‘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.