Category Archives: Sing it

The Countdown to Count Us In, is on!

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.’

MA illustrations final selection-educationMusic: 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.

While it is recognised that exposure to music in schools enhances student engagement and wellbeing, improves learning and promotes personal and social development, less than a quarter of government schools across Australia are currently able to provide a comprehensive music education.

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

Singing aids the sound of silence for snorers

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photo by Cris Saur

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!

Reference: Singing Exercises Improve Sleepiness and Frequency of Snoring among Snorers—A Randomised Controlled Trial

Written by Deb Carveth, online Editor for Community Music Victoria

 

There’s no place like Tecoma: A new peace choir celebrates the positive things in life

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

Music and Mayhem in Mirboo North

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!!’

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Jane in dress-up mode at CMVic’s 2016 Music Camp

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!

RESOURCES:

If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on jane.coker@bigpond.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.

In celebration of Singing from Country

by Jackie Kerin Storytelling Australia Victoria

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.

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Uncle Rick Nelson conducts a smoking ceremony as part of the Welcome to Country at Maldon (photo: Bruce Watson)
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Rebecca Phillips                                                                              Terry White

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.

chat-warblers
Jane Thompson leading members of the Chat Warblers in song (photo: Deb Carveth)
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The four project songwriters, clockwise from left: Eva Popov, Carl Pannuzzo, (Alvin Briggs) Kavisha Mazzella, Neil Murray (photos: Deb Carveth)

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.

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Images of wild Spring flowers around Maldon (photos: Jackie Kerin)

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.

 

 

 

From Northcote to the Netherlands: How a CMVic skills day started an unexpected voyage into the world of Dutch pop

You never know what you’ll take away from the experience of attending a CMVic event. A banana peel desting to languish longtime in the seam of your bag, maybe. A head filled with fresh material and exciting inspiration; the buzz of being surrounded by your tribe and an empty water bottle, definitely. And for one Melbourne based singing leader who attended a CMVic Skills Day in Northcote last year, a chance meeting unexpectedly led to a whole new chapter of cultural and linguistic discovery and personal learning.

Twelve months ago, Jeannie Marsh, an experienced Melbourne based singing leader, was feeling the need to learn new songs, see what people were up to generally, and meet up with like minded souls. So she booked herself into a CMVic Singing Leaders’ Skills Day at Jika Jika in Northcote, a one-day Spring workshop, run by Jane Coker and Margaret Crichton.

Anne Marije Bussink, a young Dutch woman active in the Dutch community had also booked in, keen to see if she could gain enough skills to get a singing group or community choir happening at the Dutch Club in Carnegie. Anne Marije had noticed that people at the Club had an interest in singing songs together and thought a choir could be a really great way to tap into people’s interests across the generations. Jeannie recalls Anne Marije introducing herself along the lines of: ‘I’m not a musician, I’m here to learn the skills to teach the songs myself….  I love to sing, don’t know anything about leading a choir but I’ll give it a go….’

Thinking this was an amazing act and totally heroic, Jeannie approached Anne Marije at morning tea, confessing, ‘I don’t speak Dutch, I have no Dutch heritage but I do run choirs.’

Leading multi cultural choirs is something Jeannie is experienced in and loves to do, whether or not she speaks the language:

“It really interests me and giving people the opportunity to sing in their language is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to do for people.”

As well as working with the Iranian Women’s Choir through the Boite last year, Jeannie was involved with Canto Coro, a choir based in the Greek and Chilean communities for eleven years. Jeannie became totally immersed in learning the background, history and struggles of Latin America and her involvement with these communities through running the choir:

‘It was a seminal moment of my life across every level, a total highlight so much so that it became a major part of what I do… I was intoxicated, meeting all these amazing people and learning about their stories, as many of them had come here as exiles from their own land and just how much singing in their own language and singing their own music which had been banned in their land, (because it was used as a rallying cry in the times of the generals in Greece and Pinochet in Chile and singing national songs literally put you in the firing line.) meant to them.’

