Category Archives: Play it

Going back to U-Bass-ics, with Oli Hinton

Nine years ago or thereabouts, Oli Hinton retired from UK academia and made the move to Australia for what began as a sabbatical holiday. Oli and his partner, Jess, had known Jane Coker for many years through playing community music back in the UK.

“We got in touch with Jane when we arrived in Australia and Jane said, ‘fantastic, can you come and volunteer for CMVic?’” Oli laughs.  

By the time the CMVic coordinator role came up some months later, the winning combo of life down under and volunteering at CMVic-bug had well and truly bitten and Oli decided retirement could wait and that here was an opportunity for him to get his teeth into something new and exciting.

“I wanted to do something even more interesting than I had been doing and working for something I feel passionate about which is playing music.”

Yet to deploy full-holiday mode, Oli embraced his new life and kept busy putting down roots and playing baritone sax in Havana Palava, a local street band. In what seems like no time at all he got to know more about the different music-making opportunities in and around Melbourne and started playing his accordion again with The Footscray Gypsy Orchestra. “I got to know more and more of the wonderful community that’s involved in community music in Victoria and I just feel that I have been incredibly fortunate.”

Baritone Saxophones and accordions aren’t known for being quiet instruments so how did a small, stringed instrument like the ukulele find its way to Oli’s heart? “We found ourselves often in the company of other people who were playing ukuleles and none of the other instruments we played were really suitable for playing alongside them so we thought, if we can’t beat ‘em we’ll join ‘em!”

Oli and Jess got themselves soprano ukuleles and started playing along, but Oli quickly found he missed playing the bass rhythm lines, and the strings of the little ukulele hurt his fingers.

“I kept talking about the U-bass and then Jess bought me one for Christmas and it arrived and I’ve never looked back, it is faaaabulous!”

Having never played a string instrument of that sort before, Oli found it took him a while to get to grips with all the different technical challenges and fundamental things like knowing the strings and where the notes were. “In my usual way of learning I did it by learning one tune and then another tune, and another tune and then I thought, ‘ah, I’m getting the general idea here!’ “

Oli confesses this is the way he’s learnt to play every instrument. “The great thing about learning by playing a tune and then another tune is that you get instant results!”.  He’s also quick to point out that a few lessons from someone who’s been playing for many years is also incredibly valuable.

As well as playing music, Oli has had a lot of fun arranging tunes for different street bands which has given his knowledge of music theory a good workout. “I’ve had to really get to grips with the keys of different instruments and chords and harmonies and actually as a bass player, you’re much more aware of what the notes are and the progression of the chords.” This experience has even led Oli to compose a small ditty for the BUF lunchtime concert on Saturday – something he never dreamed of doing in the past!

In considering the fundamental, scaffolding role of the bass, Oli sounds amused as he admits that played really wrong it can actually destroy a tune but has realised if you carry on with aplomb, things will generally be okay.

“From playing bass the most important thing I’ve learned is to keep plucking something in time and the great thing about bass is the ear isn’t very good at determining the bass notes…if you ever try to tune a bass instrument using your ears it’s really hard! Nearly all bass tuning is done with a gadget, by me anyway, and if you hit a bum note it’s fairly easy to get away with it!”

On Saturday, Oli will be running a workshop for absolute beginners and has promised that by the end of it, everyone will be able to play a tune. “Because I’ve said this is a workshop for absolute beginners, I’m going to start by which end you hold it! I can still remember how surprisingly hard I found certain things when I started, so I’m going to try and pull those out.” For example, string damping; when you start out you think ‘oh no, I’ve got to stop that horrible noise happening!’ The strings play off each other and you can get intermediate harmonics happening between them.”

Another thing Oli noticed when he started playing U-bass in a uke group was that rarely are you presented with the tabs for the bass chords of a tune. “So what happens is the leader of the group will say ‘let’s play so and so’ and you flick to the page and of course, you’ve got the normal presentation of lyrics and chords, and you then have to work from that to something which makes sense. It’s not like reading the exact bass line. You may be really lucky and it’ll be a tune you’re familiar with and you’re familiar with the bass line that goes with it, and so you can at least get the feel for what it should be.. or you might not!”

