The ‘mighty’ Murtoa Stick Shed stands majestically against the open skies of the Wimmera, built in 1941 as a solution for grain storage during the World War II wheat glut, when exports were restricted. The shed was originally one of three, built using logs of rainforest mountain ash and of those three is the only one still standing, saved by the people in the local town of Murtoa who recognised the cultural significance and uniqueness of the building.
“When you get inside the shed you get an extraordinary feeling about it that’s hard to explain, says Judith Welsh, chair of the committee of management for the Murtoa Stick Shed, “It is five Olympic swimming pools long, over three storeys high and contains 560 poles or ‘sticks’ and is known as the Cathedral of the Wimmera because of its cathedral like quality.”
In 2016, after many years of lobbying with support from Heritage Victoria, the Stick Shed was finally handed back to the community and Judith is optimistic this will put Murtoa firmly on the map in more ways than one:
“We’re in the middle of the Wimmera and what we would call the Silo Trail. The Stick Shed is significant not only as a tourist attraction for Murtoa but for all of the nearby small towns too; if you come to one, you come to all.”
In October this year, Murtoa will host its annual festival, ‘The Big Weekend’ and for the first time the committee of management and the town will have operation of the Stick Shed.
To reflect the ambience and the glory of the building, Judith and the management committee are now working to build an event which will bring voices into the shed for the first time to sing, celebrate and enjoy the building and to give back to the community the experience of a concert, open to everyone and hopefully involving local choirs from Horsham, Stawell and surrounding areas.
“We want an event that anyone can join in on but that gives local choirs the singers from the Wimmera an opportunity to perform as part of a massed choir, as well.”
What Judith needs now is to find enough voices to supplement the number of local singers and help fill this great space, built to hold 100,000 tonnes of wheat.
To do this, a proposed workshop component is planned to encourage participation from singers of all abilities to come and be part of the event. Judith and the committee areseeking expressions of interest from any local singing facilitators happy to volunteer their time to run a workshop session and help bring life to their vision of a massed sing in the Stick Shed.
An invitation is also extended to any other choirs and singing groups willing to make the journey to Murtoa on Saturday October 7th, to sing alongside the local community groups and join in this unique and exceptional experience.
As a singer with the Melbourne Women’s Choir as well as numerous other choirs, Judith knows first-hand that singing is a fabulous thing to do:
“It’s uplifting for the person singing and it’s uplifting for the person hearing it and we want to be able to do something for the people in these communities and to tell the story of the shed. “
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Judith Welsh from the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management
**If you are a singing leader who can help Judith with the workshop, or who would like to involve your own singing group or choir in the event as part of ‘The Big Weekend’, please contact the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03 5385 2422
Back in April, an invitation was sent to community choirs to unite and sing up at a ‘pioneering choral event’ called You’re the Voice, an element of the 2017 Queensland Music Festival dedicated to highlighting the persistent problem of domestic violence across Australia and building awareness in a bid to ‘turn the tide’ and support positive change.
The project, directed by Dr Jonathan Welch, has received high profile support* from singers including Archie Roach, Kate Ceberano, and Katie Noonan, who is also the festival’s artistic director.
On July 29, 2500 community singers participating in You’re the Voice will congregate in Brisbane, joined by other community choirs and singing groups from around the country via live stream and social media, to deliver their powerful message, singing John Farnham’s song of the same name.
Closer to home and in response to news of the project, Vivienne Colegrove, a singer songwriter from the community music network here in Victoria got in touch, offering to share a song she had written about domestic violence with any other community singing groups and choirs wishing to address the issue, also:
Hi CMVic folk, following on from your post on FB re Katie Noonan’s call for choirs to sing out against domestic violence, I have a song that I am happy for choirs to use if they wish (just to acknowledge me as the composer obviously!) Here is a (strictly rehearsal-only quality) mp3 recording and pdf score for choir facilitators – please feel free to pass on to anyone who may wish to use it. Free to a good home! Warm regards – Vivienne Colegrove
‘White Ribbon Anthem’ byVivienne Colegrove
It’s time to sing out it’s time to speak out
It’s time to shout out we’re making change
We stand together we stand united
It’s time to sing out we’re making change
No more silence about the violence No more looking the other way Join our chorus Sing together Sing as one voice we’re making change
Safe for women safe for children
Safe for men of any age
Safe for my mother safe for my brother
Safe for each other let’s turn the page
Make it change now we’re making change now
Change is what we say and do
Let’s make change now let’s do change right now
Change is me and change is you
(chorus) x 2
Vivienne says “I was inspired to write this song because I feel excited about the power of singing together as a community to bring about the positive changes we want in our world. Music, and especially singing, is such an inspiring, unifying way to invite transformation and change. I have a vision of hundreds, thousands of voices lifted together in song as a heartfelt invitation to create a safe world together for us all.”
