Findings from new research conducted in the Netherlands show that structured music lessons have a significant and positive effect on a child’s cognitive abilities, improving verbal intelligence, inhibition and planning skills.
“Despite indications that music has beneficial effects on cognition, music is disappearing from general education curricula,” said lead author Dr. Artur Jaschke, who is a researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “This inspired us to initiate a long-term study on the possible effects of music education on cognitive skills that may underlie academic achievement.”
It’s never too late to pick up a musical instrument. In fact there are many reasons why it’s a great idea, particularly in old age.We normally hear about reasons to increase music education for children, and for good cause. There are many cognitive and social benefits to playing an instrument that aid a child’s development. Consequently, as an older adult, there are long-term effects of having taken part in these musical activities, as it can limit cognitive decline.
Even a small amount of training can have long lasting effects. But this doesn’t mean that those who have never played an instrument in childhood have missed the boat. The ageing brain is plastic: that means it is able to learn new things all the time. So, should we consider an increase in music programs for those in the third age?
Playing music as a workout for the brain
Learning to play a musical instrument is an extremely complex task that involves the coordination of multiple sensory systems within the brain. Many instruments require precise coordination between the eyes, the ears and the hands in order to play a musical note. Using the resulting sound as feedback, the brain prepares for the next note and so it continues. The act of music-making is quite a brain workout.
The relationship between the motor and auditory parts of the brain is strengthened when physically playing music. This may explain why adults trained to play certain melodies have an enhanced representation of music in the brain compared to adults only trained to listen to the same melodies.
As playing music involves many different parts of the brain, even a short-term program for older adult musical novices can lead to generalised improvements for cognitive ability.
Music as a workout for the fingers
Learning to play an instrument such as the piano involves many complex finger sequencing and coordination tasks. As such, it can be a great test-bed for learning to move fingers independently.
The creativity of music and the enjoyment people take in playing is particularly important for rehabilitation, as it encourages sustained practice leading ultimately to higher benefits.
It’s thanks to this that piano lessons have been used to successfully retrain hand function for patients who have had a stroke. The immediate auditory feedback from each finger movement is thought to help adults reduce errors in movement and work towards moving at a more regular pace.
Music training is an excellent environment to train cognitive and motor abilities, both in the contexts of child development and for rehabilitation. The question for older adults is this: can learning a musical instrument not only put the brakes on cognitive and motor decline, but actually allow development of new skills?
Of course many activities can be novel such as juggling or knitting, but the advantages of learning an instrument can be found in the breadth of skills required to play. At Western Sydney University, we are currently investigating how piano training can be used with healthy older adults to improve their general hand function in unrelated daily tasks.
Music for health and wellbeing
Often, the worry is that playing an instrument will be too difficult for older adults to manage. On the contrary, learning to play an instrument can provide a great sense of achievement and satisfaction.
It’s suggested that this is a consequence of decreases in stress that can happen when taking part in musical activities. However, further research is needed to determine exactly how this relationship functions.
Music for all
It’s vital to understand how we can aid the current generation of older adults, in terms of both health and personal enjoyment. With the myriad benefits provided by playing a musical instrument, it would seem beneficial to have a wider variety of musical activities on offer to the older generation.
Wouldn’t it be great if the third age wasn’t viewed as a final descent from some mid-life peak, but some new act of life that opens up these opportunities? Perhaps we should give older adults the chance to develop in ways they could never have imagined before.
Activities such as singing in a choir, or playing the piano can provide this opportunity, as well as offering many general benefits to health and wellbeing.
Contra dance… que’est-ce-que c’est? For those of us who’ve never dipped a heel or toe into this aspect of the folk or social dance scene, a quick spot of online research explains contra dancing as ‘social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.’ A hot stepping cousin of square dancing or bush dancing, contra dancing is done in pairs with couples moving up and down a line or in sets in response to a caller. It originates from North America and is steadily gaining an enthusiastic following of new, young dancers here in Australia. It is also a fantastic way to link social dancing with community music making.
Melbourne based musician, Judy Oleinikov is a big fan of the inclusive nature of contra dance and for the past three years or so has been doing her bit to bring a wider awareness of it to musicians and dancers alike: “ Contra dances can be more vivacious and also a little bit more informal than some of the other dances we have here… unlike something more structured such as Scottish Dancing, it isn’t intimidating to beginners.”