Oli is keen to acknowledge the joys and the challenges of online music workshops for everyone. “We know it can’t be as good as being together live cos you miss the interaction where you’re playing off each other and can see what each person is doing and developing things alongside them at the right pace, and that’s hard on zoom. But we’ve found that people get loads of fun from them. Things may go a bit slow or too fast from time to time but there’s always the opportunity to follow up!”

What Oli hopes more than anything is that anyone who comes to his workshop this Saturday leaves thinking ‘yep I’m going to get a U-bass and I’m going to take it along to my group’… cos they’ll have so much fun with it!

By Deb Carveth, Online Editor for CMVic, with Oli Hinton, CMVic Coordinator

BUF is taking place online this Saturday 25 September. ‘Doors’ open at 9:30am, workshops start at 10. Full program and ticketing info available on this link: https://cmvic.org.au/whats-on/boroondara-uke-festival

Uke Lovers Get inTo the BUF in Ashburton

Boroondara Ukulele Festival (BUF) was born of Margaret Crichton’s desire to bring something to an area of Melbourne where, for some years, she has been running a number of community music groups. Back when plans were evolving for BUF, COVID wasn’t even a thing. Having experienced restrictions derail so many other face to face events since then,  Margaret, who is a program coordinator for CMVic, has been making ‘contingency plan after contingency plan’ to ensure the show goes on.

If by the end of September,  BUF is not able to go ahead ‘in real life’ then depending on the levels of regulations, Margaret and the CMVic team are ready, with a myriad of creative ways tucked up their sleeves to ensure its delivery, either entirely online, or as a hybrid event.  

“We all need to be able to plan things, we need it for our personal wellbeing, we need to have something to look forward and aspire to… it’s a bit like having that recipe where you go, ooh I’d love to make it but I haven’t got quite those ingredients I’ll just substitute this, and it might not be the same but it will still be amazing.”

BUF will feature a range of workshop topics offered by a host of leaders from across Victoria. There will be banjo techniques for ukulele and banjolele by Julie Bradley from Gippsland, Dan McEoin, the man behind the Hills Ukulele Festival and current president of AUTLA will be teaching picking techniques, Bruce Watson will be doing what he’s calling “I’ve got rhythm, Uke got rhythm” and running a session of his surely world-famous-by now, Ukeoke. Oli Hinton and Dave Rackham will be running bass workshops. 

As Margaret points out, “if you’ve got an instrument with four strings or even a guitar handy you’ll be able to have a go at the bass workshops, you won’t necessarily need to have a bass ukulele. And if BUF runs online, remember when you’re in a Zoom room no-one else can hear but the cat, you so you’ll be able to pick up a lot of techniques for when you can get your hands on a bass.”

Margaret will be offering a beginners workshop where there will be ukuleles and some basses to borrow for anyone coming along who has never played before. “If people come along to my workshop knowing nothing, they’ll be able to play something by the end of it, and if they know a little bit, they’ll leave knowing how to play a little bit more”.

Nicki Johnson and Craig Barrie will be leading a song writing workshop for ukulele, and the day will end with Tom Jackson leading a Q&A session to answer any uke-related questions to wrap things up.

What Margaret wants more than anything is for people to come to BUF and have a really good time, to learn new skills and make new connections.

“Should we all still be in lockdown,  connection is what we’ll need. If we can bring some brightness into people’s days – even if they can’t be in the room with us literally, we’ll bring them into our rooms.”

BUF is a testimony to Margaret’s longstanding love for the humble ukulele which began back when she was a child. “When I was about 10, I wanted a guitar but we couldn’t afford one so I had to save up. In the meantime I got a ukulele and played that for a little while. Then, eight or nine years ago, when ukulele really took off, I decided to get another one and predictably it was purple…” The CMVic queen of all things purple and a staunch devotee of stringed instruments from ukes to harps, Margaret still loves the uke’s accessibility for people of all ages and all levels of ability. “It doesn’t really matter what age you are, you can pick it up and instantly play a song.”