This experience opened Jeannie’s eyes to the people around her here in Melbourne and the power of the music and words to bring communities together and bearing witness to extraordinary things that had happened in people’s pasts. It also reiterated to her the need to form joyful, welcoming communities where people can just come and be with others who have either shared similar things or are empathetic towards them and prepared to fight for social justice.

Teaming up with Anne Marije and the ‘Dutchies’, was a step Jeannie felt able to take, in spite of not speaking any Dutch and because Dutch people speak such excellent English, Jeannie is able to conduct each session in English. If that sounds easy, Jeannie’s applied herself to teaching all of the songs in Dutch, seeking helpers who could translate the lyrics to give herself an understanding of context, emphasis, etc. beforehand. Otherwise, she says, “it’s just sounds.”

Back in March, Jeannie set aside time with Anne Marije and Margreta Kuijper, another Dutch woman, for a crash course in translation and pronunciation. This involved getting a rough idea of what a particular song was about, recording, listening and repeating the material slowly with rules of pronunciation emerging along the way and Jeannie taking notes.

Including Anne Marije and Margreta a core of about five people emerged giving time, energy, and vital support to get the Dutch Choir up and running. Resources were rustled up, dictionaries and websites were offered, even Skype sessions, it was obvious that Jeannie and Anne Marije had tapped into something people were receptive to and ready for. A trial run in June saw over 25 people turn out to sing at the Dutch Club Abel Tasman in Carnegie.

Biting the bullet, Jeannie booked the space for a further 10 sessions and committed to two community gigs at the club, which the Choir recently completed. Membership over the course of that period settled to a core of about 16; meeting on Saturday afternoons in the little heritage centre at the back of the club, surrounded by memorabilia of Dutch heritage from various periods, somewhere Jeannie describes as a very special place.

The Dutch have an incredibly rich and traditional culture not widely recognised internationally beyond iconic images of tulips and windmills. They love to sing and they love singing to a bit of Nederpop This love affair dates back to the 1940s and 50s with post war Cabaret style singing emerging with artists such as Wim Sonneveld. While Eurovision and Abba mania was rife across the globe in the 70s and 80s similar equally catchy material was being written in Holland but remained largely undiscovered: while Bjorn Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid were singing in English, in the Netherlands the songs were mostly written and sung in Dutch.

Now Jeannie and the Dutch Choir are doing their bit to give these pop songs a new lease of life, dusting them off, a tweak here and there in the arrangements and an airing to audiences in the Australian sunshine.

Het Dorp is a song from the 60s about nostalgia for the fast disappearing traditional village life which evokes tears when people sing it; as with all multi cultural choirs, the migration thing is complicated. Some choir members grew up here and are reclaiming their Dutch heritage; others who lived there for most of their lives and moved to Australia for family reasons may feel torn between two cultures and places to call home. Singing brings these emotions to the fore.

161108blog1One of the earliest songs Jeannie sang with the choir was a simple children’s song about a chicken and a rooster with beautiful feathers and beautiful colours. It was easy for Jeannie to understand, simple to teach, and not at all daunting to the singers, some of whom hadn’t sung since primary school who were all familiar with it. In terms of establishing a bond within the new group it turned out to be gold. Everyone was inspired to share stories and childhood memories, and connections were quickly established.

The love of Nederpop within the group has led to Jeannie finally mastering Sibelius, something she has been meaning to get to grips with for a while, and she now sits down to arrange tunes, on pretty much a weekly basis. Naar de Zee is one of these, a boppy catchy pop song from a few years ago about riding to the beach on bicycles and having a great time with your mates. Sinds een dag of Twee is another fun pop song from the 80s that everyone seems to know and love to sing along with. Jeannie particularly recommends Brandend Zand which she describes as a ‘big tune, very well known and great for choir.’

And it isn’t just Jeannie who’s developed new skills through leading the choir; two of the singers, Chris and Margreta, picked up their guitar and clarinet for the first time in years and now accompany the choir for some of Jeannie’s arrangements, performing at the last gig.

‘Margreta was playing in this beautiful tone as though she’d only played yesterday. We workshopped things together and they both loved that aspect of practising. It’s about people reclaiming their instrument and being open to stuff and it’s what happens with a new group like this: you have no idea what’s going to happen and you have to be open to it… and stay calm!’

