Sun shone through grey clouds gathered low over Pakington Street in Geelong West last Saturday morning, jostling to catch a glimpse of the gloriously coloured community musicians gathering in readiness on the grass below to play in the StreetSounds Festival parade and fiesta. The previous evening these same musicians had made their way to Geelong to bring the StreetSounds project to Geelong After Dark, illuminating the darkness with beats, riffs, fat sounds, fairy lights and high vis vests.
The StreetSounds project has been lead by Community Music Victoria since 2015, with funding from R E Ross Trust and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Over the past two years, street bands have popped up in Kyneton, Bellbrae and Inverloch; Morwell, Dunolly, and Footscray; Sunshine, Windsor and Melton, all kindled and supported with encouragement, advice and input from StreetSounds project manager, Lyndal Chambers.
Each of the bands is open to anyone and experience, skill levels and age are no barrier to joining in. What’s key is the desire to have fun and connect through making music together in a way that is mobile and can be taken out to the streets and delivered to the broader community for everyone to enjoy. Playing loud music and wearing loud clothes present people with an opportunity to escape the mundanities and worries of life once in a while, whilst making new friends and strengthening local networks: what’s not to love?
Many amazing moments have come to light as the StreetSounds project has unfolded. Horns have been dusted down, flutes and recorders have emerged from packing boxes, marimbas have been built and washboards assembled. There are several families now involved across the project: Amy plays in the Fabulous Meltones together with her three kids and her father. In the Prahran Accordion Band, Hans has dreamed of being able to play the accordion since childhood. And for everyone, making music in a band where there are no wrong notes adds a dimension to life, hard to beat.
The element of inclusion which has underpinned the StreetSounds project since its inception was evident at the Festival and in this safe space the crowd brimmed with palpable pride, enjoying the energy and enthusiasm generated by merging and becoming part of a bigger picture. A static crackle of excitement sparkled and sparked through the throng and across West Park on Saturday, exploding into a massed rendition of ‘Caderas’ and Shane Howard’s ‘Talk of the Town’, two common tunes learnt and rehearsed by the bands to play together at that very point.
A pop-up off-shoot of the non-conventional street band ‘Our Community Sounds’ ran an open improvisation workshop in the Park’s rotunda, drawing in members from all of the bands and encouraging them to experiment spontaneously with sound. ‘Our Community Sounds’, facilitated on Saturday by Conor O’Hanlon, shares the same philosophy as the other street bands – one of removing barriers to participation in music making but the delivery is in the form of spontaneous participatory events rather than performances.
“I realised what a unique thing we were all doing – not a Jazz Festival, not a Folk Festival, not a Brass Band Festival, not a Music Camp .. something that’s inclusive of a diversity of skill level, instrumentation and cultures.” Lyndal Chambers, StreetSounds project manager
The clouds could only contain their excitement for so long, and as the rain finally fell, the StreetSounds mob and their homemade banners moved into the hall at West Park where they played short sets all afternoon, joined by the Zamponistas, Havana Palava, Doowlla of Drum Connection and Geelong’s Tate Primary School marimba band, the Marimbataters.
Click the links below to see two glorious photo stories of the event, by Dr Laura Brearley:
‘What I really get out of the band and the practice is simply the fun.’ says Melton resident Amy McDonald who for the past year has played with The Fabulous Meltones, one of the bands to have emerged with support from Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds project.
There are three generations of Amy’s family in the band: Amy, her 67 year old father, Martin, and her three kids, Nina, Tenzin and Kohana who range in age from 23-6 years old.
“To have the sort of fun that say, Havana Palava have, would’ve been undreamed of for me before, and even though I’m not there yet, I live in hope!”
The experience of being in The Fabulous Meltones has extended the opportunity Amy and her family has to make music together, and brought unexpected and hidden talents to light.
“My father who has done orchard work most of his life learnt to make feathered headdresses for the Dream Big festival, last year. Local artist Krissy Tee, who is currently specialising in the creation of amazing headdresses came to give us all a lesson. Dad made his in record time and was then able to help everyone else. He’s also getting to grips with the finer points of picking out loud shirts (The Fabulous Meltones signature colours are red, orange, pink and yellow because we are Melton…meltin’ hot..”
Since their inception last year, The Fabulous Meltones have wasted no time making their mark on the local music scene. Lead by John Lane, they have performed at the Dream Big Festival as well as the Platypus and Djerriwarhh festivals in Melton. They’ve also played at the Melton train station for the opening of the underpass artwork unveiling; as part of At The Platformand at the end of year wrap-up party for Linking Melton South.
