Category Archives: A story to tell…

There’s no place like Tecoma: A new peace choir celebrates the positive things in life

There’s a new drop-in choir in Tecoma, that’s all about feeling good, celebrating resilience and being grateful for Community, our safety and the Environment. During the time when Singing Leader and Community Music Activist Barb McFarlane was planning to form Tecoma Peace Choir, Donald Trump was elected to the stage and the ensuing political pantomime has done nothing to reassure anyone about the state of the world:

“These are turbulent times and people want a bit of escape, they want to go to a zone where none of that’s even mentioned, they want to believe that all could be well because we’re singing about it being well…”

The desire underpinning and driving Barb’s vision for the Tecoma Peace Choir is to promote affirmation of the positive things in life. It’s about making the world a better place through positive celebration of self rather than singing about specific causes. To facilitate this, Barb writes simple chants to affirm the positive things in life. Singing simple and meaningful ‘mantras’ in English that give out messages of positivity:

“We had a really big storm here last year and there was a lot of damage; trees were down and the power went out, businesses flooded. While there was lots of damage and danger, I recognised that we had all the help we needed to restore power, fix roads and buildings and that people are very well looked after in situations like this in our country. In gratitude, I had one line running through my head “I am safe and I am well’ and it turned into this: ‘We are safe and well, We are warm and dry.’ “

I worked it into a boppy little 8 part ‘thing’ on garage band and taught it at choir at the next opportunity. It’s a reminder that mostly, in this lucky country, we are all fine, we’re all alive, safe and walking around, and that we could be grateful for that.

A few other chants penned by Barb are:

  • “ I’ve been forged in the fire of life and I am strong…..woah!”
  • “ Deep river of love X3 Carry me, carry me  Deep river of love”
  • “ I remember I remember I remember who I am”

Tecoma Peace Choir is inclusive of people with all abilities and highly accessible in terms of material. It operates on a drop in or ‘low commitment’ basis where people can pop along and have a sing, even if this happens only once every few weeks. As the perceived pace of our lives picks up, the model of Barb’s new choir offers people with busy lives the chance to stop everything and slow right down into a different space for a little while: “It’s inclusive of people who work really long hours, work shift work, or who just have a lot going on in their lives. It provides an opportunity to sing without any commitment or guilt!”

Each week there is toning, improv, sound baths, and percussion jamming. Songs are chosen with a focus on peace, hope, resilience, comfort and fun and Barb makes sure there is a good ‘play’ component to each session, too.  In compiling the program for a group without not knowing exactly who will be coming along, Barb draws up a Plan A and B. ‘I’ll write a song name down, add an alternative and I know at what point during the session I’ll change my mind.”

Barb is also planning to incorporate some yoga and breathing practice into the structure with a view to encouraging people to bring a pillow and a blanket as part of the process of reaching peace.

“The emphasis is on feeling good. In modern times people are so stressed and really need a space for relaxation.”

Barb has been incorporating yoga into singing sessions as she’s studying and will soon be a Dru Yoga student teacher.  There are many benefits – physical, mental and emotional from both singing and yoga and combining them works beautifully.

“I’ve been adding sounds to movement and using sound and singing as a relaxation tool for many years and that feels pretty good.”

Tecoma has a rich and very inclusive community outreach program emanating from the Tecoma Uniting Church, including a Community garden and a Food is Free initiative, where people share their garden produce or store cupboard contents. This provides a source of food for people who need it and is run along the lines of take what you want, leave what you don’t and share what you have with love.

The Hills Food Frontier, a group dedicated to promoting healthy eating and growing is also based there. Barb brings gardenny songs to some of their events and working bees and now Tecoma Peace Choir’s home is based in the Uniting Church Chapel.  “There are so many things already going on there, it’s a very happening sort of place.” All of the activities grow from the sense of sharing and connection  evident within the community made famous when it took on McDonalds, campaigning against the fast food giant and holding off the development of a restaurant in the town for three years.