Jeannie’s tips for other choir leaders who may be trepidatious about leading songs in a new language is simply not to be afraid. ‘You can work it out… don’t let the language be a barrier, it’s all possible and it’s a very interesting process. For everyone.’

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Jeannie Marsh. 

Jeannie will be presenting a workshop about her experience with the Dutch Choir on Sunday, as part of the 2016 CMVic Singing Camp, this weekend, November 11-13, and the Dutch Choir’s new session block begins this Saturday, November 11.

Ready, willin’ and able: generosity and solidarity are key components of Williamstown singing group

Leaving Melbourne via the Westgate Bridge on a Wednesday evening, clouds of steam cluster and dissipate into the darkening sky. It’s fair to assume these plumes are output from the factories and refineries dotting the coast like pins in a board from Port Melbourne to Geelong. It’s also possible that part of the component entering the atmosphere is a heady mix of CO2 and endorphins being exhaled by the Willin Wimmin of Williamstown, having their weekly sing.

10583998_1446634612280983_6251822852438359669_nWillin Wimmin past and present were reunited last month to celebrate 25 years as a community choir giving voice to women, and spreading the joy of singing and community to audiences in the west and beyond. By their reckoning, this amounts to roughly 1000 rehearsals, more than 200 performances, over 300 songs and 250 women who have been involved since the inception of the singing group.

Worthy of a knees up, by anyone’s standard. The room was filled with friends, partners and family, everyone brought their own dinner, there was support with sound and lighting from their mates at the Newport Community Choir: it was a community event in every sense of the word.

The group sprung from the John Bolton Theatre School which was based in Williamstown, back in 1991. John employed Bronwen Barton as his music teacher who, with John’s partner and a few friends started singing together. The seeds for Willin Wimmin were sown and interest quickly caught on among the community. The singers were not only Willin Wimmin, they were feisty women with a will and the current members continue to embrace this identity: They set out as sisters doing it for themselves, collaborating as a cooperative and proudly eschewing the committee way of doing things until more recently.

The increasing requirements of funding bodies and venues requiring insurance over the years created a gradual push to become incorporated and adopt a more formal arrangement. Willin Wimmin eventually (reluctantly) bowed to the external pressure, formed a management committee and became incorporated last year.

Back at the start, Bronwen was a great vocal coach whose philosophy that anyone can sing set the value of inclusivity which has underpinned the group ever since. There have never been auditions and the women make it clear that no singing experience or knowledge of music is necessary. A good sense of humour, the will to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity and a shared belief in supporting, and welcoming one another is what counts. Willin Wimmin sing with heart and choose their material from an eclectic selection of genres including world, folk, choral and contemporary.

Julie Merritt has sung with Willin Wimmin for 18 of its 25 years, joining when the youngest of her three children was around 12 months old. The social side of belonging to the group drew her in; she felt a sense of belonging and like she’d found her tribe.

A strong social justice theme runs throughout the choir, and Willin Wimmin have sung on demonstrations and rallies, at sport, art, health and women’s issues events. They’ve trodden the boards at a variety of venues, too: Deakin Edge Theatre, Melbourne Recital Centre, the NGV as well as Fairlea Women’s Prison and Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, to name but a few.

Willin Wimmin have been helped along their journey by the commitment from their leaders:

“We have been fortunate with our directors – they have each been fabulous, feisty, fearless, sometimes fearsome.  Each of them brought unique gifts and talents with warmth, patience and fun.  Without them, there is no Willin Wimmin.”

Bronwen Barton took the helm for the first ten years, followed by Jo Lange, Dan Scollay, Jennifer Lund, and since 2014, the group has been lead by Steph Payne. Collaborations with other choirs have enhanced their song filled journey, too. Willin Wimmin teamed up with Mark Seymour and the Victorian Trade Union Choir to sing in Dust, a musical by Donna Jackson about the devastating impact of asbestos. They were also joined by the VTUC and Newport Community Choir to sing excerpts of Dust when Donna’s book ‘Art & Social Change: Dust, a Case Study’ was recently launched.

