Category Archives: Health and Well being

Playing to Spin: Celtic tunes keep Contra dancers on their toes

Contra dance… que’est-ce-que c’est? For those of us who’ve never dipped a heel or toe into this aspect of the folk or social dance scene, a quick spot of online research explains contra dancing as ‘social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.’ A hot stepping cousin of square dancing or bush dancing, contra dancing is done in pairs with couples moving up and down a line or in sets in response to a caller. It originates from North America and is steadily gaining an enthusiastic following of new, young dancers here in Australia. It is also a fantastic way to link social dancing with community music making.

Melbourne based musician, Judy Oleinikov is a big fan of the inclusive nature of contra dance and for the past three years or so has been doing her bit to bring a wider awareness of it to musicians and dancers alike: “ Contra dances can  be more vivacious and also a little bit more informal than some of the other dances we have here… unlike something more structured such as Scottish Dancing, it isn’t intimidating to beginners.”

It may be a relief to hear that a sleek technique isn’t required and you don’t need to point your toes to take part. Contra dancing is open to anyone of any age and people seem to find it highly addictive due to its inherent element of fun. That and the amount of spinning involved.

For Judy, Contra dance kicks come from her involvement as a fiddle player for the dance:

 “What I love about social dance is seeing a roomful of people in sync, the dancers and the musicians. There’s just nothing better, that buzz of live music and everyone responding to it.

In addition to the fact it’s fun, Judy considers the resurgence in contra dancing important in helping to sustain a complex skill and a vital element of musicality which she believes is at risk of becoming lost: the ability to play for dancers.

“A lot of Celtic musicians learn the music completely separate from the dance and so they haven’t quite got the feel… they can be brilliant players but to a dancer it just wouldn’t be right. We’ve grown used to hearing recordings or playing tunes in pubs and so what I really like about bringing a dance back is doing it while people are learning the music to go with it.”

Contra dance music is lively, and drives and energizes the dancers. Like all forms of music, it has originated from a blend of traditions, noticeably Irish, Scottish, Breton, Québecois, Cape Breton, New England, and Appalachian, and is constantly evolving, as living traditions do. As an avid player of Celtic music herself, Judy explains that the origin of this form of music was in playing tunes for people to dance along to as entertainment.

 “People used to dance every week. There’s the story of how in Ireland, people used to meet on the crossroads whenever there was a full moon because there were no halls big enough to fit everyone into… it’s been people’s enjoyment for so long.”

While this form of dancing fell out of favour as other new and exciting ways to pass the time were thought up and invented throughout the twentieth century, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that when people rediscover it as a form of unplugged entertainment, it becomes a bit of an addiction.

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Photo supplied

As a musician, one of the things Judy loves most about this form of traditional music is that tunes are learnt and carried by ear. There are no scores to follow and whilst a framework is essential to prevent chaos breaking out on the dance floor, musicians can be spontaneous and creative in their playing and because they’re not following markings on a piece of paper, their interpretation can come across.

 “Because there are no hard and fast rules about chord choices and where the notes should be played, you’ll hear something different about the melody each time… there’s no break out like there is in jazz, it’s more about taking the framework of the tune and finding elements in it to change around or highlight, and that’s really exciting.”

For the past four years, Judy has run the Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle Weekend, a music camp dedicated to French Canadian music, a type of Celtic music that’s “as much fun to play as it is to listen to” which has remained very rhythmic, very lively and is a style extremely well suited to contra dancing.

Each year, Judy has included a dance in the camp’s program, inspired by the social dancing she’d seen in Quebec to this particular style of music. “I thought it would be absolutely brilliant to run a dance like that here at my camp!” Two friends of Judy’s are dance callers and dancers in different styles, and they each asked if she’d consider a contra dance.

 “They’d fallen in love with the style and knew of hardly any contra dance happening here in Victoria. Once we had a go I could see their point – it’s a really great form of social dancing.”

Jeanette Mill, who is an experienced Contra dance caller from Canberra, has worked with Judy for the past three years. “Jeanette is highly experienced with a range of dances up her sleeve for whoever comes along and, in order to be as inclusive as possible, starts each of the dances quite simply.” As Judy points out, the skill of the caller has to combine with the skill of the musicians to ensure that the dancers can pick up and maintain a rhythm and flow.