It may be a relief to hear that a sleek technique isn’t required and you don’t need to point your toes to take part. Contra dancing is open to anyone of any age and people seem to find it highly addictive due to its inherent element of fun. That and the amount of spinning involved.
For Judy, Contra dance kicks come from her involvement as a fiddle player for the dance:
“What I love about social dance is seeing a roomful of people in sync, the dancers and the musicians. There’s just nothing better, that buzz of live music and everyone responding to it.
In addition to the fact it’s fun, Judy considers the resurgence in contra dancing important in helping to sustain a complex skill and a vital element of musicality which she believes is at risk of becoming lost: the ability to play for dancers.
“A lot of Celtic musicians learn the music completely separate from the dance and so they haven’t quite got the feel… they can be brilliant players but to a dancer it just wouldn’t be right. We’ve grown used to hearing recordings or playing tunes in pubs and so what I really like about bringing a dance back is doing it while people are learning the music to go with it.”
Contra dance music is lively, and drives and energizes the dancers. Like all forms of music, it has originated from a blend of traditions, noticeably Irish, Scottish, Breton, Québecois, Cape Breton, New England, and Appalachian, and is constantly evolving, as living traditions do. As an avid player of Celtic music herself, Judy explains that the origin of this form of music was in playing tunes for people to dance along to as entertainment.
“People used to dance every week. There’s the story of how in Ireland, people used to meet on the crossroads whenever there was a full moon because there were no halls big enough to fit everyone into… it’s been people’s enjoyment for so long.”
While this form of dancing fell out of favour as other new and exciting ways to pass the time were thought up and invented throughout the twentieth century, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that when people rediscover it as a form of unplugged entertainment, it becomes a bit of an addiction.
As a musician, one of the things Judy loves most about this form of traditional music is that tunes are learnt and carried by ear. There are no scores to follow and whilst a framework is essential to prevent chaos breaking out on the dance floor, musicians can be spontaneous and creative in their playing and because they’re not following markings on a piece of paper, their interpretation can come across.
“Because there are no hard and fast rules about chord choices and where the notes should be played, you’ll hear something different about the melody each time… there’s no break out like there is in jazz, it’s more about taking the framework of the tune and finding elements in it to change around or highlight, and that’s really exciting.”
For the past four years, Judy has run the Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle Weekend, a music camp dedicated to French Canadian music, a type of Celtic music that’s “as much fun to play as it is to listen to” which has remained very rhythmic, very lively and is a style extremely well suited to contra dancing.
Each year, Judy has included a dance in the camp’s program, inspired by the social dancing she’d seen in Quebec to this particular style of music. “I thought it would be absolutely brilliant to run a dance like that here at my camp!” Two friends of Judy’s are dance callers and dancers in different styles, and they each asked if she’d consider a contra dance.
“They’d fallen in love with the style and knew of hardly any contra dance happening here in Victoria. Once we had a go I could see their point – it’s a really great form of social dancing.”
Jeanette Mill, who is an experienced Contra dance caller from Canberra, has worked with Judy for the past three years. “Jeanette is highly experienced with a range of dances up her sleeve for whoever comes along and, in order to be as inclusive as possible, starts each of the dances quite simply.” As Judy points out, the skill of the caller has to combine with the skill of the musicians to ensure that the dancers can pick up and maintain a rhythm and flow.
“We have kids, we have parents holding toddlers, we have more elderly people and even teenage boys joining in! It’s great to get all the age groups up and dancing with people they may feel too shy to sit and talk to and, as some of the dances are progressive, it mixes everyone up.”
Whilst Contra dancing isn’t actually a French Canadian thing, it’s been carried across the borders into Quebec from the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the heartland of Contra Dance. Subsequently, a lot of the musicians from that region make their money as dance players and tend to be extremely good at it.
In November this year, Judy will once again be hosting a four-day French Canadian music camp in Gippsland ‘which will honour the traditional way of learning music by providing an environment open to all players, teaching the music by ear and enjoying a great community atmosphere.’
