In recent days the media has been full of news of the sad loss of Richard Gill – conductor, teacher, composer, and powerful advocate for school and community music. Many will remember him as the somewhat eccentric man with a shock of white hair representing classical music on “Spicks and Specks”.
He passionately believed that every child deserves music, and that SINGING should be the basis of all music experience from an early age.
I have been personally fortunate to be a student, then a teaching colleague, and a friend of Richard Gill since the age of 15, when as a country girl I went to a NSW state music camp and played the violin under his baton in a full symphony orchestra.
At that stage I had never even seen a French horn, or an oboe, and the experience of sitting in the heart of 60 musicians playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, in a tent, in the rain, with flutes behind and violas to the side, was an early inspiration. “Cellos, can you SOB a little more?” said Richard Gill. I melted with adolescent musical emotion!
So many people have an anecdote about Richard Gill.
“He remembered my name when I ran into him, 35 years after I left school.”
“He got me to sing an improvised melody in Solfege over a ground bass in a workshop – and surprisingly, I could do it.”
“At music camp in 1967 he played the piano for an evening Barn Dance in the style of Chopin, then Buddy Holly, then Souza.”
“At a teacher workshop we did one round of saying our names, and he remembered all of the 40!”
“At a choral rehearsal, we sang a 4 part, 20 page Kyrie, and at the end he said ‘Tenors, your E at Bar 68 was a little flat.’ ”
At workshops and conferences for teachers, he made each of us feel that what we were doing was important. “You are the salt of the earth,” he said.
Kim Williams, a close friend of Richard Gill’s for over 5 decades, says: “Richard was a remarkable person – a true citizen of music, warm, generous, passionate, talented, kind, thoughtful and loyal. His legacy is rich and deep – I intend to ensure the essence of it is embraced on a continuing basis.”
Richard Kefford AM, the Chair of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra – which Gill co-founded in 2013, and which has been his deeply-felt passion in recent years – says: “Richard Gill will be remembered as a giant in Australian music, an iconic conductor, teacher and passionate campaigner for music education. His death is a massive loss to Australian music and to the countless colleagues, students, friends and audience members who loved him so much. . . We are truly moved by Richard’s request that the Richard Gill Memorial Fund be established. . .so that we may keep the flame of his remarkable legacy alight.”
Richard Gill was an outspoken promoter of music for every Australian, through music in schools and in the community, as well as in concert halls and opera houses.
He was a passionate supporter of music at every level, equally at home sitting on the floor with 3 year olds, leading a Flash Mob of 500 singers with “When I’m 64”, rehearsing a Mozart opera, or conducting a symphony orchestra in a concert hall.
His inspiration lives on in many of us as we work in music and spread the enthusiasm that he encouraged in many thousands of people of all ages.
Heather was a Community Music Victoria Board member for 9 years, at the end of a career of teaching music – in primary schools, to young children, and to people of all ages in community sessions. Her special passion has been home made marimbas (Jon Madin style) and in retirement on the NSW mid north coast she can’t resist volunteering in primary schools and introducing older adults (aged 65-85) to music-making through U3A sessions.
Richard Gill’s TedEx talk on the importance of a child’s music education can be seen here.
John Williams has been singing for 80 of his 90 years on the planet. Growing up on a farm on the Mornington Peninsula, there was little opportunity to express himself musically and John really had no idea he could sing. “The headmaster of the school would bring in a local girl to sing with us all once a week, My Bonnie lies over the ocean, Rule Britannia, that kind of stuff. When we moved to Mitcham, my mother and I joined the local Methodist Church choir and I started singing alto alongside my mother at the age of 10.”
John has been singing ever since and was a key player in the founding of the Mitcham based Maroondah Singers, which this month celebrates its 50th anniversary as a mixed voice community choir.1 It has encouraged young singers starting out and provided end of life care, too. It is a living, breathing singing entity as vital now as it was half a century ago, and it owes its origins, in part, to John.
“I was there before Maroondah Singers even existed”, he laughs.
