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.
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!“
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.”
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.”
“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!”
“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.’
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:
As the tentative optimism emerging for some community music groups in term 3 was crushed by COVID once more, devising a resource to support leaders to facilitate online music making or to squeeze the most out of their current online practice became a priority. Saddened by the clipped wings of songbirds and the frustration of instrumentalists playing alone into the ether almost everywhere, CMVic began working on the development of resources to support an online take off as a way for groups to keep connected.
The result is a fantastic, seven page, website resource called Leading Community Music Online, researched and written by CMVic’s newly appointed tech advisor, Craig Barrie. Together with his partner, Nicki Johnson, Craig has been singing and strumming and keeping the spirits and morale of community music-makers raised up through lockdown since the very start of this corona-induced hullaballoo. Offering multiple online opportunities for people to participate and engage through his work with Nicki as part of All the Way Home, With One Voice Greater Dandenong, and as an independent music teacher, has required Craig to experiment extensively and continually refine what he’s found works best and what is better avoided from both a delivery and engagement perspective, using this format.
Craig has now written up his findings together with some of his top tips into a highly informative, engaging and accessible resource designed to support and enable community music makers’ to enjoy positive tech outcomes and less glitches. It includes advice and help-guides about how to get the best results with limited time and a limited budget.
This is all now loaded and shared on the Community Music Victoria website and we very much hope that the following index of info will help you and your groups to turn iso into calypso and remain tuned in with each other until normal service can be resumed, however far off that is, whether you’re locked down in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire or restricted in regional Victoria. The options discussed have been tried and tested by music leaders in the CMVic family since physical distancing measures took effect in March 2020 – we thank them for so generously sharing their knowledge and experience in the peer-sharing spirit of Community Music Victoria.
*Members of CMVic can also book a one-to-one tech help appointment with Craig Simply email: email@example.com with your issue specifying when you are available for a call or Zoom chat. Please include a description of relevant hardware (e.g. laptop/tablet/phone, Mac-IoS/PC-Android).
**Keep an eye out for upcoming CMVic Zoom sessions on specific tech related topics. These are advertised in CMVic’s Shout newsletter as well as the CMVic Singing Leaders’ Lounge and Music Group Leaders’ Lounge on Facebook, and include ongoing discussions of what our clever, creative folk are doing to make the best lemonade out of the lemons that 2020 has supplied in abundance!
Written by Deb Carveth with Craig Barrie for Community Music Victoria
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.”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. EC, Author provided582 KB (download)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brianna Slattery’s always loved rhythm. “I first picked up a Djembe drum when I was about 18 and found it to be really therapeutic, I just loved the tactile experience of drumming, it was something I did for myself. I’d go to the park and drum without really knowing what I was doing so I joined a Samba style drumming group which was my introduction to drumming within a community.”
“I became aware of how particularly powerful rhythm is in bringing people together and I felt the strength of the connections I was building with everyone I was playing with. Even though we were a really diverse group we became a tight knit community around our common goal of creating and sharing these amazing rhythms.”
Brianna trained as a teacher and began utilising the drum as her primary instrument for teaching music in the classroom. She discovered this was a highly effective way to engage the students, particularly those whose attention was more challenging to maintain. Then, around five years ago, moving over the border from New South Wales into North Eastern Victoria, Brianna returned to uni to study a Master’s in Education, culminating in her writing a thesis based on her observations from her teaching experience.
“It was really fascinating looking at it all through the lens of the context of drumming, particularly the West African drumming style and it gave me some ideas which led to me developing a Drumming for Student Engagement Strategy which I now implement in schools.”
Using rhythm analogies to teach engagement skills is a key component of Brianna’s business, In the Groove, which she established in 2017 as a way to combine all of her passions and turn them into bread and butter. “Accessibility is key to the appeal of drumming, you pick it up, you play it! For kids who struggle with learning there is instant gratification and reward to discovering that drumming is something they can immediately do. Success drives this motivation and they’re immediately engaged. When you’re engaged in something you learn stuff about yourself as a learner that can then be applied to other areas of your learning and life as well.”
“In working with students and teachers, I’m able to incorporate other analogies such as building perseverance or working cooperatively with others; becoming confident in ourselves and exploring these things through the music.”