Margaret with one of her trusty four-stringed friends

Community Music Victoria will host BUF on September 24-25 in partnership with AUTLA and Pat’s Music. For all of the info click here and watch the CMVic socials for booking details, coming soon!

Written by Deb Carveth, CMVic Online Editor, with Margaret Crichton, CMVic Program Coordinator

Feature photo: Bennettswood Ukulele Groups and Singalong and Stringalong (BUGSS) at Hawthorn Market, supplied

A Community in Action

Dr Laura Brearley

Terry and I have been walking and filming in the Coastal Woodlands over the last couple of weeks. We’ve also been spending time with singing and ukulele groups who have been learning the song ‘Are You Listening?’ for the outro of a film we are making about the precious Western Port Woodlands, currently at risk from sandmining expansion. 

We have been inspired by the community’s willingness to come together and raise their voices in this way. This week, we have worked with two of Mandy Farr’s local ukulele groups, one at the Warrawee Senior Citizens Club in Inverloch and another at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre. There we were joined by members of the Bass Coast Post community and the Gippsland Singers Network. We have filmed the Vocal Nosh group at St John’s Uniting Church in Cowes, as well as some Coastal Connections participants singing outside the Wonthaggi Arts Centre. In the middle of the week, a group of us sang together and went for a walk in The Gurdies Nature Conservation Reserve, led by knowledgeable birder and conservationist Gil Smith. Last weekend, the Melbourne Climate Choir gathered in a park in Brunswick to sing for the film in support of the Western Port Woodlands campaign. The Climate Choir brings together members of different choirs from across Melbourne to support environmental actions. 

Next week, the U3A Choir on Phillip Island will be learning and singing the ‘Are You Listening?’ song. We will also be filming members of the Melbourne-based ‘Music for a Warming World’ collective and a choir from the ‘Save Western Port’ community, who are offering their support from the other side of the Bay in Balnarring. 

Nicki Johnson is a musician, an environmental activist and the Program Coordinator at Community Music Victoria. We have worked and sung together in environmental and intercultural arts projects in Bass Coast and beyond over a number of years. Nicki performed at the 2019 Island Whale Festival and has facilitated singing and ukulele workshops at Community Music Victoria’s Music Camps in Grantville. Terry has made a short film about Nicki’s work as a singing leader which reveals her commitment to climate justice and her approach to interweaving music and environmental action:

Nicki believes that community music can play an important role in raising awareness about environmental issues. In her words …

‘Music has a way of bringing us together.  If we venture into the areas of despair and grief, we won’t be able to get any work done. If we don’t feel hope, we can’t go forward effectively. I love to facilitate conversations and sing songs about the planet and the responsibility we have for making sure it is as healthy as possible. 

Singing and playing music opens us up. When we sing with people, our breathing and our heartbeats synchronise and we become one organism vibrating together. This opens our hearts and our senses and we are able to connect. I think the ability to feel connected to other people and to experience empathy is the thing that will really enable us to make a difference. 

I love that when we sing together, we start to resonate together and our hearts open. Singing is 90% listening. Ideas of blending and harmony are not just aural concepts. A choir is a living organism that can teach people how to be in harmony. Harmony is a lived experience. Giving people the opportunity to be heard is a powerful way to move forward together.’

Dr Peter Dann is another community leader who raises environmental awareness and inspires action. Peter is the Research Director of the Phillip Island Nature Parks. He has been working for over forty years in wildlife conservation, with a particular interest in seabirds and shorebirds, the ecology of islands and the conservation of threatened species. Peter was a guest speaker at a General Meeting of the Phillip Island Conservation Society held earlier this year. The topic of his presentation was ‘Ten Remarkable Things about the Natural History of Phillip Island: A Personal List.’ It was a compelling presentation, informative and from my perspective, very moving. Peter’s commitment to conservation was clear, as was the sense of care that has underpinned his decades of scientific work in the field. 

One of the ‘remarkable things’ he spoke about was the successful introduction of a population of Eastern Barred Bandicoots to Phillip Island (Millowl), now extinct in the wild on the mainland. After a successful trial release on Churchill Island, they were introduced to the Summerland Estate on Millowl. Their numbers are growing and the bandicoots are now doing so well, they have also been released onto French Island. 