The idea for a choir came about through a conversation between John and his good friend, George Irvine. At the time, George wrote a weekly column in the Nunawading Gazette, called ‘As it appears to me’ where he would comment on various social issues relevant to the City of Nunawading. George also worked in the same place as John in South Melbourne and the two men would often travel home together, putting the world to rights as they went:
“I found that usually, whatever we talked about on the way home would appear in the newspaper the week after next where he’d say ‘my friend John says’… I got used to it!”
One of their conversations was about what had happened to all the good choirs. A subsequent column posing the same question elicited a strong response from within the community so the following week George suggested trying to set up something locally and called a public meeting to gauge the level of interest. He hired a space in the Old Orchard Shopping Centre in North Blackburn, set a date and promoted it through the newspaper.
Coincidentally, at that same time, the Mitcham Methodist Church had moved to join the Presbyterians in a joint building venture which had just achieved completion. The very night that George called for the choir meeting, the Mountview Church property committee was meeting to allocate space for community rent.
“I should have been at that committee meeting but I apologised and went over there (to join George) Well, when we looked around and saw the number of people who were enthusiastic about the idea of starting a group, we realised things were going to roll. The meeting continued with everyone agreeing that Monday night would suit, if only a space could be found.”2
Experiencing a light bulb moment, John told everyone to talk amongst themselves, then hopped in his car and gunned over to the Property Committee meeting. “I rushed in, said, ‘Have you finished the meeting? Do you have any space on a Monday night? With a piano?? Yes? Yes!’ ”
The first rehearsal of the Maroondah Singers was held in Mountview Church Hall the following Monday night in 1968, and has continued as a weekly event ever since. Numbers grew quickly under the leadership of Jim Watsford who, at that time, was conductor of the Mitcham Choral Society: “Jim came to that meeting in the hope of securing recruits for MCS. Instead, he got a whole new choir!”
Following Jim’s belief, “if you can follow the words you can sing” the Maroondah Singers was destined to be a success.
Within twelve months the choir had given its first performance with George publicising the event through the newspaper once again, and John continuing to use his powers of persuasion to recruit Lela Wright, his church organist as their first accompanist. (She stayed ten years.)
Fifty years on, and the Maroondah Singers has sung at venues all over Victoria including the MCG for a grand final, for nine years as part of Carols by Candlelight, the Myer Music Bowl, regional church halls, the Dallas Brookes Centre, and Melbourne Town Hall, among others. The Singers is an inclusive and welcoming bunch and Monday night rehearsals are open to anyone keen to drop by and listen. It isn’t essential to read music and there are no auditions, however there is a voice and ear test to determine a singers’ part.
“We’ve never said no – we’re full, to anyone who has wanted to join so we have a lot of sopranos and could do with more tenors. There are more women than men in the choir and a couple of them have moved from the alto line to sing tenor, which works well. And we’re always trying to find younger people, if we can.” Some members of the Maroondah Singers weren’t even born when George and John held that first public meeting, half a century ago!
Since 1991, young singers have been drawn to the choir each year through a scholarship program established to commemorate three of the choir’s founders, George Irvine, and May and Mervyn Vagg, the choir’s first President. This program has proved a sensational singing springboard with past scholarship singers now working with international and State operas, and the process and experience providing a huge amount of pleasure to the choir members in supporting and encouraging these young singers during the early stages of their musical journeys.
Maroondah Singers pride themselves on performing from memory, firing on all neurological cylinders and giving their brains a weekly work out with songs from a wide repertoire by composers from Handel and Verdi to Rodgers and Hammerstein; Elton John to Billy Joel and beyond.
Currently directed by Lyn Henshall and accompanied by Dr John Atwell (who returned in 2010 for a second stint with the choir having previously accompanied them between 1980 and1997) the choir also sings in Japanese, Italian and Latin, and holds an impressive back catalogue including ‘Big Sings’ such as Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah and Handel’s Messiah. From time to time the singers team up for performances with other choirs and their comrades in the Maroondah Symphony Orchestra.
There is no pressure on anyone to ‘perform’ until they feel confident and ready to take this step.
