Category Archives: Community Events & News

From Our Street to Yours: Taking the Band Online

It was participating in an online music session for pre-schoolers which turned around Brian ‘Strat’ Strating and Lyndal Chambers’ thinking about playing and delivering instrumental music online.

“We were invited, us and our grandchildren, to participate in a family session for Drummond Street by Amanda Testro, and it was really interesting. We learned a lot being participants in that group. The fun thing was seeing all the little screens of people doing the same thing or people doing the actions to a song in their own remote locations. We all started off together and then slowly the kids began rambling around the lounge room, you know it’s kind of really interesting and fun to see everyone doing the same thing in different places and we learnt from that experience that things with actions work much better than trying to play music.”

There’s no getting away from it, the communal aspect of instrumental music making online can be dissatisfying for a number of reasons: you don’t have your external speakers cranked up; you don’t own external speakers, your own instrument sounds way louder than what’s coming into your room so there’s no hope of playing along with the facilitator because you’re struggling to actually hear the music itself.  And then there’s the unavoidable reality that in real life sessions, everybody’s bits go together to create a tune and while one person on their own might fumble and stumble over their part or lose the beat, it is everybody playing together in real time that makes everything work and is beautiful.

So how can we make the most of collective instrumental music-making opportunities during these times of physical distancing?  After all, they’re a great vehicle for checking in and hearing how everyone’s doing.

As highly experienced community music facilitators and musicians, this quandary is something Lyndal and Strat have spent many hours contemplating and experimenting with since COVID put an end to most of their other commitments – and income – overnight.

“As a practitioner delivering music online, you need to think about ‘how do I make it work, what’s the reason for doing community music online, and then if you decide to do it, how do I make it successful? Because, you know, if somebody really wants to learn a tune, they can sit in front of a video on YouTube, they can learn the tune slowly and repeat it as many times as they like.” But this isn’t fun, nor is it what brings it to life. We get together in groups because we want to be with other people.

Playing with the pre-schoolers led Lyndal to realise how dancing and responding to action songs works well online because it doesn’t matter if you’re hearing the tunes with lag, you can still do the actions. “At one point, Amanda said ‘go on kids go into the kitchen find your pots and pans’ and they all ran off eagerly to go and get their pots and wooden spoons, and so I ran off and got this big pan and wooden spoon! And when I went to play along, my pans were soooo loud, I couldn’t hear a thing from the computer! We learnt that not only can you not play in real time, you can’t even hear what’s going on unless you have some decent external speakers set up on your computer.”

What both Lyndal and Strat enjoyed most was the social aspect of participating in something in this way. “Our grandkids, all three of them – and one is only 18 months old – are in Blackwood and we are in Inverloch, and we are all watching Amanda’s show and we can all see each other!”

So the main purpose of all being online together is to maintain that social connection which we all need and seek out, and music is still that common thread.

“In our physical groups, music-making is a vehicle for us getting together and we can all play together which is just not possible with the technology that we have. At least not without phenomenal expertise and state of the art equipment. The reality we’re stuck with is we’re not going to be able to play real time music together in virtually any online context anytime soon because there’s such huge variability in everyone’s situation. There are barriers such as internet speeds, internet cabling. And some people don’t have a good, functioning computer with a good camera and good audio, some people don’t have internet at all, and some people are too old to wrestle with technology.”

The takeaway from their experience of online participatory music making has shown Lyndal and Strat the importance of identifying a clear purpose at the start of the online session, articulating this as a group and agreeing on an expectation of what everyone is trying to achieve together. “It’s the same as those values we use when we are face to face.”

Lyndal and Strat were recently invited by Aaron Silver to do a Virtual Bush Dance for the Turramurra community. “When we started trying to work out how to do it, we figured that we needed to actually get up and moving ourselves to get other people off their bums, so we did a practise, and videoed ourselves calling the dance and playing the music simultaneously, and it was hilarious.

“The bush dance worked really well but it took a lot of preparation. We had a dry run with around ten people before the session and discussed which settings were needed on Zoom, what settings people should change, and all the technical stuff. Even this was an opportunity for fun and reconnection, we were all laughing and talking to each other, so the social thing was happening even then. This small group of testers were able to say whether or not they could hear if Lyndal danced away from the computer, or when they stood away from their own computer.”

“When it came down to the actual event we were dancing and moving around at the same time as everyone else, we could still see the concert view on our computer and there was everybody dancing in their living rooms. Mark Jackson took a video of himself and Jane with us in the background on the telly and it was so hilarious, so funny!”

As part of Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020), Strat and Lyndal will be re-visiting this approach and facilitating a Virtual Street Band Parade! The tune is available and can be downloaded ahead of camp so that anyone preparing to play in the virtual street band will be familiar with it. Lyndal and Strat would like more than anything for this workshop to be about letting go, healing and having fun.

“We want it to be a lively thing, a joyful experience! We want it to be ridiculous, a coming-together and dressing up; a fooling around opportunity, a joyful, love-filled safe place!”

“We’ve recorded a multi-track tune ourselves so that there are lots of parts. On the day, we’ll press ‘play’ and everyone will be able to hear the pre-recorded piece of street band music which they’ve also been learning and it will have the counting, and everybody can play along on mute, or sing, or dance or even just mime! And they won’t just be playing on their own, they will actually be playing and singing along to a full band sound in their lounge room, bedroom or study or wherever they might be, or even outside on the veranda! Our aim is to light up the screen with participation.”

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The Virtual Street Band Parade will be about dressing up, getting together and having fun!

In considering the transitioning of their leadership skills into the virtual space, Lyndal is reflective about the challenges of maintaining diversity and inclusion.

“Thinking about the values, this idea of ‘from one to many’ is not my ideal for community music making, I think that’s a real stumbling block for me. In a real-life situation, there may be a nominal leader or a leadership team, and you’re allowing everybody’s voice to contribute ideas to the circle and they feel invested. When you have an online platform there’s one person is sitting in front of the computer directing the actions and everyone’s speakers are on mute, its completely the antithesis of the kind of ideal for me of a democratic community music group…”

Strat agrees, “I think it’s impossible in the online setting, so yeah that’s a great challenge, and the other thing is the thinking that if your normal session goes for an hour, have an hour online. You absolutely cannot! With the bush dance, we would usually go through something like that twelve times, whereas online we went through it just three. The elements that are most important are dancing and movement and linking up and having a great time.”

“Enabling people to do their own dressing up and their own dancing allows them to participate as much or as little as they can, or want to or feel able to, while still contributing. And if we can record it, which I know is possible, there will be this amazing collage of everyone doing their own thing in their own way and interpreting it somehow in a way that’s personal to them.”

And, because you’ll be muted if you have always wanted to play the trumpet in a street band but don’t actually play the trumpet – now’s the time! If you’ve got a trumpet, pick it up and be able to play without any bum notes, straight off the bat!  This one of the advantages of the virtual street band; anything goes.

“There are no limits! Oh my gosh” says Lyndal, “The No Limits Street Band…

Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020) runs May 29-30. It’s a free event and registrations are now open!  To register for the Virtual Street Band Parade, click here.

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in conversation with Lyndal Chambers and Brian Strating. Thank you both!