A sense of possibility and agency was also central to Peter’s story of the buy-back of the Summerland Estate on Millowl, which has enabled the on-going restoration of the Little Penguins’ habitat on the Peninsula. Peter’s stories are engaging and inspiring. I wrote two children’s songs in response to his stories, one about Eastern Barred Bandicoots and one about Little Penguins. Over the coming months, I will be teaching the songs to local children and telling the stories about the conservation work that inspired them. The world our children and grandchildren are inheriting needs stories like these. Here are the links to the songs:

There are many reasons to feel discouraged at times in the conservation field. So much has been lost and continues to be threatened. It’s easy to slip into a sense of despair and powerlessness. The conservation work that Peter as a scientist and Nicki as a musician undertake is vital in the deepest sense of that word. 

On Saturday 17th July, COVID-willing, you can also be part of this life-affirming work that calls for the protection and preservation of the natural world. The Bass Coast Artists Society is hosting an event, Halcyon Harmonies and Reflections Exhibition’ at the Goods Shed in Wonthaggi. There will be photographs on display and local musicians will be performing all day. At 2.00pm, we’ll be facilitating a Pop-Up Conservation Choir to learn and sing the song ‘Are You Listening?’ for the Coastal Woodlands film. You are warmly welcome to join us. The lyrics and recording of the song can be found here.

And if singing publicly is not your thing, there are other ways you can be involved. You can learn to sign-dance the song (a slow form of deaf-signing) or you can be there to simply witness the strength and resolve of our community in action. 

To learn more about the Save Western Port Woodlands campaign and become involved in a range of ways, go to http://www.savewesternportwoodlands.org/

Nicki Johnson with partner Craig Barrie at the 2019 Island Whale Festival – Photo Teresa Cannon
Mandy Farr’s Ukulele Group at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre – Photo Terry Melvin

Written by Dr Laura Brearley
feature photograph: Walking in The Gurdies Nature Conservation Reserve with Gil Smith and friends – Photo Laura Brearley

CMVic Celebrates Make Music Day ’21 with Optimism & Ukeoke!

Once again on June 21st, Make Music Day Australia will bring together friends, colleagues, strangers and neighbours to share joy and connection in a free celebration of music making for musicians of all levels using a glorious smorgasbord of styles, both online and -restrictions permitting – face to face. This year’s world wide event is about optimistically embracing uncertainty and will feature a global live stream of events that include an International Leaf Blowing Symposium, Window Serenades, Drum Battles, Folk Challenges, Song Swaps and more, all taking place on the day itself and over the preceding weekend.

As a proud foundation partner in this annual celebration of music, CMVic has been busy encouraging community music leaders from across Victoria to register their June events or upload a new or recent video to showcase their group on the Make Music Day Portal.

Craig Barrie, Digital and Strategic Communications Coordinator for Community Music Victoria says, “A number of CMVic members will be sharing the musical joy locally, despite the challenges being thrown at us all by lockdown and wild storms. With the power still out in some parts of Victoria, I hope everyone is doing okay!”

To keep everyone nourished and connected during this time of uncertainty, CMVic has focussed on running several online community events to promote and celebrate Make Music Day. June began with a Pizza Party Video Showcase, hosted by Craig with CMVic’s Program Coordinator, Nicki Johnson. The duo conducted a series of live, online interviews with community music leaders talking about their virtual choir and band projects which emerged as poignant, defiant and cathartic responses to last year’s long lockdown.

“It was inspiring and humbling to talk with leaders about what these projects meant for their groups, and for them personally. I am in awe of the effort and work leaders put in to maintain social connections between their participants over the last 18 months.”

At 5pm this Sunday, June 20, CMVic will be running a special Make Music Day ‘Ukeoke with Bruce Watson and Friends’ – a virtual version of Bruce’s popular sessions at CMVic’s Grantville music camp.

Events like these are CMVic’s strength- encouraging participation at all levels – and Bruce personifies the joy of making music together.

– Craig Barrie

This free event will offer uke enthusiasts everywhere the opportunity to join Bruce and friends to sing and strum old favourites and learn some hot new tunes to bring warmth and light into the shortest day.