“Everyone is issued with a CD with their part line, explains John, in my case Bass 1, emphasised in a digital recording of the score. All the items for the forthcoming concert are on that CD. Alternatively, they can be downloaded as an MP3 file. Playing these through with the music reinforces the memory, then without the music which strengthens it further.”
Innovation is an important contributor to longevity and the Maroondah Singers is enterprisingly equipped to hit the road and share its songs, thanks to a pop-up tiered platform designed to hold up to 100 singers. Bringing his background in engineering to the fore, John drew up designs for the staging, held a working bee at a college woodworking centre one weekend, and the end result packs down into a trailer, perfect for regional touring.
John’s commitment to the Maroondah Singers and his love of singing and community is evident. For the past 50 years he’s helped out in various ways to keep things going with the choir when needed, including as President for thirteen years and stepping up on the rostrum as leader for a while, in spite of a physical disability in one arm:
“I got the message over, I couldn’t wave two hands about all over the place but I could wave one, nod my head and smile. I get a lot of satisfaction from singing, I get a lot of satisfaction from conducting…. it was deeply satisfying to have to step up at short notice to conduct 104 singers to an audience of 800.”
His warmth and dedication is clear. Every choir needs a John.
Strong endorphin fuelled bonds have been forged between the Maroondah Singers members over the years as they do in all community choirs. When former member, Bill Holmes, was forced to retire due to ill health, he struggled without any family to look after him. ‘Team Bill’ came together from within the choir and closed ranks around him:
“We took care of him in his home until his health deteriorated to a point he could no longer stay. We were fortunate to get him into respite care. We were then able to continue to support Bill until he died in January this year. We saw him through and the four of us were at his bedside singing to a Maroondah Singers CD to him as he died. We knew he could hear us even though he was in and out of consciousness. And we sang him out.”
What greater testimony could a community choir have? At the end of the day, we sing together to connect. It’s the connections we forge whilst doing what we love that enrich our lives and extend out into the wider community, strengthening the quality of its fabric for everyone.
The story and spirit of the Maroondah Singers is certainly one to celebrate. Here’s to John; here’s to each and every one of the Maroondah Singers, past present and future and here’s to the next fifty years of singing and music making in Mitcham and in communities everywhere.
Written by Deb Carveth with thanks to John Williams and Nick Hansen
1: John was also the founding member of the Methodist Youth Singers
2: there were 45 people present at the public meeting called by George Vagg in 1968
*The Maroondah Singers will celebrate a special 50th Anniversary concert on Sunday June 17 at Melba College Theatre, 20 Brentnall, Road, Croydon starting at 2.30pm. The spectacular concert will feature the choir’s past four Vocal Scholars. Tickets are $30 Adult, $25 Concession, under 12 Free. Bookings: https://www.trybooking.com/373628. Contact: Anne on 0422 050 323.
A truly unique radio show championing the work of Choirs and Community Singing Groups is filling the airwaves above Upwey and beyond with the sweet sound of a cappella and accompanied singing each week. The Aka-Pelican show is hosted by Rick Steen, a passionate choir singer and blues guitarist who’s excited to bring this opportunity to the world in what he believes is a first.
Rick’s Aka-Pelican show is broadcast by 3MDR, (Mountain District Radio) on 97.1fm. The community-run station was set up in response to the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983 to provide effective and direct communication to locals in the event of emergency, and other than a station manager, it is staffed and run entirely by volunteers.
With a background in folk and blues music, Rick joined the station as a volunteer sound engineer before being trained as an announcer and invited to present a show of his own:
“I thought what would work really well is a show dedicated to supporting choirs and a cappella singing. There are around seven choirs in the Dandenongs between Upwey and Gembrook alone, making it a good niche, good for the station and its membership; people will be all over it!”
3MDR has enjoyed a variety of homes during its 25-year history including a bus, a water tower and a shop. In February, the station relocated to new premises at the Forest Park Homestead, where Rick now has the luxury of a large studio space suitable for live to air broadcasts during his program’s two-hour time slot, from 3 ‘til 5:00pm on Wednesdays.
Having run Aka-Pelican for just over 6 months now, Rick reckons it takes half an hour to settle into the hot seat. “I don’t have a production assistant, I’m handling everything and you have to be highly tuned right from the word go.”