The Quebec Fiddle Camp will offer musicians and dancers the opportunity to participate in an afternoon’s contra dance workshop led by visiting musicians from Quebec. “Australia has very few musicians who can play for contra dances so far, and it’s great to have the opportunity to book visiting musicians here who are strong in the genre.”
Judy is keen to encourage players who attend the weekend to have a go at the dancing in order to experience it from a dancing perspective, to feel the music and the impact it has.
The 2018 Quebec Fiddle Camp will take place over cup weekend, (Nov 2-6) and on Monday November 5, (Cup Eve), Judy is planning a big contra dance in Trafalgar. This event will be open to anyone out there in the community who’s keen to join in and – literally – give it a whirl.
For information about the annual Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle weekend, visit www.quasitrad.com
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Judy Oleinikov
Researchers found that young men and women who shared musical experiences with their parents during childhood — and especially during adolescence — report having better relationships with their mums and dads as they enter young adulthood.
“If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them,” said study co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the UA Department of Communication.
“If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child’s perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood.”
Researchers surveyed a group of young adults, average age 21, about the frequency with which they engaged with their parents, as children, in activities such as listening to music together, attending concerts together or playing musical instruments together.
Read the full article written by Alexis Blue and published by the University of Arizona, here.
Feature photo: Markus Spisk; Violin and Flute: Micaela Parente on Unsplash
Sarah Mandie is a Melbourne based singer songwriter and the mother of two young girls. These two highly personal and defining elements of her life are brought into sharp focus though her new project, That Girl, and it is from her unequivocal belief in the potential of each and her passion for both, that this project has come about at all.
That Girl is a song and a music video dance project that invites participation from girls and women of all ages from Wodonga, Yarra Ranges and Boroondara. The song and the project arising from it was conceived by Sarah as a creative way to empower women and girls in communities everywhere. It’s strong, it’s beautiful and it carries a positive message about the need for society to respect ‘that girl’: That girl who is our daughter, our mother, our wife.
Sarah wrote the song three years ago following a series of distressing news reports and around the time of the brutal killing of two young girls in India. The alleged perpetrators of the crime bribed police and were released without charge. It was a story that horrified people around the world and resonated particularly deeply with Sarah who has a connection with Rajasthan through her Indian husband and her daughters, too.
“When this happened to these girls in India it made me think about my girls, their futures and their safety which then extends out to all girls, from all countries. I was so angry and upset, I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world.
Because I love the medium of music and song, I thought it would be really good to write a song that talked about those issues, a song that contributes to the prevention of violence.”
Channelling these negative feelings of anger and helplessness into a positive act of creativity was tough but worthwhile. It took Sarah a long time to get the song right, for the lyrics to say what she wanted them to without the song being something people wouldn’t want to listen to. Sarah wanted to write a strong song, and knew that finding the right ‘catch’ was crucial for the message to be carried.
“I think the challenge in writing a song about a difficult issue is that you want to acknowledge the issue but at the same time have a positive frame around it so that people will want to sing it and listen to it and be inspired by it… a song to promote change needs to be attractive for people to listen to and want to sing.”
During the early stages, Sarah was struck by frustration as she realised what a craft it is to write this type of song:
“Sometimes we write a song that comes from within and we trust the processes of creativity but with this song it went through a few changes because I really wanted the end product to be something positive and something people would respond well to.”
Jamie Saxe stepped in to help Sarah nail the end: “Jamie took the song and created real magic with it through his arrangement and production of the instrumentation.”
Saxe’s enthusiasm to be involved reiterated to Sarah the power of her song and its potential to deliver broadly within the context of a wide scale project: What had inspired her was now beginning to inspire the other people coming into contact with the song and feeling similarly moved by the importance of the cause. The shape of the project became clear on completion of the song: Involve girls from the community in learning the song and making of a video to accompany it, then take the completed package out to the world as an empowering catalyst for awareness and change.
“I want That Girl to change the future for my daughters and for all daughters, it’s a hugely personal thing.”
Sarah’s personal and familial connections with India inspired her to translate the chorus into Hindi, bringing the feminine energy of the divinity Shakti into the song: “That girl is the one that gives life, she has the power, that girl is Shakti. Whilst India has high levels of gender based violence, as Sarah is quick to point out, the need for greater levels of respect and the creation of safe environments for girls and women is necessary everywhere.