Above all, Barb hopes the Peace Choir will provide ‘a bit of a service’ to people who want to sing, but can’t commit to a performance choir due to work or life.

“I imagine as things go on that I’ll see the same things happen as in other groups… watching the friendships develop is always lovely, especially for the single people who wish to be with other people in a meaningful way”

Barb also hopes to see some blokes dropping in to sing with Tecoma Peace Choir: “I would love to think that blokes feel comfortable to come and have a sing too. It’s great having the full range of human tones singing together.”

Article by Deb Carveth with Barb McFarlane.

Tecoma Peace Choir meets Tuesdays during school terms from 7 – 8.30pm at Tecoma Uniting Church,1566 Burwood Highway, Tecoma.  For information, contact Barb McFarlane: 0407 548 165

Meltin’ down age barriers in Melton: The intergenerational street band supporting family music making.

‘What I really get out of the band and the practice is simply the fun.’ says Melton resident Amy McDonald who for the past year has played with The Fabulous Meltones, one of the bands to have emerged with support from Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds project.

There are three generations of Amy’s family in the band: Amy, her 67 year old father, Martin, and her three kids, Nina, Tenzin and Kohana who range in age from 23-6 years old.

“To have the sort of fun that say, Havana Palava have, would’ve been undreamed of for me before, and even though I’m not there yet, I live in hope!”

The experience of being in The Fabulous Meltones has extended the opportunity Amy and her family has to make music together, and brought unexpected and hidden talents to light.

“My father who has done orchard work most of his life learnt to make feathered headdresses for the Dream Big festival, last year. Local artist Krissy Tee, who is currently specialising in the creation of amazing headdresses came to give us all a lesson. Dad made his in record time and was then able to help everyone else. He’s also getting to grips with the finer points of picking out loud shirts (The Fabulous Meltones signature colours are red, orange, pink and yellow because we are Melton…meltin’ hot..”

fab-dad
Martin models his meltin’ hot headdress

Since their inception last year, The Fabulous Meltones have wasted no time making their mark on the local music scene. Lead by John Lane, they have performed at the Dream Big Festival as well as the Platypus and Djerriwarhh festivals in Melton. They’ve also played at the Melton train station for the opening of the underpass artwork unveiling; as part of At The Platform and at the end of year wrap-up party for Linking Melton South.

“I love that we get to perform together, we had never done anything like that together before. My dad always played the guitar, and my mum did and my grandfather does. I had trouble learning written music so I just learnt one riff from every person I came across. Mostly we know that when we’re together we’ll try and have a jam of some sort because everyone’s grown up and moved away, and my dad really loves it.”

The fact that four of the band members are family is important to Amy. “There’s such a difference between the styles of music that each generation likes. When you have family songs that everyone loves singing and those songs remind you of good times that you’ve had, this is a plus because they cross the generation gap.”

Amy and her family practice the pieces they’re learning with the band, together at home.

“I hear my little one, she seems to be singing the songs all the time at home but she will never perform… she sits and draws and she won’t join in, but she’s still listening.”

Amy is adamant that there shouldn’t be any division in society based on age and that being part of The Fabulous Meltones offers people the opportunity to mix socially outside of their own age group and that this teaches tolerance, patience and respect.

“Old people shouldn’t be excluded and young people certainly shouldn’t be excluded…Young people think they’re cool and that we don’t understand their music, but all music becomes old and daggy and it’s only a matter of time until it comes back into fashion.”

meltones-gals
Amy and her daughter, two of the Meltones gals

The fact that there are people of all ages involved in The Fabulous Meltones keeps things interesting and encourages people to be aware and thoughtful of the needs of others.

“Everyone has to be patient… there are little kids there and you have to be patient with older people too… while some people learn things quickly, other people need to be shown things a few times. We’re all different… John (Lane)’s really great and has taught a few of the band members to play the ukulele from scratch, which is so valuable.”