“I love that we get to perform together, we had never done anything like that together before. My dad always played the guitar, and my mum did and my grandfather does. I had trouble learning written music so I just learnt one riff from every person I came across. Mostly we know that when we’re together we’ll try and have a jam of some sort because everyone’s grown up and moved away, and my dad really loves it.”
The fact that four of the band members are family is important to Amy. “There’s such a difference between the styles of music that each generation likes. When you have family songs that everyone loves singing and those songs remind you of good times that you’ve had, this is a plus because they cross the generation gap.”
Amy and her family practice the pieces they’re learning with the band, together at home.
“I hear my little one, she seems to be singing the songs all the time at home but she will never perform… she sits and draws and she won’t join in, but she’s still listening.”
Amy is adamant that there shouldn’t be any division in society based on age and that being part of The Fabulous Meltones offers people the opportunity to mix socially outside of their own age group and that this teaches tolerance, patience and respect.
“Old people shouldn’t be excluded and young people certainly shouldn’t be excluded…Young people think they’re cool and that we don’t understand their music, but all music becomes old and daggy and it’s only a matter of time until it comes back into fashion.”
The fact that there are people of all ages involved in The Fabulous Meltones keeps things interesting and encourages people to be aware and thoughtful of the needs of others.
“Everyone has to be patient… there are little kids there and you have to be patient with older people too… while some people learn things quickly, other people need to be shown things a few times. We’re all different… John (Lane)’s really great and has taught a few of the band members to play the ukulele from scratch, which is so valuable.”
It’s recognised that involvement in an intergenerational community band promotes connection, communication and friendship between the participants, and the benefits of this have a positive effect extending beyond the context of the music making, strengthening and reinforcing the fabric of the community.
As Amy says of her experience as a Fabulous Meltone, “It makes you satisfied with your life and with being where you are….”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria and Amy McDonald from The Fabulous Meltones.
**If you’re interested in joining The Fabulous Meltones, the next practice will be on Thursday 2nd March, at 4.30pm. The band is open to everyone (any age, instrument and skill level)
Twice a week Mayhem breaks out in the life of Gippsland based Singing Leader, Jane Coker. This has nothing to do with escaped chooks or lost car keys, Mayhem is a music and drama group, organised by Scope and facilitated by Jane, for adults from day centres in Traralgon, Wonthaggi, and Warragul. Everyone comes together at the Grainstore, a beautiful old wooden building in Mirboo North, to sing and dance and meet other people. It’s about therapy, fun and having a good time together. It’s about making a racket and making a mess. And it’s awesome.
The group are extremely wide ranging in their abilities, some people are really high functioning, others communicate with the blink of an eye and Jane runs the group by herself. Five or six carers come along and take care of the physical needs of participants, assisting them with morning tea at the start of each session and with lunch at the end, as well as helping them to take part in the activities.
The group was established by Jane’s mate, Kate Jackson, who recognised a need in the area for this type of group and was doing all she could to enable people to have a creative experience. When the time came for her to hand over to somebody else, she approached Jane who had no previous experience of leading a group of people with such diverse abilities.
“Kate was getting people singing, she was getting people dancing, she was doing a bit of drama. I looked at it and thought, well, I reckon I’ve done enough of this in my life, I think I can probably have a go at that and I’ll treat it as a training course because everything I’ve ever learnt around Community Arts Development in my life has been learnt on the job.”
Jane decided to train herself, try leading Mayhem for a year and see if she liked it driven by her guiding principle: To find a way to enable everyone in this group to participate in some way in what’s going on. The next question then, was how? How to do this with such a mixed group?
To begin with, Jane took a lot of guidance from the carers. While it’s obvious to see when some people are participating, with others this is more difficult particularly if you don’t recognise the significance of the sentiment they’re relaying with their eyes or from their movements or the sounds that they make. For one or two of the participants, it is hard for anyone to decipher whether they’re benefitting from taking part or not and for them Jane believes Mayhem has to exist as a sensory experience in as much as they’re having something happen as opposed to having nothing happen around them and this, perhaps, is as participatory as it can be.
Jane approaches leading Mayhem as she does all her other groups. People are people.