Vivienne’s words echo those of Katie Noonan who, when speaking of the potentially transformative power of You’re the Voicesaid, “We can sing together for those whose voices have been silenced by fear… I believe that art and music have the power for significant change and that musicians and art have a responsibility to respond to, and reflect on, our society and the things we can do to create change.”
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with massive thanks to Vivienne Colegrove.
Download the lyrics to White Ribbon here & the mp3 of White Ribbon here
*Archie Roach, Troy Cassar-Daley, Montaigne, Katie Noonan, Kate Ceberano and Isaiah have collaborated to re-record ‘You’re the Voice’ as a charity single to raise funds to support young people who are victims of domestic violence. To purchase the single, click here. (All proceeds will be donated to DVConnect.)
Foundation House is an organisation set up to help refugees and migrants who are survivors of torture in other countries, assisting them with settlement services and connecting them with other organisations such as AMES on arrival in Australia. It is also the starting point in this story of a group of Chaldean Christian women who have hopes of becoming the Assyrian Women’s Choir.
The Assyrian Women’s group is a group of Chaldean women who have fled persecution and torture in Iraq and Syria. Persecuted for being Christian and for speaking a different language, these women have been migrating to safety in Australia to begin a new life for more than twenty years, and they keep coming.
Whenever new refugees or migrants arrive, the women mobilise themselves into a welcome committee, travelling out to the airport. They help the new arrivals to find their feet in this foreign country where for many of them, language is a barrier. Every Friday, the women meet to sing and cook food together, sharing stories of their lives, old and new, as well as offering skills and support to each other. They are from places in Iraq we’ve all heard about in the news, and they know the pain of conflict, displacement, persecution and loss.
A strong love for singing their traditional Arabic and Chaldean folk songs exists between the women, and this is how Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator with Community Music Victoria came to be involved in their journey.
Sarah approached Foundation House to offer skills and support to the staff and community to in her capacity as a singing leader and facilitator. Carolyn Wilson, one of the senior counsellors there, immediately thought of the Chaldean Christian Women’s group and arranged for Sarah and CMVic’s Coordinator, Oli Hinton, to meet with them. Translator and Foundation house worker, Dr Salam Dankha, made communication possible. At the first meeting, Oli and Sarah were welcomed with traditional food and songs, and a bond was formed. In 2017 a further two sessions were planned for Sarah to work with the group ahead of their participation at the International Women’s Day celebrations, at Dianella Health in Craigieburn.
During the first session, the women chose to sing two songs: one, an Iraqi song about the beauty of Iraqi women, and the second a folk song about courtship and the relevance of bringing gifts for the girl. Their enthusiasm was evident and they conveyed their hopes of galvanising the group into something with a more formal structure which would enable them to preserve and share the music as messengers of their culture and as advocates for peace in the wider community.
Sarah has been enabling the women to find a focus and they have plans to write a song together, an anthem unique to the group, written around universal morals and themes such as peace, as part of their journey of healing, participation and empowerment.
The next phase is to obtain the funding necessary for Sarah to continue her work with the Assyrian women because, as she says, “I’ve already developed a relationship with them, and it’s a good one.” Supporting the group in selecting a repertoire and helping them to develop the structure they need to become a sustainable choir constitutes part of a proposed new CMVic led project called ‘Voices of Peace‘.
“It’s about giving the leaders already in place within the Assyrian community some skills and structure to use, it’s also about support in identifying potential new leaders and it’s about assistance with sustainability.” as well as offering suggestions and feedback around how the songs are sung: “It’s one thing for the women to sit and sing music of their culture together but in order to get out and share the material, some guidance is necessary.”
While the group is comprised solely of Assyrian women, these women are open to everyone, no matter where they are from. They don’t have any barriers around ethnicity, religion, etc. Instead, there is open-ness, recognition and acceptance of difference:
“They just understand…I told them I have an Indian husband, and that I’m Jewish and it created this openness, I mean, we’re all just different aren’t we, and we want to get along.”
This is the focus and purpose of the group: to sing their music, celebrate and preserve their unique culture and through sharing this love of it with others, to create greater harmony and understanding in society, improving mental and physical health and well-being along the way on the road to recovery.
As part of the International Women’s Day event, there was a fashion parade and it was a chance for everyone to get dressed up and a celebration for all women, from all cultures. “The Assyrian women came out wearing jewelled gowns, and having a wonderful time with the Indian women; celebrating being women.”
