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Singing to be Strong: Overcoming anxieties through song

Last Thursday, singing leader Richard Lawton woke up planning to head to the Royal Melbourne Hospital as he has done for the past eight weeks where he runs a singing group for outpatients living with an eating disorder. Except last Thursday Richard felt “a bit crappy with bit of a headache and feeling sludgy.” He could feel his resistance before he’d even emerged from under the covers.

“I was wondering ‘do I have to?… I’d rather stay in bed …’ and it’s a familiar voice in my head because as a card carrying introvert, every night before choir (I have four now) I have to walk myself through this, and it’s the same voice that says ‘I really don’t want to expose my self and be seen by a room full of people’ which is of course what a singing leader does.”

So last Thursday morning, Richard persevered and as he reached the entrance of the hospital it dawned on him how he probably wasn’t alone in his thoughts and how difficult it might well be for the outpatients heading along to his group. Anxiety and eating disorders are good friends, and eight weeks is a relatively short period of time in which to feel completely at ease in a new and unfamiliar situation. Richard senses an element of uncertainty lingering among his singing group at the Royal Melbourne and works to create a welcoming environment in which the outpatients can let down their guard and relax in a safe and fearless space.

“The chairs all have cushions on, and for the first couple of weeks people would come in, sit down and put a cushion on their lap. So they were putting up a defence immediately… There’s a lot of shame involved among patients with eating disorders and it’s important to be mindful of this as somebody encouraging them to open up and let go.”

Supported by a psychologist from within the department, Richard takes guidance from the singing group about ways to put the singers at ease and overcome challenges particular to them, often having to modify approaches and practice he would use readily with his other groups.

Care also has to be taken around use of words. No allusions to image or physicality or exercise. These boundaries are set by the singers who make it clear that to do so will provoke unnecessary anxiety among them. The group Richard works with does not comprise solely of the stereotype teenage girl. Participants range in age from Year 12 to their 40s and while there are guys in the inpatients at the hospital, Richard’s current singing group is all female.

Not knowing the background or the trigger of the illness among the individuals with whom he is working, it is also important that Richard allows them the freedom to choose which songs they sing to avoid material with unsuitable content or unwelcome connotations which may, again, instigate anxiety and prevent people from taking part. “The Cups song from Pitch Perfect is a favourite, and ‘Titanium’ is another one they like.”

Early on, in the inpatient program, only a handful of patients chose to take part in the singing group and it was a challenge to get those who did come along to sing at all during the hour long session. They looked so glum, Richard was wondering if he’d ever be able to break through. It was feedback from the psychologist which encouraged him to keep going in those initial weeks. Even if few of the patients were singing for the entire session and giving no outward signs of engagement or pleasure, their feedback was that they found it relaxing. In the outpatients program, more of them are singing and the numbers have increased.

“Anxiety levels are high. You want control. The thing about purging and eating is that you feel like you don’t have control over your life or your environment and this is one thing you can control. So when they talked about finding singing a relaxing thing, I thought, “oh right, so it’s doing something.”

One exercise Richard uses to combine movement with sound encourages everyone to stand up and shout as if hailing a taxi: Hey! Heeeey! HEEEEEEY!.. with each exhalation and sound growing louder and more sustained. The group cooperate well with this one, becoming less self conscious and more engaged as time goes on. It’s an activity that produces good vibration and masses of endorphins, too.

“When you enter the building everything is so quiet but when the group leaves, they are vocal and enlivened. They have found their voices. They also appreciate the act of singing together, of doing something with other people.”

Anyone who has sung regularly with a singing group will identify with the sense of connection which develops between members of the group. The act of singing facilitates this bond and even aligns the heartbeats of people singing together. Experiencing this sense of connectedness is an important contributor to mental health recovery and a sense of individual peace and wellbeing.

Richard works to empathise with the group, sharing his own doubts and insecurities. The more they feel at ease, the more they will open up and sing. The more they sing the better they will feel and hopefully, the stronger they will grow. And it really seems to be working.

“Last week, when I started the session I could tell that a few of them were having a rough day and I told them a story about how the night before I’d gone to a Contact Dance class for the first time in months. Contact Dance is something I used to be very good at, but it’s mostly a young person’s form, and my mind was coming up with all the familiar excuses as to why I should stay home. Then, when I was almost there I couldn’t find the venue, and almost turned back. Eventually I got through the door and it was wild – I had a ball.

When I told the singing group that story, a couple of them said ‘yes, I had so many excuses for not leaving home today,’ and ‘I got as far as Central station and very nearly turned back.’ So we talked about the importance of ‘getting through the door,’ and how so many times in life we allow our fears to hold us back, and how important it is to get ourselves through the door…

The door metaphor is about how we sometimes shy away from the very thing that is good for us. We know that singing makes us feel better and yet sometimes it still feels too hard.”

For Richard who leads the singing group on a voluntary basis, reward comes from feeling his work is having a positive impact on the lives and the recovery process of the singers.