Events like these are CMVic’s strength – encouraging participation at all levels – and Bruce personifies the joy of making music together. Nicki and Craig will also be sharing a couple of songs, as will Margaret Crichton; John Howard and Michelle Fox. This team is now highly experienced at leading online sessions, and Craig has been practicing his delivery format all week to ensure everyone will be able to see all of the vital bits – words, chords and leader – onscreen at the same time:

As Digital Coordinator, my job on the day is to ensure both lovely sound and clear video, so people can luxuriate in the music. Ideally I hope participants completely forget they are online and will be transported to the Grantville Homestead!

Here’s a sneak peak of how we’ll be sharing the music… Sit back and strum and sing with your very own page turner!

Having taken on the role of Digital Coordinator at the height of the 2020 lockdown, Craig knows only too well that it takes a bit of “technical jiggery-pokery” to ensure people can both see the “chirds” (i.e. chords and words) and the presenter, and has had plenty of practice at getting this right. This weekend’s Ukeoke will see Craig back on the buttons and flexing his tech skills to deliver some online magic once more.

Below is a photo of the software I use for live streaming. It is called Open Broadcast Software (OBS) and it is used for all sorts of online events, from hugely popular “gamers” with millions of international viewers to church services and ceremonies.”

You can watch CMVic Ukeoke with Bruce Watson and Friends live (and go back and watch it again later!) here: https://www.facebook.com/cmv.music/live

By Deb Carveth, CMVic Online Editor Coordinator, with Craig Barrie, CMVic Digital & Strategic Communications Coordinator

CMVic is proud to be foundation partners of Make Music Day Australia, a celebration of participatory music making, alongside The Australian Music Association (AMA), Make Music Alliance, and APRA/AMCOS. For all of the info about Make Music Day Australia and to see what else is happening around the world, visit https://makemusicaustralia.org.au/

Online or On Stage: A look at What’s On with Bruce Watson

As both a song writer and performer, Bruce Watson is always thinking about how to relate to people through his music. “I’m very involved with Community Music Victoria although I’m mostly a solo performer who tries to bring about that musical connection through audience participation rather than teaching or leading groups.”

Over the course of the past year, Bruce has been exploring new ways to do this. The hiatus to live music and performing fed a pre-existing interest in ways to incorporate technology into his music-making practice which was forced to evolve as everything locked down in order to continue.

“I had quite a few gigs lined up which just disappeared and all the CD sales disappeared too. I found myself in a vacuum and I wanted to fill it with something in a way which would benefit my ongoing music career.”

Unwilling to surrender fully to Netflix and bread making, Bruce embarked upon ‘30 songs in 30 days’a daily song-writing challenge conceived as a way to keep himself distracted and busy. As a frequent facilitator of song-writing workshops, Bruce has been a long standing advocate of the ‘just give it a go’ approach. His self-appointed mission was to write a song a day throughout April, last year.

“If you write a song a month, then after a year you’ll probably have 3 or 4 songs that are really good, which you might not have had if you’d sat waiting for the inspiration to come. I’ve always said that, but I haven’t always done it.”

Bruce admits that staying inspired to write a song a day for a month was actually quite hard but having a good level of insight, he promoted it in ways that left himself no wriggle room.

“If you want to do something that you see is a challenge I always think the best way to make it succeed is to tell other people that you’re doing it. If I’d just kept it to myself I might’ve stopped after a week or two, so I posted it all over Facebook and I made a commitment to do a YouTube video every day. Sometimes making the video was even harder than writing the song.”

Bruce started getting good feedback which he describes as ‘a lovely encouraging thing’, but still found there were times when the inspiration wasn’t immediately forthcoming. He had a fallback folder of song ideas and ‘scraps of things’ but found much of April was spent wondering what he would do tomorrow and what he would write about that day. He came to realise that, in the end, something always percolated to the surface.

“To me it was a great illustration of how there’s an awful lot of stuff sitting in all of us in terms of creativity and if we do something to bring it out, if we consciously tap into that, inspiration will actually strike and it’s an amazing thing to realise!”