Zooming in from the Lounge Room: Online and Onward in Term Two

Waiting for a room to fill up with people feels so last year. These days, community choir leader Jeannie Marsh waits for the little squares on her screen to blink into life to signal her group’s singers have turned up and tuned in ready to join in an evening of singing from their lounge room, bedroom or wherever the acoustics work best and there’s the option of a closing door.

Over the past month in response to physical distancing and self isolation, a new online world of community music has sprung up, close and personal in a whole new way as pets, partners and kids wander in and out of focus, and we find singing and playing in our pj’s easy and oh so cosy. For the time being,  Zoom‘s the room and anything goes in this virtual space as we each adjust to living in this brave new world.

While this approach won’t work for everyone, the option to take things online offers a way for community music groups to continue to connect socially whilst remaining apart. It addresses our basic human need for something to look forward to, is an opportunity to share hope and reassurance with each other and navigate a way through the strange times we find ourselves in. It’s a great excuse for a quick tidy up, too.

Over the past few weeks, Jeannie has been migrating her choirs online, continuing to lead ZING! Sing in Dutch; Climate Choir Melbourne and Elwood Community Choir, using Zoom from her lounge room.

“Right now, I’m seeing my role as just trying to help people stay positive, that’s all I can do! Keep people singing and helping anyone feeling overwhelmed to get through this.”

For Jeannie, engaging with online platforms has been something best done on her own terms, in her own time; she’s the first to admit that she dislikes Facebook.

“When social media came out, I just thought ‘no, no, that’s not how I’m going to stay sane’. I feel pretty equipped technically, but I mean you know…”, she laughs, “I don’t have technical skills but I’m not afraid of asking for help and we all have to learn, we are all learning together. With ZING! we had to make the transition very early on and held our first session via Skype which was kind of weird, but it was a way to keep in contact and I was able to teach some songs and then for our most recent rehearsal last week, we switched to Zoom, which was much better.”

Jeannie invested in a headset and has found having better quality sound makes things far easier in her new-found role as an online leader. She’s made other discoveries too. For example, it wasn’t really working for Jeannie to use a call and response approach in her early online work with ZING!:

“I was leaving a gap to go, you know, ‘your turn’, so they would all sing the part at home, but people said that they didn’t really like that because they could just hear themselves singing and found this confronting. People don’t join a choir to hear themselves sing on their own. As a singer in a choir in the room together, you are surrounded by everyone else and they are pulling you along, and the leader is singing, and there might be accompaniment, all those things, and then suddenly it’s just you in your spare bedroom singing on your own, completely on your own without even the leader helping you.”

Taking on feedback from her singers, Jeannie’s abandoned this approach, “I’m not going to be trying that method anymore, I’m just going to demonstrate and repeat, then people can sing along with me, whether it’s a phrase of a song or a warm-up activity. This means that people will always have the security of singing with somebody else.” But Jeannie notes that all this might change as the process evolves over the coming weeks, and as people become more familiar and at ease with singing on their own.

The other disconcerting issue as an online leader is the problem of delay which it seems we’re all stuck with for the time being. “I can see who’s in the room and call them by name, I can say ‘Sue, unmute yourself and tell me what favourite song you have been listening to this week’. And then I can hear them, everybody else can hear them, it’s good for maintaining connection and I make sure we have a lot of laughs, which I think is important. We have warm-ups with music too. I’ll put on some lively latin dance music at the start of a session and we do a little warm-up dance sitting down or standing up… these sorts of things are a bit of fun.”

Jeannie is in the process of exploring possible ways for online social activities to be included in the virtual space, given this is such an important aspect of community choirs. Her ideas include scheduling a break time during the rehearsal when participants can grab a cuppa, beer or whatever, come back and have freeform chat. “In real life, Zing will rehearse for a couple of hours and then we usually go across to the pub and have another hour or so of socialising. We are working out a way to build that in: You can chat, have your drink in your hand and show and tell, whatever people want to do!”

Other Zoom issues to navigate include the inability to see everyone on screen simultaneously.

“Yesterday I did a first online zoom rehearsal for Climate Choir Melbourne with about thirty people, and I couldn’t see them all onscreen at once, I had to scroll across and found that quite difficult… I’m going to have to get into the habit of looking at one panel and then shifting to another panel so that I can see who’s in the room. Their names are there and their faces are there, and I can talk to them individually, so yeah I think that’s going to be challenging but I can see ways to make it work.”

Ensuring singers have all the resources required for each session is also important in supporting their online participation. Jeannie believes this means a potential increase in workload for leaders during the initial planning stages.

“If I walk into a face-to-face choir rehearsal tomorrow and we are working on six songs and people have the music and the word sheets, I stand in front of them, and we practise the song, it’s so straight forward! And you can improvise around your structure, you know, abandon one song if people aren’t getting it, or go to another….but when you are doing this online you have to have the materials all lined up ready to go and you have to keep on delivering, you have to keep talking and singing basically, so you’re on all the time.”

To compensate for this, Jeannie and ZING! are considering reducing the running time of their online rehearsals by half an hour. Jeannie is also planning to delegate online tasks to volunteers from within the group. “If somebody wants to take something on, ask them for help with the technical side of things like setting up a group space for example. I don’t want to be the one setting up the socials but there are plenty of people who would love that! For people with time on their hands, this gives them a supporting role in the same way that volunteers used to set out the tables and chairs in the room before choir. Or maybe they can be the person who sets a musical quiz for everyone or something along those lines.”

Recording and sharing backing tracks to enable singers to rehearse their parts at home is another thing Jeannie plans to provide. “I usually only start producing rehearsal resources halfway through a term, I’ll make little recordings. It’s time-consuming, I mean it’s straight forward and fun to do but it takes hours!  I think leaders are going to have to produce backing tracks for people to sing along and harmonise with for practise at home in between sessions, especially if we’re charging money.”

With financial hardship hitting so many leaders and participants alike in this Covid-affected world, Jeannie is  re-considering the financial structure of how she runs her choirs to find a way which works fairly for everyone.

“The last two weeks of term just became this weird thing which some people had already paid for, so how do we manage that? Do we make other activities available by way of compensation? And then do we charge less for online choir for term two? The advantage of running online groups from a leader’s perspective is you can have a virtually unlimited number of people, which could effectively also generate more money. On the other hand, people aren’t getting the same amount of experience as they would in a face to face scenario. Also many of them have lost their jobs and I want to make things more accessible than they have ever been, with so many people in trauma.”

One of Jeannie’s ideas is to implement a triple tiered payment system to attend choir. People who are able pay the full amount as normal, a discount is then available to anyone facing financial hardship, and finally, there is a rock bottom rate which is free.

“I think that’s the only way to go really: waged, under-waged and then rock bottom. But as the choir leader also has to live, I think it’s fine asking the people who can afford to pay, to do so, and subsidise those who are struggling.”

An advantage of migrating to online delivery is that ZING! now has people based regionally and interstate who couldn’t physically come to Melbourne before, who are  able to join in.

“I feel really happy that this is happening, and I think all we need to do now is set up some payment structure. When people join one of these online sessions, I think it’s important to know that the person, whether it’s me or somebody else, is still trying to run a business here. This is the time we need to step up and really find creative ways to support each other.”

Jeannie is staying focussed on music as a way to navigate these strange times. She’s also supporting the local economy of the community where she lives.