By then he’s in the groove and ready to showcase live or recorded performances from choirs and singing groups from the local area, Melbourne and the surrounds. There’s been one change to the Aka-Pelican format since its inception, the decision taken by Rick to incorporate the material of accompanied choirs into the show. “Too many wonderful choirs felt that they didn’t qualify to participate as their songs were accompanied, so I implemented one ‘Golden Rule’, which is that vocals of the choir must be the dominant feature of the music.”
Broadcasting beyond the hills, the radio’s reach is limitless as people can listen to 3MDR online, and Rick is excited that this provides the opportunity for home grown, grass roots music-making to reach a universal radio audience.
“There’s good reception out in Gippsland and down to Philip Island though most people listen online. It’s a worldwide thing,” says Rick, who is happy to advocate for the joy and benefits of community singing and is also keen to interview community choir leaders as part of the program each week, either in person or over the phone.
If you’ve recorded material with your singing group or choir that you would like to hear on air, Rick’s your man. His vision to provide a voice to singing group and choirs combined with Aka-Pelican’s performance space, two-hour program slot and the option of going live to air will send the sounds of community singing soaring far and wide. Solo songbirds are welcome to contribute songs too, so long as they are unaccompanied.
To contact Rick and share material for Aka-Pelican or for further information, email 3MDR: firstname.lastname@example.org and mark your message for the attention of the Aka-Pelican Show.**
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Rick Steen
** At the time of publishing this article, Rick is looking to recruit an assistant to help with the admin side of the show who would also be interested in becoming a co-host… full training will be provided!
It repeats on you only in positive ways and doesn’t get stuck in your teeth
It’s more effective than mistletoe in bringing people together
Music doesn’t kill your fingers all the way home from the shops in a bag about to break
It’s perfect shared with friends and there’s always enough to go around
It’s eco-friendly! Singing and music making requires neither wrapping nor cellotape
Music won’t sit around gathering dust and is brilliant to re-gift
Your jeans may fit even better after a month of singing and musical indulgence
Instead of breaking after five minutes, it gets better and lasts a lifetime
No ransacking of the house is necessary for batteries or dice
Making music and singing is good for the heart, soul, health and well-being of yourself, your pals, your Aunty Sheila, and your community too
3 ways to give the gift of music and song with Community Music Victoria (we’ve got this covered):
Sign up your family, friends and neighbours to the CMVic monthly giving circle for a gift that gives all year
Renew your annual membership to Community Music Victoria for twelve months of music making benefits, including membership discounts on all events, camps and workshop bookings, and a range of wonderful resources
Make a one-off donation to Community Music Victoria. All donations over $2 are tax deductible so you’ll get another little gift in June.
Music is better made together:
Any donation you make can help ensure that more singing and instrumental music leaders get the skills they need to establish more groups, and that special projects like Voices of Peace, StreetSounds, Singing from Country, and That Girl can bring more music to more people who need it in their lives.
Sarah Mandie is a Melbourne based singer songwriter and the mother of two young girls. These two highly personal and defining elements of her life are brought into sharp focus though her new project, That Girl, and it is from her unequivocal belief in the potential of each and her passion for both, that this project has come about at all.
That Girl is a song and a music video dance project that invites participation from girls and women of all ages from Wodonga, Yarra Ranges and Boroondara. The song and the project arising from it was conceived by Sarah as a creative way to empower women and girls in communities everywhere. It’s strong, it’s beautiful and it carries a positive message about the need for society to respect ‘that girl’: That girl who is our daughter, our mother, our wife.
Sarah wrote the song three years ago following a series of distressing news reports and around the time of the brutal killing of two young girls in India. The alleged perpetrators of the crime bribed police and were released without charge. It was a story that horrified people around the world and resonated particularly deeply with Sarah who has a connection with Rajasthan through her Indian husband and her daughters, too.
“When this happened to these girls in India it made me think about my girls, their futures and their safety which then extends out to all girls, from all countries. I was so angry and upset, I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world.
Because I love the medium of music and song, I thought it would be really good to write a song that talked about those issues, a song that contributes to the prevention of violence.”
