A truly unique radio show championing the work of Choirs and Community Singing Groups is filling the airwaves above Upwey and beyond with the sweet sound of a cappella and accompanied singing each week. The Aka-Pelican show is hosted by Rick Steen, a passionate choir singer and blues guitarist who’s excited to bring this opportunity to the world in what he believes is a first.
Rick’s Aka-Pelican show is broadcast by 3MDR, (Mountain District Radio) on 97.1fm. The community-run station was set up in response to the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983 to provide effective and direct communication to locals in the event of emergency, and other than a station manager, it is staffed and run entirely by volunteers.
With a background in folk and blues music, Rick joined the station as a volunteer sound engineer before being trained as an announcer and invited to present a show of his own:
“I thought what would work really well is a show dedicated to supporting choirs and a cappella singing. There are around seven choirs in the Dandenongs between Upwey and Gembrook alone, making it a good niche, good for the station and its membership; people will be all over it!”
3MDR has enjoyed a variety of homes during its 25-year history including a bus, a water tower and a shop. In February, the station relocated to new premises at the Forest Park Homestead, where Rick now has the luxury of a large studio space suitable for live to air broadcasts during his program’s two-hour time slot, from 3 ‘til 5:00pm on Wednesdays.
Having run Aka-Pelican for just over 6 months now, Rick reckons it takes half an hour to settle into the hot seat. “I don’t have a production assistant, I’m handling everything and you have to be highly tuned right from the word go.”
By then he’s in the groove and ready to showcase live or recorded performances from choirs and singing groups from the local area, Melbourne and the surrounds. There’s been one change to the Aka-Pelican format since its inception, the decision taken by Rick to incorporate the material of accompanied choirs into the show. “Too many wonderful choirs felt that they didn’t qualify to participate as their songs were accompanied, so I implemented one ‘Golden Rule’, which is that vocals of the choir must be the dominant feature of the music.”
Broadcasting beyond the hills, the radio’s reach is limitless as people can listen to 3MDR online, and Rick is excited that this provides the opportunity for home grown, grass roots music-making to reach a universal radio audience.
“There’s good reception out in Gippsland and down to Philip Island though most people listen online. It’s a worldwide thing,” says Rick, who is happy to advocate for the joy and benefits of community singing and is also keen to interview community choir leaders as part of the program each week, either in person or over the phone.
If you’ve recorded material with your singing group or choir that you would like to hear on air, Rick’s your man. His vision to provide a voice to singing group and choirs combined with Aka-Pelican’s performance space, two-hour program slot and the option of going live to air will send the sounds of community singing soaring far and wide. Solo songbirds are welcome to contribute songs too, so long as they are unaccompanied.
To contact Rick and share material for Aka-Pelican or for further information, email 3MDR: email@example.com and mark your message for the attention of the Aka-Pelican Show.**
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Rick Steen
** At the time of publishing this article, Rick is looking to recruit an assistant to help with the admin side of the show who would also be interested in becoming a co-host… full training will be provided!
How do we measure the legacy of a singing leader? It seems apt that, as I ask myself this question, a song comes to mind:
How many cabs in New York City?
How many angels on a pin?
How many notes in a saxophone?
How many tears in a bottle of gin?
(Paul Kelly, Careless)
How many songs were taught and were shared? How many connections and bonds were formed? How many experiences of being held or embraced in harmony, or of adding one’s voice to a solid-gold, full-bodied unison? There are many ways that a singing leader’s efforts and commitments can be traced. The researcher in me thinks about network analysis, imagines tracing a song on its pathway from leader to choir, from choir members to other leaders, from leaders to leaders. Or tracing connections and friendships, new choirs formed, new leaders inspired.