“It’s a way to stop feeling so overwhelmed by everything, I hope. To focus on the things that are within our locality, or within our own skill set, things that we know how to do well, and deal with every day. Now is the time to look at how we spend our money, now is the time to buy that digital download, now is the time to buy CDs, support artists we love, now is the time to buy a ticket to a live streaming concert. And if purchasing things isn’t an option, send those artists an email or get in touch and simply say ‘I really love your work and I want to support you the best I can, through this time, what can I do for you?’ ”

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Members of ZING! Sing in Dutch, with Jeannie Marsh (centre), pre-Corona
Elwood Community Choir
…and members of Elwood Community Choir singing to celebrate Make Music Day 2019

Jeannie Marsh was speaking to Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria 
Big thanks, Jeannie!

 

Whittlesea Muster Delights Uke Enthusiasts

Naming the inaugural Whittlesea Uke Muster was ‘a great laugh’, a take on the iconic annual Deni Ute Muster which was started years ago featuring barbecues, burn outs and a whole lotta utes. “We found out that there actually is a Deniliquin Uke Muster so we had to name our event the Whittlesea Uke Muster and we put a lot of pictures of Ukuleles on the fliers so nobody would turn up thinking it was for cars.” 

Seeds of the idea for a Whittlesea Uke Muster were sown a couple of years ago following a Singing Festival held in the town, something Community Music Facilitator, Kerry Clarke, had been ‘busting to do for many years.’ 

“The Singing Festival was really successful, absolutely fantastic and we thought ‘ooh, let’s try and do something with ukuleles cos they’re so popular, so we applied for some money to run the Uke Muster last year and we didn’t get it. We thought ‘oh well, bugger that!’ So we applied again this year under the community grants scheme from our local council, City of Whittlesea, and we got it.”

‘We’ was a team effort by Kerry, Mary Lynn Griffith, Manager of the Whittlesea Community House; and local Community Musician, Cathy Edwards  who worked together to bring the event into being:  “It was Mary who applied for all the grants and managed all the payments and budget, the Uke Muster was actually her baby, she really wanted to do it.”

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Enough funds were awarded to run the Muster in a way which meant workshop leaders could be paid and there was no charge for anyone to attend the event. 

“I know the people we asked would have probably done it for petrol money or something, but we really appreciated being able to offer them payment and we paid each leader $300. For that they had to do all their own preparation and travel quite a distance, including one person who came all the way from Emerald. It was great to be able to pay them a proper professional rate and having a grant allowed us to do this. We were also able to pay for publicity and promotion. We got a banner made that we can use again next time, those sorts of small things you can get with a little bit of money behind you, and we ran the Uke Muster via the community house which, as an incorporated organisation was the reason we were able to get a grant in the first place.” 

Over 170 people came along and took part on the day, plus another ten or fifteen locals who came to clap and cheer for the concert at the end. “We set up the muster following the same model we’d used for the Singing Festival where we had a bit of an all-in session, a series of workshops and then we had feedback from the workshops and a little concert at the end. It worked really, really well. The workshops were extraordinarily successful, we had excellent workshop presenters and I think that’s why it was so very good. There were lots of opportunities for people to mill about and chat with one another and play together, it was a real hit.” There was also a strum-along run by Cathy and Bob Edwards, ‘two amazing community musicians’.

Whittlesea is a small town and while the primary and secondary schools offer music and are involved in singing and playing, community-wise there hasn’t been a whole heap of things on offer besides Kerry’s singing groups, but it seems this is all about to change: “We’ve started up a few ukulele groups and they’ve been extraordinarily popular…Cathy runs two local ukulele groups with a total of around 40 players across the two and there’s a group of six who are beginners, so it’s all become very popular and this has all come out of the Whittlesea Community House, a part of the Neighbourhood House network.”

The Uke Muster was the first event of its kind to be held out in the Whittlesea area and local people were excited that they didn’t have to drive a long way to go to it. “Usually we have to resign ourselves to a good hour’s drive to whatever we want to get to. We had a group from U3A in Lalor, people drove over from Euroa, and people from the local area were really appreciative that this was something happening on their own doorstep for once!” In the end, players came from far and wide for the day. As well as Lalor and Euroa, they came from Panton Hill, Hurstbridge, Mernda, the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne, and three people came from the Bella Bella group in Cranbourne which, as Kerry says, ‘was amazing’! 

Goals of the Uke Muster were to encourage participation from new players and to offer skills development for existing singers and players and the range of workshops available on the day reflected this. There was a beginners’ workshop for people just starting out on their ukulele playing journey while other workshops offered opportunities to explore and expand upon a range of different techniques and styles of playing to keep things interesting for everyone. 

As organisers, one of the first challenges was getting in touch with contacts. Kerry says they now have ‘all of the contacts they can cope with’ so that challenge has been successfully overcome. “Basically, through word of mouth, we eventually found all the local groups we knew of and we don’t think we missed anybody which is really good because we wanted to include as many local people from the area as we could.”

“Getting people to get back to you is another challenge” laughs Kerry. “People think ‘oh that’s a great idea, I’m going to go to that’ but they don’t tell you they’re coming, so that can be tricky when you get a lot more people than you were expecting. Timing was also a challenge. If we can do it again next year, we’ll perhaps look at making a slightly later time for the concert or limiting the number of performers because it ran over time and I don’t like it when things run over time because people have other commitments to get to and things like that, although nobody seemed to mind. We were learning too!”

There was ‘a lot of terrific positive feedback’ with players saying they hope that the Whittlesea Uke Muster becomes a permanent fixture in the calendar and an event which ‘happens every year.’ Help was at hand on the day from Rhonda Rose and the Mernda Singers and Strummers, with Kerry filling the role of MC, something she clearly enjoyed: “Uke players are a fun lot!! Good sense of humour!!”A  popular part of the day was the Scones stall that the Mernda group ran, with home made scones for sale all day long. There was also a raffle with two donated ukes as prizes, and these made over $500 dollars on the day as a fundraiser. 

Other highlights for Kerry included the opening strum-along. “There was a big screen up with all the chords on and we had everybody playing and everybody singing along and then Oli (Hinton) brings out the bass uke and starts ‘doom, doom, dooming’ and everybody’s going ‘what the heck is that?!’ it was sooo great, it was such fun!”

Looking ahead to a re-run of the Uke Muster in 2020, Kerry and the team are already planning to approach local businesses to ask for sponsorship and again, paying the leaders is where the money would go. “This year’s event was run as a pilot and when we applied for the grant we said if it was a success, we’d plan to approach local businesses for sponsorship to do a future one, so that’s what we’ll try and do! Early next year we’ll set out to get a commitment of cash and see where that takes us.”

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Kerry Clarke.
Photos supplied.

 

‘That Girl’ Song calls for Safety and Empowerment for Women and Girls, and an end to Gender-Based Violence.

 “You put something like this out there and you just hope that it might contribute to improving the situation” says Sarah Mandie, songwriter and creative director of That Girl, a song and dance-based community focussed project run in conjunction with Community Music Victoria to empower women and girls, encourage them to stand up against gender-based violence, stereotyping and inequality and say ‘stop’.