“I think what touches me about working there is about those days when my skin feels too thin to be out in the world, to be seen, to have to show up, (and as a white male I have it stacked in my favour). When I’m with these women who are wrestling with the human condition there’s a part of me that’s very humbled. And there’s another part of me that wants to wave a magic wand so they can see how most of the negative thoughts they have about themselves are a cruel illusion. “

While magic wands are scarce, Richard’s work in the outpatients’ department might be the next best thing. The group reports feeling calm, more free and relaxed after singing together.  “A lot of them are perfectionists, seeking something they can never have. Eating disorders are one of the few mental illnesses which can kill you or from which you can make a full recovery. It is very hard to measure the success rate of patients who are discharged as they go off and live a full life.”

As each weekly session ends, the group leaves and the hospital corridor echoes with voices raised in more chatter with less silence. The soothing balm of singing works its wonder, the endorphins flow, and the world feels a better place for it. Just last week, Richard heard from the supervisor how after the group had finished, the singers went out to a café where they were much more upbeat and talked about how much they’d enjoyed getting up on their feet and singing and moving that day. That’s pretty magical.

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Richard at work, leading one of his regular weekly singing groups in Elsternwick
Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria, with Richard Lawton. 

 

 

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Jamming beats books: How music making with toddlers can enhance their development

The next time you sit down to read to a toddler, consider popping that ole book back to its place on the shelf for a while*, and playing some homemade music together instead. Over time, the long term effect of your action might just make the world a better place to be. Research from the University of Queensland conducted over two years on more than 3000 young children showed that making music with toddlers could have even more of a positive impact on their development, than sharing a story. And lets face it, banging on pots and pans is loud and fun for everyone (especially the neighbours, who will love you).

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Findings from the study, ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’ (2013–2015) indicate that early involvement in music participation has the capacity to improve numeracy, increase attention and assist with the development of prosocial behaviour and skills which, being the opposite of anti-social skills, are therefore beneficial to the good of society as a whole.

Professor Margaret Barrett, head of University of Queensland’s School of Music and a key leader in the study funded by the Australian Research Council, claims that “Children who experienced more frequent parent-child music activity at two to three years showed stronger vocabulary and numeracy skills, more prosocial skills and stronger abilities to regulate their own attention and emotion at four to five years old….The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children.”

Read the full article ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books’ published on the Medical Xpress website here

*But be sure to come back to the book later on. Balance in all things, and all that…

Article by Deb Carveth based on information found in ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books.’ Published by Medical Xpress. September 2015

The Changing Tune of Choral Singing in Germany

This article was first published in Sing Out: the Journal of the Australian National Choral Association (Vol.32, No.2, 2015). It is reproduced here with kind permission of ANCA(1)

Picture1Figure 1: The Nogat Singers, Berlin (Neukölln). Photo (c) The Nogat Singers, 2014.

I arrived at Rathaus Tiergarten, a local town hall of Berlin on a sunny spring afternoon in May, just in time for a celebration. Assorted stalls, abuzz with colour and activity, promoted organisations that support people with disabilities and their carers. On the town hall steps a rock band called Handiclapped was setting up shop as a carload of nervous and excited singers arrived. They were members of the Nogat-Singers (Figure 1), a neighbourhood choir from the Neukölln suburb of Berlin who were star performers for an event to promote, celebrate and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. Their performance was a vibrant and colourful mix of popular German folk songs and Schlager (there is no equivalent to the Schlager phenomenon in the English speaking world, but think Eurovision or Germany’s answer to American country and western music!). Having joined their dress rehearsal earlier in the week, I was impressed by the choir’s energy and its commitment to fostering a sense of community.

Founded by disability support organisation Lebenshilfe Berlin, the Nogat-Singers rehearses weekly in a local supported accommodation service, and most members live with intellectual disabilities. The choir receives funding from a social inclusion project grant of the European Union for its close neighbourhood ties. This made sense to me – a choir that sings with neighbours in its little patch of Berlin while at the same time fostering social inclusion for people with disabilities. Here was a great example of community music-making in action (or musicking as Christopher Small (1998) describes) and an ideal starting point for my study of choral singing in Germany.

The Nogat Singers is just one of a vast number of choirs singing regularly across Germany. They range from church choirs, to community choirs (defined loosely as amateur or non-professional choirs that perform publically) who perform in local pubs or municipal halls, through to professional choirs employing full-time salaried singers (there are eight at last count, from smaller chamber choirs to large radio choirs). My time in Germany in 2014 as a fellow of the Australian German Association and the Goethe-Institut allowed me to visit many and to explore the rich practice of choral singing in Germany today. Inspired, I returned with ideas for our choral movement in Australia. In this article I set out just a few impressions from my trip.