It’s recognised that involvement in an intergenerational community band promotes connection, communication and friendship between the participants, and the benefits of this have a positive effect extending beyond the context of the music making,  strengthening  and reinforcing the fabric of the community.

As Amy says of her experience as a Fabulous Meltone, “It makes you satisfied with your life and with being where you are….”

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria and Amy McDonald from The Fabulous Meltones.

**If you’re interested in joining The Fabulous Meltones, the next practice will be on Thursday 2nd March, at 4.30pm. The band is open to everyone (any age, instrument and skill level)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you heard what’s happening in Girgarre?

Girgarre is a small rural township situated in the Goulbourn Valley in Northern Victoria. Surrounded by dairy farms it’s taken a few knocks in recent years. Falling milk prices and drought have impacted the livelihoods of local farmers and in 2012, the Heinz tomato processing factory closed its doors for the last time putting 146 people out of work.

270px-girgarrememorialhall-1
Girgarre Town Hall

The town’s infrastructure suffered in the fall out. Local shops shut and people started moving away to find work and opportunities elsewhere. But for all the adversity they’ve faced, a big community heart continues to beat strongly in Girgarre. The monthly community music phenomenon, Jigarre Jammin’ has the moto: “Don’t die wishing you’d done it” and it seems this attitude runs deep through its streets.

Not prepared to give in to decline, the people of Girgarre took the bull by the horns and applied to Regional Arts Victoria’s Small Town Transformation initiative; an invitation to small towns across Victoria ‘to be ambitious in imagining what transformation might mean for their town – now and into the future.’

Girgarre was one of  six small towns constituting less than 6,000 people selected to receive $350,000 each over two years “for projects that realise big ideas” and puts artistic practice at the centre of community life.

The official title of the Girgarre Revival is ‘The Sound of Our Spirit Rising’ and will explore the concepts of common ground and connection to place through the medium of sound. Members of the community will work together with three internationally recognised artists to develop the project, which will run until October 2018.

In November, electronic light and sound artist Robin Fox unveiled the first in a series of temporary installations, a huge, human-activated theremin* built in Girgarre’s public reserve next to the town hall. It’s an intuitive structure, activated by the movements of up to eight bodies in the electromagnetic field around it and emitting notes, samples and tones into the air, in response.

p1000653w
The Theremin by Robin Fox at its launch in Girgarre on November 12. Photo taken from Regional Arts Victoria’s gallery of the launch.

 

Local Girgarre quilters will work in collaboration with Gloria Loughman, an award winning quilter, curator and teacher to create new quilted acoustic sound curtains for the town hall, a focal point in the community and home to the monthly meeting of Jigarre Jammin’.

And for the next three months, composer and musical director Graeme Leake is taking up residency in Girgarre.  Graeme, who has been involved with numerous grass roots music making projects such as Raising the Roof,  and  The Musical Fence in Winton, Queensland, will be working with members of the community to design and build a series of permanent sound installations including an interactive sound sculpture on the boundary of the local school which will become the centrepiece of a community concert, and something everyone can come and play together.

Graeme will also be running a series of open workshops in music skills and instrument making for both Girgarre residents and visitors to the town. The plan is for the community to develop their skills and for a community orchestra to be formed, playing a series of cast off objects which have been salvaged and reinvented as musical instruments.

“All of my activities will be located in the ex-supermarket which will become a music making and playing ‘shed’.  Anyone can drop in and work on their creation, attend workshops or music skills classes, or help design and construct the school fence sound sculpture.”

If you’re reading this and thinking how cool the revival of Girgarre is already sounding, there’s a way you can be involved and support Girgarre and Graeme in their mission. The hunt is on for  ‘junk’ to transform into musical instruments for the orchestra to play. From hubcaps to tea chests, old broken instruments to broomsticks, the list is endless and can be read here together with the important details about how to unite Graeme’s trunk with your junk.