As the Assyrian Women’s Choir, these women will find new opportunities and ways to meet people, make connections and friendships, to share and celebrate where they are from and and to participate and contribute to the richness of the diverse, inclusive and safe society they have found themselves part of.
Listen to an early session with the Assyrian Women’s group, here.
Written by Deb Carveth with Sarah Mandie for Community Music Victoria
‘The great thing about events that get people together is the fact that they get people together!’ says Betty McLaughlin, Gippsland based community music activist and founder of the Gippsland Singers Weekend at Wilson’s Prom. It was reading about the success of the 2016 gathering in October last year which inspired this conversation with Betty as encouragement to anyone out there looking to consolidate a sustainable, regional network of community music makers and wondering how to go about it.
So step this way into the CMVic time machine and buckle up because we’re going back to 2008, when community singing leader Betty McLaughlin was the regional catalyst for Gippsland region as part of Community Music Victoria’s Victoria Sings program.
One of the final things Betty did during this particularly active phase of her involvement with the program was to arrange a Singing Leaders gathering for all Gippsland based leaders at Wilsons Prom. Working together with Jane Coker and Fay White, Betty planned a gathering with a deep inbuilt purpose at its heart: to seed something ongoing between local community singing leaders and participants.
The event was open to anyone interested in making singing happen in their community.
Incorporated into the program was a Sunday session especially designed to create a more formally recognised network of singing leaders in Gippsland. And so what began as a roomful of individuals brought together by their shared values and vision ended as the newly galvanised Gippsland Singers Network, established to encourage and promote Community Singing in the Gippsland Region through mutual support, skill and repertoire sharing. Betty believes hundreds of singers and leaders are now active under the umbrella of the GSN, which she describes laughingly as a ‘loose affiliation’.
Twelve months after that first weekend, the group reconvened, again dedicating an entire weekend to singing and networking together at the Prom with support from Community Music Victoria, and this pattern has continued successfully over the past eight years, galvanising into a regular annual event in the music making calendar.
The Wilson’s Prom weekend has remained a primary focus of the Gippsland Singers Network, with a fresh committee formed each year to organise the event. Occasional one day workshops are held within Gippsland, as well as a couple of Big Sings to raise the funds required to keep the GSN alive and to allow the event at the prom to be supported by money other than that raised through attendance.
Looking back, Betty considers the following factors contributed to the ease with which the Gippsland Singers Network took off:
Support: It wasn’t only Community Music Victoria who offered support to the GSN in its fledgling form. The Gippsland Acoustic Music Club has been a massive support to the GSN too. Barb Brabets who at that time was president of the GAMC was part of the formation of the GSN back during that first weekend on the prom and brought her experience of involvement with a community organisation formed back in 1982 to encourage acoustic music making in the Gippsland Region.
Find your tribe: It was having a catalyst role with CMVic that encouraged Betty to go and find out who and where people were singing. As she says, having this title and association ‘gave me the credibility to go and knock on doors and introduce myself to people like Jenny Candy who leads groups in the Eastern area of Gippsland’. Betty’s reputation spread further through attending the GAMC’s annual a cappella festival in August where Lyndal Chambers introduced her to everyone as the CMVic Catalyst for that region, putting a face to the name and placing Betty firmly on the community music map as somebody to contact. Anyone contacting the CMVic office wanting to start a singing group in the Gippsland region would also get a call from Betty who reflects fondly “It was a wonderful role, it was a to-die-for role.”
Hold an event “It keeps it alive and people have such a good time there together.” The great thing about events that get people together is the fact that one, they get people together! And two, it gives you a focus.
In the case of the GSN, a new committee forms each year during the last session of the weekend. This is a fantastic way to ensure that the ball keeps rolling and prevents over commitment and burn out from occurring.
Have structure: In keeping the last session of the weekend free to organise the following year’s team, the GSN ensures continuity, a handover and everyone’s clear about what needs to be done, by when and by whom.
A personal by-product of Betty’s involvement with the GSN was the inspiration to return to full-time music study which she did in 2012 having never previously considered herself ‘a musician’. Betty headed back to uni to study composition, a step that required her to reduce her organisational involvement with the GSN. Her great ground work and the collaborative model adopted by the network from the outset ensured its sustainability.
In Betty’s words, “the great thing about having to leave, was that it allowed the GSN to be taken on further and for more leadership to show up in that network.”
Article by Deb Carveth with Betty McLaughlin
Further reading/ references.