At the end of the month Bruce felt exhausted but satisfied. “It was something I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do and I did it! I anticipated writing a lot of little bits of songs that weren’t really proper songs, but they ended up being all whole songs. And more of them were of a higher standard than I had expected, in fact I was surprised by the quality I produced under those circumstances” laughs Bruce.

Since the latter part of 2020, Bruce has been part of the CMVic team instrumental in bringing Music Software Workshops to the world. While the pandemic made the need for this knowledge sharing particularly important and brought it to the fore, the MSW team were visionaries who had perceived a need for the implementation and delivery of such a program for some time.

This wasn’t just about COVID it was about the ways software can help to share music for both leaders and music group members.

For some time, Bruce has been using MuseScore, a music notation software, to share music with his panpipe band in a way which allows players to practice at home on their own. “Because of the traditional panpipe playing that we do, any given player only plays half a tune because the scale is split between the notes. It’s like you’re playing a button accordion or a harmonica and only playing the blow notes or the suck notes, so you can’t play a tune by yourself. This means you can’t practice on your own and that makes it harder to learn the material. It’s the same for a choir or any band if you’re singing or playing a harmony against the melody you can use this software to easily create all the parts yourself to practice with, and that’s how I’ve used it.”

Last year, Bruce also got to grips with virtual choir technology, which he tackled in a highly successful experiment using his song, Déjà Vu. This project brought together a number of singers from several different countries who each recorded themselves singing to a backing track provided by Bruce which they uploaded to Dropbox. “I updated my video editing software to DaVinci Resolve and used some of the processes talked about in the music software workshops to plan the project, put all the tracks together and work out how to share files. In some ways file sharing can be the biggest hurdle – which can be very easily overcome.”

Bruce’s ‘Deja Vu’ virtual choir project in the making. Photo: Facebook

“I think what’s happened is that COVID came in and everyone searched for something new, in terms of both technology and how to relate to each other and how the musical experience can be shared and there are some really good things about that that didn’t exist before, and those are things that I don’t think we want to give up, such as sharing music across geography. People can join from remote locations and even from other countries. I’ve been involved with Zoom folk clubs where people have participated from five different continents and it’s been absolutely wonderful. Understanding how to make Zoom work well is something I think people might continue to explore.”

That said, upon his return to live performing a couple of weeks ago, Bruce realised more than ever how the sharing of live music is a tremendous and absolute gift.

“I don’t know whether I ever really took live music for granted because it was always just a part of my life, whereas now I am conscious of what life is like without it and yes, you can share music through Zoom and so on, but it’s not the same.”

Something Bruce loved was seeing people react spontaneously to his new material. “At my first festival since lockdown recently I decided only to perform the 30 songs in 30 days. So every song was a live premiere, which was incredibly nerve wracking and I was very nervous, but it was so good to have these songs exposed to the real world and to be able to judge how people were reacting to them.”

On 2 April, Bruce will be playing live to a small live audience Under the Oaks where he will be encouraging lots of audience participation.  Bruce laughs, “It’s really great with these COVID restrictions because you can have a small, intimate audience AND a sell out!”

“I think for a long time we’ll value that gift of live music and that’s what I’m loving now, to hear people singing back to me. Music was a great connector during COVID but the magic wasn’t quite there. That’s something that only really happens when people gather together and share a physical space, but I’m so grateful that I’ve been going to Zoom folk clubs in the UK and have made new friends along the way too, it’s been really, really great. And there are a couple of people over there singing my new songs now, too!”

Catch Bruce Under the Oaks on 2 April, or stay in touch with his gig guide at brucewatsonmusic.com

Recordings of previous CMVic Music Software Workshops are available on Community Music Victoria’s website, here.

Photographs: Jill Watson via Facebook

Connecting Through Music in COVID Times

“At a time when many people are feeling isolated and disconnected, it is an important reminder that we are going through this experience together. There are many ways we can be here for each other and connect, even across distance.” – Laura Brearley

Something wonderful and ridiculous took place a few weeks ago during the depths of the first COVID lockdown. Community music leaders from Inverloch, Lyndal Chambers and Brian ‘Strat’ Strating, brought people together from far and wide and led a Virtual Street Band Parade. It was colourful, joyful and totally absurd.