The first phase of That Girl begins on December 2nd, with an information session inviting women and girls of all ages from within the Indian and Bhutanese communities in Wodonga to join a dance workshop to be held in February next year to embody the Hindi element of the song. The dance routine they will learn in that workshop has already been choreographed and recorded and now needs bringing to life:
“I want all genders to feature in the final video, however the workshops are an opportunity for women and girls to come together to find strength and focus through working together. Once the song goes out there, boys and men will be involved with the project too as part of the awareness.”
For the time being, Sarah is reluctant to share That Girl song beyond the context of the project but given the significance and the urgency of the issue it addresses and the brilliant catchiness of the composition it’s unlikely to stay under wraps very long. And as That Girl emerges and gains exposure and momentum, the world will be a better place for having heard it and the power of the message it conveys.
Dinosaurs couldn’t sing. Perhaps their demise had nothing to do with earth impacting asteroids or the frustration of tiny arms after all and was instead triggered by their physical inability to sing. Now, I’m no scientist but…
Findings from a report published last year suggest the Jurassic age was filled with awkward silences punctuated only by squawks, leaf munching and worse. Without the option to experience the joy of shared breathing patterns, matched heartbeats or the release of life affirming endorphins catalysed by singing together, life in the days of the dinosaurs must have been bleak. Imagine having no way to celebrate the break of a new day or the setting of an evening sun. Imagine a world without song.
The oldest, complete example of a found fossilised syrinx belonged to a species of ancient bird related to the ducks and geese of today called Vegavis iaai, which lived during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic Era between 66-69 million years ago.
The specimen was dug up on Vega Island in Antartica by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute, led by Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas. Twenty five years later, upon subsequent re-examination in 2013, Clarke and her team discovered the fossilised bird was found to contain a complete syrinx, the avian equivalent of a human larynx or ‘voice box’.
The team spent the next two years searching records of previous Jurassic finds to establish whether earlier examples of a syrinx existed. Their research came to nothing, with all other examples of fossilised syrinxes occurring in species of birds that evolved long after the extinction of land-based dinosaurs.
This discovery was important as it offered insight into the Jurassic soundscape: Without a syrinx, those poor old land lubbin’ dinosaurs would have been incapable of song:
“To speculate wildly, we might have closed-mouth booms more similar to crocodilians in large-bodied dinosaurs like T. rex…..said Clarke.”
If you’re thinking okay, enough about dinosaurs already, what does all this have to do with community music? Well, for the sake of this blog, what’s relevant was a subsequent observation of Clarke and her team:
“…the evolution of vocal behaviour can provide insights into other anatomical features… such as the development of bigger brains.”
Aha, now this is more like it! Jumping from the Jurassic age into the 21st century, a study led by Dr Vanessa Sluming from the University of Liverpool and published in 2002 of a British Symphony Orchestra found that musicians exhibited larger volumes of grey matter in Broca’s area, the part of our brains responsible for language and verbal working memory, and this volume varied depending on how many years they’d been playing their instrument.
“Although this area declines with age, orchestral players kept more of their brain cells than non-players, as they aged.” Dr Vanessa Sluming
Furthermore, it’s well documented that singing and learning songs builds neurological pathways, and also boosts levels of acetylcholine in the brain, an organic chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter sending messages through the brain and playing a highly important role in memory retention.
In committing new material to memory and then drawing on that in the context of our singing and music making, we improve our capacity to recall and remember.
Valuable for all this and more, community music making provides the opportunity to simply celebrate being alive. We should all keep learning and singing new songs and playing new tunes, recalling favourites from the archives along the way and our long term mental health and well-being will reap the rewards. And we should all be grateful not to have been born a dinosaur.
“… the fish in the river, the clouds in the sky,
the wattles and gum trees that grow up so high
the kookaburra singing so gaily and free
good morning to you and good morning to me…”
from the Good Morning song* by Woody Clark
Woody Clark dreams of a world where families find time to make music as they go about their lives together. Over the past fifteen years or more, Woody has been working to build a catalogue of songs and resources available to parents and carers to turn this vision into reality and help integrate the rich experience of intergenerational singing and playing into the familial tapestry of homes and lives across Australia.
