ‘if it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter’. It’s a free and fearless space and people can carry this positive attitude out of the door to transfer into other aspects of their lives.
“We’ve stuck to the model started by Fay White;* meeting on a Sunday evening at 6pm, singing for an hour then eating together before finishing with another group sing. We’ve had people say to us, ‘oh Sunday night, I don’t want to go out on a Sunday night, I’ve got to get ready for work or whatever, but we decided well, you can’t please everyone so we tried to make people see that actually it doesn’t make you tired, and that singing will energise you for the start of the week.”
Di shares the load of running the Nosh with two other leaders, Chris Day and Margie Chowanetz. The group runs on the goodwill of the three women and their shared passion for inspiring others to discover and share their love of singing. Each singer pays $15 which covers the cost of a generous caterer and the local venue. To make it more sustainable for themselves they have reduced pressure on their time by cutting the number of sessions held each year from nine to five, meeting every second month from March to November.
“Of course, people said oh no, we want it more often but we felt if we gave it up altogether, that would be no good at all!”
“People travel from all over the place, Wangaratta, Murchison, Kyabram and even Melbourne, so it’s interesting cos there is a bit of a network and we all stay in touch via email. A couple of weeks before we meet, Chris, Margie and I meet up for a coffee to plan things then I’ll send out an email and that helps people’s memories.”
New people pop in all the time and there’s only been one session Di can recall when there hasn’t been a fresh face in the room. It doesn’t matter if you miss a session, three, four or even more. Everyone can be guaranteed of a heartfelt greeting upon their return, no matter how long the period of their absence. Di finds it ‘magic’ to take a roomful of people who have never sung together before and within ten minutes, have all these beautiful harmonies and connections happening.
“After 16 years, we’re all still really keen…there’s something very special about Vocal Nosh, you’re gathering people who do not wish to commit to a regular group or who aren’t confident to join a more formal group and well, it’s great fun and it’s just an amazing phenomenon!”
** Euroa Vocal Nosh follows the model developed by Community Music Activist, Fay White back in 1999. Read about the story, the values and the evolution of Vocal Nosh in Fay’s words, here
Featured image of Euroa Flour Mill taken from www.visitvictoria.com
To join Euroa Vocal Nosh, or to find a singing group near you, click here.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in collaboration with Di Mackrell.