Tag Archives: community development

All Directions Choir Summons Songs and Stories from the Deep

All Directions Community Choir has written 5 original songs from scratch as part of an original composition project called Songs and Stories from the Deep, facilitated by choir director, Cath Rutten. 

All Directions Community Choir sits within the Boroondara Community Outreach Program (BCO), a mental health ministry run by the Kew Uniting Church to support people with either disability or mental health challenges, or who are experiencing social isolation. The project received funding from Boroondara City Council through the grants program and the Rotary Club of Balwyn and was run by Cath as a series of workshops using water as a metaphor for living, with the group ‘writing from the heart about their experiences of life; the struggles as well as their sense of joy and adventure’.

“We began playing around with words and emotions as a group and there seemed to be a lot of congruence between the way we describe our feelings and water. We spoke of tears, and drowning or being lifted up and held by the waves of emotion, waves of joy, a congruence between the descriptive words of water and the descriptive words for emotion.”

Cath is a musician who loves working at the intersection of arts and health. In addition to running a singing studio at home, she also teaches inclusive singing practice, and has run a number of community projects including 52 Flash Mobs in 52 Weeks to promote the benefits of arts participation to the community. 

“My belief is that we are inherently artistic and musical as humans and for it to be professionalised so that we think we can’t do it unless we’re fantastic is detrimental to us as people.”

Members of the choir were interested in writing songs that talked about their lived experiences but also about the experience of being human. “All too often members from this community feel categorised by whatever challenges they face and really a lot of the challenges will be very familiar. Many people are facing challenges around secure housing, family and home to a lesser or greater extent, there are so many universal stories in there.”

The group met weekly for six sessions to continue writing and drawing on all of the water metaphors and included non-choir members of the BCO community. The process was encouraged along with inspirational visuals of water, and then Cath took the poems and turned their ideas into songs. Cath describes it as a wonderful journey to have shared. 

Artwork by Leah Ferguson and Belinda Wickens


“Being in a room and playing with lots of people and using words as part of that play, there’s just so much that comes out of it. In a way when you’ve got lots of creative people together, the work seems to do itself, it’s fantastic.”

Cath created the music and worked out the song arrangements so that the material used by the writing group could be learned by the choir. Everything was going swimmingly and according to plan. The choir began learning their songs at the end of 2019 with the view to recording the tracks for wider distribution in early 2020. But of course, like most things from that poor ill-fated year, it all had to stop and be mothballed. Cath says, “during COVID like so many other choirs we went online but a lot of the community did not feel comfortable in that space and numbers dropped to around 10 or 12. At the start, before everyone grew tired, I would sometimes ring people and have a sing on the phone with them as a way to remain connected and to check in and we kept going but with a skeleton crew.”

It took a while once lockdown lifted for All Directions Community Choir to regain its collective confidence about being out and about and to find momentum once more. At the beginning of 2022, the choir began working with a wonderful producer, Cameron Mackenzie, and Songs and Stories from the Deep was finally back on track. “Cameron came into the church and worked with the choir in the space and made the recordings over five or six weeks. It was a really lovely, enjoyable process.”

The CD launch of ‘Songs and Stories from the Deep recently took place, in mid-October. “It was wonderful, we all had such a lovely time with a beautiful big crowd and Boroondara Councillor, Nick Stavrou, came and opened it for us; it was such a warm, loving event.” In keeping with the community spirit of the song writing project, the beautiful promotional artwork accompanying the project was contributed by Cath’s daughter, Leah Ferguson, and the graphic design was done by Belinda Wickens.

Cath crackles with conviction and sparkles as she speaks of the community in which she works and her fondness for the project and the people it has involved, as well as for those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen:

“Natalie who is a Reverend of Kew Uniting Church and the Coordinator of BCO does an enormous amount of work. She organises food relief and there are volunteers to come in and cook for people who can’t cook for themselves so that there are freezers full of food, and she does a lot of work for people behind the scenes. The program offers Tai Chi, and as well as the choir, a ukulele group runs on Tuesday mornings; there’s a band that meets and rehearses too and because Natalie’s really committed to finding skilled professionals to work with the choir and the band, there is always a need for funding. I’d love to plug the fact that the songs are for sale as a CD on bandcamp, it’s not very much and people can look up Boroondara Community Outreach if they would like to make a donation, which will go towards the activities that Natalie runs.” 

Something Cath notices repeatedly through her work is how quickly the health benefits of making music together occur and how obvious the effects are:

“It happens as soon as you start, being in a space together with people and singing or making music, our physical and mental health improves immediately and our beautiful souls respond!”

Songs from the Songs and Stories from the Deep are available on bandcamp, and while it is possible to enjoy them without purchase, all money raised from sales of the digital album will go to support the fantastic work done by BCO: 

Click here for a link to the songs: https://alldirectionscommunitychoir.bandcamp.com/album/songs-and-stories-from-the-deep
Click here for more information about BCO https://www.bcokew.org/

Written by Deb Carveth, Copy Editor for Community Music Victoria, in collaboration with Cath Rutten; thank you Cath!

