Tag Archives: choir

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

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.

14063852_1764585623819212_225801658279332189_n
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.

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.

Singing calms baby longer than talking

Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa
Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa

In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to speech. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” explained Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s centre for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.” The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this “entrainment” is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. “Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability,” Peretz explained. “Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be “entrained”.

Read the full article from the University of Montreal website, here…

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

An adventure with the opera

by Margaret Crichton

On a chilly June evening, a group of my community choir members from Ivanhoe, Epping and Mernda, and I gathered outside Horti Hall, the home of the Victorian Opera, waiting with interest (and some with trepidation!) to see what we were confronted with when the doors opened. Members of other choirs from around Melbourne wandered up to join us and we were invited inside.

Nothing too scary confronted us at first; just a hundred or so chairs set up in rows near a piano and a music stand. Then, at 7.30, our conductor and the accompanist arrived, and after a few preliminary remarks it all started!

Well, really it all started with an email from the Victorian Opera asking for choirs to take part in the chorus of a new production – Remembrance – which tells the story of World War 1 using songs from the era and a few specially composed pieces. It is narrated by the War Correspondent, played by the wonderful David Hobson, with solos and group pieces by young singers from the Victorian Opera. Photographs from the time were projected at the back of the stage – along with the words of a few of the bawdier songs! All the words were authentic.

ITHE CHORUSMost of my singers have little or no music reading ability. The next couple of hours of intense rehearsal were a little daunting for them as they felt surrounded by people who could sight-read the music or who had studied it intensely before arriving.

But as I pointed out to them, community choir members have a great advantage – they watch the conductor and listen to the instructions and the music!

And with the help of the practice CDs I obtained for them, everyone learned their parts. The fact that there were some tunes and words which were familiar to most of them also helped!

We had three rehearsals at Horti Hall. Just 6 hours to learn 4 part harmony with a couple of quite tricky arrangements thrown in. It was wonderful to see how well the pieces came together. Our conductor was very clear in his ideas, not surprising when we learned he was the composer.

August arrived and we knew the performance was close. Firstly there was the dress rehearsal with full orchestra on stage at Hamer Hall. Twenty singers from the Tasmanian Symphony joined our merry throng. It was the first time we had sung the work in its entirety and there were a few little surprises. (Keeping track of which parts were being sung and by who, in each production could not have been easy.) Not all of the singers could make it to this rehearsal, which was held the evening before the performance, so we knew the numbers were a little down. That didn’t affect the enthusiasm or the volume though.

Then home, with the music running through our heads, to recharge for the next day, which was full on!  I arrived at Hamer Hall at 1.30 and the singers just kept on coming! The production was travelling on to regional areas and some of the singers from those areas took the opportunity to come along for an extra performance.

There were singers from Gippsland, Strathbogie, Bendigo and other areas. In total, 130 singers were in the chorus, and for many of them it was their first experience singing with such a big group and in such a wonderful venue.

There was a stage rehearsal, a break, a seating call, last minute instructions,  and then – the theatre doors opened and the audience began arriving.

All too soon the performance was over. Those of us from Melbourne envied the singers who were getting to perform again in the regions. One night just wasn’t enough! Our audience groupies gave us lots of positive feedback. (Even those who weren’t opera buffs and were dragged along to cheer us on!) And I wanted to be in two places at once, singing and watching.

 The feedback from my singers was all along the lines of when can we do this again!

So, if the chance comes your way, don’t be daunted, grab it and go. Take the plunge, do your best, watch and learn, and as I reminded my lot, have fun!!!

Singing to the end. How a group who sing for people in palliative care, came to be

One of the few things of which we can be certain is that one day, we’ll die. For many of us, this is something we avoid thinking about, preferring to concentrate instead on getting through each day in as positive and as present a way as possible. But imagine how our anticipation of this final journey might change if we could choose to be sung to, as we passed out of this life.

