Trying to plan a state-wide music camp at this moment in time is a bit like juggling with jelly. Unless, like CMVic’s Nicki Johnson, Craig Barrie and Oli Hinton, you had already been dreaming of ways to bring people together across time and space, even pre-pandemic.
“We had a brainstorm with Oli – back when we were volunteers at CMVic – to imagine the evolution of CMVic’s annual Music Camp. It was almost like Oli had some kind of vision of the future,” laughs Nicki. “Some kind of oracular vision, I don’t know what he was thinking but there was this provocation… How could we develop Music Camp?” Then, of course, 2020 brought on a year of lockdowns. Some additional State Government COVID-recovery funding led to Craig being employed as the Digital Coordinator. At the end of 2020 Nicki became CMVic’s Program Coordinator, a new role with a focus on state-wide programs linked to CMVic’s Growing Community Music project. “When the new year began, everybody felt filled with optimism, it was like ‘ta-daaaa, we’re back!’ and so when plans began for this year’s music camp, it seemed there was all this potential because we were out of lockdown and everything was going to be normal and straightforward.”
But Nicki’s thoughts kept returning to a term that Craig had coined back in that meeting with Oli about future music camps being run as ‘a community of communities’ which, after all, is exactly what we are. “I guess that term had just sat like a little sleeping seed in the background of my mind.”
Nicki was keen to implement learnings and experience gleaned from Grantville Online into plans for this year’s camp. “I wanted to use what we’d learned from Grantville 2020 which was such a great vibe. Over the past year, everyone has become more familiar with the technology and I started to wonder whether we might use that as a way to connect with other places we were wanting to share musical ideas and experiences with.”
Nicki began imagining how it might look like if everyone could all be together the way they really wanted to be, making music and feeling it resonate and pump through their bodies while using the skills they’d developed to enable them to share this and see what other people were doing elsewhere in other areas and in other ways.
These thoughts bubbled away for a long time. After much brainstorming and many meetings, the plan for a day-long ‘Musicfest’ finally emerged and took shape. “Really, it’s a crazy ambitious thing to try! Musicfest is effectively 3 music camps simultaneously rolling out in one day!”
On August 28, CMVic will be facilitating three face-to-face teaching hubs based in Ballan, Emerald and Mildura. Workshops with local leaders will take place across the day for music makers of all experience levels. The day will open with an Acknowledgement of Country and a song performed by Maylene Slater-Burns, First Nations singer-songwriter and Deputy Chairperson of Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation, and proud Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri, Yuin, Worimi, Ngunnawal, Gugu Djungan, Nywaigi, Gangalidda and Garawa woman; there will also be Zoom workshops from Kavisha Mazzella, Jen Hawley, Catherine Threlfall, Dan Maceoin, Alison McGann, Win Moser, and Will Viran. At the end of the day, everyone will join up for a celebratory concert, MC’d by ‘community music legends’ Lyndal Chambers and Brian ‘Strat’ Strating!
For anyone unable to make it along to a hub, Musicfest Online provides an opportunity for anyone, anywhere across the state and beyond to tune in and bring the experience of being at camp directly into their music-making community.
Nicki’s vision is for singers and players across the state to gather in pods, community halls, homes and verandahs, anywhere large enough for people to congregate around a screen and get a party of their own going on. All that’s required is for restrictions to permit this and for access to a screen and speakers large enough to allow everyone in the room to see and hear what’s happening in the hubs.
Feedback from participants of Grantville Online showed that Zoom fatigue was a common factor after a day spent on screens and this has been taken into consideration in the planning of Musicfest. “When you have that as a secondary aspect to having all the people in the room, there’s no way you can be as exhausted because your focus is really on the people there with you. Depending on the level of restrictions, that might be just your family or it could be your choir or instrumental group and hopefully it might include people who have never been to music camp before and who get this lovely gentle introduction.”
Pressroom Philanthropy is backing the event with generous printing support and advice.“It’s really lovely because we are hoping that this will help us to reach the next ring of contacts outside of the people who already know us.” Mildura Rural City Council is also champing at the bit to create a memorable inaugural event. In considering the unpredictability of life in ’21 and being on the border with NSW, Nicki is mindful that Mildura might be precariously placed for a face-to-face program. “I really want the community to have this amazing collaborative experience with us and I’m also frightened that NSW could derail us at any moment. I had a meeting with the Mildura team last week and they are so full of energy and galvanised to do something fantastic and a little bit different. They’re even thinking of maybe having their venue on one of the paddle boats which would be so amazing although I’m not sure how it’ll work with the technology!”
Musicfest is a testimony to the innovation of everything to have emerged from last year, presented as a big, exciting, collective experiment. Way up on Nicki’s agenda, and something very much on her mind, is her wish that leaders don’t feel alone. “To a large extent I feel that we’ve been replicating each other’s efforts. Everyone is at home making a cappella videos for their groups to give everyone support during this time of separation and that’s been really draining and depleting and I really wanted a way that we could share a bit more, or at least look at ways of collaborating where the burden is a bit more distributed. Musicfest is one way of doing that but I’m also trying to think of other ways we can help each other out, using the technology and massaging it into doing things it wasn’t necessarily designed to do.”
Tickets for the Ballan, Emerald and Mildura hubs and Musicfest Online are on sale now. Nicki’s hope is that people will come along, join in the musical fun, and feedback to CMVic how it made them feel, so CMVic can learn more about running events that aim to bring together the music communities across the state.
Of course, the organisers are ready for if restrictions mean a last minute change of plans. One thing CMVic is piloting is how to make participatory music events scalable depending on restrictions. “There are so many fallback stages for singers and music makers according to what the restrictions are. For Musicfest, the beautiful plan B will be to run it all online the way we did with Grantville Online last year, and the other end of the extreme is everyone together in a room – just people and no extra technology! Musicfest gives us room to slide backwards and forwards along that scale and adjust to whatever suits the restrictions at that time. Hopefully we will always find ways to make the most of whatever situation we find ourselves in!”
Written by Deb Carveth with Nicki Johnson, and Craig Barrie for Community Music Victoria
For information and bookings to Musicfest, click here!