Channelling these negative feelings of anger and helplessness into a positive act of creativity was tough but worthwhile. It took Sarah a long time to get the song right, for the lyrics to say what she wanted them to without the song being something people wouldn’t want to listen to. Sarah wanted to write a strong song, and knew that finding the right ‘catch’ was crucial for the message to be carried.
“I think the challenge in writing a song about a difficult issue is that you want to acknowledge the issue but at the same time have a positive frame around it so that people will want to sing it and listen to it and be inspired by it… a song to promote change needs to be attractive for people to listen to and want to sing.”
During the early stages, Sarah was struck by frustration as she realised what a craft it is to write this type of song:
“Sometimes we write a song that comes from within and we trust the processes of creativity but with this song it went through a few changes because I really wanted the end product to be something positive and something people would respond well to.”
Jamie Saxe stepped in to help Sarah nail the end: “Jamie took the song and created real magic with it through his arrangement and production of the instrumentation.”
Saxe’s enthusiasm to be involved reiterated to Sarah the power of her song and its potential to deliver broadly within the context of a wide scale project: What had inspired her was now beginning to inspire the other people coming into contact with the song and feeling similarly moved by the importance of the cause. The shape of the project became clear on completion of the song: Involve girls from the community in learning the song and making of a video to accompany it, then take the completed package out to the world as an empowering catalyst for awareness and change.
“I want That Girl to change the future for my daughters and for all daughters, it’s a hugely personal thing.”
Sarah’s personal and familial connections with India inspired her to translate the chorus into Hindi, bringing the feminine energy of the divinity Shakti into the song: “That girl is the one that gives life, she has the power, that girl is Shakti. Whilst India has high levels of gender based violence, as Sarah is quick to point out, the need for greater levels of respect and the creation of safe environments for girls and women is necessary everywhere.
The first phase of That Girl begins on December 2nd, with an information session inviting women and girls of all ages from within the Indian and Bhutanese communities in Wodonga to join a dance workshop to be held in February next year to embody the Hindi element of the song. The dance routine they will learn in that workshop has already been choreographed and recorded and now needs bringing to life:
“I want all genders to feature in the final video, however the workshops are an opportunity for women and girls to come together to find strength and focus through working together. Once the song goes out there, boys and men will be involved with the project too as part of the awareness.”
For the time being, Sarah is reluctant to share That Girl song beyond the context of the project but given the significance and the urgency of the issue it addresses and the brilliant catchiness of the composition it’s unlikely to stay under wraps very long. And as That Girl emerges and gains exposure and momentum, the world will be a better place for having heard it and the power of the message it conveys.
“This particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.”
If you were in Melbourne’s Fed Square last Saturday evening, chances are you’ll have heard the recently re-formed Melbourne Climate Choir in action on stage as part of their quest to raise awareness of the ongoing ‘Stop Adani’ campaign.
The Climate Choir first came together two years ago, formed by community musician and activist Jeannie Marsh, in collaboration with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) to bring a singing component to the People’s Climate March. Jeannie was aware of the need for accessible, catchy songs and simple call and response material for the choir to sing on the steps of the State library and along the Climate March route, as an alternative to the throat-wrecking cry of ‘what do we want, when do we want it.’
In her quest, Jeannie unearthed not only the extensive array of tune-age available on the Carbon Canaries website but also dug up Do it Now, a re-working of Bella Ciao, an Italian Partisan song popular in the Union movement and arranged by an ‘excellent’ group of choral activists based in Belgium, called Sing for the Climate.
“Their version of the song comes with all the resources you could possibly need to use at a rally or action: sheet music, instrumental parts, lyrics sheets, different keys, etc and it’s one of the most powerful and catchy pieces of “protest art” I have ever seen”, says Jeannie. “We have sung this song repeatedly at many events around Melbourne, and people always love it.” Do it Now is an urgent plea to world leaders to commit to ‘reducing carbon emissions, year on year, and highlights the need for strong leadership on climate change to put a stop on the devastation it brings to the world.’