Benjamin Patrick Leske, musician, composer, researcher, community singing advocate, conductor and choir leader, passed away this month from brain cancer, aged 37. I am not the only one of his friends feeling bereft. There are many others who knew him longer, who had shared more songs and more conversations than I had with him. But in our short friendship, Ben and I bonded. We shared stories from the PhDs in community music that we were both pursuing at the time (his about the experiences of young LGBTQI singers in a Melbourne choir, mine about young music learners in war-torn countries), and we shared our experiences of dealing with the compounding challenges of major illness and treatment during PhD study.
The community musician in me remembers Ben teaching the song ‘Let it Go’ (not the one from Frozen, but another, drawn from a Michael Leunig poem and cartoon and set to music by Melbourne composer Suzann Frisk) on the Excursion Day bus during the International Society for Music Education’s Community Music Commission in Edinburgh, July 2016. A colleague sent me her recording of that song-share recently, capturing Ben’s voice as he sang the song line by line, repeating as necessary, with the bus passengers echoing him. “I’ve never told this story to a busload of people before!” he admitted, before sharing the significance of the song with the group. More than one person refers to ‘singing while crying’ in that recording.
More recently, Ben led a pop-up choir in a performance of the same song in the ward of St Vincent’s Hospital where he had been a neuro-oncology patient many times. He donated a framed print of the Michael Leunig cartoon that had made the song so meaningful for him, a print that now hangs on the wall of the ward. Leunig and Frisk joined Ben for this special event.
Singing leaders bring people together to sing, both informally and in more formal structures. Ben conducted many different choirs in Melbourne. One speaker at the memorial service began to list them, and I learned that Ben’s conducting ‘tentacles’ had reached more widely than I knew. I was in the audience for the inaugural performance of the Footscray Community Choir, a choir that he co-founded with pianist Chris Nankervis. It was a lovely, affirming concert. The audience was invited to sing as part of the program, a programming inclusion that spoke to Ben’s commitment to getting people singing and connecting with each other. They performed a superb rendition of “Wonder” by Emeli Sandé. It was the first time I’d heard that song, although I’ve listened to it many times since. Its opening lyrics (“I can beat the night, I’m not afraid of thunder, I am full of light, and I am full of wonder”) bring a lump to my throat now. I can imagine them resonating for Ben, and am sure it was by design, not chance, that he chose a song that would affirm the strength, resilience, and wonder of every one of his singers.
And there were more choir projects planned. One of Ben’s last Facebook updates (20 January 2018) announced, “I’m excited to be working with Newlands Choir (formerly the Carpark Choir) from Monday! P.S. We’re currently recruiting, with vacancies in all sections”. I can remember the excitement with which he spoke about this new project too. Dear Newlands Choir, I’m so sorry you didn’t get to work with this fine musician and conductor. He loved to nurture voices. He would have been so committed to you.
How many stars in the Milky Way?
How many ways can you lose a friend?
Paul Kelly’s song drifts away from me at this point—it is impossible to imagine Benjamin Leske being a ‘careless’ friend to anyone. His memorial service filled one of Melbourne’s largest cathedrals, and friends and family in turn spoke of this kind, gentle, generous, funny, determined colussus of a man, sharing stories of the intrepid traveler and “Germanophile” who was an exchange student in Germany and studied in Freiburg, retaining many deep friendships there; the studious, contemplative, and curious young man who spent time living in a monastery in Cambodia; the organiser, devoted to Excel spreadsheets; the International Relations specialist who nurtured and realised his longheld desire to conduct, to compose, and to spread music and joy; the man in his prime, forced to confront his mortality and who reframed the diagnosis as an opportunity to live more fully, focusing on what really matters; the activist and advocate for brain cancer research, gay pride, and community singing; the beloved son, brother, godfather, friend; the loving partner and husband of Khang Chiem.
The songs keep coming. At the memorial service I learned that Ben was a huge Kylie Minogue fan. But I am a little older than him and ABBA comes to mind more quickly: “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Who could live without it? I ask in all honesty – what would life be? Without a song or a dance, what are we?” Towards the end of the wake, most of the remaining guests gathered on the stage to sing a song (from ‘Wicked’) that was new to me, but seemed so perfect and poignant for a celebration of this young man’s life. “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
How much good in a single song? So, so much good. Go gently, Ben would say. Live fully. Love generously. And keep singing.