Normally, at the end of May, Community Music Victoria (CMVic) hosts a Music Camp at Grantville. People of all ages and levels of musical ability come together for a weekend of music-sharing, workshops and performances. The Music Camp always culminates in a Street Band Parade in which people dress up, play music and parade their way around the camping ground.

The times we live in are far from normal, and so this year, the CMVic Music Camp was conducted on-line. Up for the challenge, Lyndal and Strat led the Street Band Parade in front of a computer screen in their lounge room.  The experience broke through the two-dimensions of Zoom with its small boxes of seemingly disembodied faces. It was a testament to their years of experience leading Street Bands down real roads, that they were able to pull it off. It also revealed the sense of fun in the community and their willingness to experiment playfully in the virtual world. Most of all, it demonstrated the power of music to bring people together.

Lyndal and Strat have long understood this. Generosity and warmth have been underpinning principles of their community music practice throughout their lives.

‘Music is the universal language’ says Strat. ‘Music touches us in the heart and so then we connect. It’s about the access and welcome, the inclusivity of making music together.’ Lyndal also believes that music is a unifying force. ‘Music ties people together’, she says. ‘Music brings a sense of joy and life and connection.’

Lyndal and Strat in action as part of Grantville Online

Even against the backdrop of the suffering and sorrow of the pandemic, an experience like this reminds us of our resilience and our capacity for joy. At a time when many people are feeling isolated and disconnected, it is an important reminder that we are going through this experience together. There are many ways we can be here for each other and connect, even across distance.

In the words of the nineteenth century English novelist, George Eliot ‘What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?’

Terry Melvin’s short film ‘The Extraordinary Virtual Street Band Parade’ can be seen below and on the following links:

On Vimeo  https://vimeo.com/437745509
On You Tube https://youtu.be/_L1AZw6HYnc

Written by Laura Brearley; Photographs by Laura Brearley

 

 

From Our Street to Yours: Taking the Band Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And, because you’ll be muted if you have always wanted to play the trumpet in a street band but don’t actually play the trumpet – now’s the time! If you’ve got a trumpet, pick it up and be able to play without any bum notes, straight off the bat!  This one of the advantages of the virtual street band; anything goes. There are no limits!”

“Oh my gosh” says Lyndal, “The No Limits Street Band…

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

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

How maths helps us understand why music moves people

By Elaine Chew, Queen Mary University of London

Music is known to provoke the senses, give pleasure and sometimes move people to tears. Surely this has little to do with mathematical models which are so frequently associated with cold and rational logic. So what can maths tell us about this powerful phenomenon closely connected to the emotions? Can mathematics help us measure what’s sublime or ineffable about a piece of music?

Music evokes strong emotions such as frisson (goose bumps), awe and laughter – and has been found to use the same reward pathways as food, drugs and sex to induce pleasure. A shiver down one’s spine or an uncontrollable guffaw when listening to music is most often a case of the music defying your expectations. Expectations can be defined in two ways: schematic – knowing how a genre of music is supposed to go – or veridical – knowing how a particular piece of music unfolds.

On one end of the spectrum, a performance or a piece of music that does just what you’d expect runs the risk of becoming banal. On the other end, music like that of PDQ Bach – which uses tongue-in-cheek egregious violations of known expectations – makes many people laugh.

PDQ Bach: The Short-tempered Clavier: Minuet in C.
EC, Author provided735 KB (download)

The craving that comes from musical anticipation and the euphoria that follows the reward have both been found to be linked to dopamine release. As a result, performers and composers alike play with listeners’ expectations, often going to great lengths to carefully choreograph their expectations, and then sometimes breaking them, to provoke and heighten emotional responses.

Playing with expectations

In tonal music, which is almost all of the music that we hear and can be thought of as being based on a scale, the note sequence sets up expectations, then suspends, fulfils, or violates them. For a simple example, sing the first three phrases of “Happy Birthday” and stop at the end of the penultimate phrase.

Happy Birthday (first part)
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Anticipation for the resolution to this musical cliffhanger creates a palpable knot in the gut. This hollow feeling can be further intensified by delaying the final phrase. The release is evident when the final phrase is heard and ends happily on the most stable tone.