Two years after its launch in 2017, That Girl has brought together girls and women from the Indian and Bhutanese communities of Wodonga; culturally diverse groups of primary schoolgirls in Boroondara; and secondary school-age girls from Healesville High School and the Healesville Indigenous Community Association in the Yarra Ranges.

A day of song, dance and dialogue was also held at the Immigration Museum for the Prevention of Violence Against Women: Voices of Shakti was presented by Community Music Victoria, Sarah Mandie and Dr. Priya Srinivasan (ADI Deakin). Drawing on Indian cultural themes of the Goddess to educate, inspire, mobilise and create understanding between people of diverse backgrounds and genders, the program included That Girl song and dance workshops with Sarah and choreographer, Marshie Perera Rajakumar. That Girl has been mentioned in Parliament too.

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‘That Girl’ performance at the Voices of Shakti event at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne.

“I really just wanted to make a powerful, impactful song and music video that showed diversity of origin and ethnicity and locations around Victoria to show violence against women is something which can affect anyone and everyone and that girls everywhere have faced these issues. The process then opened up. Getting involved with different communities, I couldn’t have foreseen what was going to come out of it.”

The idea of the project was to get girls and women to come together in a way which was fun, engaging, and using the opportunity to learn the That Girl song and dance as a platform for discussions and talk about how they feel as girls and women around issues of respect, and anything else pertinent to them and their personal experiences.

What transpired depended on the community. In Wodonga a connection was clearly made between the local health centre and the women who might need to access it at some point, which was a really positive outcome, as were the connections the participants built through supporting each other. “The women realised that it was okay to talk about this and that it’s really good if they talk about it together as women in their cultural community so that they understand each other. Tricia Hazeleger from Gateway Health in Wodonga was really progressive and saw the value of using a music video dance project to deliver a message.” It was this phase of the project, where Sarah worked in partnership with Tricia and the staff at Gateway Health, which led to the project being mentioned in Federal Parliament by the former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, AO.

For That Girl Boroondara, there was a different focus and the girls didn’t come into the situation in the same way. There the workshop focussed more on what it felt like to be a girl, considering questions such as ‘do we feel respected?’; ‘how can we feel more empowered?’. A lot of the discussion was around gender stereotypes.

That Girl Boroondara became a real cultural festival which included both Indian and contemporary hip-hop style dances. Mothers of some of the girls became involved too, initially as volunteers but then going on to become part of the discussion groups which was a good representation of the community. In that sense the experience was uplifting for the girls involved, and Sarah was also touched by this development:

“The commitment of people who became involved along the way as creative or organisational volunteers and became so positively committed to the message of That Girl, sticking with the project until completion was really great. One of these people was Marshie who choreographed the dance for both That Girl Boroondara and Voices of Shakti. Marshie’s commitment to That Girl was because of the aims of the project and its message. The message is the thing that people identified with and committed to.”

In the Yarra Ranges where the girls who took part were older, some slightly more complex issues emerged, not all of which there was time to talk about. The therapeutic angle wasn’t something Sarah had necessarily anticipated when she embarked on the workshops, and she believes a need exists for further kind of That Girl styled programs in this area because of the many levels on which music and arts projects work. Working together with Wurundjeri elder, Aunty Joy Murphy, a verse of the That Girl song was translated and sung in Woiwurrung, the ‘nulu’ language of Healesville and the Wurundjeri people as part of That Girl Yarra Ranges. For Sarah, this was particularly rewarding and something she’d love to do again, taking the project into different communities and translating the song into different languages.

Each That Girl workshop was similar but tailored appropriately to the ages of the girls taking part: “I had grade four and fives in Camberwell and that’s a really different crowd to year seven. Then there’s the socio-economical and various other aspects of each group to consider, and the culture of the location, so that was interesting. Once you get to high school it’s harder to get people to want to dance and let go in front of their peers, so the method was a little bit challenging for them but very rewarding as well. The feedback was that it brought them together as friends in the year level, so again, it was good for their connections.”

Common to both school groups was a desire to be ‘the same’; for everyone to be treated as equals irrespective of their gender. Girls want the freedom to be whatever they want to be, based on who they are.

To close each of the project’s three stages, a film was produced showing the process and the journey of That Girl within the community. All three films are highly moving, goose-bump inducing testimonies to Sarah’s vision. “I just think, wow! Look at all the girls and women that were involved in this and putting their hearts and souls into this dancing and dressing up, and it doesn’t end there! They’re in a video now and they can watch it again and again…”

There was significant council support for the project each time the films were shown with people ‘blown away’ at each of the three screenings. “The principal of Healesville High commissioned a huge poster of the project for the school hall; the principal of Camberwell Primary cried when she first watched That Girl Boroondara; the Wodonga phase of the project was acclaimed in parliament and the film of That Girl Yarra Ranges was shown at the Memo Cinema in Healesville with the Mayor in attendance who welcomed the involvement and knowledge sharing of the Indigenous community. Each of the films are online and people keep watching them.”

As the project went along the priority became about getting as many people involved and participating as possible. As Sarah says, this takes time and then there’s life and unexpected things happen.  “It did get hard at times to keep the momentum up when I had other personal challenges going on, so I’m very proud and happy that we kept this project afloat! Now it’s all about preparing for the launch and getting it out there.”

The film launch will showcase and promote one final, overarching musical artistic video combining footage from That Girl Wodonga, That Girl Boroondara and That Girl Yarra Ranges. The film, which is just over three minutes long, can be used in a multitude of settings and makes an excellent educational tool within community networks, schools and the health sector: “People can watch it and then if they want to learn the dance and the song, they can, it has all those elements to it. It’s a great resource because it makes you feel things and think things which can then be spoken about.”

Sarah’s ‘ridiculously super excited’ about this. As a conglomeration of the entire project the film will be shown and celebrated on a cinema screen at the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne on December 7 during the United Nations’ 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. A choir made up of individuals and community singing groups are invited to sing in a flash mob style to celebrate the success of the project and anyone is welcome to come along and get involved in the launch.

I’m hoping that people will come together to sing the That Girl song for the first time. A few groups have learned it so far and are really loving it. We’ll have a workshop rehearsal just before the performance on the night for anyone new to the song in need of a run-through. It’ll be an opportunity for people to sing and dance and to see the end product and feel proud of being part of it or moved to share it with people. What That Girl needs next is support from the community to share, share, share, to get the message out there to offer strength to the people who need it.”

For the launch, Sarah has partnered with Impact for Women, an organisation run by ‘an amazingly committed woman’ called Kathy Kaplan. Impact exists to make a difference to women and children fleeing extreme violence at home. All money raised by the launch of the That Girl film will go to paying for any children needing to be looked after in safe, professional care whilst their primary caregiver is attending court due to family, domestic and relationship abuse.

Sarah was inspired to write and produce That Girl because of acts and crimes against women featuring repeatedly in the news from across the world, and then looking at her own two girls and thinking, what am I going to do? “They’ve now been part of something game changing and meaningful, something powerful. I want girls everywhere to watch the film and go ‘yeah!’ and I want boys and men to see it too and keep talking about this because it’s important. Above all, I want people to sing the song, watch the film and share it, I want That Girl to go viral and I want it to be valuable and used widely to raise awareness and bring about positive change.”

That Girl is for every girl. Join the film launch at the Victorian Trades Hall on Saturday 7 December.