‘If my main aim is full participation and I’ve got to fathom out how to get somebody to participate where it’s not obvious and it’s not easy, the only way to go about facilitating that is (a) To collect as much information about each person as I can, and I engage the carers to make sure they are part of the whole process, and (b) to actually engage with that person as much as I possibly can and try to find out how I can have a relationship with them. It might just be the tiniest thing like a finger uncurling when I touch their hand but if that happens repeatedly, that’s feedback and that’s me developing a relationship with that person.’
Over the course of the past four years, Jane has learnt a lot about the subtlety of changes in the facial expressions of participants: ‘I’ve really learnt to to recognise the sounds and the subtle little changes in their faces and their eyes….I’d never had that experience before and it has been amazing.’
Jane begins and ends each session with the same song. To begin with she thought everyone would grow really bored of this, but the opposite has happened, and they love it. And the more they do it, the more they know it. For some of them, it has taken four years to develop the confidence to sing that song and Jane recognises this as something working with Mayhem has taught her: there is so much to be said for repetition of material.
Using the same song also acts as an effective signal to everyone that the class has begun, and that it has ended so that even if they don’t really know what’s going on, people have a sense that something is in process and that they are a part of it.
Music played on the PA gets the Mayhem mob dancing and taking it in turn to pick the tunes which vary from ABBA to YMCA, to Pink and everything in between, reflecting the range in their ages. While the dancing is taking place, anyone in a wheelchair is helped to move by Jane and the carers: ‘It’s dancing in the broadest sense with some people dancing in their minds.’
‘One guy’s into really heavy aggressive rap, and I draw the line there as the material isn’t suitable to impose on other people and politically I can’t play it myself, but he participates fully in other ways, and I talk to him about why I don’t play his stuff and I think he gets it!’
Singing through the microphone proves popular, offering a lot of fun and visibly increased confidence to the singers. Jane says ‘I never thought I’d think that was a good thing to do but I do! Because it’s what they see on the TV and it enables them to do something that they recognise and they have a LOT of fun doing it… And while they’re doing that, everyone else is dancing and using really nice bright coloured pom poms and stuff to dance with, twirling around, there’s a lot of colour and everyone’s doing their own thing, and it is, well, mayhem!!’
Jane uses a big pile of percussion and dressing up clothes with Mayhem. Because there’s no funding for this, she spends spare time scouring op shops for anything they can use in the group. For anyone who can’t physically grip a shaker or move their hands, Jane has made velcro variations and modified instruments which can be strapped onto an arm, enabling that person to make music and she’s always on the look-out for instruments that can be adapted. Soft stuff comes in handy too, as there are a lot of participants who throw things.
“If I can find a soft ball with a bell inside it, that’s perfect because it can be used as an instrument but when it’s thrown, it doesn’t decapitate anybody…”
Call and response features heavily in Mayhem, techniques learnt by Jane through voice-work training workshops. “I make sounds to the group, they make sounds back at me, and it’s a beautiful thing because people who are non-verbal do still use their voices a lot and will do that when invited to do so. So they’ll make sounds and we can make them back, and in this way they are participating fully.
There is a basic sign language called Key Word Sign used by the carers to indicate food, going to the toilet, etc, and Jane feels this is a skill which should be developed and taught more widely: ‘If I was able to go on some sort of course to learn Key Word Sign, or the appropriate sign language to use with people which is used across the board in those kind of facilities, that would really add to my skills.’
A forum was held at the recent CMVic Singing Camp between singing leaders working with marginalised sectors including disability. Jane found being a part of this conversation invaluable because it reinforced her belief that the best way to develop confidence and strength in your own ability is to network with other people who are doing the same kind of thing:
‘Have a phone conversation with somebody, go to their group, see what they’re doing and participate. If you can apprentice yourself to somebody else who is doing it, that would be amazing, but this is a little bit unlikely, given that we are so few and far between. It might work better in the city…’*
Now into her fifth year working with Mayhem, Jane reflects on how it has become easier as time has gone on. “I’d say the training course took two and a half years of me leading the group once a week, and since then I’ve led it twice a week. And now I feel confident in doing what I go there to do. It’s about the fun, the relationships and the positive attitude…
“I love the fact that I’ve proved to myself that the principle of as much inclusion as possible, in the moment that you’re in is the one that works best.”
Article by Deb Carveth with Jane Coker
If you have any percussion instruments, shakers, bells, or things which are fun to play that you would like to give Jane and Mayhem, let us know!
If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
*Music Action is a closed Facebook group run by Melissa Murphy for people facilitating all abilities music groups for adolescents and adults. It’s an ideal forum to share ideas, news and conversation.