For Woody, the value is in ‘creating music rather than consuming it’ and, where possible, within a familiar setting involving children, parents or carers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins…
“Make music relevant and engaging and something that’s just part of the fabric of the household rather than something external to that, find the means to utilise it in your life in a way that will bring expression and joy, or whatever that might be.”
Woody’s own three kids have collaborated with him on musical projects, co-written songs for his album, and in recent years toured as part of the family band ‘Woody’s World’. This includes his parents, folk singer-songwriters Kate Townsend and Dave Clark. Woody’s World played at many regional festivals and events in 2016, including Adelaide Festival Centre, Melbourne Cabaret Festival and Ukulele Festivals, Pt Fairy Folk Festival and Mt Beauty Music Festival.
Woody remembers feeling surprised by the excitement of former classmates in recalling the novelty of a school teacher who would sing and play guitar to them during art classes. For Woody who grew up in a household where music-making was a normal and assumed part of daily life, this occurrence was familiar and common to him. He realised as an adult, the experience at school had evaporated from his memory as something unremarkable tends to.
Years later as a father and classroom teacher himself, Woody is using his experience and knowledge as a songwriter and musician to uphold the tradition set by his own background, advocating for the benefits and joys of the style of unplugged family music-making he’s enjoyed in his own life.
Woody’s tips for anyone who’s keen to encourage kids to make music are:
Model the behaviour and expose your kids to live music-making.
Have a guitar or ukulele sitting on the couch and build music into your day, for example sing a morning song*, or sing a song before you eat your food, or a bedtime song.
Make it fun! A lot of music education is serious and focuses on the classical side, so if you can show kids that learning and making music can be really fun and engaging too, you’re half way there.
“I’m not putting pressure on my kids to be musicians but if when they leave home, they can play instruments, have some appreciation of the language of music, it’s accessible for them and they can express themselves, then I’ll feel I’ve done my job in that regard.”
As a way to facilitate integrated music-making in the home, Woody runs 8 week ukulele classes teaching kids aged from 5-12 years and their grandparents, parents or guardians, to play the instrument together. In doing so, Woody’s observed the positive benefits and effects that intergenerational learning brings:
“The parents who model the behaviour, doing weekly practise with their kids really upskill in the ukulele, they come back the next week and they’re both excited; they can play that new chord or they can do the new strumming technique. By the end of the 8 weeks instead of the uke being a foreign object that they are wondering how to hold and tune, they are learning to speak that language.”
Next year Woody will take this course online, making it available as a learning resource for kids, parents and carers, everywhere. “It’ll be a kind of crash course in how to learn the basics and there’ll also be an opportunity to play along with Woody’s World during our live shows.” The course will provide footage recorded by Woody for all L-plate ukers to strum along to for practise in their own time. Woody describes it as ‘an integrated project, and a preparatory engagement experience.’
Woody has been working towards this point for a long time having coordinated a number of musical projects, including reKINDle, a response to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and he’s dedicated to continuing this momentum around family music making and taking it onwards: “I’ve been developing my ideas around family music participation for well over a decade. I am passionate about music and how it can connect families and communities and through my upbringing and my teaching and my work with my own kids, it feels like all these strands are coming together.”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, and Woody Clark.
* Woody’s Good morning song is available online! Download the lyrics and mp3 here for freeeee! You can also download the chords and to complete the experience, there’s a colour-in poster to download, print off and complete as you learn the song.
Woody’s debut album is available from his website which includes wonderful family collaborations. Check it out here here. You can keep up to date with his activities on his Facebook Page
Listen and learn ‘Catch the leaves’ a song written by Woody’s daughter when she was 7 years old.
One hundred years ago, Australians voted not once but twice against conscription, on October 28th 1916 and again on 20 December 1917 in referendums called by the Prime minister, Billy Hughes. The referendums bitterly divided the nation, with pro-conscription and anti-conscription campaigners spreading their messages in speeches, songs, huge public meetings, articles, and rallies.
An ardent advocate for peace at this time was a young woman named Adela Pankhurst. Adela was banished to Australia by her mother, the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who as a supporter of Britain’s role in WW1 was vehemently and unforgivingly opposed to the views of her daughter.