This is the mission of Ilana Sharp. Ilana leads Sonder, a women’s singing group that has been meeting monthly since March at McCulloch House, a palliative care centre that’s part of Monash Health in Melbourne, to sing for people who are reaching the end of their life.

Singing acapella in three and occasionally four-part harmony and for up to forty minutes each time, this group of eleven women are bound by their desire to deliver an uplifting sense of joy into an emotionally complex environment. Unsurprisingly, Ilana finds it’s an amazing thing to do.

“..it’s the intimacy and privilege of being able to offer something so gentle, open and comforting as singing, at the end of someone’s life.”

Sonder sing for the benefit of everyone in the hospice. For the patients, the staff, for themselves and for the family members of those people who are dying. Ilana says this isn’t without challenge and that life continues around them from their central point in the lounge area between the two wards. “Phones ring, sometimes the TV’s on….” But the staff assure them that the sound of their singing transcends this, travelling down along the corridors and filling all the rooms.

“The sound is uncomplicated, an offering to counteract the physicality of pain, suffering and concern, it offers an external focus… it takes you outside of yourself… there’s something in that for everyone. It also normalises the environment a little bit.”

The seed for Sonder was sown a few years ago by a short article Ilana read in the weekend Age newspaper about a Sydney based singing group who were doing a similar thing. She was taken by the idea and did some research into the existence of similar groups in Melbourne, but found nothing. Later, when her own mother was dying, Ilana was inspired to sing a Buddhist Mantra to her as she passed… “I’m not Buddhist, although I have a long standing interest, and I hadn’t sung for years but I had a strong urge to sing this mantra, over and over.”

Then about a year ago, the regular community choir to which all of the Sonder singers also belong, was having a night off. Keen to get their regular singing fix, some of the women met in the lounge room at somebody’s house. Used to singing together as part of a much larger group, the sound that evening was amazing; intense and enveloping, and the idea of singing as therapy for the dying recurred to Ilana.  She put the idea out there, expecting for only one or two people to be interested but, to her amazement, the women agreed unanimously and Sonder was born.

It was never Ilana’s intention to start a singing group of her own, and the emergence and sustainability of leading a group under any conditions, is rarely without challenge.

At first, Ilana felt a fraud. The dynamics were messy, things felt disjointed within the group even though they were united by a common aim as everyone struggled to work out a structure. Recognising the need for someone to take a stand and emerge as a clear leader, and with support from within the singing circle, Ilana found the courage to seize the reins and offer direction, something she has continued to do, taking cues on instruction where she can and attending leadership skill days. She’s surprised to find how much of what is required is already in her.

Sourcing material is a collective process with everyone suggesting and contributing songs. The women then work out harmonies and commit to meeting and practicing two or three times a month. This in itself is a challenge because of the pressures of life, such as work and kids and other bumps in the road.

McCulloch House is an intense and busy working environment to enter into, and the group is happy to enter quietly, sing, and leave again, as unobtrusively as possible. “We really don’t interact much with staff other than them listening to us and being glad we’re there, and we are warmly supported by their music therapist and nurse unit manager.”

This aim of their singing is not to make the world stop and listen, but to deliver a sense of warmth and light, and the women in Sonder find that they get out as much out of doing it, as the people on the receiving end of their singing.

“It’s incredibly joyous and uplifting and there’s a real sense of … family, I think, between us…”

‘Sonder’ is taken from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and is defined as ‘the realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.’

This summarises the mission of the singing group perfectly. Singing to contribute a sense of normalcy and peace to the fabric of an emotionally charged environment and at the crossing points of the lives of many people, in as unobtrusive way as possible. To be the light in the window.

If you know of the Sydney based singing group from which Ilana’s inspiration came, or of the existence of other Victoria based groups doing a similar thing to Sonder, do get in touch. Ilana would love to hear from you, and so would we.

Deb Carveth with Ilana Sharp

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