Category Archives: Play it

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.”

DSC_1569
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.
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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.
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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.

 

Whittlesea Muster Delights Uke Enthusiasts

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

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

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

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

Uke Muster 3.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Intercultural Collaboration: An Ocean of Possibilities

Dr Laura Brearley

Intercultural collaboration is a slippery and elusive art. I find it a spacious and revealing place to work. It sings to me and draws me in and on. I think it was a mixture of naivety and courage that led me to working in this field. I am a singer, song-writer and creative researcher with an Anglo-Celtic and Scandinavian heritage. What I have learned over the years is that an ocean of possibilities is available when we open our hearts and take the risk to make genuine contact.

Anything can emerge when trust is laced with risk. What we share and what makes us different has room to come alive. There are no formulas for success and this, I think, is a good thing. The riskiness of it keeps us awake and alert.

The capacity to listen and the qualities of trust, respect and openness are central to fruitful intercultural arts collaborations. This is never more so than when the intercultural collaborations are between First Nation community members and people from other cultural backgrounds. We work together against the backdrop of colonisation, the massacres and government policies of enforced dispossession and attempted cultural genocide. The impact of these policies continues today and are evident in disproportionate rates of incarceration and inequities in health, economic and educational opportunities. The list of inequities goes on and is still being experienced by First Nation peoples in Australia and across the world. 

There are many compelling reasons why trust takes a long time to build in intercultural collaborations. Collaborations across cultures can create a bridge for connection, but it can be a perilous crossing. The potential risks of neo-colonial appropriation and misunderstanding are ever-present. The space in-between is where reconciliation can occur.

I have come to see that trust is everything. It is slowly gained and easily lost. Trust is what keeps the conversation alive. There are so many reasons not to trust in this world but in my experience, a kind of magic emerges from the in-between spaces when music and art are involved and an interdisciplinary approach is taken. A spaciousness appears. The reasons not to trust will always be there, but creative engagement and active participation can enable people to see and be seen, to hear and be heard. This is what bridges are made of and this, I believe, is why the work is worth doing. 

There was an opportunity to have a direct experience of these in-between spaces at the Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival, held on the 5th – 7th July in Cowes on Phillip Island. The Island Whale Festival, now in its third year, celebrates the arrival of humpback whales and southern right whales in the coastal waters off Phillip Island as they migrate north to the warmer waters off Queensland.

The Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival was designed to bring people of all ages and cultural backgrounds together through music, art, science and a love of the natural world. Steve Parker named the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Island Whale Festival, ‘Balert Yirramboi’, which translates as ‘Strong Future’, literally ‘Strong Tomorrow’. Steve is a Traditional Custodian, an artist and musician and one of the Directors of the Yowengarra Bun Wurrung Balug Clans Aboriginal Corporation. Steve has lived on Millowl (Phillip Island) all his life.

Activities of ‘Balert Yirramboi’ included Ceremonies, Drumming Circles, Music and Dance, Song Circles, Song Exchanges, Concerts, a Street Parade and a Collaborative Artspace weaving together music, art and science. Elders and Special Guest Artists lead the activities, all of which were designed to deepen intercultural understanding, strengthen community and raise environmental awareness.

The 2019 Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival was auspiced by Community Music Victoria, an organisation dedicated to bringing people together and strengthening communities through the power of music.

Here’s a link to a short film ‘Singing with Whales’ from the Intercultural Arts Program at the 2018 Island Whale Festival. https://vimeo.com/288066243

We acknowledge the power and beauty of the Bunurong/Boon Wurrung Country on which this event takes place. We honour and thank all the Ancestors and Elders who have lived on this land and sung it into being the strong place that it is.

Dr Laura Brearley leads a song at the 2018 CMVic Music Camp

**The latter part of this article was updated by CMVic on August 1, to reflect the fact that the 2019 Whale Festival is now a past event.

Love Songs for Whales… & A Creative Invitation

by Dr Laura Brearley

The Whales Are Back

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

  • Wednesday 29th May 9.45am

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

  • Tuesday 4th June 3.31pm

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

  • Friday 7th June 10.48am

One humpback whale, close to shore at Cape Woolamai.

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

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

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

Humpback Whale Research

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

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

Below is a short film about this research:

Creative Responses

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

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

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

Creative Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Dr Laura Brearley

Featured image ‘Whale Tail’ by Lisa Kennedy

Reunited: A Short Film about Music and the Human Spirit

Edward Harding, a 93 year old man living with severe dementia, was affected by depression and confusion as a result of his illness. He was withdrawn and not  really communicating with anyone anymore.

One day a young musician, Sam Kinsella, began working at Ed’s care home in Somerset, (UK). A connection emerged between the two men, sparked by their shared love of playing music. This film captures what unfolded next in their story.

‘Reunited’ is moving, it’s beautiful and it’s a poignant reminder of the power of making music and the positive effect this has upon the brain and the human spirit.

It isn’t only playing music which demonstrates the lasting connection between music and memory.

The clip below shows how listening to music is also highly effective in helping people affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia  to regain temporary access to memories and return to presence for a short time. After listening to old tunes on an iPod, Henry is momentarily restored to his former self: “he’s remembered who is and has re-acquired his identity for a while through the power of music.”

The benefit of such experience is positive not only for the person with dementia, it offers families and carers a way to share quality moments of connection and peace with them.

Further reading:

Study: Memories of music cannot be lost to Alzheimer’s and dementia

Dementia and Music 

www.musicandthebrain.org.au/

Find a group to play music with on the CMVic website: www.cmvic.org.au/groups

Come to a CMVic event! The 2019 CMVic Music Camp takes place next weekend, May 10-12 in Grantville. Bookings and info here.