Keeping Community and Women’s issues in their hearts and at the forefront of their philosophy, Willin Wimmin have sung at Reconciliation demos; the National Women in Construction awards and at the Victorian apology to women forced to give their babies up for adoption, where they sung for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers (ARMS). The list doesn’t end there.

Willin Wimmin were also way ahead of the current media frenzy that has gained such rapid momentum around women’s football, and sang at the Women’s AFL grand final before women’s footy was officially deemed cool.

“We have, very importantly, also just sung for each other, in times of sadness, joy, longing, celebration and always with love.”

The wimmin are willin in more ways than one and are happy to offer inspiration and support to everyone who comes into their orbit, irrespective of how long they choose to stay on and sing with them.

About five years ago, Julie recalls an influx of women to the group, aged around 40. Each and every one of them found their voice through the supportive environment before moving on to form off shoot groups or find other, more challenging ways of nurturing their singing souls.

Julie doesn’t pause as she emphatically describes this as ‘brilliant’, seeing it as a natural part of what Willin Wimmin exists to allow; an integral component of its entity and a tangible example of the generosity required for a happy, cohesive community spirit. She acknowledges that seeing people move on is bittersweet “like a parent waving a child goodbye”, but that it is more wonderful to enable people to literally find their voice.

Many members have a story of ‘finding their voice’ thanks to Willin Wimmin.

Confidence, courage and strength are uncovered through singing and performing within a group of supportive, welcoming women, week in, week out. Julie offers herself as a prime example and has felt her confidence grow gradually “not just enough to sing in small groups, but to be back-up conductor, speechmaker, even president of the committee.” This has extended beyond the context of Willin Wimmin and into other areas of her life, proving once again, how impacting and profound the values and benefits of community musicking can be on the lives and well being of its participants.

So congratulations to Willin Wimmin on 25 years of singing together, supporting each other and creating opportunities for community cohesion and connection in lucky old Williamstown. There’s no sign of the sun setting in the west, anytime soon.

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members of Willin Wimmin celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary back in August

Written by Deb Carveth with Julie Merritt, President of Willin Wimmin.

If you’d like to join Willin Wimmin, they meet on Wednesday evenings at 7.30-9.30pm during term time, and further information is available here.

Tides of Welcome keep on rolling: A Queenscliff community choir celebrates 13 song-filled years

Tides of Welcome Choir has been celebrating diversity and harmony through a shared passion for singing, and has just blown out the candles on its thirteenth anniversary cake. The choir comprises locals from Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, who enjoy the experience of singing together and creating soulful harmonies under the direction of their dedicated leader, singer songwriter, Andrea Robertson.Tides of Welcome

Based in Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House, Tides of Welcome has never struggled with numbers enjoying a consistently strong turn out and cohesion from day one, back when it was lead by Sarah Carroll and known as The Ripchords.

Carolyn Williams is one of the founding members, and has been heavily involved in the development and evolution of the choir from its outset, participating in the fun stuff at the front end, and overseeing the administrative nuts and bolts behind the scenes:

“Myself and a few other people were keen to start up a choir and had been for some time but we knew we had to find the right person to lead it, somebody charismatic who would bring people along with her or him. And we found Sarah Carroll who at that stage was in the Melbourne based country band, Git, and had recently moved down to the Bellarine Peninsula. We approached her and she was very keen, so we advertised and on the first night we had about 40 people. Given that Queenscliff is a small population this was a real coup!”

So was it something in the sea air, or was there simply a gap in the singing market?

Carolyn believes it was Sarah’s reputation that drew singers in and the hard to resist attraction of what she had done previously in her own musical right. The group found a home in the senior citizens centre in Queenscliff, changed their name to Tides of Welcome Soul and Gospel Choir, and remained singing with Sarah, for the next 7 years.