 Ben submitted his PhD in August 2017 and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Melbourne in December 2017. I submitted mine in December 2017 and am nervously awaiting examiners’ reports.
In just one year, Pub Choir has revolutionised the community music scene in Brisbane and beyond, bursting forth in a blast of fresh energy and zest and attracting hundreds of singers to its informal fortnightly singing sessions. The success of Pub Choir can be attributed to a combination of zeitgeist mixed with a twist of right time right place all shaken up with a direct, no frills attitude to music making. That and the fact it’s in a pub…
The ingeniously simple idea for Pub Choir was dreamt up in a conversation between co-founders Astrid Jorgensen and Megan Bartholomew. The women who met at uni, share the belief that everyone can sing and that music belongs to everybody. In talking, they realised that whilst music was their livelihood, they were no longer singing for fun and so, in March last year, Meg called a pub.
Astrid and Meg then recruited guitarist Waveney Yasso, whose job is to keep everyone singing in time and in tune. The Pub Choir dream team came into being and with support from a photographer and videographers to capture the magic, they were set to prove to the world it could sing.
“The hope was that if we put it in a friendly setting then people would come and remember that music is fun with friends. We should all be making music an everyday experience, and if we’re doing it more often and in casual ways then it becomes less ‘scary’.”
Astrid and the team put a single post on Facebook before the first session stating, ‘No Commitment, No Auditions, No Sheet Music, NO WORRIES!’ They smashed their hopes for 30 people that first night when 70 rocked up, and every event from then on has sold out. As Astrid says, “It’s been pretty crazy!”
The Bearded Lady in Brisbane trusted the vision, provided a space and supported the idea of Pub Choir at a time when it wasn’t a ‘thing’. The event soon outgrew the capacity of the room there, but its walls play a significant part in the success and history of the choir’s first year, something Astrid is very thankful for.
So does alcohol play a significant role in the success and phenomenon of Pub Choir? Even though it’s available, Astrid attributes the sense of anonymity that goes with being in a pub along with lots of other people, as the reason new singers feel disinhibited enough to relax and have a go. And once they start singing, the release of endorphins and the sense of connection can work their magic and do the rest.
There is no place for judgement at Pub Choir, it’s all about enjoying yourself and singing to have a good time. Astrid chooses well known songs, something she finds makes life easier for everyone:
“For each upcoming session I try to pick something in a different style to the last so as not to be too repetitive; something very well known so that the melody doesn’t have to be taught too much, and; songs that are achievable in 90 minutes. I also am constrained by whether or not I can obtain the relevant licenses. Occasionally publishers will say no, so I try to have a few options up my sleeve.”
To teach the song, Astrid, who is qualified in choral conducting and voice, divides the group into three sections, taking them through line by line and within 90 minutes everyone is revelling in the buzz of singing in three part harmony.
There has been such an amazing outpouring of support for Pub Choir from the online community, that Astrid and the team are now in the process of booking dates for a tour. The idea is to travel around the country later in the year and share the experience of Pub Choir more widely in its original format. Astrid likes to combine elements of comedy into all aspects of her work including Pub Choir in the belief that if people are having a laugh they will relax and sing better, and she’s keen to share this out on the road too.
“Everyone is saying the same thing: We could really use this in our community, this looks so much fun.”
Pub Choir has received hundreds of emails from people across the country who are keen to use the same model, and asking if they can start up their own Pub Choir. This includes requests for Pub Choir’s budgeting, licensing, event planning, and even web content creation – some of which Astrid admits makes her feel a little uncomfortable.