“We have kids, we have parents holding toddlers, we have more elderly people and even teenage boys joining in! It’s great to get all the age groups up and dancing with people they may feel too shy to sit and talk to and, as some of the dances are progressive, it mixes everyone up.”

Whilst Contra dancing isn’t actually a French Canadian thing, it’s been carried across the borders into Quebec from the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the heartland of Contra Dance. Subsequently, a lot of the musicians from that region make their money as dance players and tend to be extremely good at it.

In November this year, Judy will once again be hosting a four-day French Canadian music camp in Gippsland ‘which will honour the traditional way of learning music by providing an environment open to all players, teaching the music by ear and enjoying a great community atmosphere.’

The Quebec Fiddle Camp will offer musicians and dancers the opportunity to participate in an afternoon’s contra dance workshop led by visiting musicians from Quebec. “Australia has very few musicians who can play for contra dances so far, and it’s great to have the opportunity to book visiting musicians here who are strong in the genre.”

Judy is keen to encourage players who attend the weekend to have a go at the dancing in order to experience it from a dancing perspective, to feel the music and the impact it has.

The 2018 Quebec Fiddle Camp will take place over cup weekend, (Nov 2-6) and on Monday November 5, (Cup Eve), Judy is planning a big contra dance in Trafalgar. This event will be open to anyone out there in the community who’s keen to join in and – literally – give it a whirl.

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Getting into the swing of things: Photo supplied

For information about the annual Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle weekend, visit www.quasitrad.com

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Judy Oleinikov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To improve future relationship with your kids, turn up the music

If you’re a parent whose teenagers spend family road trips with earbuds firmly in place, you may want to encourage them to unplug, then turn the car radio to something the whole family can enjoy.

It just might do wonders for your future relationship with your son or daughter, according to a new study from the University of Arizona.

Researchers found that young men and women who shared musical experiences with their parents during childhood — and especially during adolescence — report having better relationships with their mums and dads as they enter young adulthood.

“If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them,” said study co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the UA Department of Communication.

“If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child’s perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood.”

Researchers surveyed a group of young adults, average age 21, about the frequency with which they engaged with their parents, as children, in activities such as listening to music together, attending concerts together or playing musical instruments together.

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Read the full article written by Alexis Blue and published by the University of Arizona, here. 

 

 

Feature photo: Markus Spisk; Violin and Flute: Micaela Parente on Unsplash

How an Ancient Singing Tradition Helps People Cope With Trauma in the Modern World

In Finland, lament singing is experiencing a revival, one sad song at a time.  Tristan Ahtone

“I took pills for my depression

just to smother my emotions.

Doctors said that I would need them,

but I learned to cry without them.

So I stopped taking the tablets,

then I let my feelings rise up

for my mother when she passed on,

for my marriage when he quit me,

left me as a single mother,

with a hard job and no weekends.

Now I weep without taking pills,

yet I still feel very angry,

and the fury seems well-founded,

but the feelings will not hurt me.”

Excell’s lyrics may be modern, but the style of singing comes from an older place.

“Lament [singing] is a very old, traditional way to express your feelings,” says Fihlman, a lament teacher and matriarch of the group. “If you are hurt or you have sorrows or you want to express your feelings, you cry it out. You let it come out. That’s what they would do in the old times.”


In Finland, the ancient musical tradition known as lament singing is seeing a revival.

In the past, the custom was observed at funerals, weddings, and during times of war. But today, practitioners have a modern application for it: musical therapy. By providing an opportunity to process emotions through song, lament singing can confer mental health benefits to modern practitioners.

“[In lament] people can express themselves,” Fihlman says. “Very often people [in my courses] make laments of their grief. They miss their parents or they have troubles in their marriage or maybe they were hurt in childhood and they never had a chance to bring it up.”

While the custom resembles many “new age” practices, Finnish lament singing has a feature that those neo-spiritual systems don’t: It teaches a tradition specific to the region instead of borrowing from other cultures.

Originally, the tradition wasn’t about emotional healing.

“The function of [lament singing] was to establish positive contact with your ancestors, the dead, and help them in some way,” says Jim Wilce, a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University and author of numerous books and papers on lament singing around the world. Originally, he says, the tradition wasn’t about emotional healing.

Which, according to Wilce, is what makes the revival so unique.

“In every traditional lament … you have a connection with what I call ‘the divine powers,’” says Eila Stepanova, a folklore studies Ph.D. at the University of Helsinki. “[This isn’t] a Christian god. It’s something in between—an older layer of traditional beliefs.”