Sing Yarra Ranges: ‘Sing Yarra Ranges aims to be a network for singers and singing leaders based in the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley (Australia). The network is part of the “Up Hill, Down Dale” project which was funded by a grant from the Shire of Yarra Ranges. Sing Yarra Ranges is currently inviting people who “live, work and play” in the shire to join them in establishing the network. They would like to hear from all singers and singing leaders to find out what YOU think the region needs in order to make singing a valued part of cultural life in our community.’
CMVic North East: A FB space for people from North East Victoria and surrounds to share information and collaborate regarding community music making events and activities.
Gippsland Acoustic Music Club: The Gippsland Acoustic Music Club Inc aims to encourage acoustic music in the Gippsland region. We support the development of local musicians’ skills as well as providing concert opportunities.
Do you know any school aged children? Do you teach school aged children? If you love a chance to sing with your fledgling and older song birds whilst advocating for the value of music and music education in all schools, this year’s Music: Count Us In program might be just the ticket. On Thursday November 2nd at 12.30pm AEDT, more than half a million children across the country will put down their pens to sing up in ‘a celebration of music and music education.’
Music: Count Us In (MCUI) is a free program conceived and run by Music Australia to celebrate and advocate for music in Australian schools. Now in its eleventh year, it’s a way for students and teachers to develop their skills as they learn and rehearse a specially written song over several months to be sung at the same time on the same day. Music Australia describe it as ‘the song that stops a nation’ and last year it engaged over 600,000 children from more than 2,500 schools.
The MCUI program is one way for children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to access free music education and delivers professional music development and learning resources directly to classroom teachers. This year the professional development sessions will be streamed live for greater outreach to teachers in remote, rural and regional areas.
And there’s more good news. Research based on the participation of schools in previous years indicates that involvement in the program leads to greater recognition of the benefit of music education, within those schools.
“Generalist teachers develop increased confidence and skills, and specialist teachers use the program as an opportunity to bring the whole school together to celebrate music. Participating in Music: Count Us In is also a great way for schools to engage with their local community, seek local media coverage, advocate directly to their Government representatives and create opportunities to showcase talented and dedicated students and teachers. More students might put their hands up to join existing choirs and music ensembles, Principals might decide to allocate more time and resources to music, teachers might offer more regular music classes per week ….There are so many ways to bring more music into students lives. Music: Count Us In is just the beginning!” Music Australia
A new song is written each year by a selection of school children in collaboration with a ‘music mentor’. This year, the music mentor is singer songwriter Taylor Henderson who will be working with five students from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria together with the MCUI program ambassador John Foreman OAM. The song and the teaching resources pack will be good to go in July.
MCUI is open to all schools from early childhood through to high school, in both the government and private sectors. If you are interested in registering or if you’d like to encourage somebody else to, more information can be found here.
The more kids who take part, the more powerful the message to the powers that be about the value and importance of a decent music education for all school aged children.
Deb Carveth: online editor for Community Music Victoria
If all you crave at night is the sound of silence, encouraging somebody who snores to sing for their supper could be the key to a peaceful night’s sleep, and the clip below will be music to your ears. We know from experience that an interrupted sleep pattern impacts negatively on concentration levels and increases the likeliness of accidents and mistakes during our waking hours.
Snoring can also lead to loss of friends if we’re putting up enough zeds to disrupt the sleep of others on a regular basis, and when we’re tired, we become more susceptible to illness so the ramifications of this nocturnal behaviour can be detrimental to the general health and well being of everyone in the fall out zone.
Having first hand experience of a partner who snored, British community choir director and composer, Alise Ojay, designed and created a set of simple singing exercises, Singing for Snorers, focussed on strengthening the soft tissues of the palate and the upper throat, specifically the pharyngeal muscles which, like any other areas of the body, grow slack without exercise.
Sorry folks, it’s true: even your epiglotiss needs a work out. But don’t lose heart at this point, because it’s where the good news begins: Epiglottal flaps don’t require tread mills or gym memberships to start shaping up. All that’s required is for the soon to be proud owner of the pharyngeal muscles to open their mouth and sing, making the sounds ‘ung’ and ‘gar’ a practise Alise Ojat refers to as ‘giving the whole snoring apparatus a work out.’
Alise, a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners network, undertook her initial research to determine whether singing exercises could in fact be used as a non-invasive treatment to increase muscle tone in the tissues of the throat in 2000, as an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. A clinical trial followed in May 2013 involving a study group of 93 patients who completed a self-guided treatment programme of singing exercises, performing from a 3CD boxed set for 20 minutes daily.