Support for the Arts and amateur music making in Germany has a long history. I once heard a passing comment about the three historic features of German village life: a shooting club (Schützenverein) for community defence; a fire brigade (Feuerwehr) for community safety; and a choir (Gesangverein or Liedertafel) or brass band (Kapelle) for community wellbeing! In 1871, 38 territories and free cities united under a common German federation. Most brought with them their own opera houses, concert halls and musical ensembles that had serviced the historic royal courts. Churches too played a crucial role in preserving musical traditions; in smaller communities church musicians were often school music teachers and community choir leaders too. One contemporary example of this long-held tradition is the St Thomas Boys Choir (Thomanerchor Leipzig) – perhaps the most famous boys’ choir worldwide – that celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2012 (Wydra, 2015).

Germany’s historical experiences with music – both negative and positive – have shaped its contemporary community singing culture. The atrocities committed by Germans during the period of National-Socialist (Nazi) government from 1933 to 1945 overshadow German attitudes toward music, singing and cultural practices. The Nazi government’s approach to music education, known as Musische Erziehung, manipulated music to suit its own agenda (Kertz-Welzel, 2008; 2013). This period defines to this day the parameters of “acceptable” music making. As Germans distanced themselves from the Nazi period after 1945, therapeutic uses of music were restricted to clinical settings rather than practiced out in the community. This was particularly the case in former West Germany and came at the expense of practices and initiatives that supported community wellbeing. Key scholars at the time supported this position. Theodor Adorno, in a series of speeches and public discussions between 1959-69, argued that after the manipulation of the Nazi period, music could not and should never be used to pursue goals of healing or social transformation (Kertz-Welzel, 2005). Adorno argued instead for the pursuit of musical excellence and individuality and against collective, community-minded music by amateur music-makers with transformative goals. Rather than teaching and enjoying singing with explicit goals such as community wellbeing in mind, music in West Germany was increasingly seen as an activity for its elite musicians, professionals, and with learning focussed on musical excellence. In the former East Germany, community singing was more widespread with its community wellbeing benefits recognised, but it frequently also served a propaganda purpose for that government. Opinions across reunified Germany in recent decades have shifted. Music education scholars are once again discussing the place of community music and the potential extra-musical benefits of music in schools, including for community wellbeing (Kertz-Welzel, 2008; 2013).

Yet the emphasis on the aesthetics of music across post-war Germany (East and West) preserved and nurtured a vital and historic cultural asset. Culture and the creative arts remain highly valued and comparatively well funded within German society and by all levels of government (McCaughey, 2005). A 2007 federal government report reinforces this view, arguing: “Culture is not simply ornamental; it is the foundation of our society and the platform upon which it grows. The role of politics is to safeguard and strengthen culture[i]” (Deutscher Bundestag). A total of EUR11.2 billion was spent in 2011 to support Germany’s cultural activities, including EUR8 billion from its federal, state and municipal governments, with the remainder from its Christian churches[ii] and private funding. Germany’s 16 States (Länder) together contributed more than one third of this total (EUR3.4 billion). The Länder retain powers in educational and cultural matters and a large say in preserving Germany’s many cultural identities.

Musical life in Germany today is “noted for its diversity, high quality and geographic density – keywords that continue as ever to define Germany‘s special reputation as a land of music” (German Music Information Centre, 2011, p. ix).

There were at last count 133 publicly funded symphony and chamber orchestras, 83 music theatres, nearly 500 regular music festivals, and thousands of amateur, semi-professional choruses, orchestras and ensembles (GMIC, 2011, ix). It is not surprising then that community music making is the largest civic movement within Germany (Reimers, 2012, p.1).

Choral singing today is an opportunity for many to partake in some of the musical delights and masterpieces of Germany’s rich choral music history. A leading scholar of German choral singing (Brusniak, 2003, p.69) suggests choral music and a vast and diverse tapestry of choirs are essential and integrated parts of its public and private musical life. There are nearly 59,100 associated choirs and choral organisations in Germany, including about 29,900 secular and 37,200 religious organisations. These choirs engage nearly 2.3 million singers regularly (Reimers, 2012, p.2). There is a large audience base for choral concerts too. A 2004 study estimated about 60 million people attend some 300,000 choral concerts annually in Germany (reported in Reimers, 2012, p.1). These formal choral activities do not include the multitude of established and ad hoc choral groups and public singing that is an increasing feature at large gatherings – the 2014 World Cup football tournament comes to mind!

I was interested to find out who spoke for choral music in Germany. At first sight, the coordination and advocacy of choral music across Germany evoked images of Franz Kafka’s writings: a confusing landscape of overlapping organisations, funding bodies and responsibilities all claiming to represent and advocate for the interests of choral music. Yet when viewed through Germany’s unique historical lens this overlap, it seems to me, provides safety in plurality (Vielfältigkeit). It avoids a single, central point of control for a mass movement and all the negative consequences this represents in many German minds.