While lament singing exists in communities from Bangladesh to New Zealand, according to Wilce, and has even been documented in the ancient poem “Beowulf,” the form being practiced in Finland has its roots in the area now known as the Republic of Karelia—the region on the Russian side of the Finnish border. Stepanova says the traditional laments—sung for funerals, weddings, war—were performed to help people move from one world to the other, be it to the land of the dead, to a new family, or to the battlefield. At ceremonies for the dead, for instance, laments were sung to wake deceased members of the family in the other world to meet new arrivals.

But traditional laments weren’t simply a style of song: They were a unique language in which nothing was ever named directly.

In lament singing, positive descriptions are used: Things are sweet, light, bright, dear, or wonderful.

“For example, you have substitute names for all personal relations [and] for objects or phenomenons,” says Stepanova. “So in lament language, when you talk about your mother, you don’t use the word mother. You say, ‘the dearest woman who brought me [into] the sweetest world who carried me,’ or ‘my dear carrier,’ or ‘my dear cherisher.’”

Other examples include the sun, which can be called a “golden disk,” or arms, which can be called “shoulder branches.” And in lament singing, positive descriptions are used. Things are sweet, light, bright, dear, or wonderful. The one exception is any description of the lamenter herself.

“She is always the miserable [one]. She never says the word ‘I,’” explains Stepanova. Instead, when describing herself, the lamenter might say she’s the “miserable body,” “woman of great sorrows,” or “body made of tears.”

Stepanova’s mother published the first lament dictionary in 2004 documenting approximately 1,400 different metaphors for words used in the songs. Like any language, it’s evolving with modern times. Cars can be “headless horses,” phone calls can be “messages that come through metal strings,” and televisions can be “talking boxes.”

But while Finland is seeing a revival—instructor Fihlman says she has conducted nearly 200 courses with almost 2,000 students—other parts of the world are seeing a decline in the traditional practice.

Lament singing existed in rural communities for generations, but it was viewed as a pagan tradition.

Wilce says that around the world lament singing is threatened. In Bangladesh, for instance, practitioners often face physical violence in rural Muslim societies.

“People are being shamed by their relatives,” says Wilce. “By fundamentalist Christian missionaries in Papua New Guinea and [in] other places by the values of rationality and urbanizing modernity.”

Yet in Finland, the tradition is blossoming, despite a history that has often threatened its survival. In Karelia, Fihlman says that lament singing existed in rural communities for generations, but it was viewed as a pagan tradition by Orthodox and Lutheran Christians and often driven underground. Urbanization also threatened the continued existence of lament singing. In the last century, as young people moved away from their hometowns to find jobs and schooling in cities, villages began to disappear, along with lament singers. And in the early days of the Soviet Union, authorities often employed lament for ideological and propaganda efforts, creating laments that expressed support for the Soviet system and its leaders.

Stepanova says that, eventually, only old people told ancient stories and sang antique laments. “They were museum items, and they stopped being a living tradition among people,” she says.
But somehow, adds Fihlman, it survived. “We don’t have those old people anymore,” she says. “But [now] we have this new generation.”

Minna Hokka wore a candy-striped turtleneck sweater in chartreuse, cream, and maroon. Fihlman, Excell, and other lamenters looked on as she raised her head and began singing. Unlike Excell’s lament, Hokka’s was a historical ode recalling Karelia’s bitter history with Russia.

“To the people of Karelia,

souls and spirits born in beauty:

Through the windows were your green fields,

in the blue skies larks were singing,

saints and icons stood in silence,

watching over wooden log homes.

Kanteles echoed in the dark rooms,

and the stars blinked in the night sky,

but your thoughts were wrapped in darkness:

iron hail rained on your rooftops.”

Hokka, 41, is part of the new generation learning from Fihlman. She says she hopes to start composing laments for young people struggling with addiction.

“Nowadays crying is seen as losing face, so people avoid and fear it,” says Hokka. “Finland needs its tears.”

For Hokka and other lamenters, the practice isn’t just a hobby: It’s an ancient tradition now finding contemporary use. And in Fihlman’s home on the outskirts of Helsinki, it’s taking root with a new generation, one sad song at a time.

