Category Archives: Creating a Music Group

Sharing more than song: Singing life back into an old, old concept with a brand new barter choir.

‘If I can reduce my living expenses significantly that’s as good as making money.’ says Werribee singing leader, Steph Payne, who recently established ReciproVocal, a Barter Choir where instead of paying a termly fee to join, participants are invited to share and exchange skills and trades and even sing for their supper. (Steph dreams of dentists, desperate to sing, and who wouldn’t?)

At ReciproVocal, your money won’t get you anywhere! Steph’s vision is for the group to experience not only the bond of solidarity and support for each other common between members in community singing and music groups, but to educate themselves in ways of bartering and skills exchange that will extend out to enrich and sustain the wider community in unforeseen ways.

The idea for ReciproVocal germinated from a seed sewn at an inspirational workshop run by community facilitator, Debby Maziarz, at the Wyndam Arts Incubator, in Werribee. The workshop focussed on bartering and the establishment of mutually beneficial connections between artists and businesses, an idea that resonated heavily with Steph, inspiring a steep and positive learning curve. While she is in no doubt about the sense in trying this ‘revolutionary-retro’ approach, Steph acknowledges that she, herself, had to learn a lot of lessons in the lead up to the launch of the singing group, and that other people may also need time to come around to the concept:

 “There needs to be a huge amount of education around bartering and trading. People can’t see how bartering fits into their world because they’re used to a money based currency.”

Steph has also noticed that even amongst her existing  network of singers and ukulele players all keen to continue working with her, there is often the initial response of ‘but I don’t have anything to trade.’

“But they do! We are all so used to being valued monetarily and comparing ourselves based on what we have. People just don’t realise they have loads of things to trade and that you’ve got to look at it more creatively.”

To encourage new participants to dip a toe in the ReciproVocal waters, Steph is willing to accept money from her singers to begin with, gradually introducing the barter model as the group grows and develops its collective understanding of a non-monetary based currency.

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Steph leading Williamstown based singing group, Willin Wimmin

“We’re all fixated by the concept of money. On the one hand it’s a leveller because everything has a monetary value, it’s very open and clear and you can see what you’re buying into. But on a whole lot of other levels it’s incredibly unfair and messed up. Money’s convenient, but it’s a real trap and it only gives things one value, when certain things hold much more.”

A significant piece of the sociological scaffolding required to support the bartering model, is trust. Trust in the validity of the concept by the participants is crucial, and belief by Steph that the services and goods offered will be forthcoming in the way they are promised is important too. A clear, shared understanding of the need for mutual boundaries between the definitions of professional and personal space between members of the group is equally important. This line in the sand is necessary for the sake of all participants because the variety of tendered tasks require varying degrees of access to areas of each other’s lives.

And while response to the idea of ReciproVocal has been hugely positive Steph believes it will be a slow burn to reach a sustainable level of interest, and is prepared for this to take time.  She’s excited by an awareness that the more people she can engage and educate about bartering, the more likely it is that there really can be a functioning level of trading going on, with the possibility of a real alternative economy starting in Werribee.

To help people get their head around the type of things they can bring to the table, there’s an area on the ReciproVocal website which offers examples of what 8 weeks in a choir is worth. Steph has supplied this as a guide to allow people to work out for themselves the equivalent ‘value’ of what they might like to offer.

Again, a sliding scale of value applies because the value is not just monetary. It’s not as simple as being a term’s worth of singing valued at $150. Singers might offer a service which will save Steph time, or produce something she needs or simply just wants, or be able to arrange a lead into further work for her. The option of third party trade also exists. For example, you may not be willing to mow Steph’s lawn but you might know somebody who is for whom you can babysit, who will then mow the lawn and the chain of exchange grows longer and more embedded.

Steph is always looking to enrich and develop communities through the groups that she runs. It’s a strong part of what drives her. In the past she’s run a singing group in a pub because of the immediate social set up, and she’s hopeful that Reciprivocal will grow to enrich the community in a myriad of ways. Her hope is that once people are engaged in the trading and bartering concept, they will extend those terms and values of collaborative, sustainable living to each other, and eventually to people and life situations beyond the singing group:

“There’s a great level of satisfaction in getting your needs met in a way that’s not financial. As a person with something to offer, as a product as a service, any of us have a choice in how we exchange that. We have our needs, we have our resources, it’s about how to match those two things up. “

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, in collaboration with Steph Payne.

RECIPROVOCAL SEEKS SINGERS!! Open to adults of any age and experience. Rehearsals are Thursdays 7-8.30pm 8 weeks per term. Starting July 28, 2016-08-04  Venue: Wyndham Arts Incubator, Old Shire Offices, Room 4, Cnr Watton St & Duncans Rd, Werribee.VIC 3030 www.reciprovocal.com.au  www.facebook.com/reciprovocal  Email: unstrungmusic@gmail.com

 

 

Basking in the freewheelin’ warmth of the Sunshine Street Band

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunshine Street Band skills being put into practice at CMVic’s 2015 Music Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singing to the end. How a group who sing for people in palliative care, came to be

One of the few things of which we can be certain is that one day, we’ll die. For many of us, this is something we avoid thinking about, preferring to concentrate instead on getting through each day in as positive and as present a way as possible. But imagine how our anticipation of this final journey might change if we could choose to be sung to, as we passed out of this life.