Germany therefore sings with two voices when it comes to choral singing. Two peak bodies represent choral singing nationally: the Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Chorverbänder e.V. (BDC) and the Deutscher Chorverband e.V. (DCV). Together they include and advocate for the vast majority of German choirs. The DCV is the world’s largest choral association and represents the vast majority of Germany’s non-religious choral associations (including over 30 state-based and regional associations). DCV designs and oversees a host of innovative programs and schemes for its member choirs and leaders, supported by a paid, full-time staff. It also publishes Chorzeit, Germany’s monthly national choral music magazine with 35,000 subscribers and on sale in newsagents across the country (DCV, 2014).

The BDC counts among its members Germany’s peak catholic (katholische) and protestant (evangelische) choral organisations, those representing youth music, and its 500 concert choirs. The Federal President of Germany bestows the Zelter Plakatte to choirs that reach 100 years of age – an important initiative administered by the BDC (2014).

In 2014, Germany’s choral music culture is in transition. When I talked about my research project to non-choral music enthusiasts (or better said, yet-to-be converted choral music enthusiasts), many pictured the all-male Liedertafel choir, Germany’s dominant historical choir model. Yet this traditional picture of “choir” is rapidly changing. A 2012 New Zealand film/TV documentary about folk singing in Germany, Sound of Heimat – Deutschland Singt (http://www.soundofheimat.de/), helped to raise awareness about the diverse types of music out there. The sheer variety of musical styles and the ability of singers to seek out choirs according to their musical tastes and less limited by their location have fundamentally changed Germany’s choral community. Children’s, youth and women’s choirs are growing while the more traditional choral organisations (such as the Liedertafel) are in decline. Mixed choirs have grown in popularity and now outnumber male choirs (Arit, 2014) and there has been a boom in jazz and pop genre choirs (AlumniPortal Deutschland 2014; Tip Magazin, 2014). Singing-related talent competitions, television series and films, as popular in Germany as in Australia, have contributed to this popularity.

Picture2Figure 2: Die Rheintöchter, lesbian comedy choir, Cologne. Photo (c) Magdalena Hutter, 2013.

I took particular interest in community choirs with members who may have experienced social exclusion at some point in their lives. I observed many choirs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) communities (Figure 2 for example), choirs for people with disabilities, church-based choirs supporting new migrants to Germany and choirs for people experiencing homelessness. I led a rehearsal of Hard Chor ELLA (Figure 3), an innovative school-based community choir based in Pankow, a suburb of the former East Berlin. I was also fortunate to observe Berlin’s two professional choirs in rehearsal (RIAS Kammerchor and Rundfunkchor Berlin) and the Rundfunkchor in performance. You can find a full list of choirs, interviews and more detailed case studies in my report.

Picture3Figure 3: Hard Chor ELLA, Berlin (Pankow). Spring Concert. Photo (c) Inés Weinmann, 2013.

Ideas for Australia’s Choral Movement
I believe Australia can enhance its choral music movement by strengthening its supporting institutions and drawing upon innovations and ideas from Germany. I offer ideas for policy-makers, committees, and musical and administrative leaders who work with community choirs particularly. My report aims to complement recent reviews of other aspects of music in Australia including state and national music education reviews. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Create a vocational pathway with appropriate professional development and recognition for community choral leaders
  • Establish a national community choir awards scheme, including a “long service” citation for choirs that reach a certain age (similar to Germany’s Zelter Plakatte)
  • Appoint a high profile patron to promote and advance choral music within communities
  • Lighten the reporting load for committees and choral music staff by negotiating an agreement with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) for a single annual fee that covers all choir arrangement and performance rights across a pre-approved list of songs (similar to an agreement reached between DCV and Germany’s APRA equivalent: http://www.deutscher-chorverband.de/leistungen/gema/)
  • Create an accreditation program in early childhood education (similar to Germany’s Die Carusos: die-carusos.de/) where choir leaders “teach the teachers” to ensure young children receive high quality and pedagogically sound singing experiences from an early age
  • Establish a national professional choir that includes within its mandate significant outreach work to choirs and communities of all ages.

To achieve these things we would need to first properly resource our expert national organisations already doing such great work in the area – the Australian National Choral Association (ANCA) and Music Australia – along with state-based institutions such as Community Music Victoria. Let’s start this conversation and draw upon lessons and ideas from countries such as Germany to give us a head start.

Choral music in Germany, a celebrated and treasured cultural asset, is gradually changing its tune to include people of all abilities and backgrounds and in a way that improves community wellbeing and cohesion. My time there provided refreshing ideas, valuable lessons and ongoing inspiration for my practice as a choral leader and researcher in Australia. Above all, it was a reminder to celebrate both the act and the art of choral music making and the joy it brings to communities here and in Germany.

(1): My thanks to Dr Alex Crooke for his insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Article by Ben Leske

BenLeske2015

Ben Leske is a Melbourne-based choral conductor, community music facilitator, and PhD candidate in the National Music Therapy Research Unit in the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (The University of Melbourne). Ben’s thesis explores choral singing and social inclusion for young people. From 2009-2014, Ben was Music Director of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Youth Chorus (now shOUT Youth Chorus).