The determination of the population of Girgarre to transform the town and Graeme’s call for cast offs are great reminders that when something is broken, damaged or temporarily impaired, it doesn’t have to spell disaster or the end. A fresh way of looking at things and the ability to find positivity and new purpose in the familiar is what drives innovation and sparks creativity.

Cultivating a brighter future through the involvement of community, sound, music, and collaboration,  the rising spirit of Girgarre is a sound that’s sure to be heard and celebrated, far and wide.

*If you’re in the vicinity,  stop off at Girgarre Public Reserve on Winter Rd and have a play with the giant theremin between 10am and 5pm every day until April 2017.

Follow the transformation of Girgarre and Graeme Leake’s involvement with the project here.

The next meeting of Jigarre Jammin is on February 25th 10.30am til 4pm at Girgarre Hall, 9 Morgan Crescent, Girgarre, VIC 3624

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tides of Welcome keep on rolling: A Queenscliff community choir celebrates 13 song-filled years

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.Tides of Welcome

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.”

Tides 13th Birthday
The 3 founding members still involved with the choir: Janelle Jenkins cutting the birthday cake, next to Jacinta Farrugia and Carolyn Williams, standing.

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.

Sharing Jewish Songs at the Community Music Victoria Music Camp

I recently attended the 2016 CMVic Music Camp at Grantville Lodge. I had never attended a CMVic event before and was somewhat trepidatious. I do not play a musical instrument myself, but I do sing in a choir, and I love singing, so was keen to take part in the singing workshops during the weekend in particular.

On the Sunday morning I took part in the Sharing Jewish Songs Workshop. From the minute our facilitator Sarah started talking to us about Jewish and Yiddish Music, about how (according to the strict Jewish faith) women are not really supposed to sing the songs we were about to learn, and about how we were about to make a song together consisting of only “ay di-di dies” I think we were all hooked. Sarah herself had the most beautiful singing voice, and encouraged us to “put the cry in our voice” in the way that she had been. It worked, we sounded good!

Within what seemed only a few minutes we had all engaged in a very emotional moment together, singing what sounded like a heart-breaking song that lifted all of our souls.

I know that may sound extreme, but that is how it felt at the time. We must have done something right, as Sarah herself had to wipe away a tear and told us we sounded beautiful when we had finished.

Sarah then went on to teach us two other Jewish songs, this time with lyrics, which she explained to us from a Jewish perspective, with an enjoyable sprinkling of humour thrown in. Again, the group very quickly seemed to be able to pick up the nuances and tunes of the songs, and before we knew it we were all singing in a circle, with our eyes shut, and “putting the cry in our voice” in a way we never knew we had in us. This was aided by Sarah’s youngest daughter who had joined us (who I’d had fun learning to play the marimba with the day before), adding the little harmony lines to accompany the songs. We then learned those too.

I enjoyed my whole weekend at Grantville, but this workshop was the one I didn’t want to end. I don’t think I was alone. I had a sneaky suspicion beforehand that I was going to love this workshop, but I had no idea how much.

I have just returned to England where I live and am now thinking about looking into if there is a local Jewish singing group in my area. I never saw that coming. I think Community Music Victoria’s weekend hit the mark in ways I never expected.

By Sarah Jackson

Listen to a recording of the beautiful song Adio Querida from Sarah’s session, here.

 

 

 

Basking in the freewheelin’ warmth of the Sunshine Street Band

The last rays of a Tuesday evening sun can often be glimpsed glinting off the brass horns,  drums and other instruments of the Sunshine Street Band by the runners and dog walkers soaking up day’s end on Albion’s oval.

Every second week, the band throw open the doors of Albion Community House to allow strains of ska, jazz, whatever they’re currently playing to escape into the evening air and across this little patch of Melbourne’s West.

Peter Hinton, band founder and self professed freewheeling trombone player, sees the Sunshine Band as a ‘perfect gateway into playing in a group where different instruments are represented.’ Players of any acoustic instrument are welcome, with age and a lack of experience no barriers to joining. Some people follow dots, others play by ear.