Tickets are available on the door or can be booked here!
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/752851091897561/

Watch all of the That Girl films to date, here

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Sarah Mandie

‘Come and Sing’ in Stawell

“At 7pm on a night in the dead of winter, there’s often nobody but me in the room.  As people come in they’ll say ‘ah there’s only three of us tonight’, then a fourth person turns up and there’s five… By 7:20pm, there’ll usually be eight of us and I’ll joke with them all – but it’s true – that I made this group, because I want to sing, and even if nobody else ever turned up, I’d still stand there and sing!”

It’s been twenty years since community singing leader, Dianne Stewart, made the move to Stawell in the shimmering Wimmera region of Victoria. Dianne relocated from Bendigo, via the Northern Territory: “I did my Grade 6 AMEB in Alice Springs at a time when they’d never had anybody do a voice exam there before, which was interesting. I come from the City of Bendigo which has this huge musical and choral culture, and I moved to Stawell where there was a two-act musical performance once a year which then disappeared. The state musical theatre wasn’t my background and it wasn’t my thing, but it was the only thing that was sitting in town that I could access, and I wanted to sing!”

Dianne approached Stawell Performing Arts Company (SPACi) and asked them about the possibility of creating a singing group or choir in the town. “They said if you put something to it, we can put something together so I spent the next year doing research and connected with CMVic back when Fay White was doing the Vocal Nosh stuff. Fay came to the Grampians to do some work around bushfire recovery and I went to a workshop she was running and I got some lovely feedback from people.”

Receiving the encouragement to ‘just start it and step out’ made Dianne feel a Stawell-based singing group of her own was possible if she adopted the Vocal Nosh model and set it up as a singing circle. Which is exactly what she did.

“I put the proposal to SPACi, told them this was what I wanted to do, how it would run and why it would work really well for them.” Dianne then started the Come and Sing  group and it’s been running ever since.”

“I’d never led a group before, never been a singing leader at all. I’d been a singer in a choir and a voice student, but I’d never run a group, it was all very new to me. I don’t play the piano and I didn’t feel I could do the kind of things I’d been involved with in the past because my choir leader and singing leaders had all played the piano and had been the accompanist as well, but I couldn’t do that… “

Attendance to Come and Sing is very relaxed with no expectation for singers to attend every week. “It’s come as you like; come each week, or just when you can – pay as you go, and there’s only a very small payment each week because it allows access to more people. I’ve done a lot of work with SPACi around people’s capacity to pay. We’ll probably have between 8 and 15, sometimes 16 or 17 people through the door. The ages range from a couple of senior high school students (and their dads come as well) all the way through to people in their 80s.”

Dianne finds the geography of the Western District of Victoria can make connecting up with other leaders and attending events something of a challenge: “Trying to build and connect with anything past Ballarat is more difficult because of the distance.  I see what Community Music Victoria is doing and a lot of the time the workshops are not accessible for me because of the distances involved.”

To stay up to date with professional development and for support in her singing leadership, Dianne seeks out resources and ‘stuff’ she can access online and in her own time at weekends. Despite the tyranny of distance, Dianne’s a member of several organisations including CMVic and the Singing Teachers Association, and these connections to the larger network give her the incentive to work at creating and making more of the community in which she lives.

“It brings me great joy. It’s the connection with other people and the community.”

“We always tell people come and see what we do, try it out, if we are your tribe, if we are your thing then you’ll continue to come, and if we’re not, then that’s ok too. The group is called Come and Sing because it’s for anybody at all who walks through the door who just wants to sing.”

Because Come and Sing sits within SPACi, for some people trying out for shows is a way to build skills and try bigger things. Being part of Come and Sing’s weekly sessions builds their capacity to prepare for the auditions which are a requirement of taking part in a rehearsed show. “They can choose to do that, or not. Quite a lot of our Come and Sing singers aren’t interested in doing that, but others are.”

“SPACi also runs a junior program which is very much a musical theatre program, and the kids who grow out of that tend to come and sing in the group, but being in the country, those kids usually move on and leave the community. “We don’t tend to get that 20 to 30 age group because they’ve moved elsewhere or gone to university and we work with that. I think we attract the people who are interested and we attract the people who want to do what we want to do!”

Dianne is happy to share the role of leader and enjoys encouraging anyone keen to have a go. “I always say if anybody comes along with better skills than me I’d be really happy to sit down and participate or if somebody else would like to step up and lead, I’ll be very happy to learn from them.”

“…As a leader, at the end of the day it’s good to keep reminding yourself that what you’re providing wouldn’t be there if you weren’t.”

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with big thanks to Dianne Stewart.

Come and Sing meet on Wednesday evenings, 7-8:30pm; 52 Wakeham Street, Stawell, Victoria, Australia. For info, contact Dianne Stewart: 0427850278

The Journey From The Song, by Stuart Ashburner

It is only a short song. In fact it was just the chorus that started it all.

Perhaps I should start from where it all began. Polly, my wife, has always loved listening to ‘a capella’ so for several years we would go to the Selby Folk Club’s annual a capella concert in Upwey. Then about 5 years ago, after the concert, I made the irrational decision to join Sweet Sassafras, one of our local choirs. Irrational because I’d not sung since my youth, and never in a concert. A few weeks after that our choir director announced that we would be learning Light by Light by Liz Frencham and singing it along with VoKallista, another local choir, at the Belgrave Lantern Festival and if we wanted to get started on the song, go to VoKallista on Wednesday evening.

That song, Light by Light, started a new journey in our lives.

I went along to VoKallista, got an amazingly warm welcome from Libby Price and met Barb McFarlane whose name was vaguely familiar. I knew by the end of the session that I needed to join VoKallista as well as being in Sweet Sassafras. It took a while to get Polly along, for the usual reasons. “I’m not musical, I can’t sing.” etc.  Within three months they were among her best friends, almost like family, and she had done a short solo recitative on stage at Daylesford during the Choirs Concert.

Then one day Barb Mcfarlane told me that she was on the Victoria Sings Steering Group at Community Music Victoria. I’d never heard of CMVic let alone the Steering Group. She said that the group consisted only of women and needed a male to give it a bit of balance and I was that male. That’s how I got involved. I decided to go to Treetops to find out what a CMVic camp was all about. Polly said I was on a high for weeks afterwards.

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Stuart (left) at Treetops, back in 2014

So, we’ve just got home from our third CMVic Singing Camp, met up once again with the loveliest bunch of people on the planet, are both inspired from the workshops, from the interactions, the singing, talking and the warmth. Our lives have changed into totally new directions over the last four years with new confidences, new friends and new adventures. 

And it all started from that one little song.

Thank you Liz Frencham for Light by Light. And thank you Barb Mcfarlane, for getting me into CMVic, and thanks to all of you wonderful CMVic people.

-Stuart ‘Fuzzy’ Ashburner

Postscript: It is as relevant to me now in 2019 as it was when I wrote this in January of 2014. Wild horses wouldn’t keep Polly and me away from the CMVic Singing Camp!**

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Stuart and friends at the 2017 CMVic Singing Camp

**The 2019 CMVic Singing Camp at Amberley runs from October 18-20. It is a weekend of peer exchange for Singing Leaders of all experience levels, new, aspiring or experienced, and anyone who loves to sing! For information and bookings, click here. 