The findings of the trial concluded that use of singing exercises to strengthen the throat across a period of three months contributed significantly to a reduction of snoring pollution in the atmosphere. It demonstrated that singing holds real potential to improve the health and wellbeing not only of snorers, but the quality of life for their partners and housemates, too:
“The Epworth Sleepiness Scale improved significantly in the experimental group compared to the control group. The frequency of snoring also reduced significantly in the experimental group and loudness of snoring showed a trend to improvement…” The research write up concluded:
“Improving the tone and strength of pharyngeal muscles with a 3 months programme of daily singing exercises reduces the severity, frequency and loudness of snoring, and improves symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnoea.”
So if you’re living with somebody who snores, or if you suspect that you are susceptible to it yourself, try frequent singing exercises (and singing more frequently!) as an early approach to addressing the issue and set to work on achieving a set of buff pharyngeal muscles: they’re understatedly sexy and guaranteed to make you better off in bed.
A list of singing groups across Victoria can be found on the groups page of the Community Music Victoria website to assist you in your mission and a link to Alise’s Singing for Snorers exercises can be found on the CMVic online repertoire resources page. Let us know how you go!
There’s a new drop-in choir in Tecoma, that’s all about feeling good, celebrating resilience and being grateful for Community, our safety and the Environment. During the time when Singing Leader and Community Music Activist Barb McFarlane was planning to form Tecoma Peace Choir, Donald Trump was elected to the stage and the ensuing political pantomime has done nothing to reassure anyone about the state of the world:
“These are turbulent times and people want a bit of escape, they want to go to a zone where none of that’s even mentioned, they want to believe that all could be well because we’re singing about it being well…”
The desire underpinning and driving Barb’s vision for the Tecoma Peace Choir is to promote affirmation of the positive things in life. It’s about making the world a better place through positive celebration of self rather than singing about specific causes. To facilitate this, Barb writes simple chants to affirm the positive things in life. Singing simple and meaningful ‘mantras’ in English that give out messages of positivity:
“We had a really big storm here last year and there was a lot of damage; trees were down and the power went out, businesses flooded. While there was lots of damage and danger, I recognised that we had all the help we needed to restore power, fix roads and buildings and that people are very well looked after in situations like this in our country. In gratitude, I had one line running through my head “I am safe and I am well’ and it turned into this: ‘We are safe and well, We are warm and dry.’ “
I worked it into a boppy little 8 part ‘thing’ on garage band and taught it at choir at the next opportunity. It’s a reminder that mostly, in this lucky country, we are all fine, we’re all alive, safe and walking around, and that we could be grateful for that.
A few other chants penned by Barb are:
“ I’ve been forged in the fire of life and I am strong…..woah!”
“ Deep river of love X3 Carry me, carry me Deep river of love”
“ I remember I remember I remember who I am”
Tecoma Peace Choir is inclusive of people with all abilities and highly accessible in terms of material. It operates on a drop in or ‘low commitment’ basis where people can pop along and have a sing, even if this happens only once every few weeks. As the perceived pace of our lives picks up, the model of Barb’s new choir offers people with busy lives the chance to stop everything and slow right down into a different space for a little while: “It’s inclusive of people who work really long hours, work shift work, or who just have a lot going on in their lives. It provides an opportunity to sing without any commitment or guilt!”
Each week there is toning, improv, sound baths, and percussion jamming. Songs are chosen with a focus on peace, hope, resilience, comfort and fun and Barb makes sure there is a good ‘play’ component to each session, too. In compiling the program for a group without not knowing exactly who will be coming along, Barb draws up a Plan A and B. ‘I’ll write a song name down, add an alternative and I know at what point during the session I’ll change my mind.”
Barb is also planning to incorporate some yoga and breathing practice into the structure with a view to encouraging people to bring a pillow and a blanket as part of the process of reaching peace.
“The emphasis is on feeling good. In modern times people are so stressed and really need a space for relaxation.”
Barb has been incorporating yoga into singing sessions as she’s studying and will soon be a Dru Yoga student teacher. There are many benefits – physical, mental and emotional from both singing and yoga and combining them works beautifully.
“I’ve been adding sounds to movement and using sound and singing as a relaxation tool for many years and that feels pretty good.”
Tecoma has a rich and very inclusive community outreach program emanating from the Tecoma Uniting Church, including a Community garden and a Food is Free initiative, where people share their garden produce or store cupboard contents. This provides a source of food for people who need it and is run along the lines of take what you want, leave what you don’t and share what you have with love.