Ben is passionate about all things German and was awarded the Australian German Association and Goethe-Institut Fellowship to explore choral singing in Germany in 2014.

You can read Ben’s full report at: http://www.aga.org.au/fellowship/past-winners/.

You can contact Ben by email: benleskemusic@gmail.com or benleskemusic.com

References cited in this article

Arit, Alexander. (2014, 1 July). Graphical statistical reference of number of choirs by type (historical) – 1951-2005. Unpublished data provided to author.

BDC (Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Chorverbände e.V.). Die Zelter-Plakette. Retrieved from http://www.chorverbaende.de/de/zelter-plakette.html

Brusniak, Friedhelm. (Ed.). (2003). Chor – Visionen in Musik. Essener Thesen zum Chorsingen im 21. Jahrhundert..Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Chorverbänder.

DCV (Deutscher Chorverband e.V.). (2014). Chorzeit: Mediadaten: Anzeigenspreizliste 3/14. Retrieved from http://www.deutscher-chorverband.de/fileadmin/media/downloads/neue_chorzeit/Chorzeit_Mediadaten.pdf

Deutscher Bundestag. (2007). Schlussbericht der Enquete-Kommission: „Kultur in Deutschland“. (16/7000), author’s translation.

German Music Information Centre (GMIC). (2011). Musical Life in Germany: Structure, Facts and Figures: German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat).

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. (2005). The pied piper of Hamelin: Adorno on music education. Research studies in music education (25), 1-12.

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. (2008). A matter of comparative music education? Community music in Germany. International Journal of Community Music, 1(3), 401-409.

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. (2013). Internationalizing and localizing: Shaping community music in Germany. International Journal of Community Music, 6(3), 263-272. doi: 10.1386/ijcm.6.3.263_1

Luehrs-Kaiser, Kai. (2013, 22 February). Chor@Berlin Festival im Radialsystem. Tip Berlin. Retrieved from http://www.tip-berlin.de/kultur-und-freizeit/chor-berlin-festival-im-radialsystem

Masso, Alex. (2013). Community Choirs in Australia. Music In Communities Network (Music Council of Australia).

McCaughey, Claire. (2005). Comparisons of Arts Funding in Selected Countries: Preliminary Findings: Canada Council for the Arts.

Reimers, Astrid. (2012). Laienmusizieren: Deutsches Musikinformationszentrum.

Small, Christopher. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Wydra, Kristina (2014). ‘Wherever people sing, you can happily settle…’ – Germans are flocking to join choirs. Alumniportal Deutschland. Retrieved from http://www.alumniportal-deutschland.org/en/germany/culture/article/choirs.html

 Other useful reading

English language

  • Higgins, Lee. (2012). Community Music: In Theory and In Practice: Oxford University Press.
  • German Music Information Centre. (2011). Musical Life in Germany: Structure, Facts and Figures: German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat). Retrieved from http://www.miz.org/musicl-life-in-germany/
  • Bartleet, Bridie-Lee, Dunbar-Hall, P., Letts, R., & Schippers, H. (2009). Sound links: Community music in Australia. Brisbane: Griffith University.

German language

 [i] Original German text: Kultur ist kein Ornament. Sie ist das Fundament, auf dem unsere Gesellschaft steht und auf das sie baut. Es ist Aufgabe der Politik, dieses zu sichern und zu stärken

[ii] An important note that Germans pay an extra income tax to the church according to the denomination into which they were baptised. The Federal Government collects these taxes to fund church activities.

Breast Beaters – an innovative idea that became a reality

by Jeannie Marsh

My friend Bev McAlister was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. She got through her surgery and radiotherapy, frequently making the long trip from her home in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne to a hospital in the city for treatment. Of course this was an exhausting and challenging time. When Bev was told after her treatment that she should now do daily exercises for lymphoedema, she simply could not get motivated.  So she came up with an idea to help women get motivated to add this important activity to their lives: Breast Beaters.

Bev’s vision was this: set the exercises to lively music; add some singing and light-hearted activities; make a DVD so people could do it at home (alone, or with family and friends); run regular group sessions at local community venues, where women could meet others who had been through breast cancer, do the exercises together, have a laugh, have a chat, have a sing, have some fun.

As a singer and community arts worker, I thought this was a great idea. So, through Dandenong Ranges Music Council we applied for funding, were successful, and before I knew it I was Musician in Residence for Breast Beaters! Twelve months later, the vision has become a reality – the DVD was launched at a lively event in Lilydale on 26th of June 2015; the first Group Session has been run in Yarra Glen, and the DVDs are being distributed to health professionals and women living with breast cancer.