This is the mission of Ilana Sharp. Ilana leads Sonder, a women’s singing group that has been meeting monthly since March at McCulloch House, a palliative care centre that’s part of Monash Health in Melbourne, to sing for people who are reaching the end of their life.

Singing acapella in three and occasionally four-part harmony and for up to forty minutes each time, this group of eleven women are bound by their desire to deliver an uplifting sense of joy into an emotionally complex environment. Unsurprisingly, Ilana finds it’s an amazing thing to do.

“..it’s the intimacy and privilege of being able to offer something so gentle, open and comforting as singing, at the end of someone’s life.”

Sonder sing for the benefit of everyone in the hospice. For the patients, the staff, for themselves and for the family members of those people who are dying. Ilana says this isn’t without challenge and that life continues around them from their central point in the lounge area between the two wards. “Phones ring, sometimes the TV’s on….” But the staff assure them that the sound of their singing transcends this, travelling down along the corridors and filling all the rooms.

“The sound is uncomplicated, an offering to counteract the physicality of pain, suffering and concern, it offers an external focus… it takes you outside of yourself… there’s something in that for everyone. It also normalises the environment a little bit.”

The seed for Sonder was sown a few years ago by a short article Ilana read in the weekend Age newspaper about a Sydney based singing group who were doing a similar thing. She was taken by the idea and did some research into the existence of similar groups in Melbourne, but found nothing. Later, when her own mother was dying, Ilana was inspired to sing a Buddhist Mantra to her as she passed… “I’m not Buddhist, although I have a long standing interest, and I hadn’t sung for years but I had a strong urge to sing this mantra, over and over.”

Then about a year ago, the regular community choir to which all of the Sonder singers also belong, was having a night off. Keen to get their regular singing fix, some of the women met in the lounge room at somebody’s house. Used to singing together as part of a much larger group, the sound that evening was amazing; intense and enveloping, and the idea of singing as therapy for the dying recurred to Ilana.  She put the idea out there, expecting for only one or two people to be interested but, to her amazement, the women agreed unanimously and Sonder was born.

It was never Ilana’s intention to start a singing group of her own, and the emergence and sustainability of leading a group under any conditions, is rarely without challenge.

At first, Ilana felt a fraud. The dynamics were messy, things felt disjointed within the group even though they were united by a common aim as everyone struggled to work out a structure. Recognising the need for someone to take a stand and emerge as a clear leader, and with support from within the singing circle, Ilana found the courage to seize the reins and offer direction, something she has continued to do, taking cues on instruction where she can and attending leadership skill days. She’s surprised to find how much of what is required is already in her.

Sourcing material is a collective process with everyone suggesting and contributing songs. The women then work out harmonies and commit to meeting and practicing two or three times a month. This in itself is a challenge because of the pressures of life, such as work and kids and other bumps in the road.

McCulloch House is an intense and busy working environment to enter into, and the group is happy to enter quietly, sing, and leave again, as unobtrusively as possible. “We really don’t interact much with staff other than them listening to us and being glad we’re there, and we are warmly supported by their music therapist and nurse unit manager.”

This aim of their singing is not to make the world stop and listen, but to deliver a sense of warmth and light, and the women in Sonder find that they get out as much out of doing it, as the people on the receiving end of their singing.

“It’s incredibly joyous and uplifting and there’s a real sense of … family, I think, between us…”

‘Sonder’ is taken from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and is defined as ‘the realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.’

This summarises the mission of the singing group perfectly. Singing to contribute a sense of normalcy and peace to the fabric of an emotionally charged environment and at the crossing points of the lives of many people, in as unobtrusive way as possible. To be the light in the window.

If you know of the Sydney based singing group from which Ilana’s inspiration came, or of the existence of other Victoria based groups doing a similar thing to Sonder, do get in touch. Ilana would love to hear from you, and so would we.

Deb Carveth with Ilana Sharp

Pollyphonics 6 min documentary – The start of a great musical journey

Give people an opportunity to feel good - Polly Christie, Pollyphonics Choir Leader

Polly has shared this video on our CMVic facebook page and we thought it was a fantastic example of how powerful music can be in connecting with others.  Runs for 6 minutes and offers a great insight into the many benefits of community music from both a leader’s and participant’s perspectives.

Here’s a little of what’s covered.

  • Deciding to become a leader
  • Where to start a group
  • Objectives
  • Fee structure
  • Going from being the conductor, facilitator, coordinator to introducing section leaders
  • Challenges

Here’s what the choir participants had to say

I got my mojo back

When I come here I know that I’ll feel so much better

It’s the start of a great musical journey

This link will take you to the video:  Pollyphonics Choir documentary Sep 2014

Documentary created by Rebecca Fitzgibbon for her music course at Northern Melbourne, Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

The Pollyphonics Choir is located in Woodend, Victoria Australia
Website: www.pollychristie.com
Facebook:  facebook.com/PollyphonicsChoir

Article by CMVic Team