Picture the scene: a large group of leather clad bikers on a pit stop; add a healthy dose of community musicians into the mix, and what do you get? Broadway, a street through the small, regional town of Dunolly, last Saturday afternoon.
The latest addition to the CMVic StreetSounds project shook its collective feathers and stepped blinking into the light at 2pm last Saturday as the new and perfectly formed Dunolly Street Band. Emerging from the Ministry of Fun after less than two hours playing together, the fledgling band wasted no time in taking their newly learnt tunes into the street, where the bikers proved an enthusiastic audience for the horns, ukes, flute and accordion players.
Anna and Phil Ashton who organised the afternoon in collaboration with StreetSounds project manager, Lyndal Chambers, declared it it loads of fun and a total success.
“It was nicely low key and I don’t think anybody was scared!”
Anna was inspired to start a Street band in Dunolly after hearing about the opportunities offered by other bands emerging from the project, particularly the Kyneton Street Band, led by Andy Rigby, but still more than an hour’s drive from Dunolly. For Anna and Phil,
“It didn’t make sense to be part of a street band anywhere else.”
The last community brass band in the town finished up about fifteen years ago. A Ukulele group formed a couple of months ago, but for players of more honky and stronger sounding instruments, an opportunity to gather regularly has been a long time coming. Once she knew support from Lyndal Chambers and Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds* project would support her vision of a Street Band for Dunolly, Anna felt the idea was too good to pass up and set the wheels in motion, posting publicity within the community and on Facebook. A street band is a fantastic way to bring together local people from all age groups and backgrounds, playing different types of instruments in different ways; a wonderful smorgasbord of sounds and skills.
As the promotional poster for Dunolly Street Band promised, ‘absolutely no experience needed, just come and play for fun.’
Anna admits she felt a bit nervous about numbers ahead of the gathering on Saturday. Strat (Brian Strating) and Lyndal were travelling up from Gippsland to help facilitate and Anna wanted them to have a good ole group to lead when they arrived. She needn’t have worried. Keen community musos travelled from the other side of Newstead and Bendigo to join local Dunollians, including a musician fairly new to the area which is what it’s all about, after all. Anna knows other people are out there and keen for the band to happen, who simply couldn’t make it along last Saturday.
Following this hugely successful inaugural get together, there are plans to carry the band forwards into a bright (and brassy) future, and working together with Phil’s uke group. Anna is also hoping to encourage local school kids and their families to try it, too.
By the time the StreetSounds festival rolls around next May, it sounds like there will be a thriving Dunolly contingent out in the throng on the streets of Geelong.
And what happened to the bikers? They gave the new Dunolly Street Band an encouraging round of applause before heading off through the Central Goldfields, chasing the dissipating, freed-up notes of newly learnt tunes as they dispersed into the atmosphere.
Below is a video clip of the band in action, out on Broadway. (Thanks to band member Judy Meldrum for the footage)
Article by Deb Carveth with Anna Ashton
Join the Dunolly Street Band! The band is in the process of arranging its next rehearsal. To be a part of it, contact Anna and Phil: 0490 077 902
*StreetSounds is a major project that resulted from the Victoria Makes Music Program and started in January 2015 with the help of funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the R E Ross Trust. The project aims to create at least 10 new street bands in Victoria and will run until Dec 2017 – find out more about StreetSounds here.
Last week, members of Boomulele, the StreetSounds Street Band from Morwell, took part in a Ceremony at the Latrobe Regional Arts Gallery to mark the end of the Sounds of Country exhibition and to celebrate the community of Aboriginal artists within it. The Sounds of Country exhibition explored the Aboriginal concept of Deep Listening, revealing the relationship the Aboriginal artists have to the land and to the natural world.
The Sounds of Country Ceremony was conducted as a Deep Listening Circle. About 45 people participated in the event which included local Aboriginal artists, community members, guests from the Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place, the Torch Project and staff from local organisations and educational institutions. The oldest participant was 89 and the youngest was 10.
It was the first time the Boomulele Ukulele and Percussion Group had played in public and they did a marvellous job, performing strongly and including everyone. Boomulele is one of ten Street Bands within the Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds project, each of which is making a unique contribution to cultural community development within its region.