The Peace Choir: A Sanctuary of Song in Castlemaine

Not so quietly getting on with singing together in a little corner of its community is the Castlemaine Peace Choir. A beloved group, not particularly well known outside of the town, its spirit is forged by the values of inclusion and compassion which underpin it and are its reason for being. Peace Choir is a free, no-obligation community choir funded by philanthropy.

The Peace Choir was born after a couple who manage a small philanthropic fund within the town made it their mission to embrace the people who look on from the sidelines of society, marginalised from the offerings of the mainstream because of mental illness or intellectual disability, and bring them into the frame. Motivated by the effects of a profound personal loss, they approached the district’s community house, mental health support groups and disability services about establishing a choir.

They approached community singing leaders, James Rigby and Jane Thompson, who were aware that they were  running groups for people of a certain age and demographic from within their town: “We always said they were open access, anyone-can-join choirs but we just knew we were missing a whole lot of people who would have benefitted from the experience that these choir members were having.”

James and Jane were initially worried about the concept of mixing together people with intellectual disabilities with people with mental illness. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to both of those groups and we were worried that people with mental illness may not want to be classified as being the same as people with intellectual disabilities and vice versa. We ran separate workshops and then brought the two groups together and it was just a magical event.”

A minister in the town who was helping to coordinate the whole process gave the Castlemaine Peace Choir its name, something James says has been ‘an absolute gift’: “Many people with mental illness are just looking for some internal sort of peace, some stillness. It’s ended up being absolutely a choir for people who feel on the edge and there are also people in the choir who are there because they want to interact with these people who are on the fringes. We’re creating a space that actually and selectively recruits in the corners.”

People who work in the disability services in Castlemaine are aware of the choir. If you live in the district and you suffer from a mental illness, you’re quite likely to be referred to ‘Maine Connection’ and the fellow who runs that group is also on the organising group for the Peace Choir. This means it’s only a matter of time before he’ll say to somebody, ‘well look, why don’t you come along and have a sing?’ There are no processes or paperwork involved and its recruiting methods are pretty organic: Sooner or later you’re going to run across somebody in the town who has heard of the Peace Choir who will invite you along for a sing. “It’s a self-perpetuating thing.”

“We run from 5:30 with a late afternoon tea; then sing from 6-7. That afternoon tea is the best fruit you can get in the district; really beautiful, quality food from the local suppliers, delicious cheeses and good bread, it’s not flashy or extravagant but it’s wholesome and nourishing. A lot of people in this cohort are used to cordial and a plate of mixed bickies when they go to things, so to be able to off them decent, quality food is a way of saying ‘we’re going to look after you here’, and it’s extremely levelling. We eat for half an hour and that’s when all the catching up goes on. “Every time I walk into that gathering my heart just warms, you see this quite extraordinary mix of people carrying on like old friends. Nobody new is ever left on the outskirts. It’s all very low key but I don’t think there’s any chance anyone in this room would ever feel not attended to, or not cared about.”

The choir has borne witness to some pretty extreme behaviour from some of its members over the years too. “It’s not just a warm fuzzy group of lovely people – they are a warm fuzzy group of lovely people – but these are people who are prepared to really actively challenge themselves to look after other people who they might not normally be with.”

“We had a guy in the choir for a while who was floridly psychotic, he was very heavily tattooed and he had a very intense flat aspect to his face and he was lean and dangerous looking; he used to just stand up and sort of prowl during the sessions and start pulling off martial arts stances. He looked like he was about to kick someone’s head in but people in the group would settle him down and he kept coming back for a couple of years. For a time we were able to give this fellow a connection to his town and an introduction to some people who would continue to care for him. He could be an intimidating presence around our town and yet the choir was a place he kept coming back to, somewhere to be present with a group of people who were all happy to have him in the room. We were all a little bit uncomfortable but a little bit of being uncomfortable is a good thing for you, I think.”

James used to be an Emergency Department Nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and has plenty of experience of people disrupting a situation: “I’m not actually scared by scenarios where people come in demanding attention. I guess I’ve worked in places that have been full of very scary people on many occasions and I’m not frightened of people with mental illness or who demonstrate extreme behaviour. The number of people who are actually dangerous is vanishingly small. And there’s a massive amount of compassion and care among the Peace Choir singers. If I have to take somebody outside to calm them down there’s a whole lot of people who have got my back, I’m not going out on a limb or doing this on my own.”

James thinks the choir’s repertoire is absolutely the guts, the heart of the whole thing. “We sing a lot of songs about taking care of each other, caring about other people, and we’ve got some old folk songs from back in the era when peace songs weren’t unfashionable.”

But it’s digging into songs written by Indigenous musicians such as Archie Roach where the group finds relevance. “The group can really see and identify with the marginalisation which comes with being Aboriginal and living on the fringe and songs written about coming from an underprivileged demographic. We sing songs like ‘We won’t cry’ from Archie Roach and they’re songs about resilience and strength and the choir just totally gets it.”

These people who have lived with these scenarios for ‘years and years and years’ tell James that ‘these songs absolutely tell my story and they tell the story of the people who have helped me to survive.’

Another important aspect of the choir there since the beginning is that people come along with their carer, whether that’s their mum, their sister, or whoever: “Every song we sing has an affirmation of the experience and the aspirations of the people in the choir”.

One of the singers in the Peace Choir is David, a man in his mid-30s, who comes along with his mother. David has autism and is nearly non-verbal although he has been known to burst into song in the supermarket. “David is a gentle, beautiful looking man, but vocalises with squeaks, grunts and whistles and makes all these crazy noises through the singing of these sensitive songs about peace, and nobody in the room turns a hair. David’s part of the group and if he’s making noises, good on him, we don’t care.”

At the end of David’s first year with the choir, his mother wrote a letter to James and Jane. In the time since her husband had died, this woman had never been able to do anything without wondering first what she was going to do with David. The Peace Choir was the first time in their life that they had been able to go and do something together and be involved in a community activity together.

James spends a lot of the time teaching people to listen. “As the years have gone by, we’ve sung more and more quietly, we have a massive dynamic in the choir now, and here’s this bunch of people with every problem under the sun and it’s absolutely the most beautiful sounding choir I’ve ever worked with. I find myself in the middle of a tender song about peace or the Melanie Shanahan song, Walk with me, written about mental illness and about crying out for people to just please help, it’s very passionate, a really raw song and we just sing it soooooo beautifully and it’s so achingly tender. And I think ‘how on earth do you teach this lot to sing that song with such commitment or insight?’

I believe it’s because they really care about the people on the other side of the room and they’re really listening to what the other people are singing and nobody in the room wants to be the person singing louder than everyone else… They’ve just become the most incredibly beautifully tuneful choir; we keep shocking ourselves.”

The Castlemaine Peace Choir is run by James Rigby and has around 60 regular singers. It runs for 30 weeks each year on Wednesdays from 5.30pm and everyone is welcome.

For more info, contact office@makingmusic.com.au, 0408 547 511

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with James Rigby and Jane Thompson

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threshold Choir Tecoma offers Songs for the Dying

For the close-knit community in the hills above Melbourne, comfort and support in the form of song will soon be available to those on the threshold of life, offered by a fledgling new group of singers, Threshold Choir, Tecoma, led by experienced singing leader, Barb Mcfarlane.