Gorilla graphicDuring the research and development phase of Breast Beaters, I worked with lymphoedema therapist Maria Stirling (Health Consultant on the project), and consulted with other health professionals working in the field. Guitarist Ken Murray and I worked together to create a 15-minute Medley of 9 songs (ranging in style from bossa nova to waltz, twist, and Celtic), each song matched to the timing and needs of the exercises. In the Medley we included deep-breathing exercises (used by both lymphoedema therapists and singing teachers) and “singalong” sections for easy singing. This material was trialled for six weeks by a small group of women living with breast cancer in the Yarra Ranges region, and responses were encouraging.

In addition to the Medley, the DVD includes teaching material, voice-over and subtitle features to help people learn the Medley, and delightful animations (including a dancing gorilla) to give people a laugh. We also trialled Group Sessions, and learnt that these will be an extremely important part of the program. Group Sessions will occur at least once a month, in a range of community venues, and will be informal, fun, and accessible. Sessions will last 90 minutes, and will be suitable for women new to the program, and those familiar with the program. They will be led by community choir leaders (or others with similar skills) who have received training about lymphoedema and Breast Beaters. Sessions will include learning and participating in the Medley, simple group singing activities, cup of tea and chat, and information about relevant events or resources.

Further funding was recently awarded by Yarra Ranges Council to run a series of 8 group sessions and these will run from October to December, in community venues across the region. Free copies of the DVD will be distributed at these sessions. The schedule (and other resources) can be found on the Dandenong Ranges Music Council website www.drmc.org.au  Please contact me for all enquiries, and to obtain a free copy of the DVD.

We are proud and excited to have created a new resource for women living with breast cancer, and for their health professionals, families and friends.  May the joyful breast beating and singing begin!

Adapted from an article for newsletter of the Lymphoedema Association of Victoria, August 2015

By Jeannie Marsh 

DRMC Musician in Residence, Breast Beaters  health and music program jeannie.marsh1@gmail.com   0432 088 284

The positive impact of listening to music during and after surgery.

Whether participating in group music making or listening to something alone, the fibres of our soul react to the sound waves and vibrations in the music, and so does our brain. The capacity of sound and rhythm to affect our emotions varies wildly, from the calming rustle of breeze-blown leaves, or waves being sieved over sand and sucked back to sea, scaling up to louder, more rousing percussive beats or total immersion in a rich, treacle-thick havoc of horns. Whether you love or hate a particular genre and method of delivery, each has its own time and place and everyone has their favourite groove or go to tune to bust out in times of triumph or tragedy.

Expanding on this rationale, recent scientific research conducted in the UK has delivered a proven link in the effectiveness of using a patient’s choice of music before, during and after surgery to relieve levels of pain and anxiety, and even reduce the need for painkillers in people undergoing medical treatment and intervention, in a hospital environment.

The study, led by Queen Mary University of London, was undertaken without funding and carried out on the principle that “Music is a non-invasive, safe, and inexpensive intervention that can be delivered easily and successfully.”1

The team analysed the results of 73 randomised controlled trials involving almost 7,000 patients to assess the impact of music in aiding post operative recovery. The findings, whilst not totally unsurprising, are extraordinary because of the subsequent impact they’ve made within a fairly traditional context. Western medicine has taken time to embrace alternative methods and approaches and implement them into its practice, but a pilot scheme in giving patients access to music as part of their procedure and treatment is currently under way in the obstetrics and gynaecology unit at the Royal London Hospital.

For anyone who has experienced surgery, the use of analgesics to combat pain and discomfort following an operation are rarely entirely free of side effects and can occasionally delay or dull feelings of positivity and the psychological progression that’s so vital to full recuperation. In light of this, any reduction in the need for post operative intervention and administered medicine is a bonus, not only on the hospitals’ budget, but to the person on the receiving end.

And, what’s more, the physiological effect of the music was evident even when patients were under general anaesthetic.

So if you or anybody you’re close to is scheduled for a trip to hospital anytime soon, refresh your playlist. If you don’t own one already, invest in an iPod or borrow one from a friend, and read this article, explaining the study in greater depth. Alternatively, arrange and record a tune which you play or sing in your group as a get well message. And if you think it would be welcome, drop in at the hospital once they’ve had their op, and play them some gentle and soothing music of your own making…

By Deb Carveth based on an article published in MedicalXpress called ‘New study confirms listening to music during surgery reduces pain and anxiety’. August 12 2015

1: The Lancetwww.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60169-6/abstract

Researchers discover the anatomic reasons for the persistence of musical memory in alzheimer patients

For anyone witnessing the degeneration of a person affected by the later stages of Alzheimer’s, it can be baffling but extremely heartening to witness their response to music and songs from their past.

This phenomenon has been well documented with singing and music therapy incorporated increasingly into care programs. But, until very recently, no scientific explanation or evidence has been available about how and why this should be.

In a recent study using MRI scans to show brain activity, neuroscientists have been able to locate the precise area of the brain where our musical memories are stored. In doing so they also realised that in a brain affected by Alzheimer’s, this ‘musical storeroom’ appeared more resilient to other degenerative effects of the disease.