As one of the inaugural bands in the StreetSounds project run by Community Music Victoria, the Sunshine Street Band is a real collective and has evolved to run as a collaborative model after a large dose of input, encouragement and mentoring in the early stages, from Lyndal Chambers, guest tutor Robert Jackson, Brian Strating and Katie Rose Fowler, who still plays with the band.

Peter considers the band an effective way to combat social isolation and improve connectedness between like minded people living in and around Sunshine: ‘It’s a very healthy thing to have a connection with your community..’

Hinton was the catalyst in getting the band started because he was keen to find somewhere for himself and his family – specifically his teenage daughter, to play music together with others and because there was ‘genuinely nothing else like that around where you could play music for the joy of it, where auditions and an expected level of experience didn’t apply..’

With some musical experience playing guitar with friends who then moved across town, Peter was keen for himself and his daughter to have the freedom to try new instruments and keep music going as an ‘outside of school type of thing’.  After a spot of googling, and deciding that a local community band open to beginners would be the most rewarding thing to be part of, Peter discovered Community Music Victoria and picked up the phone.

His timing was perfect. Funding for StreetSounds had just been granted by the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust and the RE Ross Trust, and Lyndal Chambers was in place as project manager. Peter’s passion and palpable conviction of the need for a community band in Sunshine were the perfect sparks to ignite the project, and the Sunshine Street band, and the project, were launched.

 ‘Without Lyndal, this wouldn’t have started… she had all the contacts… Together with Strat she helped set the culture in the first couple of sessions .. they made it clear that you don’t have to be professional to be in a band, there were no wrong notes! It was all motivation and encouragement. And she found us the room too. (thanks to Brimbank Council).’

The band is evolving into a real collective in the way they choose what to play and the way they play it. ‘Katie knows which instruments play in which key which has really helped cos you need somebody like that… and we’ve found there are heaps of good reasons for all sharing the leader role, everyone has a say and when they have a say they feel more involved and connected. It also feels more sustainable and means that all the pressure isn’t just on one person.’

Pic for SSB BLog
Sunshine Street Band skills being put into practice at CMVic’s 2015 Music Camp

As the numbers increase, Peter says people are being drawn to the community vibe of the band. ‘There are some strong players coming in now from Sunshine West way, and you can tell from the way they play they like their music.’

As a band open to players of all abilities and musical tastes, Peter believes the key to participants getting the most enjoyment out of belonging to the Sunshine Street Band is to be open to trying different styles of music, be supportive of each other and ‘don’t expect too much, too fast… you have to make the commitment.’

From a personal perspective, Peter says that ‘being in the band and playing a brass instrument has opened up a new world for me… I’ve never done something like this before… It’s loosened up some inhibitions in me, you can feel constrained trying to play by the book and I was feeling musically detached, playing a bit of guitar but not socially, so being in the band is really important.’

The door to the Albion Community Centre is open for the duration of the band’s rehearsals every second Tuesday, and newcomers from absolute beginners to experienced players are always welcome: Drop in and try it out!

The Sunshine Street Band: Meets fortnightly at Albion Community House, 61a Selwyn St, Albion, VIC 3020 For dates and further information, go to www.cmvic.org.au

Article by Deb Carveth with Peter Hinton; feature photograph courtesy of Angela Casella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams come true at Prahran Accordion Band!

Prahran Accordion Band’s home is the German Club Tivoli on Dandenong Road. It’s not a building to evoke architectural wonder as you pass, but inside on the first and third Thursdays of the month, magic happens.

From around 6.45pm, members of the Prahran Accordion Band (PAB) can be spotted lugging cases out of cars, setting up music stands and testing their bellows in eager anticipation of another fortnightly session, led by Phil Carroll.