“I went to the Sacred Edge Festival about four years ago and there was a singing session which, of course, I went to. The woman leading it was from the Threshold Choir in Melbourne. Speaking with her afterwards I was fascinated by the idea of singing for the sick and the dying and immediately wanted to be part of it, but Melbourne Threshold Choir meets on a Wednesday night which is when my choir Vokallista rehearses.”

Barb let the idea ride for a while until the subject came up again in conversation with her friend, Christina Reeves, who is a trained death doula. A death doula supports the person who is dying and their loved ones in whatever way is required to come to terms and be able to deal with what is happening. Christina shared and encouraged Barb’s excitement about the idea of a Threshold Choir and the possibility of forming one based in the hills. And so, this particular story begins.

‘The Mother Ship’ as Barb calls it, is the Threshold Choir established in California in 2000, by a woman called Kate Munger. The Threshold Choir is a secular organisation run by volunteers which supports people all over the world to establish their own chapter of the choir with the shared goal ‘to bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying’.

Permission to sing Threshold Choir songs is granted only to members of the organisation. There is no set rate to join; singers pay what they are able or would like to, from one dollar upwards. This membership facilitates access to tips, mentorship and a cappella singing resources to support them in their journey.

It was important to Barb to feel completely at ease with the rules set by the Threshold Choir before introducing any of her singers to the organisation. “I thought about going maverick and doing it my way, then I thought some more. The Threshold Choir Mother Ship has many beautiful songs which are tested, tried and trusted. They also offer mentoring support meaning if something happens I can contact my ‘coach’ or anyone else I meet through that network, and say, ‘hey look, this happened…what would you have done?’ It’s a way to de-brief and check in. On balance it’s worth it for the peace of mind.”

Barb’s coach, Cathy, is based in the US and mentoring is possible via Skype and email. Cathy has been available to Barb since the inception of her initial idea through to the launch of Threshold Choir, Tecoma. It’s an ongoing relationship and she offers Barb mentoring and advice on some of the more common questions which come up, and advises how to prepare the singers for the emotional aspect of what they’re preparing to do.

Barb knows that it’s difficult for anyone to know what to expect in the emotional sense: “There’s a huge range of possibilities to prepare for in a room where someone’s dying.” Threshold Choir, Tecoma rehearsals runs for three hours and at the end Barb finds people are keen to stay and keep talking and singing.  “It’s common for people to feel that we’ve lost the art of talking about death and dying and the experience of belonging to the Threshold Choir allows a way for the singers to reconnect with memories and share their own experiences of bereavement and loss should they wish to do so, or if they find grief and emotion is triggered by what they are doing. It’s a safe, empathic space where people are free to open up. If you bring it out by way of tears and having other people listen it’s always a healthy process.”  

Having spent a year familiarising herself with the material, Barb now has 15 Threshold Choir songs which she’s taught to her group. “We sing them for a long time, each of them might be the length of a Short Stuff style song, and we’ll sing that for around 15 minutes.”  

As somebody highly experienced in leading community choirs and singing groups, having guidelines to follow has required some adjustment for Barb. “I’m still getting my head around how to behave within the rules, cos that’s a bit of a challenge for me, I’m used to doing my own thing, but I also feel protected by it as well because they’ve all been doing it for a very long time.”

In preparing for a session, Barb sets up a circle with a reclining chair covered with a blanket and cushions in the middle. The singers are then invited into the centre to experience the sensation of being sung to for themselves. “We’ve taken a lot of time to do that. We’ll sing for a good 20 minutes to give the person in the chair the feeling of what they might be giving to someone else when they go out and start singing. We then allow for some space and listen to whatever they might want to share about sensations or how they felt.”

Threshold Choir guidelines suggest that singers go out in groups of 2-4 to avoid crowding  out a space. Most hospital rooms and private bedrooms aren’t able to accommodate more singers than that without their presence becoming overwhelming. This means that the singers who attend not only have to be confident in singing their parts but need to be able to hold it on their own, which is what takes the time for most people.

Barb now has around 30 singers who’ve been to gauge whether singing in a Threshold Choir is something they think they could do, with a good core of 12 coming along to most sessions. She’s happy to allow for a slow build of interest, the work may not be for everyone. Barb’s also working to factor in obsolescence for herself in order to ensure longevity for the group. As an ongoing part of rehearsals, Barb models and shares solid CMVic Singing Leadership skills, offering others in the core group the opportunity to teach and lead songs, encouraging them to develop their own skills in leading rehearsals and eventually, to deliver the actual work with people in the community.

The services of the Threshold Choir, Tecoma will be available for people in Palliative Care at home, or in a hospice. The songs may also be used as a way for soothing the room down after somebody has passed. Effects of the singing are reported as calming, peace inducing and pain relieving for the person who is ill, for their relatives, for the staff if the person is in a facility and, of course, for the singers themselves. 

Living in such a connected community, Barb foresees a high demand for the services of the Threshold Choir Tecoma in time and is hopeful to have enough singers available to manage a roster service available to voluntarily sing for the sick, the dying and their families. 

This weekend, Christina Reeves, Death Doula, is heading up a ‘Dying to Knowexpo being held in the Hills (August 8-11). The focus of the weekend is to explore ways to ‘create a world where we all know what to do when someone is sick, dying or grieving’. Threshold Choir, Tecoma will be singing at this event and Barb will host immersion sessions on Sunday 11th August for anyone keen to experience the songs or who would like to try singing with the group and find out further for themselves, what this incredible service is all about.

Written by Deb Carveth, CMVic Online Editor, and Barb Mcfarlane for Community Music Victoria.

Photo by Bobby Stevens on Unsplash

Love Songs for Whales… & A Creative Invitation

by Dr Laura Brearley

The Whales Are Back

The whale migration season off Phillip Island has begun again and the texts have started to arrive …

  • Wednesday 29th May 9.45am

First Island whales this season. Two whales off San Remo jetty, heading to Cape Woolamai.

  • Tuesday 4th June 3.31pm

One humpback sighted 1.4 kms of the Nobbies, heading towards Pyramid Rock.

  • Friday 7th June 10.48am

One humpback whale, close to shore at Cape Woolamai.

We live at Cape Woolamai and although I was deep in work at the time that this third message came through, I answered what I felt was a call to action. When I arrived at Anzacs Beach at Cape Woolamai, the car park was full. A crowd of people was standing looking out to sea. There were families with children and people who had never met before were talking and laughing with each other. Just as I had, everyone there had dropped what they were doing when that text came through. Excitement was in the air and it felt like a shared experience of connection with the whales, as well as with each other.

I’ve noticed this sense of connection on whale cruise boats too. We board the boats as individuals and when the first whales are sighted, any separateness between passengers seems to dissolve. We sing and clap and whistle to the whales, reaching out to them together. Sometimes, they’ll swim along with us, even diving under the boat. If they’re feeling playful, they seem to dance in the water, breaching and splashing with their bodies and tails. It’s a profound experience to be part of that joyful play.

The whale at Cape Woolamai a few days ago was surfacing from time to time. I found it moving to see a whale in this early stage of the season and to know that the age-old cycle of the whale migration was underway again. With all the human interference of the natural world and the damage done, the rhythm of the migration endures. It is larger than all of us and that is a wonderful thing.