Before the Ceremony, Lyndal Chambers and Brian (Strat) Strating led a rehearsal with Boomulele and other community members, creating a sense of fun and inclusivity. Ronald Edwards, a Traditional Custodian then welcomed people to his Country and Boomulele led everyone in a Gunaikurnai Acknowledgment Song. During the Ceremony, artists and community members shared stories about their creative practice and a dancer from Wulgunggo Ngalu spontaneously performed a Creation Dance around Ronald Edwards’ painting which lay in the centre of the Circle. At the end of the Ceremony, Boomulele performed ‘Djapana (Sunset Dreaming)’ and it raised the roof.
One of the participants in the Circle was Jeannie Haughton, a local playwright. This is how she described her experience of being part of the Sounds of Country Ceremony:
of a safe place
it wraps me in welcome
and pictures leave
traces and tracks in the air
a long slow outbreath
letting go of everything
but the now
reading wisdom in the lines
voices from the strong
the fragile cradled
all joining in song, and dance
connecting as one
The combination of music, dance, art and the exchange of stories at the Sounds of Country ceremony led to a strong feeling of community and connection in the room. It was a living example of Deep Listening, a way of listening which goes well beyond what we can hear with our ears. To listen deeply, we need to take time to engage and to create space in which genuine contact can be made.
Boomulele and the SteeetSounds project are making a significant contribution to creating spaces like these across the State.
Feature image: Ronald Edwards: Telling stories on Gunai Country, (detail)2016 acrylic on canvas
Whether you like it or hate it, the ways in which we absorb and process information have changed irrevocably, and putting a message out into the world is easy as pie. The challenge comes in finding your target audience before the pastry turns crusty and hard.
How long have you spent on social media today? The chances are you’ve been bombarded by information and communications of all kinds. Like magpies, our eyes are drawn to whatever stands out and glitters in the proverbial online hedgerow.
Of all the online hooks, film clips wield a mighty power to entertain, inform, amuse and to educate. Armed with smarter and smarter smart phones we each have the capacity to be the storytellers and documenters of our own life. Our pockets hold the power and the tool, all we need is the incentive and the imagination! A single clip delivered via the right platforms can be successful in attracting new audiences and engage the attention of people right across the world. As singing and instrumental group leaders and participants, a short film can be a highly effective way to share resources, increase participation, attract potential sponsors and funding and, let’s face it, it makes a way sexier tool for evaluation than a written report.
“People are watching more than they are reading, and people are watching small screens, not big ones.”
Below are some tips from Bill Pheasant* on building skills and developing technique that will help you be more mindful of the content you select to film, and how you then go about presenting and editing that content for maximum effect, whether it’s your cat climbing the curtain or your community choir in full belt. Bill has worked in communications for close to 30 years, and for the last 5 has been working globally to create tools and approaches to help almost anyone use modern technology such as a mobile phone to create short, compelling stories:
“Filmmaking for the movies is incredibly complex, but the stories at the heart of any clip are often simple. Why not consider how can we use the equipment we have, and the skills we bring, to tell meaningful stories that will help this community music work to continue.”
The following tips are taken from Bill’s notes for his workshop in Storytelling at the Community Music Victoria music camp at Grantville in April 2016.
First things first. If you’re the one in your group keen to start filming, take some time to ask yourself the following questions:
Why are you – and all the others – involved in the group?
What does it give you?
How does it make you feel?
How many people know about that?
If other people knew your stories and how you feel do you think they would get involved?
And the money question: Do you think those funding your activity would be interested in your stories? (If you got to this point, you know the answer is always yes!)
Key points to remember before you film:
People love to watch emotion.
They don’t have a long attention span.
So we need to show people the key moments. And as filmmakers – we need ways to find those moments efficiently.
Film can be a great medium for observing. A lot of clips on social media are just that: little moments of ordinary life. But to communicate well we often need more context: Why am I watching these trombones?
To get more context, use interviews with people/participants. Interviewing somebody – rather than having them talk at a camera or phone – puts them at ease, makes them feel less self-conscious and more relaxed. It also allows them to demonstrate their passion more effectively. To stay out of the picture yourself, ask the question, then listen attentively while you film the answer, without responding. If possible, pair these interview clips with some overlay images to elaborate on what is being said and hold the viewer’s attention. It means the speaking continues while the images change – even free edit software can do this.
Unless you have rock-solid arms, consider using a tripod for your phone/camera to allow you to be involved in the human connection as interviewer. It makes for better viewing and also means the person you are interviewing isn’t looking directly into the lens.
Before you begin filming, check the following:
Phone/camera memory space.
A pocketful of ideas!
A bit of technique.
A way to manage what you film.
Ways to share it.