PAB is not huge in numbers which means a real sense of connection is being nurtured and as word gets out, the ranks are growing steadily. There’s now an average of ten players on any given week from across a wide area of Melbourne, battling evening traffic and catching trains in their dedication to squeeze in the time and to get to grips with their accordions.

We are a mixed bunch. Our lineage extends out of that big rehearsal room into the streets of Windsor and from there, all over the globe. To Poland, South America, Germany, Italy and the UK. Our ability varies a lot too; some people, like Hans Gruneberg, are absolute beginners while others have been playing since childhood.

Hans moved from Germany to Australia at the age of 22. Raised in West Berlin, he made the passage by sea away from his family and his home. On arrival at Port Melbourne he was put into quarantine where he was forced to shower seven times a day and have all his belongings sprayed with disinfectant. Undeterred, he has made Australia his home for the past 43 years. Speaking English as his second language, Hans found work as a butcher, married an Australian woman and raised a family of his own.

Hans speaks nostalgically of hearing the accordion played in his German family home especially at Christmas time and about how, as a child, it was a dream of his own to learn to play.

At the age of 65, thanks to the launch of the PAB as part of CMVic’s StreetSounds project, Hans was finally able to tick this wish off his bucket list.  Having never played an instrument before, Hans was encouraged to join by Paul Smyth, founding member of the band, and Judy Gunson who occasionally leads the group.

Hans describes being able to play the accordion as a ‘dream come true’.

“It’s a great feeling to make music… it’s a great group, a friendly group.  I enjoy taking part and it gets me out…  it’s very supportive… and now I can play tunes by myself.”

Accordion (1)
Hans in action on his accordion at the StreetSounds Rough Riffs workshop held in July , 2015

The first thirty minutes of each session, is all about going slow for the beginners and that’s the time to ask questions and focus on tunes covering a range of no more than five notes in the right hand, and two chords or less, with the left.

Even then, it can feel surprisingly hard to correlate the two, and evokes the same looks of confusion and concentration as you see on the face of a child trying to simultaneously pat their head and rub their tum. But with just ten minutes practice every day or so, it’s amazing how quickly skills can noticeably improve.

The more extended part of the PAB repertoire includes classics such as La Paloma, and Roll out the Barrel. If you can’t play a piece with both hands, stick with one, join in when and where you can. In this way, we’re making great progress, and learning major and minor scales in the right hand, too.

The sound of a tune divided into alto and soprano parts can be amazing, the harmonies blending; the bits where we stumble and fall flat half way into a tune and have to go over a particular bar several times or start all over again, serve to deepen our connection and commitment to our practice because nobody minds and we all have a laugh.

The chat around the table during our break is also evolving to include more personal issues as people open up to share stories of their backgrounds and their daily lives.

Hans, for example, has overcome an ongoing battle with joint pain and a recent knee replacement makes him the most bionic member of the PAB. He is also a keen documenter of the club’s progress, taking photos of the group in action at Christmas and in concert last year at the Chris Gahan centre, which he then prints out and shares around. Old school, and precious. Hans is also a regular at the club’s shooting range and is a bit of a champion shot. As Phil says, Accordion Players, beware!

The Prahran Accordion Band meets every fortnight for two hours from 7-9pm. An annual subscription of $40 is paid by each player to Club Tivoli for the rehearsal space, which, as Phil points out, is probably cheaper than a one to one accordion lesson, so we’re onto a pretty great thing and there’s a weekly cost of $10. So if you or anyone else you know is using their cased accordion as a coffee table , get them to come down and see what it’s all about.

Prahran Accordion Band is open to players of all age, skill level and ability and is supported by Community Music Victoria through the StreetSounds project. For further information, email the team at Community Music Victoria

Article by Deb Carveth with Hans Gruneberg

Chocolate Lilies sing out and celebrate!

The Chocolate Lily is a hardy plant well suited to group plantings with a coping mechanism for surviving all weather conditions. Not dissimilar then, to Nerida Kirov’s community singing group of the same name which has just won an Australia Day award.