“Does [lament singing] have connection to the past? To tradition? To beliefs or values?” Stepanova says. “Or do we make it a museum item behind glass and go and think, Ahh, nice, yes, and forget about it? It depends on us.”

Tristan Ahtone wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Tristan is a journalist and member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. His work has appeared on and in The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, National Native News, Frontline, Wyoming Public Radio, Vice, the Fronteras Desk, NPR, and Al Jazeera America.
This article was first published by Yes Magazine and is reproduced here with permission.

Feature photograph ‘Tough Times’ by Ben White on Unsplash

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease improve with singing, study finds

A study led by researchers from Griffith University has found that symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be improved with regular singing.

Over 70 patients participated in the study run through Queensland Conservatorium of Music, which incorporated singing, warm ups, vocal cord and breathing exercises, to learn more about ‘how song could help battle the disease’, improving mobility and the overall quality of life.

It didn’t matter how well participants in the study could carry a tune, they simply had to commit to singing one hour each week for six months.

All of the patients involved in the trial reported an increase in self confidence and well being from taking part. Tremors associated with the disease were also reduced in some singers.

The outcomes and findings reaffirm, once again, the broad range of benefits to the individual in belonging to a community singing group or choir.

Read the original article in full, here.

 

 

 

‘That Girl’ has something important to say to us all

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.

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‘That Girl’ songwriter and project innovator, Sarah Mandie

Sarah wrote the song three years ago following a series of distressing news reports and around the time of the brutal killing of two young girls in India. The alleged perpetrators of the crime bribed police and were released without charge. It was a story that horrified people around the world and resonated particularly deeply with Sarah who has a connection with Rajasthan through her Indian husband and her daughters, too.

“When this happened to these girls in India it made me think about my girls, their futures and their safety which then extends out to all girls, from all countries. I was so angry and upset, I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world.

Because I love the medium of music and song, I thought it would be really good to write a song that talked about those issues, a song that contributes to the prevention of violence.”

Channelling these negative feelings of anger and helplessness into a positive act of creativity was tough but worthwhile. It took Sarah a long time to get the song right, for the lyrics to say what she wanted them to without the song being something people wouldn’t want to listen to. Sarah wanted to write a strong song, and knew that finding the right ‘catch’ was crucial for the message to be carried.

“I think the challenge in writing a song about a difficult issue is that you want to acknowledge the issue but at the same time have a positive frame around it so that people will want to sing it and listen to it and be inspired by it… a song to promote change needs to be attractive for people to listen to and want to sing.”

During the early stages, Sarah was struck by frustration as she realised what a craft it is to write this type of song:

“Sometimes we write a song that comes from within and we trust the processes of creativity but with this song it went through a few changes because I really wanted the end product to be something positive and something people would respond well to.”

Jamie Saxe stepped in to help Sarah nail the end: “Jamie took the song and created real magic with it through his arrangement and production of the instrumentation.”

Saxe’s enthusiasm to be involved reiterated to Sarah the power of her song and its potential to deliver broadly within the context of a wide scale project: What had inspired her was now beginning to inspire the other people coming into contact with the song and feeling similarly moved by the importance of the cause. The shape of the project became clear on completion of the song: Involve girls from the community in learning the song and making of a video to accompany it, then take the completed package out to the world as an empowering catalyst for awareness and change.

“I want That Girl to change the future for my daughters and for all daughters, it’s a hugely personal thing.”

Sarah’s personal and familial connections with India inspired her to translate the chorus into Hindi, bringing the feminine energy of the divinity Shakti into the song: “That girl is the one that gives life, she has the power, that girl is Shakti. Whilst India has high levels of gender based violence, as Sarah is quick to point out, the need for greater levels of respect and the creation of safe environments for girls and women is necessary everywhere.

The first phase of That Girl begins on December 2nd, with an information session inviting women and girls of all ages from within the Indian and Bhutanese communities in Wodonga to join a dance workshop to be held in February next year to embody the Hindi element of the song. The dance routine they will learn in that workshop has already been choreographed and recorded and now needs bringing to life:

“I want all genders to feature in the final video, however the workshops are an opportunity for women and girls to come together to find strength and focus through working together. Once the song goes out there, boys and men will be involved with the project too as part of the awareness.”

