All Directions Community Choir has written 5 original songs from scratch as part of an original composition project called Songs and Stories from the Deep, facilitated by choir director, Cath Rutten.
All Directions Community Choir sits within the Boroondara Community Outreach Program (BCO), a mental health ministry run by the Kew Uniting Church to support people with either disability or mental health challenges, or who are experiencing social isolation. The project received funding from Boroondara City Council through the grants program and the Rotary Club of Balwyn and was run by Cath as a series of workshops using water as a metaphor for living, with the group ‘writing from the heart about their experiences of life; the struggles as well as their sense of joy and adventure’.
“We began playing around with words and emotions as a group and there seemed to be a lot of congruence between the way we describe our feelings and water. We spoke of tears, and drowning or being lifted up and held by the waves of emotion, waves of joy, a congruence between the descriptive words of water and the descriptive words for emotion.”
Cath is a musician who loves working at the intersection of arts and health. In addition to running a singing studio at home, she also teaches inclusive singing practice, and has run a number of community projects including 52 Flash Mobs in 52 Weeks to promote the benefits of arts participation to the community.
“My belief is that we are inherently artistic and musical as humans and for it to be professionalised so that we think we can’t do it unless we’re fantastic is detrimental to us as people.”
Members of the choir were interested in writing songs that talked about their lived experiences but also about the experience of being human. “All too often members from this community feel categorised by whatever challenges they face and really a lot of the challenges will be very familiar. Many people are facing challenges around secure housing, family and home to a lesser or greater extent, there are so many universal stories in there.”
The group met weekly for six sessions to continue writing and drawing on all of the water metaphors and included non-choir members of the BCO community. The process was encouraged along with inspirational visuals of water, and then Cath took the poems and turned their ideas into songs. Cath describes it as a wonderful journey to have shared.
“Being in a room and playing with lots of people and using words as part of that play, there’s just so much that comes out of it. In a way when you’ve got lots of creative people together, the work seems to do itself, it’s fantastic.”
Cath created the music and worked out the song arrangements so that the material used by the writing group could be learned by the choir. Everything was going swimmingly and according to plan. The choir began learning their songs at the end of 2019 with the view to recording the tracks for wider distribution in early 2020. But of course, like most things from that poor ill-fated year, it all had to stop and be mothballed. Cath says, “during COVID like so many other choirs we went online but a lot of the community did not feel comfortable in that space and numbers dropped to around 10 or 12. At the start, before everyone grew tired, I would sometimes ring people and have a sing on the phone with them as a way to remain connected and to check in and we kept going but with a skeleton crew.”
It took a while once lockdown lifted for All Directions Community Choir to regain its collective confidence about being out and about and to find momentum once more. At the beginning of 2022, the choir began working with a wonderful producer, Cameron Mackenzie, and Songs and Stories from the Deep was finally back on track. “Cameron came into the church and worked with the choir in the space and made the recordings over five or six weeks. It was a really lovely, enjoyable process.”
The CD launch of ‘Songs and Stories from the Deep recently took place, in mid-October. “It was wonderful, we all had such a lovely time with a beautiful big crowd and Boroondara Councillor, Nick Stavrou, came and opened it for us; it was such a warm, loving event.” In keeping with the community spirit of the song writing project, the beautiful promotional artwork accompanying the project was contributed by Cath’s daughter, Leah Ferguson, and the graphic design was done by Belinda Wickens.
Cath crackles with conviction and sparkles as she speaks of the community in which she works and her fondness for the project and the people it has involved, as well as for those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen:
“Natalie who is a Reverend of Kew Uniting Church and the Coordinator of BCO does an enormous amount of work. She organises food relief and there are volunteers to come in and cook for people who can’t cook for themselves so that there are freezers full of food, and she does a lot of work for people behind the scenes. The program offers Tai Chi, and as well as the choir, a ukulele group runs on Tuesday mornings; there’s a band that meets and rehearses too and because Natalie’s really committed to finding skilled professionals to work with the choir and the band, there is always a need for funding. I’d love to plug the fact that the songs are for sale as a CD on bandcamp, it’s not very much and people can look up Boroondara Community Outreach if they would like to make a donation, which will go towards the activities that Natalie runs.”
Something Cath notices repeatedly through her work is how quickly the health benefits of making music together occur and how obvious the effects are:
“It happens as soon as you start, being in a space together with people and singing or making music, our physical and mental health improves immediately and our beautiful souls respond!”
Songs from the Songs and Stories from the Deep are available on bandcamp, and while it is possible to enjoy them without purchase, all money raised from sales of the digital album will go to support the fantastic work done by BCO:
Click here for a link to the songs: https://alldirectionscommunitychoir.bandcamp.com/album/songs-and-stories-from-the-deep
Click here for more information about BCO https://www.bcokew.org/
Written by Deb Carveth, Copy Editor for Community Music Victoria, in collaboration with Cath Rutten; thank you Cath!
Feature image: Detail of the artwork for Songs and Stories from the Deep, created by Leah Ferguson and Belinda Wickens