Whilst the level of interest from other singing leaders keen to borrow and learn from the model of Pub Choir is flattering, Astrid feels this has to be done in conjunction with a good dose of self-assessment and points out that the Pub Choir model might not translate and work as well for everyone. She explains:
“I like being at the pub and I like joking around and I’m definitely more into casual community music making than something more ‘high brow’, but I think people may try to copy and paste something that might not necessarily fit their skill set as an educator, or even their personality. I mean, consider 500 drunk people who you don’t know,” laughs Astrid, “it won’t suit everyone, so play to your strengths and find what you are passionate about!”
An unexpected challenge faced by Pub Choir is the number of costs involved in running such a simple idea. Each singer pays $10 cash on the door and pretty much every cent of that goes back into licensing to pay for arranging and then filming the song. “Sometimes it’s thousands of dollars.”
This was an area they didn’t anticipate but their popularity and strong online presence thrives as a result of the high quality film clips they post, and their recent clip of the Cranberries song ‘Zombie’ sung and posted as a tribute to Dolores O’Riordan was shared by the band and went viral, a real high point for Astrid and everyone involved.
Pub Choir will be celebrating its first birthday in March with a party to end all parties at the Triffid in Brisbane, a venue with capacity for over 700 singers. It’s a beautiful old aircraft hangar which is a brilliantly apt place to celebrate a singing group that has taken off so fast. Go, go Pub Choir: the sky’s the limit.
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Astrid Jorgensen from Pub Choir
Featured image by Jacob Morrison, supplied by Pub Choir
**Interest in Pub Choir has come from each of the capital cities and beyond and the team hope to have visited them all by the end of the year, returning in between times to sing with their Brisbane crowd. If there are any pub landlords or venue managers reading this in Victoria who are open to the idea of hosting Pub Choir, hop onto their website and express your interest now!
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.
A study led by researchers from Griffith University has found that symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be improved with regular singing.
Over 70 patients participated in the study run through Queensland Conservatorium of Music, which incorporated singing, warm ups, vocal cord and breathing exercises, to learn more about ‘how song could help battle the disease’, improving mobility and the overall quality of life.
It didn’t matter how well participants in the study could carry a tune, they simply had to commit to singing one hour each week for six months.
All of the patients involved in the trial reported an increase in self confidence and well being from taking part. Tremors associated with the disease were also reduced in some singers.
The outcomes and findings reaffirm, once again, the broad range of benefits to the individual in belonging to a community singing group or choir.
Read the original article in full, here.
- It repeats on you only in positive ways and doesn’t get stuck in your teeth
- It’s more effective than mistletoe in bringing people together
- Music doesn’t kill your fingers all the way home from the shops in a bag about to break
- It’s perfect shared with friends and there’s always enough to go around
- It’s eco-friendly! Singing and music making requires neither wrapping nor cellotape
- Music won’t sit around gathering dust and is brilliant to re-gift
- Your jeans may fit even better after a month of singing and musical indulgence
- Instead of breaking after five minutes, it gets better and lasts a lifetime
- No ransacking of the house is necessary for batteries or dice
- Making music and singing is good for the heart, soul, health and well-being of yourself, your pals, your Aunty Sheila, and your community too
3 ways to give the gift of music and song with Community Music Victoria (we’ve got this covered):
- Sign up your family, friends and neighbours to the CMVic monthly giving circle for a gift that gives all year
- Renew your annual membership to Community Music Victoria for twelve months of music making benefits, including membership discounts on all events, camps and workshop bookings, and a range of wonderful resources
- Make a one-off donation to Community Music Victoria. All donations over $2 are tax deductible so you’ll get another little gift in June.
Music is better made together:
Any donation you make can help ensure that more singing and instrumental music leaders get the skills they need to establish more groups, and that special projects like Voices of Peace, StreetSounds, Singing from Country, and That Girl can bring more music to more people who need it in their lives.
Community Music Victoria.
Sarah Mandie is a Melbourne based singer songwriter and the mother of two young girls. These two highly personal and defining elements of her life are brought into sharp focus though her new project, That Girl, and it is from her unequivocal belief in the potential of each and her passion for both, that this project has come about at all.