The list of project partners is long and impressive and a testimony to the belief and passion shared by everyone who hears the song. In Wodonga, Sarah will be working with Gateway Health, Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council and Albury Wodonga Indian Australian Association. In Healesville, Healesville High School and the Healesville Indigenous Community Service Association will create a film each. This will then be edited and blended with the videos that emerge from the Wodonga and Boroondara communities.

For the time being, Sarah is reluctant to share That Girl song beyond the context of the project but given the significance and the urgency of the issue it addresses and the brilliant catchiness of the composition it’s unlikely to stay under wraps very long. And as That Girl emerges and gains exposure and momentum, the world will be a better place for having heard it and the power of the message it conveys.

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

That Girl  Song Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/That-Girl-song-140108396617517/

That Girl Song: Lyrics and music Sarah Mandie
Arrangement, instrumentation and production, Jamie Saxe

 

 

How to use music to fine tune your child for school

Chelsea Harry, University of the Sunshine Coast
This article was first published in The Conversation 
http://theconversation.com

Can music actually make us smarter? Research suggests that from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, when auditory function is forming, babies begin their musical development. Their early adaptive exposure to sounds, including those familiar sounds of parents’ voices, enhance extraordinary processing skills.

Neuroscience teaches us that a child’s brain is plastic. By this, we mean it is malleable and has the ability to change. The first year of life, more than any other year, will see the most rapid change in brain size and function as all the sensory receptors activate. Intriguingly, neuro-imaging shows that music alone turns on large sectors of a child’s brain, opening crucial neural pathways that will become the highways and byways for every piece of information the process.

We’d all love to think our children will grow up intelligent, blissfully free from academic struggle. Truth is, the learning journey is speckled with challenges, and each child will have a unique intelligence and learner disposition. One thing we know is that parental involvement in cognitive stimulation from the earliest years will help form solid foundations that underpin a more successful schooling journey.

So, what can parents do to prepare young learners for school?

Sing like no one’s listening

Singing nursery rhymes to your child, however old fashioned you may think it is, will get them off to a flying start. Children become particularly responsive because reciprocal communication occurs as they begin to mimic you – pre-empting certain sounds, tones or words that they recognise. Using pitch and rhythm in the rhymes and lullabies we introduce to our children will begin to create neural stimulation that develops the brain’s auditory cortex, transforming their ability to communicate.

Bang on those pots and pans

While it may fray the nerves, banging on the pots and pans is a fantastic way to improve spatial reasoning. With background music blaring, children first develop the coordination required to hit the metallic targets, and as their sensory cortex develops, they begin to keep in time. Research shows that spatial reasoning, along with a sense of beat and rhythm (which invariably includes an aural and tactile sense of measure and counting) will enhance mathematical abilities.

Join a children’s music group

Early childhood music-based playgroups offer a unique learning context for children. The songs and activities employ beat patterns, movement, repeated chorus lines and echo singing to engage with young participants. The cerebellum at the base of our brains is responsible for movement and balance, and interestingly, is where emotional reactions to music form. Universally, early childhood educators use rhyme and song to teach children how language is constructed, and with good reason. Movement, foot tapping and dancing to a beat are also good ways of developing the brain’s motor cortex.

The ‘Mozart Effect’

There is a popular hypothesis that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. The “Mozart Effect” refers primarily to a landmark study in 1993, where participants listening to Mozart’s music (rather than to relaxation music or silence) achieved higher spatial-temporal results. Importantly, spatial-temporal reasoning is crucially active when children are performing science and maths tasks. Listening to music in any capacity induces endorphin production in the brain, causing improvement in mood and creative problem solving.

Learn an instrument

Many parents wonder when a child should start learning their first musical instrument. Importantly, instrumental tuition is not about producing the next Mozart or Delta Goodrem. Music lessons, for even the briefest of periods, are enjoyable and establish a life-long skill. It has also been noted that musicians’ brains develop a thickened pre-frontal cortex – their brains are actually bigger. And this is the area of the brain most crucially involved in memory. One thing researchers and music educators endorse is the amazing impact it has on the development of executive functions such as working memory, attention span and cognition.

Many schools are putting research into practice, and Queensland is leading the way with music taught in 87% of schools. Immersion music programs, where all students learn an instrument for a one-year minimum, have become commonplace. The results speak for themselves.