In addition to a strong educational focus, In the Groove is about working within the community space. Brianna set up a community drumming class in Wangaratta, teaching West African rhythms she’d learnt travelling in Ghana and through her close affiliation with African Drumming in Melbourne. “In West Africa, the role of music is born out of social purpose; when you hear a rhythm or a drumming piece it’s marking a social occasion or event and there’s a whole heap of meanings and learnings tied to that. I think because of this it comes together in a way that’s quite complex, very much like society is! The music is polyrhythmic, you have many different paths all coming together and playing an important role and so the very structure of the music is a really great way to bring people together….
In fact, the beauty of this West African music and these drumming rhythms is you can’t play them properly on your own. You actually need a community of people to play all of the musical parts and to bring the right kind of energy for the music to actually work! It works around synchronicity and all of the parts bouncing off each other.”
“I started teaching these community classes which were very, very small in the beginning and they’ve grown over time. I now offer them in a number of different towns and there’s always some kind of a social agenda or outcome behind what I’m doing. Repetition is a really important aspect to the structure of each group and so is teaching people to really listen to each other. We have people from all different backgrounds and all different ages who come together to learn this musical style and so there’s the building of community around that as well.”
Often, when people head along to their first class, the most common feeling they’ll bring is the worry they lack rhythm. “They’ll tell me they’ve had a flier on their fridge for aaages but their greatest concern which has kept them away is that they’re not musical enough to be doing this activity. I say to them ‘we’ve all got rhythm, we all have a beating heart; anything that we do, any task that’s repetitive whether it’s chopping wood or filing papers or something like that, is rhythm, there’s rhythm everywhere in our world so we’ve all got it, just some of us are tapped into it more than others’.”
In addition to running paid classes and programs in schools, In the Groove gives back to the community by creating free opportunities for people to come together and connect. “At least once a month we jam somewhere in one of the towns where we run the classes, it might be at a local market or a fundraising event or it might just be that we decide to drum in the park. The aim is simply to bring the community together.”
Jams are led by members of In the Groove’s community who keep the music flowing and are structured so that musically they sound great. Brianna takes along spare drums to offer anyone able and willing to join in. “People can enter into the rhythm on any level they like, sometimes we sing a few songs too, it’s just about having fun!” In the Groove drummers also volunteer time to share their music at local aged care homes and retirement facilities.
“It’s brilliant, sometimes you just see people come to life as the music brings a whole energy change to the room.
Education, engagement, community and well-being are core values of In the Groove; they’re also the factors for driving and maintaining Brianna’s motivation and passion in her work.
“I’ve seen ways in which this musical form, this musical style can really serve different needs within the community and I’m really passionate about creating more opportunities for connection. I think we’re becoming really disconnected with our dependence on technology and it becomes very easy to become isolated and pretend to be connected when you’re not really. Music is a wonderful thing for bringing people together in working for a common goal and interacting in person with each other within that context. The underlying theme of it all is connection. Connection with knowledge, connection with yourself and connection with the people around you. The lovely thing about these classes is that they’re accessible and open to anyone, the sense of connection is huge.”
Building a business based on passion is not without challenge for Brianna and there are aspects of it she finds tricky to juggle as a community-minded musician and educator: “I want to continue to offer free opportunities for people to come together and share the music and explore and experience the benefits that brings, but at the same time it’s my livelihood and I’m relying on it as a way to generate my income. I have to remind myself that these are things I also need to offer through my business.”
When I started In the Groove it operated as an aside to my work but now it’s my main source of income. I’ve got all these ideas about ways I could be working with different social groups and connecting across different demographics using music outside of the classes, but in order to do so would require a large investment of my time and resources so although it’s something I want to be available for free to the community it needs to be something I can sustain.”
In spite of this wrangle and because of her passion, Brianna is offering a series of free drum sessions as part of Summer in the Park, a council-led initiative. These are happening in Wangaratta Park on Friday afternoons from January into February, and Brianna describes them as an opportunity for people to ‘finish the working week with a bang.’ “Everything we do is an energy exchange and drumming and rhythm make energy really apparent; you can see it and you can hear it and you can feel it. And you can feel the difference and the impact it makes too.”
In the Groove runs weekly drumming classes in Albury Wodonga, Beechworth, Yarrawonga and Wangaratta. For further information, click here or email Brianna: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
4th June 3.31pm
One humpback sighted 1.4 kms of the Nobbies, heading towards Pyramid Rock.
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
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:
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
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.