Reading the article below, first published by Medical Xpress, two things spring to mind. One is the importance of remaining active music makers to build and maintain strong neurological pathways, and the second, based on concern about a particular mental store room where the shelves are cluttered with guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s, is to expose ourselves to a wide variety of as much good music as possible, while our brains remain healthy.  Read the article 

Ideas for Community Music Group Leaders, from Belinda McArdle

150812singingldrshipSeveral community music makers and group leaders gathered at Commonground for peer exchange last weekend. I arrived late and left early and am in no position to summarise the weekend but I write to contribute to the network the ideas that captured my attention while there, in the hope they may be useful to others.

Having facilitated many CMVic weekends over the last ten years it was refreshing to be a participant and to be so warmly welcomed, encouraged, supported, inspired, challenged and heard.

It was wonderful to step away from my own busy life to engage in the wider discussion of values and music making even if only for 5 hours. I left with soup in my being, songs recorded on my phone, a copy of Jane Coker’s fabulous new resource ‘Just Sing’, some plans to song swap on line, fabulous group exercises and warm ups and some hearty food for thought.

The afternoon workshop, mutually devised and well facilitated by Strat and Aaron, challenged us to check in with our values and the notion of inclusivity.

Various exercises drew out philosophical arguments, practical tips and everything in between.

I summarise here what I remember, having handed in my notes to CMVic. The topic was what can we as music making leaders/an organisation keep doing, stop doing and start doing in relation to inclusivity.

include in our leadership our own passion for music making. We may think this is implicit, but all of a sudden notice we have been putting admin before playing, we have been playing it safe in our leadership and not taking risks or simply not playing enough ourselves. So, my ideas and resolutions on this topic are:

  • to ensure I am singing and playing for fun outside of my leadership
  • try some more impro games
  • keep including my own original material as well as a courageous cross section and allow my excitement to grow and be shared

Implicitly and explicitly create a culture of belonging. We value welcoming people to our groups and we discussed the value of every member feeling they are a welcomer and part of the hospitality. We discussed allowing people to opportunity to leave or to feed back when a group isn’t the right vibe for them. We talked about remembering to speak openly about WHY we are welcoming from time to time and we touched on feeling we belong ourselves. So, my take on this for my own practise is:

  • to continue to welcome newcomers individually and ask them to share with me after how welcome they felt
  • to continue to foster a culture of belonging by asking people to welcome people around them at the start of the session
  • ensure I feel included by sharing with the group that I would prefer not to leave alone in the dark at nights and ask them to share staying back with me.

Of course the discussion was richer and broader but they were my standard tips personally. Other big and little resolutions I took away were:

  • I purchased a copy of Search and Reflect by John Stevens based on the workshop Jane Coker delivered
  • I will be gathering my group at start/after session with either a hum or a clapping exercises
  • I used to ask participants to bring their instrument on last week of term and then run 3 chord song so it was accessible and interesting in a different way. I need to start that again.
  • Go to more CMVic events
  • Use the microphone in Facebook Messenger to send little voice files to other leaders and receive them back.
  • Contribute more to the blog/wider discussion so I can hear what others are doing and be reminded of our very important differences that keep us interesting.

I enjoy sharing what I have and know and think and am open to emails from other leaders and the exchange of ideas, songs and challenges. Conctact: Belinda@acabellas.net.au http://www.acabellas.net.au

Belinda McArdle

Learning to play music and deal with hearing loss: Part One

DealingwithhearinglossBy Shirley Allott

I was born with normal hearing and attended school and did nursing training without any problems. Music education was not part of my upbringing even though my father played harmonica and concertina and my brother learnt mandolin. I taught myself to play the recorder and to read music and I sometimes played with my father and brother in family music sessions. However, my main interest was painting and textile arts.

As an adult I had some piano lessons with my children, and then we all had accordion lessons but I continued to find relaxation in textile art.

When my children were finishing school I decided it was time to get my bachelor of nursing so I went  to university and over several years completed a number of degrees in the health sciences. By this time, I was starting to experience difficulty with hearing which made lectures and tutorials difficult but I still managed to do well.

While at university, both my older children became involved in historical re-enactment. I was fascinated and got involved too. With my knowledge of textiles I made costumes for myself and for others. I went to a feast where I heard medieval music being played and I was fascinated.  I brought out and dusted off my recorder and started to play again. My daughter decided to teach herself violin and she and I played music together. She started to have a monthly session at her place with friends.

My daughter knew I was having difficulty hearing and she would always face me whilst we played. I really enjoyed these times.

My daughter decided to leave university, and do an apprenticeship as a baker, then she moved to Western Australia with her partner. I missed her desperately, and our times playing music together, as well as her support with my hearing loss.

As a response, I took up a new challenge: English concertina and went to Celtic Southern Cross Summer school. I experienced playing music with others and loved it.

Over the next couple of years my hearing loss markedly increased and I found myself withdrawing socially. I stopped going out with friends and going to gatherings. I was embarrassed as I often had to ask people to repeat what they had said. I’d looked into hearing aids but they were very expensive, far too expensive I thought. George (Shirley’s partner) was very supportive and encouraged me to get hearing aids. I think he was finding communicating with me difficult.