The Hills Food Frontier, a group dedicated to promoting healthy eating and growing is also based there. Barb brings gardenny songs to some of their events and working bees and now Tecoma Peace Choir’s home is based in the Uniting Church Chapel. “There are so many things already going on there, it’s a very happening sort of place.” All of the activities grow from the sense of sharing and connection evident within the community made famous when it took on McDonalds, campaigning against the fast food giant and holding off the development of a restaurant in the town for three years.
Above all, Barb hopes the Peace Choir will provide ‘a bit of a service’ to people who want to sing, but can’t commit to a performance choir due to work or life.
“I imagine as things go on that I’ll see the same things happen as in other groups… watching the friendships develop is always lovely, especially for the single people who wish to be with other people in a meaningful way”
Barb also hopes to see some blokes dropping in to sing with Tecoma Peace Choir: “I would love to think that blokes feel comfortable to come and have a sing too. It’s great having the full range of human tones singing together.”
Article by Deb Carveth with Barb McFarlane.
Tecoma Peace Choir meets Tuesdays during school terms from 7 – 8.30pm at Tecoma Uniting Church,1566 Burwood Highway, Tecoma. For information, contact Barb McFarlane: 0407 548 165
I have been running two community choirs for fifteen years. I have found that over time in our groups, we have had singers with varying skills and experience, some coming in briefly, but most staying for decades and developing lasting friendships. ALL have improved their skills over time.
One gentleman with a glorious baritone voice could only sing a monotone note, no matter the key! I would arrange the other singers’ parts around this drone note, and over a period of ten years, his ear developed to match his really lovely voice.
This has been my experience with all voices – over time, we develop better ears/aural skills, and become capable of very complicated harmonies and rhythms. Especially as our breath control improves with practice.
Some singers, over time, have developed an interest in furthering their music theory and reading skills – these singers have all been musical beginners. I provide them with as much theory as they wish, but at no time do we lose sight of our shared goal – the joy of singing together.
When new singers come in, we often return to known and loved favourites, and all of the singers love helping new singers in learning their part by surrounding them with sound-support, friendship and laughter – the generosity of music!
Another technique for making new singers feel welcome, is to introduce entirely new material – everyone is a beginner!
I am a great believer in the equalising power of singing in other languages. When some of my singers know the language far better than me, it is an opportunity for us all to learn from our local expert.
We frequently practise experimenting with sound – if you don’t like the sounds you are making – change them! A safe, friendly environment where we can experiment – no pressure. I believe in the beauty of the harmonies we create by listening to ourselves and others while learning aurally. Despite this belief and the fact that most of my singers were musically illiterate, I have noticed great interest developing in the ‘dots’. All of my singers can now ‘follow’ the dots and do so to aid ageing memories!
However, despite these developing literacy skills, I do insist on ‘NO DOTS’ for performance – listening to each other produces the best sound.
Singing is community bonding in harmonious, creative activity.
Singing improves our immune system cytokines and lowers stress cortisol. This means, we feel happier, healthier and less stressed. It also improves our heart rate variability.
A number of qualitative and survey studies with diverse samples have shown that singers report a wide range of social, psychological, spiritual, and health benefits associated with singing, such as improved mood, enhanced quality of life, greater happiness, stress reduction, and emotional wellbeing.
Singing lifts your spirits, focuses concentration and breathing on creative activity, and reduces isolation. The evidence is overwhelming – SINGING IS GOOD FOR YOU. 😀
By Kass Mulvany. Kass is a community singing leader, retired performing-arts and science specialist teacher and community volunteer, who delights in playing and singing with others, the sharing of resources and the universal language of music and dance.
Twice a week Mayhem breaks out in the life of Gippsland based Singing Leader, Jane Coker. This has nothing to do with escaped chooks or lost car keys, Mayhem is a music and drama group, organised by Scope and facilitated by Jane, for adults from day centres in Traralgon, Wonthaggi, and Warragul. Everyone comes together at the Grainstore, a beautiful old wooden building in Mirboo North, to sing and dance and meet other people. It’s about therapy, fun and having a good time together. It’s about making a racket and making a mess. And it’s awesome.
The group are extremely wide ranging in their abilities, some people are really high functioning, others communicate with the blink of an eye and Jane runs the group by herself. Five or six carers come along and take care of the physical needs of participants, assisting them with morning tea at the start of each session and with lunch at the end, as well as helping them to take part in the activities.
The group was established by Jane’s mate, Kate Jackson, who recognised a need in the area for this type of group and was doing all she could to enable people to have a creative experience. When the time came for her to hand over to somebody else, she approached Jane who had no previous experience of leading a group of people with such diverse abilities.