The award for Community Group of the year was given in recognition of the contribution made by the Chocolate Lilies to the fabric of the Nillumbik community for their  ‘can do attitude,  pitching in and sharing their talents freely to contribute to their community, as well as their work in helping hundreds of singers gain confidence, a sense of community and have fun.’

Nerida described the news they had won as ‘rather humbling and wonderful’…

‘it was a huge surprise and we are so grateful and blown out by the nomination.’

The Chocolate Lilies, led by Nerida from day one, has been empowering people from the area to come together and sing since its inception in 1993.

Over the past 22 years, a phenomenal bond has developed between members of the group. They have sung together In celebration and shared tears with each other through the tough times, The fires of 2009 caused devastation and loss to many and from within the Chocolate Lilies alone, people lost friends; people lost homes and partners.

Throughout that period, the Chocolate Lilies continued to reach out to those suffering grief and loss and to meet and sing, not only in Hurstbridge and Warrandyte but in Strathewen where 15% of the community perished.

Talk was not necessary; singing together was primal and healing and offered an escape from the terror and grief of the fires.

Immersing themselves in beautiful songs and being bathed in beautiful sound was a form of recovery, and singers, old and new to the group forged a deep sense of connection through their support for each other. It’s now seven years later and many of the people who were inspired to sing with the Chocolate Lilies at that time have stayed on.

With between sixty and seventy regular singers, the group is based across two venues, Allwood Neighbourhood house in Hurstbridge and Warrandyte Mechanics Institute & Arts Association, with everybody coming together for voluntary performances within the community, as many as twenty times a year. A dozen or so of the original members remain from 1993, and the group now feels like a family from which other networks have emerged and grown.

Nerida Kirov believes that when leading a community group it is vital to be instinctual in the way you approach things where people’s emotions are invested, and involved.

‘You cannot be contrived, be empathic with people (who have experienced trauma). It is very important to be sensitive and aware of the dynamics.’

There is a strong social conscience within the group, and as well as attending and performing at community events, many members of the choir frequently go on marches to demonstrate their opinions. The poignancy of the awards being tied in with Australia Day which is also seen as Invasion Day is not lost on Nerida.

‘Aboriginal Elders had a significant presence at the Awards Ceremony and spoke about the history of the day from their perspective. They spoke of the wonderful diverse Australia that we are working towards and the struggle we have been through to get here, and how it is insulting and disrespectful to tie that recognition to the day that began the wipe out of our indigenous people.’

Nerida feels while it is important to acknowledge and celebrate all the great things happening in our communities that possibly, this could happen on a different day.

Australia DayMany of the songs sung by the Chocolate Lilies have a political angle or issue at the heart of them, and the group also sings original material written by Nerida. One of her songs, ‘Sleepless’ was published in CMVic songbook, Short Stuff. This song was then seen by a Canadian woman who decided to get in touch with Nerida after identifying, bleary eyed, with the words of her song.

A connection was established and the Chocolate Lilies now include material written by that person in their repertoire. Material sent from one singing leader to another, in a song swap across the seas. Which pretty much sums it all up: Singing is a fantastic way to connect!

It provides us with the encouragement we need to reach out and connect, and to remind ourselves of the rich and diverse ways we can each contribute to our society. It brings together people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and it is fabulous that Nillumbik recognises the positive values and impact of the Chocolate Lilies on connectedness, health and well being, within its community.

So congratulations  Nerida Kirov and the Chocolate Lilies! And while we’re at it, congratulations to singing leaders and their groups everywhere, for enriching life, for promoting positive ageing, for providing the perfect stress outlet and moral support through the trials and tribulations of life. And if Nerida has one piece of advice to share?

“Integrity. Love what you’re doing. It’s the bottom line. Pass on the joy of what you do to the people around you.”

For more information about the Chocolate Lilies, contact Nerida Kirov: neridakirov@gmail.com

Article written by Deb Carveth with Nerida Kirov