There was a period of adjustment to the aids and I could engage socially again. I found the concertina became difficult to play as I heard a different sound with my hearing aids and the concertina echoed.

I wanted to play music so I needed to find an instrument that would work with hearing aids and to find a way of dealing with the change I was experiencing with sound through wearing the hearing aids.

I was at an event in Western Australia when I met a lady  playing a harp and she invited me to have a go. I had bought a harp a couple of years previously at Maldon folk festival but I hadn’t done anything with it. I realised as I plucked the strings that I could both hear and feel the vibration of the harp, and I knew that when I got home I would have to learn to play my harp.

Read in part two about how Shirley learned to play the harp using determination and technology too, and Shirley’s insights into the benefits of playing the harp for a hearing impaired person. Part two is here!

Seeing in tune

Musicians don’t just hear in tune, they also see in tune.

By David Salisbury

150626SeeintuneThat is the conclusion of the latest scientific experiment designed to puzzle out how the brain creates an apparently seamless view of the external world based on the information it receives from the eyes.

“Our brain is remarkably efficient at putting us in touch with objects and events in our visual environment, indeed so good that the process seems automatic and effortless. In fact, the brain is continually operating like a clever detective, using clues to figure out what in the world we are looking at. And those clues come not only from what we see but also from other sources,” said Randolph Blake, Centennial Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, who directed the study.

Scientists have known for some time that the brain exploits clues from sources outside of vision to figure out what we are seeing. For example, we tend to see what we expect to see based on past experience. Moreover, we tend to see what our other senses tell us might be present in the world, including what we hear. Read more

NB: The Community Music Victoria model of teaching doesn’t rely on a person’s ability to read music and follow dots. In singing leadership, for example, we involve a hand, raised and lowered to demonstrate changes in pitch, creating a visual soundscape which is inclusive and easy to follow. It would be interesting to know how that kind of cognitive association with music applies in the context of these findings.

Drumming reaches the heart of the matter

By Stephen Heart

150529drummingI run Playworks Oz. We run a variety of interactive workshops, including Drum Circles and In-The-Moment-Music-Making sessions. We use them as a vehicle for community and corporate messages and to teach concepts of Positive Psychology through playing in this medium. I was working for Toastmasters at a large conference some time ago. I had a hundred or so participants, all Toastmasters, a wonderful group of men and women who coach and encourage each other in communication and specifically, public speaking.


My session was entitled ‘Tuning Your Instrument’ and used a story and metaphors to invite the participants to examine and recall their strengths as public speakers. As the story and the players’ drumming skills progress, they are asked to note the areas they realise they need to work on. Power point is used to help tell the story as we play, but the pictures are simple, and easily described. They’re more metaphors and illustrations of the point I’m making. During this time the players are improving – in part due to their concentration on their listening and reading the ‘audience’, making subtle adjustments etc. I’ve run this and very similar sessions, successfully. Afterwards, I am fortunate enough to receive feedback. Sometimes its a simple thank you, other times it’s more in depth.


On this occasion, a small queue had assembled and I noticed one lady in particular. She was dressed in dark clothes that seemed to match her mood. She gave an impression of aloofness and I had seen her turn away from a younger lady who had attempted to engage with her. She had also seemed quite cranky when folk were finding their seats and had tripped, a little off balance. Now she stumbled again – only a little but it caused someone to bump into her.

I was concerned that she would be upset and yet she seemed to have had a great time. In that moment, I saw other people moving away from her- she had exuded that kind of aggression earlier, I saw the opportunity to calm things, I was still ‘mic’d up’. I stepped past the people at the front and put out an arm, she stood stock still puffing and panting and I simply said ‘I’m here to help If I may?’ and placed my arm under her hand, to steady her. ‘Young man’, she said not looking at me, but through me. ‘You already have.’ Tears rolled slowly down her cheeks under her glasses and though she held a tissue in her hand, she didn’t use it. ‘I got it. Damn it I felt it.’ I started to speak, ‘Young man don’t interrupt please.’ She took her glasses off, ‘I’m blind. but I felt more connection in that last 40 minutes than I’ve felt in the last 3 years. Thank you.’

 My eyes welled up, people moved out of the way. There was another woman who had come into the room who now helped guide her. Later she would come and thank me ‘for whatever you did.’ The truth is, I didn’t. She did.


In this kind of music making, people show up with all sorts of ‘Stuff’, the connectivity you can create and feel by being a small part of something bigger and the feeling you get when your contribution is heard to make a difference is phenomenal.
Being able to see it is wonderful but being able to truly feel rhythms and music, a groups’ efforts and energy, the heart beat of the group rub alongside your own heart beat, It’s very difficult to want to remain detached from that and that is the magic.

for information about drumming workshops or groups near you, go to www.cmvic.org.au