Happy Birthday (second part)
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Two things are at work here in this miniature example: tonality and time. Tonality provides a framework through which expectations are formed – and the play on time, the delaying of expectations, uses the framework to create a musical cliffhanger and titillate the senses.

Where maths comes in

Expectations can be modelled mathematically and time can be measured – so the shaping of both expectations and time can be described in numbers. Over the years, in my research lab, we have developed models and computer algorithms for quantifying tonal properties and expressive parameters in music. Many of the tonal analysis algorithms are based on what is known as a “spiral array model”.

The spiral array can be plotted in 3D to allow us to visualise the dynamic evolution of musical keys and spot when the notes and their timing combine to do something interesting to tug at our emotions.

An introduction to the MuSA.RT application which implements the spiral array model and its real-time algorithms for determining chords and keys.

As music is heard, the notes can be mapped to the model, duly weighted and summarised as points inside it. Movements in the space inside the model allow listeners to see deviations from expected tonal behaviour.

PDQ Bach: The Short-tempered Clavier: Minuet in C with real-time spiral array tonal analysis; note the deviant trajectories when the music strays away from the expected tonal context.

Musical tension

Just as pitches that sound close one to another are spatially near each other; the converse is true: pitches that sound far from one another are spatially far apart. Feelings of tension translate to quantifiably big distances – notes mapping to widely dispersed points or pulling far away from an established centre of gravity.

Composers actively vary the tension over time to generate interest and captivate the listener’s attention. The shaping of tension over time also helps create meaningful long-term structure. It is notoriously hard for computer algorithms to generate music with long-term structure. But the MorpheuS system, developed by music researcher Dorien Herremans, circumvents this problem to generate music with a pre-set narrative structure by using a tension model based on the spiral array. Listen to this version of JS Bach’s “Minuet in D”:

MorpheuS-Bach: A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena: Minuet in D.
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It follows the tension profile, rhythms, and repetition patterns of the original piece from A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach:

JS Bach: A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Minuet in D.
EC, Author provided605 KB (download)

The notes of the generated piece also conjures up similar degrees of tension to the original music. For example, discordant sounds follows the same patterns of discord in Bach’s original piece.

Tipping points

Not only do notes themselves create tension, a performer can delay resolutions to heighten suspense. Judicious use of timing is one of the most potent expressive devices for eliciting emotional responses. The right amount of delay can sweeten the anticipation – but take too much time and the performer risks losing the listener.

In music with a beat, the musical pulse forms a baseline grid on which to measure timing deviations – prolongations and reductions of the time unit. In extreme cases, these warpings of musical time produce tipping points, the feeling of being poised at the brink of an abstract hill in an imaginary roller coaster.

Tipping points in Fritz Kreisler’s recording of his Schön Rosmarin.
Beat lengths in Fritz Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin as performed by Kreisler: example of tipping points.
Elaine Chew

We can use maths to present this graphically. When a piece of music is performed precisely as written, it is displayed as a flat line in these graphs. But music is almost never played exactly as written. Performers often exercise significant creative license; as a result, anomalous peaks signal the evocation of musical tipping points.

Tipping points in Maria Callas’s recording of O Mio Babbino Caro from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi.
Beat lengths in Giacomo Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro as performed by Kathleen Battle, Maria Callas and Kiri te Kanawa: example of tipping points.
Elaine Chew

By elongating specific notes – or words or syllables – the performer draws the listener’s ears to details that might have been missed or glossed over. Because the listener often knows what’s coming, the delay prolongs expectation – creating drama and exaggerating emotional cues.

Mathematics is the language through which scientists understand the nature of the universe. However, the extent to which numbers can explain the ephemeral experience of music has yet to be fully explored. Why does music move us? How do its variegated structures translate to musical expectations? How do performers and composers exploit these expectations to craft profound and moving musical experiences? Our mathematical forays into these questions are but the tip of the ice berg.The Conversation

Elaine Chew, Professor of Digital Media, Queen Mary University of London

Featured image: Kovac via Shutterstock.com

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.