Here are some things that will make your video better:
Light – you need enough or your film will be drab. You need to be able to adjust it. Most current smartphones have light level adjustment on the screen. It it’s still too dark, change where you film.
Cut them down to make the outcome more watchable! It may not feel like you’re shaking much while you are filming but try watching more than a few seconds of playback.
Listen for background noise and replay to test the sound is clear. Poor audio ruins many videos.
Don’t be afraid to set the scene and start filming before your subject comes into view. This creates context and draws the viewer in.
Consider the types of shots you plan to use: Wide shot. Mid shot. Close up. Why? What sort of feeling are you trying to evoke in the viewer?
Avoid panning and avoid zooming. Instead, stop filming, move closer to your subject and start again, or change your position for a different angle. If you can edit, you can sew your sequence together, later on.
Use the background as well as the foreground to tell your story.
A little forethought can mean when you sit down later to put the pieces together, you have all you need! Set the scene, as you would in any story. Take some context footage. The hall as everyone enters, for example, or a bit of the banter before the magic begins. This allows people to begin imagining what will happen next and gives them an opportunity to begin to ‘feel’ your story.
Finally, give some thought to how you are going to share your film, once it’s made. This may dictate the length and the style you go for. In giving some thought to the style, message and content of your film, try storyboarding.
If you’ve never tried this before, give storyboarding on paper a whirl. All you need is a whiteboard or some paper and pens and the time to let your imagination flow out – progressing the story scene by scene – onto the paper or whiteboard.
Storyboarding in your head
Also known as a daydream. Which can lead to some great things and unexpected ideas. Use the same principles as above and be sure to give some thought to how you’re going to store the great ideas and examples you dream up!
Give it a go! Better to get out there, try and fail than never try at all. As Bill said in his workshop, Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Written by Deb Carveth & Bill Pheasant. Huge thanks to Bill for providing the notes from his workshop as the basis for this post.
*Bill Pheasant is the Director of Communications for Children’s Ground in Jabiru, NT. Children’s Ground was established to work with communities experiencing disadvantage and inequity as they lead the way towards positive change. To learn more about the organisation, visit https://www.childrensground.org.au Children’s Ground also has a page on Facebook.
‘Playing music with people from other cultures is more than just communication, it’s an act of love’ believes Brian Strating, leader of mens’ singing group, Homebrew Verandah Music and Brunswick Old Time String Orchestra. (BOTSO)
Strat and his partner, Lyndal Chambers, have played music with community musicians in many different countries, something that’s proven a highly effective way to experience the culture of those musicians and forge firm and lasting friendships.
BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music operate on a non-virtuosic model of inclusivity, creating a space that’s free of judgement that allows those within it the freedom to experiment with their skills. Tunes are taught aurally, improvisation is welcome and mistakes are embraced. In order for this to work effectively, listening to those around you is paramount, and knowing when to start and when to stop, is also key.
When you think about it, the same skills and values are directly transferable to our lives and how we live. They have the potential to positively impact the equilibrium of society and influence a harmonious co-existence between people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs based on mutual respect, acceptance and understanding. After all, knowing when to be quiet can be as important as knowing what to say.
It is these same values that Strat and members of his groups will be carrying in their hearts and their heads to the Palestine Choral Festival in August. The group have been invited to participate in the festival by The Choir of London, and will be travelling as part of The Open House Ensemble, a musical and visual arts collaboration between Homebrew Verandah Music, BOTSO and Motherworks.
The aim of the festival is ‘to bring together Palestinian and International Choirs to celebrate the world in song’ and the opportunity will provide the Open House Ensemble a chance to experience the lives and culture of the many communities in Palestine using music and visual art to introduce themselves and engage.
The trip will enable them to experience this country away from the fog of the media lens, and will be made in the spirit of peace and free of any political or religious agenda. Travelling under the banner ‘Musicians not Munitions’ the group will work to plant seeds of collaboration and further communication, using music to develop and broaden connectivity. They will then share their experience through music and visual arts in recordings, performance, exhibition and workshops, here in Melbourne and Victoria.
“This is about inclusion and a celebration of Palestinian culture. The Choir of London and the Palestinian Choral Festival are about bringing cultures together and that is how we came to be invited… it’s about participating without fear of making mistakes and without judgement.”
The invitation from the London Choir came via a young English fiddle player called Alice Howick who played with BOTSO while working as part of the MSO’s outreach program in Broadmeadows. Inspired by her work with young kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, she returned to the UK to start teacher training where she is also involved with planning the program for the London Choir’s Palestine Choral Festival.