That Girl is a song and a music video dance project that invites participation from girls and women of all ages from Wodonga, Yarra Ranges and Boroondara. The song and the project arising from it was conceived by Sarah as a creative way to empower women and girls in communities everywhere. It’s strong, it’s beautiful and it carries a positive message about the need for society to respect ‘that girl’: That girl who is our daughter, our mother, our wife.
Sarah wrote the song three years ago following a series of distressing news reports and around the time of the brutal killing of two young girls in India. The alleged perpetrators of the crime bribed police and were released without charge. It was a story that horrified people around the world and resonated particularly deeply with Sarah who has a connection with Rajasthan through her Indian husband and her daughters, too.
“When this happened to these girls in India it made me think about my girls, their futures and their safety which then extends out to all girls, from all countries. I was so angry and upset, I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world.
Because I love the medium of music and song, I thought it would be really good to write a song that talked about those issues, a song that contributes to the prevention of violence.”
Channelling these negative feelings of anger and helplessness into a positive act of creativity was tough but worthwhile. It took Sarah a long time to get the song right, for the lyrics to say what she wanted them to without the song being something people wouldn’t want to listen to. Sarah wanted to write a strong song, and knew that finding the right ‘catch’ was crucial for the message to be carried.
“I think the challenge in writing a song about a difficult issue is that you want to acknowledge the issue but at the same time have a positive frame around it so that people will want to sing it and listen to it and be inspired by it… a song to promote change needs to be attractive for people to listen to and want to sing.”
During the early stages, Sarah was struck by frustration as she realised what a craft it is to write this type of song:
“Sometimes we write a song that comes from within and we trust the processes of creativity but with this song it went through a few changes because I really wanted the end product to be something positive and something people would respond well to.”
Jamie Saxe stepped in to help Sarah nail the end: “Jamie took the song and created real magic with it through his arrangement and production of the instrumentation.”
Saxe’s enthusiasm to be involved reiterated to Sarah the power of her song and its potential to deliver broadly within the context of a wide scale project: What had inspired her was now beginning to inspire the other people coming into contact with the song and feeling similarly moved by the importance of the cause. The shape of the project became clear on completion of the song: Involve girls from the community in learning the song and making of a video to accompany it, then take the completed package out to the world as an empowering catalyst for awareness and change.
“I want That Girl to change the future for my daughters and for all daughters, it’s a hugely personal thing.”
Sarah’s personal and familial connections with India inspired her to translate the chorus into Hindi, bringing the feminine energy of the divinity Shakti into the song: “That girl is the one that gives life, she has the power, that girl is Shakti. Whilst India has high levels of gender based violence, as Sarah is quick to point out, the need for greater levels of respect and the creation of safe environments for girls and women is necessary everywhere.
The first phase of That Girl begins on December 2nd, with an information session inviting women and girls of all ages from within the Indian and Bhutanese communities in Wodonga to join a dance workshop to be held in February next year to embody the Hindi element of the song. The dance routine they will learn in that workshop has already been choreographed and recorded and now needs bringing to life:
“I want all genders to feature in the final video, however the workshops are an opportunity for women and girls to come together to find strength and focus through working together. Once the song goes out there, boys and men will be involved with the project too as part of the awareness.”
The list of project partners is long and impressive and a testimony to the belief and passion shared by everyone who hears the song. In Wodonga, Sarah will be working with Gateway Health, Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council and Albury Wodonga Indian Australian Association. In Healesville, Healesville High School and the Healesville Indigenous Community Service Association will create a film each. This will then be edited and blended with the videos that emerge from the Wodonga and Boroondara communities.
For the time being, Sarah is reluctant to share That Girl song beyond the context of the project but given the significance and the urgency of the issue it addresses and the brilliant catchiness of the composition it’s unlikely to stay under wraps very long. And as That Girl emerges and gains exposure and momentum, the world will be a better place for having heard it and the power of the message it conveys.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in collaboration with Sarah Mandie.