Psychologists from a Californian University conducted research on pre-school aged children, and proved that those who had weekly keyboard lessons improved their spatial-temporal skills 34% more than those who didn’t. The benefits did not stop there. Children developed fine motor skills, reading, auditory recognition, resilience, and increased their memory capacity. All of these benefits of instrumental tuition bode well for the classroom journey ahead.The Conversation

Chelsea Harry

Chelsea Harry is an Academic Researcher and Music Educator, University of the Sunshine Coast. Currently completing a Masters in Research with USC, Chelsea is a professional Musician and Classroom Educator of 20 years experience. 
Her research follows the journey of 6-8 year olds and the impact of instrumental music tuition on the brain and executive functions.

Chelsea also works as a conductor, cellist, pianist, music educator, musical director, primary classroom teacher and mum!

Read the original article here.

The real reason dinosaurs became extinct (& some neurological benefits of music-making)

Dinosaurs couldn’t sing. Perhaps their demise had nothing to do with earth impacting asteroids or the frustration of tiny arms after all and was instead triggered by their physical inability to sing. Now, I’m no scientist but…

Findings from a report published last year suggest the Jurassic age was filled with awkward silences punctuated only by squawks, leaf munching and worse. Without the option to experience the joy of shared breathing patterns, matched heartbeats or the release of life affirming endorphins catalysed by singing together, life in the days of the dinosaurs must have been bleak. Imagine having no way to celebrate the break of a new day or the setting of an evening sun. Imagine a world without song.

The oldest, complete example of a found fossilised syrinx belonged to a species of ancient bird related to the ducks and geese of today called Vegavis iaai, which lived during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic Era between 66-69 million years ago.

The specimen was dug up on Vega Island in Antartica by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute, led by Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas.  Twenty five years later, upon subsequent re-examination in 2013, Clarke and her team discovered the fossilised bird was found to contain a complete syrinx, the avian equivalent of a human larynx or ‘voice box’.

The team spent the next two years searching records of previous Jurassic finds to establish whether earlier examples of a syrinx existed. Their research came to nothing, with all other examples of fossilised syrinxes occurring in species of birds that evolved long after the extinction of land-based dinosaurs.

This discovery was important as it offered insight into the Jurassic soundscape: Without a syrinx, those poor old land lubbin’ dinosaurs would have been incapable of song:

“To speculate wildly, we might have closed-mouth booms more similar to crocodilians in large-bodied dinosaurs like  T. rex…..said Clarke.”

If you’re thinking okay, enough about dinosaurs already, what does all this have to do with community music? Well, for the sake of this blog, what’s relevant was a subsequent observation of Clarke and her team:

“…the evolution of vocal behaviour can provide insights into other anatomical features… such as the development of bigger brains.”

Aha, now this is more like it! Jumping from the Jurassic age into the 21st century, a study led by Dr Vanessa Sluming from the University of Liverpool and published in 2002 of a British Symphony Orchestra found that musicians exhibited larger volumes of grey matter in Broca’s area, the part of our brains responsible for language and verbal working memory, and this volume varied depending on how many years they’d been playing their instrument.

“Although this area declines with age, orchestral players kept more of their brain cells than non-players, as they aged.” Dr Vanessa Sluming

Furthermore, it’s well documented that singing and learning songs builds neurological pathways, and also boosts levels of acetylcholine in the brain, an organic chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter sending messages through the brain and playing a highly important role in memory retention.

In committing new material to memory and then drawing on that in the context of our singing and music making, we improve our capacity to recall and remember.

Valuable for all this and more, community music making provides the opportunity to simply celebrate being alive. We should all keep learning and singing new songs and playing new tunes, recalling favourites from the archives along the way and our long term mental health and well-being will reap the rewards. And we should all be grateful not to have been born a dinosaur.

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria

Further reading:

Music improves brain power – in some performers
https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/sep/12/health.research

Do musicians have bigger brains?
https://www.braintraining101.com/do-musicians-have-bigger-brains/

Boost your memory and your brain by singing
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/08/boost-your-brain-and-memory-by-singing/

And further reading on dinosaurs…

Dinosaurs couldn’t sing
https://scienceblog.com/488716/dinosaurs-couldnt-sing/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+scienceblogrssfeed+%28ScienceBlog.com%29

Fossil evidence of the avian vocal organ from the Mesozoic https://www.nature.com/articles/nature19852.epdf?referrer_access_token=N4n-vV1ZFQa_2ZrBCVDDqNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0POdDZwZ05Pa-IKumwU5iqFPqb9J0RCiSbNodY9t6fsIlllkLV3NV3ydjAEF95r56mcI_GYrpf2Qnn5rc1s0gl6sKaUASwdqhDR20W53nuCUV_E8jqkJBnLnuEms1KFl1PFBulm

 

The Assyrian Women’s group: celebrating, preserving, and sharing Assyrian Culture in Melbourne.