“Kate was getting people singing, she was getting people dancing, she was doing a bit of drama. I looked at it and thought, well, I reckon I’ve done enough of this in my life, I think I can probably have a go at that and I’ll treat it as a training course because everything I’ve ever learnt around Community Arts Development in my life has been learnt on the job.”
Jane decided to train herself, try leading Mayhem for a year and see if she liked it driven by her guiding principle: To find a way to enable everyone in this group to participate in some way in what’s going on. The next question then, was how? How to do this with such a mixed group?
To begin with, Jane took a lot of guidance from the carers. While it’s obvious to see when some people are participating, with others this is more difficult particularly if you don’t recognise the significance of the sentiment they’re relaying with their eyes or from their movements or the sounds that they make. For one or two of the participants, it is hard for anyone to decipher whether they’re benefitting from taking part or not and for them Jane believes Mayhem has to exist as a sensory experience in as much as they’re having something happen as opposed to having nothing happen around them and this, perhaps, is as participatory as it can be.
Jane approaches leading Mayhem as she does all her other groups. People are people.
‘If my main aim is full participation and I’ve got to fathom out how to get somebody to participate where it’s not obvious and it’s not easy, the only way to go about facilitating that is (a) To collect as much information about each person as I can, and I engage the carers to make sure they are part of the whole process, and (b) to actually engage with that person as much as I possibly can and try to find out how I can have a relationship with them. It might just be the tiniest thing like a finger uncurling when I touch their hand but if that happens repeatedly, that’s feedback and that’s me developing a relationship with that person.’
Over the course of the past four years, Jane has learnt a lot about the subtlety of changes in the facial expressions of participants: ‘I’ve really learnt to to recognise the sounds and the subtle little changes in their faces and their eyes….I’d never had that experience before and it has been amazing.’
Jane begins and ends each session with the same song. To begin with she thought everyone would grow really bored of this, but the opposite has happened, and they love it. And the more they do it, the more they know it. For some of them, it has taken four years to develop the confidence to sing that song and Jane recognises this as something working with Mayhem has taught her: there is so much to be said for repetition of material.
Using the same song also acts as an effective signal to everyone that the class has begun, and that it has ended so that even if they don’t really know what’s going on, people have a sense that something is in process and that they are a part of it.
Music played on the PA gets the Mayhem mob dancing and taking it in turn to pick the tunes which vary from ABBA to YMCA, to Pink and everything in between, reflecting the range in their ages. While the dancing is taking place, anyone in a wheelchair is helped to move by Jane and the carers: ‘It’s dancing in the broadest sense with some people dancing in their minds.’
‘One guy’s into really heavy aggressive rap, and I draw the line there as the material isn’t suitable to impose on other people and politically I can’t play it myself, but he participates fully in other ways, and I talk to him about why I don’t play his stuff and I think he gets it!’
Singing through the microphone proves popular, offering a lot of fun and visibly increased confidence to the singers. Jane says ‘I never thought I’d think that was a good thing to do but I do! Because it’s what they see on the TV and it enables them to do something that they recognise and they have a LOT of fun doing it… And while they’re doing that, everyone else is dancing and using really nice bright coloured pom poms and stuff to dance with, twirling around, there’s a lot of colour and everyone’s doing their own thing, and it is, well, mayhem!!’
Jane uses a big pile of percussion and dressing up clothes with Mayhem. Because there’s no funding for this, she spends spare time scouring op shops for anything they can use in the group. For anyone who can’t physically grip a shaker or move their hands, Jane has made velcro variations and modified instruments which can be strapped onto an arm, enabling that person to make music and she’s always on the look-out for instruments that can be adapted. Soft stuff comes in handy too, as there are a lot of participants who throw things.
“If I can find a soft ball with a bell inside it, that’s perfect because it can be used as an instrument but when it’s thrown, it doesn’t decapitate anybody…”
Call and response features heavily in Mayhem, techniques learnt by Jane through voice-work training workshops. “I make sounds to the group, they make sounds back at me, and it’s a beautiful thing because people who are non-verbal do still use their voices a lot and will do that when invited to do so. So they’ll make sounds and we can make them back, and in this way they are participating fully.
There is a basic sign language called Key Word Sign used by the carers to indicate food, going to the toilet, etc, and Jane feels this is a skill which should be developed and taught more widely: ‘If I was able to go on some sort of course to learn Key Word Sign, or the appropriate sign language to use with people which is used across the board in those kind of facilities, that would really add to my skills.’