Dispatched on a one-way ticket down under, Adela continued her work as an activist and leader in the anti-conscription movement. As 1917 drew to a close, she was arrested following a women’s anti-war march in Melbourne and sent to Pentridge Prison in Coburg. On the evening of January 7, 1918, a group of Adela’s supporters met together outside of the women’s prison to serenade her over the walls.
According to newspaper reports from the time, the group ‘from 40 to 60 persons, understood to be Socialists, and a majority of them women’ sang together in a bid to raise Adela’s spirits and to pledge their solidarity and support. Singing Solidarity for Ever, The Red Flag and We’ll keep Australia Free, “salvos of cheers repeated again and again and the whole gathering at a given signal joined in a coo-ee…” By the time the police arrived, the mob had grown to around 300.
To commemorate the centenary of this event, singers and community musicians will again take their voices and music to the street in January as part of Serenading Adela, a street opera written to tell the story of the widespread campaign for peace so under-represented in commemorations of the period, with specific focus on the moving story of the singing mob who serenaded Adela that night.
On January 7, 2018, a one off performance of Serenading Adela will begin with a musical march through Coburg, culminating in a mass sing and performance outside Pentridge Prison: a musical echo and re-enactment of a moment in time as well as a testament to the life, courage and inspiring legacy of Adela, anti-war activism and the anti-conscription movement in Australia.
Community choirs, individual singers and instrumentalists everywhere are invited to join the mass choir or street band and be a part of Serenading Adela. Participation is free, anyone is welcome and no prior singing experience is needed. (See end of article for registration info.)
The project is an outcome of the work of the Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary, formed in the Northern suburbs a couple of years ago to record, remember and commemorate the successful anti-conscription campaigns of WW1.
“We’re writing this to tell the story of Adela, in solidarity with Adela but also to encourage people in these times to use singing as a form of protest…choral activism, just as they did 100 years ago.”
With funding from Creative Victoria a small team have been organising and planning January’s event, including Community Music Activist Jeannie Marsh who is the artistic director, Brunswick based Nancy Atkin, Emily Hayes, Dave Evans, and singer/actor Lisa-Marie Parker (playing Adela).
In writing for Adela, Jeannie has read articles written by women who were vehement in their opposition to conscription and the Great War, and has also spent a swathe of time acquainting herself further with the character of Adela Pankhurst, scouring antique books and researching to give a depth to the musical portrayal of her character:
“She was a fearless ball of energy and apparently a riveting public speaker who drew people to her. There are records of 30,000 people turning up to peace rallies held on the banks of the Yarra… Adela was brought up in this radical family but then expelled by Emmeline from the suffragette family for being too radical. On moving to Melbourne, Adela was taken under the wing of Vida Goldstein and embraced by her pacifist tribe. This street opera is dedicated to singing the story of Adela’s life, and the story of these activists, and keeping it alive.”
Last year as a prelude to the street opera, Community Choir leader and composer, Stephen Taberner, wrote a hauntingly beautiful choral song called ‘Ghosts don’t Lie’. The song was inspired by two workshops held in 2016 for local people in Brunswick and Coburg to share memories of the way wars and conscription have impacted and reverberated through the lives and course of their families and its lasting effects.
Ghosts Don’t lie is comprised of four verses each telling a different story. The song was premiered at the Boite Singers Festival in January 2017 where it was hailed as beautiful and moving work, and will now form a component of Serenading Adela.
Rehearsals for the main choir will start at 3pm on Sunday 3rd September led by Jeannie Marsh, and Brunswick Rogues choir leader Emily Hayes or, for anyone pressed for time there’s the option of waiting until December and joining as a member of the ‘Unruly Mob’. The Victorian Trade Union Choir are already committed to the project, as well as the fifty people who formed the Serenading Adela Choir to sing Ghosts Don’t Lie.
In Serenading Adela the past will be palpable and spines will tingle as words and recollections of one hundred years previous are sung into the ether of Brunswick and Coburg by community music activists in celebration of the legacy of Adela Pankhurst and her comrades, and with ongoing hope for peace in the world.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh.
TAKE PART in Serenading Adela by making a (free) booking here
For information about rehearsals for Serenading Adela, click here
Click here for Ghosts don’t lie: resources to help learn the song written by Stephen Taberner.
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)