One clear problem emerged extremely early on, during the group’s first year, and stemmed from an ebb and flow in the number of people attending. “At times there were 20 people who’d turn up, while on other nights there’d be 40. Sometimes there would be an entirely different group from one week to the next based on who came to sing and who stayed at home. “

This caused a few challenges around the practicality of teaching songs to a group whose dynamic would shift and change, and where people were remembering the repertoire in varying ways and to differing extents.

The choir committee decided to nip the problem in the bud by introducing termly rates, and this immediately fixed the problem. “Once people weren’t paying on a weekly basis it really sorted things out, reiterated everyone’s commitment to the group and regardless of whether you were on holiday half way through term or whatever, you were in it for the duration.”

By 2004, the choir was performance ready and scored themselves a spot at the Queenscliff music festival. Their debut turned into an annual place on the bill, and offers incentive and focus to the singers, and a shape to the year.

A strong set of values underpin the group. As an inclusive community choir, there are no auditions and everyone’s welcome. Tides of Welcome have had a range of experiences over the years including recording five CDs and the production process has been so tight that every voice counts. There are people within the choir who are happy to do solo spots while others can think of nothing worse than being out there by themselves. If a person joins the group who is less confident in their ability to hit the notes, they’ll be put alongside stronger, more confident singers until they find their groove.

So what’s the secret in the success and longevity of the choir? Carolyn believes that comes down to a combination of factors such as the willingness of individual choir members to support the group. For example, they’re fortunate to have a guy who makes time to record all the songs and put them on Soundcloud so that everyone can rehearse in between choir practise, and who has also prepared the website, a fantastic resource richly populated with photos of the group in action, songs and lyrics.

Another huge bonus is the auspicing received by Tides of Welcome from Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House. Not only does this assure them a rehearsal space, it means the administrative and financial needs of the group are all taken care of by the House; the emails which need sending around; the printing of the lyrics, any photocopying; the list of admin and back house tasks which are necessary to underpin all community music groups, are entirely taken care of. And the cherry on the cake is that Carolyn is not only a founding member of the choir, she is the Coordinator for the neighbourhood house, too.

“We have always had the wider community as our heart and the Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House as our heart beat.”

A small Tides of Welcome executive committee meets regularly to take stock, review guidelines and ensure things are on track for everyone, while the final choice about material sung by the group, is made by the leader. During their incarnation as a soul and gospel choir. Sarah Carroll sourced some amazing and rare gospel songs for the group to sing, “what she’d call white gospel from the southern states of America.” Tiffany Eckhardt who went on to direct the choir later on, wrote songs specifically for the choir which was also wonderful, and choir members are always welcome to contribute ideas for material, at any point in time.

Tides of Welcome have benefited from three sessions of professional development over the course of the past 13 years, including a ‘tune up’ from Jonathan Welch, which Carolyn feels was extremely valuable. They continue to be led by experienced leaders, rich in musical background and experienced in teaching a variety of age groups and abilities. Local musician and educator Andrea Robertson is the current director.

“Andrea is a singer songwriter based in Ocean Grove… whilst new to directing a choir like Tides of Welcome, she is an experienced singing and piano teacher and has worked with children’s choirs and church groups. We were very fortunate to have Andrea join us. She’s embraced the role of Director and continues to teach and inspire us to create our soulful sound layered with rich harmonies. She’s also expanded our repertoire to include many songs that she has written specifically for us.”

Thirteen years constitutes many, many weeks of singing together and a handful of the original singers involved since the start are still coming back for more.

While people come and go, for Carolyn, it’s the camaraderie of being in a group and just the fun of singing together that keeps her engaged.

“There is something undeniably powerful about the experience of singing together where the feelings of warmth, joy and harmony are enjoyed and shared…people will often say “I’ve had a really hard day and I didn’t want to come tonight but I forced myself and I feel so much better.”

Tides 13th Birthday
The 3 founding members still involved with the choir: Janelle Jenkins cutting the birthday cake, next to Jacinta Farrugia and Carolyn Williams, standing.

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Carolyn Williams.

Join Tides of Welcome in concert to celebrate their 13 year anniversary on Wednesday September 14th,from 7.30pm at the Uniting Church in Queenscliff or join them at 6pm for a community meal (by donation). For tickets and further information, click here.