A forum was held at the recent CMVic Singing Camp between singing leaders working with marginalised sectors including disability. Jane found being a part of this conversation invaluable because it reinforced her belief that the best way to develop confidence and strength in your own ability is to network with other people who are doing the same kind of thing:
‘Have a phone conversation with somebody, go to their group, see what they’re doing and participate. If you can apprentice yourself to somebody else who is doing it, that would be amazing, but this is a little bit unlikely, given that we are so few and far between. It might work better in the city…’*
Now into her fifth year working with Mayhem, Jane reflects on how it has become easier as time has gone on. “I’d say the training course took two and a half years of me leading the group once a week, and since then I’ve led it twice a week. And now I feel confident in doing what I go there to do. It’s about the fun, the relationships and the positive attitude…
“I love the fact that I’ve proved to myself that the principle of as much inclusion as possible, in the moment that you’re in is the one that works best.”
Article by Deb Carveth with Jane Coker
If you have any percussion instruments, shakers, bells, or things which are fun to play that you would like to give Jane and Mayhem, let us know!
If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on email@example.com
*Music Action is a closed Facebook group run by Melissa Murphy for people facilitating all abilities music groups for adolescents and adults. It’s an ideal forum to share ideas, news and conversation.
Now and again an opportunity comes along that speaks to the heart.
In January 2014, I met Terry White at the Turramurra Folk Music Camp. I was there in my capacity as a storyteller, having been invited to run some workshops.
Most likely I was on a riff about the role storytellers might play in connecting folks to Australian landscape and the places they called ‘home’. I carry this niggling idea that it’s actually really important to take some responsibility for the patch of earth that we walk, and this requires a little ‘land literacy’.
It seems that Terry had me spotted as a kindred spirit, and by the end of the weekend, I had been woven into his vision of bringing scientists, traditional land custodians and songwriters together, the purpose being: to create new songs to celebrate old wisdom and knowledge about Country, the kind of songs that can be arranged for community and children’s choirs to sing, celebrate and learn about land.
What followed was over two years of meetings where partnerships were developed, grant applications wrestled and the idea was given a name, ‘Singing from Country’.
The big vision of ‘Singing from Country’ is to divide Victoria into about seven bioregions and commission songs that explore these. However we thought it best to start with a pilot project with four songwriters and focusing on the Central Victorian Goldfields area. The pilot was launched as a ‘festival within a festival’ at the Maldon Folk Festival this year. This experience proved invaluable – giving the committee a chance to navigate the difficulties and cheer when things go to plan.
At Maldon we opened the process to the public with a day of presentations from local naturalists, Geoff Park,Andrew Skeoch, and Rebecca Phillips who spoke about the Dja Dja Wurrung language reclamation project and the protocols around use of this language. Uncle Rick Nelson performed a Welcome to Country ceremony, and a group of children from The Meeting Place (Nalderun) sang the Loddon River Song, led by Kerrie Patmore.
In the evening the four selected songwriters ‘unveiled’ the work they had created in response to the commission to write two new songs each.
After so much thinking and dreaming and so many, many meetings, I was deeply moved by the concert, the vulnerability of the writers who were revealing (in some cases) works in progress, and songs never before aired in public. I was brought to tears by how deeply and respectfully they had explored the concept. Local a cappella choir, ‘The Chat-Warblers’ led by Jane Thompson rose to their feet and sang at the top of their lungs, exemplifying the power of singing about place.
Spring in Victoria has been fabulously wet and the rain has brought the country alive. Swathes of wildflowers have burst through the ground and the birds are singing out loud, building nests and raising chicks. Carl Panuzzo’s song evoking the dance one does when walking through the bush in spring elicited cheers of recognition from the audience. For me the wonder of Terry White’s vision is the willingness of people to come together, share what they know and add to the body of song that will teach and connect people to place, strengthening a sense of responsibility.
I feel gratitude to the four songwriters who committed to the ‘Singing from Country’ pilot, Neil Murray, Kavisha Mazzella, Eva Popov and Carl Panuzzo. I give thanks to the artists who demonstrated their belief in us and assisted our grant application with letters of support, and thanks too, to project manager David Juriansz, for pulling the threads together.
The ‘Singing from Country’ pilot is led by Community Music Victoria in collaboration with VACL (Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages) and Connecting Country, and has received grant funding from the Regional Arts Fund.
I’m looking forward to the next phase of the project as a member of the steering group, and hanging out in the meeting rooms at Ross House with Bruce Watson (chair), James Rigby, Oli Hinton, Paul Paton and of course, Terry.
Jackie Kerin is an author of children’s books and storyteller working in the oral tradition. She is the current president of Storytelling Australia Victoria.