Foundation House is an organisation set up to help refugees and migrants who are survivors of torture in other countries, assisting them with settlement services and connecting them with other organisations such as AMES on arrival in Australia. It is also the starting point in this story of a group of Chaldean Christian women who have hopes of becoming the Assyrian Women’s Choir.

The Assyrian Women’s group is a group of Chaldean women who have fled persecution and torture in Iraq and Syria. Persecuted for being Christian and for speaking a different language, these women have been migrating to safety in Australia to begin a new life for more than twenty years, and they keep coming.

Whenever new refugees or migrants arrive, the women mobilise themselves into a welcome committee, travelling out to the airport. They help the new arrivals to find their feet in this foreign country where for many of them, language is a barrier. Every Friday, the women meet to sing and cook food together, sharing stories of their lives, old and new, as well as offering skills and support to each other. They are from places in Iraq we’ve all heard about in the news, and they know the pain of conflict, displacement, persecution and loss.

A strong love for singing their traditional Arabic and Chaldean folk songs exists between the women, and this is how Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator with Community Music Victoria came to be involved in their journey.

Sarah approached Foundation House to offer skills and support to the staff and community to in her capacity as a singing leader and facilitator. Carolyn Wilson, one of the senior counsellors there, immediately thought of the Chaldean Christian Women’s group and arranged for Sarah and CMVic’s Coordinator, Oli Hinton, to meet with them. Translator and Foundation house worker, Dr Salam Dankha, made communication possible. At the first meeting, Oli and Sarah were welcomed with traditional food and songs, and a bond was formed.  In 2017 a further two sessions were planned for Sarah to work with the group ahead of their participation at the International Women’s Day celebrations, at Dianella Health in Craigieburn.

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Members of the Assyrian Women’s group in one of their initial sessions with Sarah

screen-shot-2017-06-23-at-10-28-33-am-e1498191904892.pngDuring the first session, the women chose to sing two songs: one, an Iraqi song about the beauty of Iraqi women, and the second a folk song about courtship and the relevance of bringing gifts for the girl. Their enthusiasm was evident and they conveyed their hopes of galvanising the group into something with a more formal structure which would enable them to preserve and share the music as messengers of their culture and as advocates for peace in the wider community.

Sarah has been enabling the women to find a focus and they have plans to write a song together, an anthem unique to the group, written around universal morals and themes such as peace, as part of their journey of healing, participation and empowerment.

The next phase is to obtain the funding necessary for Sarah to continue her work with the Assyrian women because, as she says, “I’ve already developed a relationship with them, and it’s a good one.” Supporting the group in selecting a repertoire and helping them to develop the structure they need to become a sustainable choir constitutes part of a proposed new CMVic led project called ‘Voices of Peace‘.

“It’s about giving the leaders already in place within the Assyrian community some skills and structure to use, it’s also about support in identifying potential new leaders and it’s about assistance with sustainability.” as well as offering suggestions and feedback around how the songs are sung: “It’s one thing for the women to sit and sing music of their culture together but in order to get out and share the material, some guidance is necessary.”

While the group is comprised solely of Assyrian women, these women are open to everyone, no matter where they are from. They don’t have any barriers around ethnicity, religion, etc. Instead, there is open-ness, recognition and acceptance of difference:

“They just understand…I told them I have an Indian husband, and that I’m Jewish and it created this openness, I mean, we’re all just different aren’t we, and we want to get along.”

This is the focus and purpose of the group: to sing their music, celebrate and preserve their unique culture and through sharing this love of it with others, to create greater harmony and understanding in society, improving mental and physical health and well-being along the way on the road to recovery.

As part of the International Women’s Day event, there was a fashion parade and it was a chance for everyone to get dressed up and a celebration for all women, from all cultures. “The Assyrian women came out wearing jewelled gowns, and having a wonderful time with the Indian women; celebrating being women.”

As the Assyrian Women’s Choir, these women will find new opportunities and ways to meet people, make connections and friendships, to share and celebrate where they are from and and to participate and contribute to the richness of the diverse, inclusive and safe society they have found themselves part of.