Jeannie has found the song’s structure works really well in a protest setting because it’s bouncy, it’s fun, people know the tune and it’s easy to pick up and sing along to:
We need to wake up We need to wise up We need to open our eyes and do it now, now, now! We need to build a better future And we need to start right now…
“It’s incredibly powerful to be there standing on the steps of the state library with a choir of forty people, an accordion and a trombone and people say that they find it very positive because, you know, Climate Change is a depressing topic…”
Th increased presence of Stop Adani campaigns in the press over the past year or so and the depressing prospect of Australia leading us all into a fossil-fuelled future re-ignited in Jeannie a desire to bring members of the Melbourne Climate Choir back together with a renewed sense of purpose, tuning in once more to the work of the ACF and the group of community singing activists reformed earlier this year:
“I saw all these actions around the place and in politicians’ offices and just thought ‘isn’t that great’ and that maybe it was time to get singing again.”
Jeannie put the word out to all the people who’d identified themselves previously through the work with the ACF in 2015 and before long had a flock of songbirds congregating to sing ‘Do it Now’ outside the office of Josh Frydenberg, Federal MP for Kooyong and Minister for Resources and Energy. Jeannie recalls the event as being ‘really joyful.’
“There was an accordion, the media turned up, people gave speeches, there were plenty of placards and people with banners all processing across the middle of busy Camberwell Junction (where Frydenberg’s office is based). Passers-by were blowing their horns and waving in solidarity. So, I then decided to take up an offer from the ACF to use a room and go through some other songs.”
Jeannie continues, “this particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.”
The Climate Choir has collated a sheet of songs using material from the Carbon Canaries, including Why dig up coal..to the tune of YMCA complete with all the actions, and Love and Marriage as you’ve never heard it before, the words of which go something like ‘Reefs and fossil fuels, reefs and fossil fuels, go together like babies and power tools…Jeannie feels that ultimately it’s about keeping things fun but being heard about a subject which incites passion in people who would otherwise feel disempowered:
“Community Choirs are such a huge thing in Melbourne. You can really make noise and it’s beautiful and it’s uplifting and it’s ultimately empowering.”
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh
*Feature photograph and all photographs in this article were taken by Julian Meehan for the Melbourne Branch of ‘Stop Adani’ at the screening of Guarding the Galilee in Federation Square, Melbourne, Saturday September 16th, 2017
The ‘mighty’ Murtoa Stick Shed stands majestically against the open skies of the Wimmera, built in 1941 as a solution for grain storage during the World War II wheat glut, when exports were restricted. The shed was originally one of three, built using logs of rainforest mountain ash and of those three is the only one still standing, saved by the people in the local town of Murtoa who recognised the cultural significance and uniqueness of the building.
“When you get inside the shed you get an extraordinary feeling about it that’s hard to explain, says Judith Welsh, chair of the committee of management for the Murtoa Stick Shed, “It is five Olympic swimming pools long, over three storeys high and contains 560 poles or ‘sticks’ and is known as the Cathedral of the Wimmera because of its cathedral like quality.”
In 2016, after many years of lobbying with support from Heritage Victoria, the Stick Shed was finally handed back to the community and Judith is optimistic this will put Murtoa firmly on the map in more ways than one:
“We’re in the middle of the Wimmera and what we would call the Silo Trail. The Stick Shed is significant not only as a tourist attraction for Murtoa but for all of the nearby small towns too; if you come to one, you come to all.”
In October this year, Murtoa will host its annual festival, ‘The Big Weekend’ and for the first time the committee of management and the town will have operation of the Stick Shed.
To reflect the ambience and the glory of the building, Judith and the management committee are now working to build an event which will bring voices into the shed for the first time to sing, celebrate and enjoy the building and to give back to the community the experience of a concert, open to everyone and hopefully involving local choirs from Horsham, Stawell and surrounding areas.
“We want an event that anyone can join in on but that gives local choirs the singers from the Wimmera an opportunity to perform as part of a massed choir, as well.”
What Judith needs now is to find enough voices to supplement the number of local singers and help fill this great space, built to hold 100,000 tonnes of wheat.