That Girl Song Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/That-Girl-song-140108396617517/
That Girl Song: Lyrics and music Sarah Mandie
Arrangement, instrumentation and production, Jamie Saxe
Can music actually make us smarter? Research suggests that from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, when auditory function is forming, babies begin their musical development. Their early adaptive exposure to sounds, including those familiar sounds of parents’ voices, enhance extraordinary processing skills.
Neuroscience teaches us that a child’s brain is plastic. By this, we mean it is malleable and has the ability to change. The first year of life, more than any other year, will see the most rapid change in brain size and function as all the sensory receptors activate. Intriguingly, neuro-imaging shows that music alone turns on large sectors of a child’s brain, opening crucial neural pathways that will become the highways and byways for every piece of information the process.
We’d all love to think our children will grow up intelligent, blissfully free from academic struggle. Truth is, the learning journey is speckled with challenges, and each child will have a unique intelligence and learner disposition. One thing we know is that parental involvement in cognitive stimulation from the earliest years will help form solid foundations that underpin a more successful schooling journey.
So, what can parents do to prepare young learners for school?
Sing like no one’s listening
Singing nursery rhymes to your child, however old fashioned you may think it is, will get them off to a flying start. Children become particularly responsive because reciprocal communication occurs as they begin to mimic you – pre-empting certain sounds, tones or words that they recognise. Using pitch and rhythm in the rhymes and lullabies we introduce to our children will begin to create neural stimulation that develops the brain’s auditory cortex, transforming their ability to communicate.
Bang on those pots and pans
While it may fray the nerves, banging on the pots and pans is a fantastic way to improve spatial reasoning. With background music blaring, children first develop the coordination required to hit the metallic targets, and as their sensory cortex develops, they begin to keep in time. Research shows that spatial reasoning, along with a sense of beat and rhythm (which invariably includes an aural and tactile sense of measure and counting) will enhance mathematical abilities.
Join a children’s music group
Early childhood music-based playgroups offer a unique learning context for children. The songs and activities employ beat patterns, movement, repeated chorus lines and echo singing to engage with young participants. The cerebellum at the base of our brains is responsible for movement and balance, and interestingly, is where emotional reactions to music form. Universally, early childhood educators use rhyme and song to teach children how language is constructed, and with good reason. Movement, foot tapping and dancing to a beat are also good ways of developing the brain’s motor cortex.
The ‘Mozart Effect’
There is a popular hypothesis that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. The “Mozart Effect” refers primarily to a landmark study in 1993, where participants listening to Mozart’s music (rather than to relaxation music or silence) achieved higher spatial-temporal results. Importantly, spatial-temporal reasoning is crucially active when children are performing science and maths tasks. Listening to music in any capacity induces endorphin production in the brain, causing improvement in mood and creative problem solving.
Learn an instrument
Many parents wonder when a child should start learning their first musical instrument. Importantly, instrumental tuition is not about producing the next Mozart or Delta Goodrem. Music lessons, for even the briefest of periods, are enjoyable and establish a life-long skill. It has also been noted that musicians’ brains develop a thickened pre-frontal cortex – their brains are actually bigger. And this is the area of the brain most crucially involved in memory. One thing researchers and music educators endorse is the amazing impact it has on the development of executive functions such as working memory, attention span and cognition.
Many schools are putting research into practice, and Queensland is leading the way with music taught in 87% of schools. Immersion music programs, where all students learn an instrument for a one-year minimum, have become commonplace. The results speak for themselves.
Psychologists from a Californian University conducted research on pre-school aged children, and proved that those who had weekly keyboard lessons improved their spatial-temporal skills 34% more than those who didn’t. The benefits did not stop there. Children developed fine motor skills, reading, auditory recognition, resilience, and increased their memory capacity. All of these benefits of instrumental tuition bode well for the classroom journey ahead.