Humpback Whale Research

Over the last few weeks, I have been in touch with members of a team of international scientists who have been undertaking research on whale songs for many years. Led by Dr Ellen Garland (St Andrews University, Scotland) and Dr Jenny Allen (Griffith University, Queensland), the research has been tracking how the songs of humpback whales are transmitted over time and distance in the Pacific Ocean. The two lead researchers, Dr Ellen Garland and Dr Jenny Allen, have both expressed interest in the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Island Whale Festival.

Their research has shown that whale songs are communicated across the South Pacific, moving from populations from eastern Australia in the west to French Polynesia in the east. The whale songs appear to come originally from the Indian Ocean, west of Australia representing a transmission of almost 10,000 kilometres. The research team has found that thousands of male humpbacks can synchronously change their song to a new version introduced from a neighbouring population in as little as two months. Their research in song learning has revealed that humpback whales employ some of the same learning strategies as songbirds and humans when acquiring a new song.

Below is a short film about this research:

Creative Responses

With the support of local First Nation community members, Bass Coast Shire Council, Destination Phillip Island, Community Music Victoria, Cowes Uniting Church, we are currently organising the Intercultural Arts Program ‘Balert Yirramboi’ of the Island Whale Festival happening in Cowes on Phillip Island on the 5th – 7th July, 2019.

A talented group of musicians, artists and cultural advisors is coming together to help celebrate the whales through song, story, dance and collaborative art-making. Activities will include Ceremonies, Drumming Circles, Music and Dance, Song Circles, Song Exchanges, Concerts, a Street Parade and a Collaborative Artspace which weaves together music, art and science.

Jazz pianist, Steve Sedergreen, is composing music in response to the scientific whale song research. During the Festival, he will be performing his new composition with his long-time collaborators, Wamba Wamba didgeridoo player, Ron Murray and jazz drummer, Mike Jordan. Camille Monet, who is coordinating the Collaborative Artspace at the Festival, will be facilitating arts activities in response to the whale song research. Participants will be invited to create visual responses to the whale songs, making patterns on long sheets of paper which will be carried in the Whale Parade at the end of the Festival. Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir has generously gifted local Boon Wurrung language to a Whale Song Cycle that I have composed and that Trawlwoolway artist Lisa Kennedy has illustrated.

Creative Invitation

We would like to extend a creative invitation to you. If you are someone who loves whales and is interested in creative collaborations, song-writing, poetry or story-telling, there is an opportunity for you to share your ideas and make a contribution to the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Whale Festival.

If you are seeking inspiration, one way of getting focussed is to reflect on some core questions, such as …

  • Why do you love whales?
  • What do whale songs stir in you?
  • What does the sense of connection with whales feel like for you?
  • If you had a message to send to the whales, what would you say or sing to them?

If you would like to make a creative contribution to the Intercultural Arts Program, please send an email to Laura Brearley  laura.brearley@tlc21.com.au by COB Friday 28th June, 2019 with your contact details and a brief description of what you would be interested in sharing at the Festival, eg song, poetry, story. The program has been designed with activities in which creative exchanges and collaborations can occur. The copyright of all material will remain with the contributing artists.

The full program of the Island Whale Festival is available at: http://islandwhales.com.au/program/

Many events are free and bookings for ticketed activities can be made on-line.

And … next time you hear that there are whales off the coast, and you are nearby, just stop what you are doing and take some time to be near the whales and feel the gift of their presence. I suspect they will feel you too.

-Dr Laura Brearley

Featured image ‘Whale Tail’ by Lisa Kennedy

On the radio

by Kylie Whyte

I love the radio.  I love the way it makes me feel, like it’s just me and whoever is on the waves, having our own private moment.  ‘Course that’s probably because I mostly listen to the radio in my car, or through headphones while I’m walking. I laugh, I cry, I groan and shake my head in disbelief, and no one else knows why I’m doing that.  It’s a moment of private, concentrated listening. 

Radio National is my main source of news and commentary on the world, and I’m ok with that.  But community radio.. well that’s really special.  To me, community radio is inherently political, because it is people taking back control of what is transmitted over the waves. 

People meeting people, talking to people, organising for change, interpreting the world around them.  All within a fairly strict legislative framework mind you, but still…it’s people power, and I love it!

Since moving to Geelong I feel much more inclined to get involved in community events and activities.  It’s smaller and more like a country town than a big city, and I like that.  So last year I enrolled in an introduction to radio broadcasting course through 94.7 The Pulse FM.  For eight Monday nights I dragged myself along after work, battling exhaustion and hunger, and learnt about how to ‘do’ radio.  It was fun, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there.  One thing I did learn was how much work it takes to have your own show, and that dampened my enthusiasm a little at the time.

But life became a little freer for me, and I approached The Pulse earlier this year, asking if I could volunteer on a show.  And so I was led to Kickarts, Chris Bryan’s show about all things arty in Geelong and surrounds.  My intention from the start was to bring a focus on Community Arts, as Chris has more of a focus on the professional arts, and to look at making radio documentaries.  So for the first month or so I came onto the show every week and did the Arts News segment, as well as providing a couple of interviews for the show.  I loved getting to meet artists and gallery owners, as well as interviewing people involved in community arts.

Suddenly I found myself handed two shows to do on my own.  Exciting! Scary! I decided the first show would focus on singing, and interviewed Kym Dillon, a supremely talented musician who leads a few With One Voice choirs including With Once Voice Geelong, through Creativity Australia, and who has been involved with Community Music Victoria a great deal in the past.  We had a great chat, and I went to a rehearsal to record some vox pops with choir members. What a joyous atmosphere Kym creates as a singing leader!  I edited it all down and spent hours in the studio trying to put together the show.  After a few mishaps that saw me losing hours of work in a botched attempt to save my edits I decided I was going to have to wing it on the day.  And wing it I did, with two musicians coming in at short notice to do a live interview about their forthcoming concert on the music of Hildegard de Bingen.  Yes there was dead air…a  few short periods of it as I struggled to coordinate faders and buttons and the quirks of iTunes…but overall I was pretty proud that I had got through a show alive and not humiliated.

My second show was focused on the sea, with an interview with Lighthouse Arts Collective in Point Lonsdale and a phone interview with Bryce Ives, the director of a play reading happening at Queenscliff Literary Festival.  The first half of the show went well, and I silently congratulated myself on remembering all the transitions.  But after pride…..well, you know the rest.  While setting up the phone interview with Bryce I forgot to turn off the microphone, so everybody listening heard a very strange version of Ina Wroldsen’s song ‘Sea’, complete with me talking and laughing the whole way through. Mortified. But still, I mostly did a good job, and I’m inspired to keep working to improve my skills. 

My hope is that through radio I can promote the stories of people living and working and making music and other art in the community. 

I want to delve into what inspires people to create, and to support the voices of people who are not usually represented in the arts. 

Who knows..maybe there will be radio documentaries in my future…probably there will be the occasional dead air…but I hope I will never leave my microphone on at the wrong time again!

Kylie is an ESL teacher, community worker and musician, and was once involved on the Board of CMVic.  She is passionate about the power of music to connect, communicate and empower people, and hopes to start some singing groups in Geelong.