“Alice clearly loved the model of BOTSO. She’s a classically trained violinist and was gaining inspiration from learning tunes by ear, having to learn tunes aurally and also the philosophy of not being fearful of making mistakes, of embracing the mistakes and the process of learning in an environment that is non-judgemental.”
After returning to the UK, Alice got in touch with Strat, having had ‘a crazy idea’… It had occurred to her that what was needed as part of the festival was something along the lines of BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music: the representation of a community music model which celebrates inclusion and participation above all else, and the creation of a safe and fearless space in which to make music.
It’s been a slow burn, and the decision to go to Palestine wasn’t one that Strat and the group rushed into making. There have been many conversations with many different people, gradually unfolding to the point where the Open House Ensemble are now preparing to pack their bags and head off to Palestine at the end of July.
“We are taking the community music model of inclusion in which to explore your music making and we’ll be doing that collaboratively with Palestinian musicians and community music groups, and it’s such an exciting prospect.”
An incredible essence of music making is how what you feel in your heart is expressed through the sounds you create. This energy is capable of transcending differences in opinions, backgrounds, cultures and language. This is not ephemeral. It seeds the potential for mutual respect and understanding between yourself and those with whom you sing or play. In this way, it should be able to take you everywhere.
Strat and the Open House Ensemble are extremely aware of the political tension and the sensitivity of the region and are keen not to alienate anyone, either by their decision to visit or while they are there. The emphasis of the trip is cross cultural connection and collaboration.
“We are taking peace, love and healing with us. It’s a philosophy we are taking to play through our music… we’ll hold this in our hearts and it’s moulding the repertoire. Carrying this intention with us, we’ll be peddling peace through community connectedness, through the celebration of culture and the sharing of culture through the act of collaborative music making.”
The next time you sit down to read to a toddler, consider popping that ole book back to its place on the shelf for a while*, and playing some homemade music together instead. Over time, the long term effect of your action might just make the world a better place to be. Research from the University of Queensland conducted over two years on more than 3000 young children showed that making music with toddlers could have even more of a positive impact on their development, than sharing a story. And lets face it, banging on pots and pans is loud and fun for everyone (especially the neighbours, who will loveyou).
Findings from the study, ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’ (2013–2015) indicate that early involvement in music participation has the capacity to improve numeracy, increase attention and assist with the development of prosocial behaviour and skills which, being the opposite of anti-social skills, are therefore beneficial to the good of society as a whole.
Professor Margaret Barrett, head of University of Queensland’s School of Music and a key leader in the study funded by the Australian Research Council, claims that “Children who experienced more frequent parent-child music activity at two to three years showed stronger vocabulary and numeracy skills, more prosocial skills and stronger abilities to regulate their own attention and emotion at four to five years old….The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children.”
Read the full article ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books’ published on the Medical Xpress website here
*But be sure to come back to the book later on. Balance in all things, and all that…
Article by Deb Carveth based on information found in ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books.’ Published by Medical Xpress. September 2015
All-in ensembles: a mix of instruments, a mix of ages, a mix of skill levels with everybody welcome to squeeze up together and join in. They may be a whole heap of fun to be part of, but how does it feel to be the person standing in the middle, holding every thing together?
CMVic’s recent music camp featured a wonderful wealth of workshops for instruments and singers of diverse experience and skill levels. The all in ensemble, led by Lyndal Chambers, gave everyone the opportunity to come together and make music en glorious masse.
Imagine being the facilitator. You’re stood among a squeeze of accordions, a swathe of strings, a blast of horns, a strum of ukuleles, and a chorus of voices, all keen, all excited to be a part of this amazing thing, this swelling of sound, all packed into a room with a fairly low ceiling, and all looking at you … Where do you start things off and how do you keep it all going?
Even with a proven track record as a highly experienced music leader, facilitator and teacher, Lyndal admits the prospect of leading the 2016 CMVic ensemble made her nervous.
“I was incredibly anxious about being able to meet everybody’s needs. Usually working with a group of kids or adults, working with a group of say 25, you’re reasonably able to suss out the room and observe who needs what. You can physically run around and see who needs a simple B-flat part or the harmony in C part or whatever…you get an idea of what people need to get the most out of the experience and can sit them next to a relevant support person, but I was aware during the preparation that with so many people (100+) in the ensemble there was no way I was going to be able to do that.”