Chelsea Harry is an Academic Researcher and Music Educator, University of the Sunshine Coast. Currently completing a Masters in Research with USC, Chelsea is a professional Musician and Classroom Educator of 20 years experience.
Her research follows the journey of 6-8 year olds and the impact of instrumental music tuition on the brain and executive functions.
Chelsea also works as a conductor, cellist, pianist, music educator, musical director, primary classroom teacher and mum!
Read the original article here.
Dinosaurs couldn’t sing. Perhaps their demise had nothing to do with earth impacting asteroids or the frustration of tiny arms after all and was instead triggered by their physical inability to sing. Now, I’m no scientist but…
Findings from a report published last year suggest the Jurassic age was filled with awkward silences punctuated only by squawks, leaf munching and worse. Without the option to experience the joy of shared breathing patterns, matched heartbeats or the release of life affirming endorphins catalysed by singing together, life in the days of the dinosaurs must have been bleak. Imagine having no way to celebrate the break of a new day or the setting of an evening sun. Imagine a world without song.
The oldest, complete example of a found fossilised syrinx belonged to a species of ancient bird related to the ducks and geese of today called Vegavis iaai, which lived during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic Era between 66-69 million years ago.
The specimen was dug up on Vega Island in Antartica by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute, led by Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas. Twenty five years later, upon subsequent re-examination in 2013, Clarke and her team discovered the fossilised bird was found to contain a complete syrinx, the avian equivalent of a human larynx or ‘voice box’.
The team spent the next two years searching records of previous Jurassic finds to establish whether earlier examples of a syrinx existed. Their research came to nothing, with all other examples of fossilised syrinxes occurring in species of birds that evolved long after the extinction of land-based dinosaurs.
This discovery was important as it offered insight into the Jurassic soundscape: Without a syrinx, those poor old land lubbin’ dinosaurs would have been incapable of song:
“To speculate wildly, we might have closed-mouth booms more similar to crocodilians in large-bodied dinosaurs like T. rex…..said Clarke.”
If you’re thinking okay, enough about dinosaurs already, what does all this have to do with community music? Well, for the sake of this blog, what’s relevant was a subsequent observation of Clarke and her team:
“…the evolution of vocal behaviour can provide insights into other anatomical features… such as the development of bigger brains.”
Aha, now this is more like it! Jumping from the Jurassic age into the 21st century, a study led by Dr Vanessa Sluming from the University of Liverpool and published in 2002 of a British Symphony Orchestra found that musicians exhibited larger volumes of grey matter in Broca’s area, the part of our brains responsible for language and verbal working memory, and this volume varied depending on how many years they’d been playing their instrument.
“Although this area declines with age, orchestral players kept more of their brain cells than non-players, as they aged.” Dr Vanessa Sluming
Furthermore, it’s well documented that singing and learning songs builds neurological pathways, and also boosts levels of acetylcholine in the brain, an organic chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter sending messages through the brain and playing a highly important role in memory retention.
In committing new material to memory and then drawing on that in the context of our singing and music making, we improve our capacity to recall and remember.
Valuable for all this and more, community music making provides the opportunity to simply celebrate being alive. We should all keep learning and singing new songs and playing new tunes, recalling favourites from the archives along the way and our long term mental health and well-being will reap the rewards. And we should all be grateful not to have been born a dinosaur.
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria
Music improves brain power – in some performers
Do musicians have bigger brains?
Boost your memory and your brain by singing
And further reading on dinosaurs…
Fossil evidence of the avian vocal organ from the Mesozoic https://www.nature.com/articles/nature19852.epdf?referrer_access_token=N4n-vV1ZFQa_2ZrBCVDDqNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0POdDZwZ05Pa-IKumwU5iqFPqb9J0RCiSbNodY9t6fsIlllkLV3NV3ydjAEF95r56mcI_GYrpf2Qnn5rc1s0gl6sKaUASwdqhDR20W53nuCUV_E8jqkJBnLnuEms1KFl1PFBulm