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Members of the Assyrian Women’s group singing at an event for International Women’s Day 2017 (above and below)

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Listen to an early session with the Assyrian Women’s group, here.

Written by Deb Carveth with Sarah Mandie for Community Music Victoria

 

 

Diversity & inclusion & why we shouldn’t be indifferent to difference

Life would be boring if we were all the same. Living in the most culturally diverse state in Australia, as Victorians we are encouraged to be inclusive and tolerant of everyone, and to show respect for aspects or characteristics in a person perceived to be different to our own.

Diversity and inclusion are important components of a healthy, happy and effective society where everyone feels recognised, valued for who they are and able to contribute, irrespective of their background, religion, ethnicity, language etc.

Over the coming weeks, this blog will take a closer look at the ongoing work done by Community Music Victoria to promote diversity and inclusion in our music making communities, with focus on two particular projects:

1: The SINC program (Singing for Inclusion) A series of workshops run by Community Music Victoria in partnership with Creativity Australia to train singing leaders in running inclusive singing groups.

2: Voices of Peace: a project to empower recently arrived and settled refugees from Assyrian Chaldean background to establish a Women’s Choir though which to build and strengthen connections and to reduce the pain of dislocation and loss sustained through the persecution they have endured.

As a prelude to these posts, we felt it worthwhile to re-visit what is meant when we talk about diversity, and inclusion.

Diversity:

According to good old google, diversity is ‘The state of being diverse or ‘a range of different things.’

Through its very essence, diversity is not restricted and defies definition.

While the most obvious and noticeable points of diversity in people such as age, race, gender, and other physical attributes are external, you can never assume anything about a person simply by looking at them. Avoid stereotyping at all cost.

Non-visual or invisible diversity covers a plethora of factors, issues and circumstances that are not seen readily and can only be ascertained if that person choses to share them with you. Again, never judge a book by its cover, and be prepared to ask people about themselves in an open, direct and empathic way.

Put simply, diversity means there is a point of difference.

Global Diversity Practice UK states: “Diversity is about empowering people. Fundamentally, diversity means respect for and appreciation of differences in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin that are implemented by laws and policies…

…the power of diversity can only be unleashed and its benefits reaped when we recognise these differences and learn to respect and value each individual irrelevant of their background.”

Which brings us on to the other side of the coin: inclusion.

Inclusion:

We each carry a diverse and unique set of cultural beliefs, experiences and attitudes which define us. Inclusion is the practise of allowing our individual differences to be recognised and socially accepted. It is about being welcomed into a situation and feeling fairly and equally treated for the person you are and not judged on your religion, origin, age, gender, marital status, etc.

Inclusion is vital in creating a rich and stable environment where shared learning leads to strength and cohesion and one in which people can thrive. It is about creating what Community Music Victoria refers to as ‘a free and fearless space’ in which everyone has the capacity reach their full potential because they feel genuinely included, supported and valued. It requires a commitment to the process of continued learning, and in this respect is a journey for us all with a number of positive outcomes.

“Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are as an individual or group; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best… Inclusion is a shift in an organisation’s mindset and culture. The process of inclusion engages each individual and makes people feel valued which is essential to the success of the organisation. Individuals function at full capacity and feel more valued and included in the organisation’s mission. This culture shift creates higher performing organisations where motivation and morale soar.”  Global Diversity Practice UK 

In its 2016-2020 Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, the Victorian Government writes “Inclusion makes us stronger, exclusion makes us weaker…

diversity and inclusion enables us to grow our understanding and find new ways of doing things.”

In a fully inclusive society, diversity is embraced and celebrated as opposed to shunned, feared or stereotyped and the potential and opportunity for connection is greater. Through seeking to understand and educate ourselves about difference, we can move forward more cohesively and, in doing so, create a rich and varied society where commonality and difference co-exist happily, where people feel safe to share their backgrounds and culture whilst retaining the practice, beliefs, characteristics and traits which make each of us so delightfully unique.

Three ways to immediately be more inclusive:

  • Don’t make assumptions about an individual
  • Think before you speak: Understand how what you say and do impacts on others
  • Recognise and celebrate diversity

Article by Deb Carveth, Online Editor, Community Music Victoria

References and further reading:

Global Diversity Practice UK

Victoria State Government Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-2020. Download a copy here.