To do this, a proposed workshop component is planned to encourage participation from singers of all abilities to come and be part of the event. Judith and the committee areseeking expressions of interest from any local singing facilitators happy to volunteer their time to run a workshop session and help bring life to their vision of a massed sing in the Stick Shed.
An invitation is also extended to any other choirs and singing groups willing to make the journey to Murtoa on Saturday October 7th, to sing alongside the local community groups and join in this unique and exceptional experience.
As a singer with the Melbourne Women’s Choir as well as numerous other choirs, Judith knows first-hand that singing is a fabulous thing to do:
“It’s uplifting for the person singing and it’s uplifting for the person hearing it and we want to be able to do something for the people in these communities and to tell the story of the shed. “
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Judith Welsh from the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management
**If you are a singing leader who can help Judith with the workshop, or who would like to involve your own singing group or choir in the event as part of ‘The Big Weekend’, please contact the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management via email at email@example.com or call 03 5385 2422
Sun shone through grey clouds gathered low over Pakington Street in Geelong West last Saturday morning, jostling to catch a glimpse of the gloriously coloured community musicians gathering in readiness on the grass below to play in the StreetSounds Festival parade and fiesta. The previous evening these same musicians had made their way to Geelong to bring the StreetSounds project to Geelong After Dark, illuminating the darkness with beats, riffs, fat sounds, fairy lights and high vis vests.
The StreetSounds project has been lead by Community Music Victoria since 2015, with funding from R E Ross Trust and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Over the past two years, street bands have popped up in Kyneton, Bellbrae and Inverloch; Morwell, Dunolly, and Footscray; Sunshine, Windsor and Melton, all kindled and supported with encouragement, advice and input from StreetSounds project manager, Lyndal Chambers.
Each of the bands is open to anyone and experience, skill levels and age are no barrier to joining in. What’s key is the desire to have fun and connect through making music together in a way that is mobile and can be taken out to the streets and delivered to the broader community for everyone to enjoy. Playing loud music and wearing loud clothes present people with an opportunity to escape the mundanities and worries of life once in a while, whilst making new friends and strengthening local networks: what’s not to love?
Many amazing moments have come to light as the StreetSounds project has unfolded. Horns have been dusted down, flutes and recorders have emerged from packing boxes, marimbas have been built and washboards assembled. There are several families now involved across the project: Amy plays in the Fabulous Meltones together with her three kids and her father. In the Prahran Accordion Band, Hans has dreamed of being able to play the accordion since childhood. And for everyone, making music in a band where there are no wrong notes adds a dimension to life, hard to beat.
The element of inclusion which has underpinned the StreetSounds project since its inception was evident at the Festival and in this safe space the crowd brimmed with palpable pride, enjoying the energy and enthusiasm generated by merging and becoming part of a bigger picture. A static crackle of excitement sparkled and sparked through the throng and across West Park on Saturday, exploding into a massed rendition of ‘Caderas’ and Shane Howard’s ‘Talk of the Town’, two common tunes learnt and rehearsed by the bands to play together at that very point.
A pop-up off-shoot of the non-conventional street band ‘Our Community Sounds’ ran an open improvisation workshop in the Park’s rotunda, drawing in members from all of the bands and encouraging them to experiment spontaneously with sound. ‘Our Community Sounds’, facilitated on Saturday by Conor O’Hanlon, shares the same philosophy as the other street bands – one of removing barriers to participation in music making but the delivery is in the form of spontaneous participatory events rather than performances.
“I realised what a unique thing we were all doing – not a Jazz Festival, not a Folk Festival, not a Brass Band Festival, not a Music Camp .. something that’s inclusive of a diversity of skill level, instrumentation and cultures.” Lyndal Chambers, StreetSounds project manager
The clouds could only contain their excitement for so long, and as the rain finally fell, the StreetSounds mob and their homemade banners moved into the hall at West Park where they played short sets all afternoon, joined by the Zamponistas, Havana Palava, Doowlla of Drum Connection and Geelong’s Tate Primary School marimba band, the Marimbataters.
Click the links below to see two glorious photo stories of the event, by Dr Laura Brearley:
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
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.
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.
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