All Lyndal’s preparation payed off, and the ensemble at camp went with a swing on Saturday when everyone was full of beans and last thing on Sunday, too, when Lyndal pulled a fantastic second session out of the bag to end things on a high note.
So what were the processes and strategies used by Lyndal to prepare for the diverse needs of an all in ensemble? Here she shares some of the pointers and tips she put into play for planning things out and staying on track:
First things first, find a tune; find a song
Lyndal used ‘Caderas’ (a traditional Balafon band tune) and ‘Coffee Love’, a song by Leanne Murphy and Frank Prem in four parts which worked for the singers and across the ranges of the instrument families too.
“People played Coffee Love really well; you could hear all the quiet instruments, which was really great. And Caderas is a great tune… the accordions can play it, the horns can play it, and the strings can play it.”
Draw on your resources and be prepared to learn too
“Preparing for the ensemble, one really big piece of learning I had was about the overlap between singing groups and instrumental groups. The decision to use Coffee Love out of the new song book (Sing It) came to me like a bolt out of the blue, having sung it while recording for the book. I could apply the same process to learning Coffee Love as I would use with a singing group. Sing the part over and over and then apply that part to an instrumental group. This makes it a lot quicker for people to learn their part and it makes the transition to playing that part on an instrument easier having sung it through, so many times.”
Have section leaders in place
Having section leaders in place when leading a large group works well. “All of the weekend’s workshop leaders were sitting in the ensemble as well as all of the CMVic regulars and leaders who also understand the importance of listening and looking out for the people sitting around them. Seeing some people do this automatically in the ensemble was a great relief.”
Keep things simple
In addressing the diversity of skill level and experience in a large group, Lyndal recommends the key to success is in keeping things simple.
“Think about how simple you think it should be and then go one step simpler.”
Solos and Extensions
“Leave room for solos and extensions so the competent musicians aren’t left wondering at what point you’re going to move off three notes and are given opportunities, too.”
Provide a tune that has easy access
Coffee Love has two chords so Lyndal took her partner Strat’s ukulele and learnt those two chords from scratch. The process of doing this made her think that anyone else trying something for the first time would be able to join in with at least one chord or note of the tune. Lyndal also set the tempo and created a groove using clapping and dancing before starting on teaching the tune.
“I feel dancing is like singing. Everyone can do it and you can do it as much or as little as you like. It’s a real mixed ability thing.”
Keep the faith!
How do you stay focused and keep everything together leading a group that size and diverse?
“At no point did I feel I had to pull the whole thing back. I just felt really optimistic. You have to have faith in the group and remember that they’re going to be forgiving. If you have to stop to collect your thoughts, do it.”
Some good tips to remember are:
Have faith in the group: they will be forgiving.
If you have to think on your feet, that’s okay!
Be mindful of the fact that everyone in the room is barracking for you and again, it will be okay!
You will get to where you want to go and the group will cooperate and help you to get there.
Once everyone’s cracked the tune, extend the musical experience.
In the lead up to the weekend, Lyndal spent time considering the elements of music: tempo, rhythm, dynamics, pitch and timbre and how these could be explored in the context of the workshop, including:
Being able to do a solo
Being able to improvise
Playing slowly at times
“This was particularly helpful in the second session on Sunday because by then everyone knew the tunes and I was wondering how we could vary things and make it more musical.”
I threw it over to the group to answer these questions but at the back of my mind, I had those elements to fall back on to make it more interesting, more satisfying and to extend people’s musical experience.
Leading a large group of varied skill and experience levels makes you draw on your resources as a leader, whatever those are. In the preparation stages Lyndal drew on her expertise and experience in terms of how complicated to make the music and considering what the instruments were capable of doing. In the actual leading of the session she was thinking about ways to make things more satisfying and more musical, but as she says, there are different approaches to take and outcomes and direction will vary between leaders:
“I don’t think necessarily that you have to have the full palette of musical elements. My palette is just my palette, other people will have a full palette that’s a different palette.”
And so I think it’s about tapping into the people you’re working with. They bring skills and they bring cooperation.
Listen to the whole sound and listen to the needs of people who will let you know if things aren’t clear to them! For example, if the ukuleles can’t hear themselves or if somebody is confused by a chord, they’ll generally ask you.”
How does it sound? Take a listen here! And, above all, remember to enjoy the experience.
Article written by Deb Carveth with Lyndal Chambers
Sound recording by Stuart Ashburner at the CMVic Music Camp 2016, reproduced here with permission from Leanne Murphy and Frank Prem