Feature image: Detail of the artwork for Songs and Stories from the Deep, created by Leah Ferguson and Belinda Wickens

CresFest: The New Folk & Roots Music & Dance Festival Putting Creswick on the Map

“There’s music everywhere!” says Judy Turner, convenor of the inaugural CresFest taking place between April 1-3.  For two days, the township of Creswick is throwing open its arms and its doors and inviting visitors to savour two of life’s transformative pleasures: music and dance. CresFest will celebrate the return of live music and performance while showcasing the beauty of Creswick’s historic architecture, its pubs, cafes and public spaces and the great beauty of the Central Victorian landscape. 

Judy’s desire to entice visitors to Creswick arose from her feeling it was underused, underknown and underappreciated with a plethora of lovely buildings just waiting for someone to bring a festival to town, and to share the talents and spirit of the local community with a broader audience. Drawing on a lifetime’s experience of coordinating festivals, fundraisers and cultural events for a broad range of audiences, Judy decided it was time to drop a big old pin and mark Creswick out on the map.

“People tend to dash through Creswick on their way to somewhere else and we want it to be a bit more known”, says Judy. “The Goldfields region is a beautiful place to come and explore, people can stay in Ballarat, Daylesford or Clunes and be here for the festival in fifteen minutes. It’s a beautiful part of the world to visit and CresFest is happening at a beautiful time of the year.”

Picture source: http://www.cresfest.com.au

A festival committee was formed of like-minded locals from Creswick Folk Club, the Neighbourhood Centre, Leavers Wine bar where open mic nights have run for many years, and the Creswick Theatre Company. Together, they have fought for funding and been shaping the show, growing it from the ground up for many, many months. CresFest now has an enviable program which has grown to include 360 musicians.

In addition to a phenomenal line up of headline acts including Emma Donovan and The Putbacks, Eric Bogle Trio, The Maes, Lucy Wise, Fiona Ross, Kee’ahn and oodles of others, CresFest offers a whole other program – the Armband Program – filled with an exciting range of opportunities for community participation. 

Festival goers can sing along with the Creswick Chorus led by Stella Savvy, strum and hum in the Creswick Ukestra led by Jen Hawley, strike out with Strat and Lyndal’s street band, and the Creswick Brass Band or be blown away by a Bollywood Dance ensemble. In addition to all of this and more, CresFest will include a series of live theatre shows called ‘Stories of Us’, funded by Festivals Australia, interspersed with short films in which music plays a key role. 

A kids’ choir has been created with funding from a local family and open mics will be running all weekend, some hosted by the alumni of Youthrive, a statewide group based in Creswick working to support kids from rural areas in supporting their education and bringing their skills back home. For lovers of flips, tricks and ollies there is a YMCA skate competition included in Sunday’s program.

The festival’s ticketing model gives punters the choice of buying a pass for all of the activities taking place in and around the town as part of the Armband Program, with an additional ticket required for access into the Town Hall where the headline acts will be playing across the weekend, offering what Judy calls ‘two levels of commitment’.

“There’s also heaps of free stuff” Judy says, “for people passing through or wanting to dip their toe in the water. The famous Creswick market will be home to an outdoor stage which in turn will host Saturday Breakfast from Ballarat ABC in a first live OB from Creswick.”

In addition to putting Creswick on the map, the committee hopes CresFest will increase the role and prevalence of shared participatory music making and performance for people of all ages within the Creswick community as well as communities from the surrounding small towns who have been brought into the festival fold. 

As Judy says, “that idea that people love getting together to sing, play and perform has been at the heart of what I’ve been doing all my life.” 

Planning this event has taken nerves of steel, and CresFest appears to have struck lucky in being able to proceed in a window of opportunity when other regional town-based festivals held earlier in the year had to be cancelled. As Judy says, “everything is fraught when you’re surrounded by uncertainty, particularly when it’s the first time doing something”. Undeterred, Judy has been driven on by holding in mind the sheer joy that making music and performing with others can bring, a bug she caught back in the 70s when she began performing at folk festivals:

“For me, it is really all about amateur music and the power of performance. I just love the atmosphere and the chance to sit down and play and play and play until I can’t play anymore, and I like to provide that for other people.”

The inclusive and collaborative culture of CresFest extends beyond the music and dance. Local businesses have provided backing and volunteers of all ages have been drafted from across the community with plenty more still needed. 

“We have a terrific team of people on the job, a mix of younger professionals and older volunteers, and it has worked really well and everyone is doing a terrific job. If anyone would like to be involved we could do with more stage managers, front of house people, we need people to serve the food in the artists’ green room, we need trouble shooters who can be runners, we need gofers, and before that we need people to put up posters!” 

CresFest sounds an incredible way to spend a weekend. For ticket bookings and information about how to participate in the festival – become a CresFest volunteer, put up posters or offer a billet to a visiting act – click here, and and be sure to try and get yourself and everyone you know there.

CresFest: April 1-3, 2022. Creswick is just 1.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne, between Daylesford and Ballarat. It is accessible via V/Line on the Maryborough route. For more information visit http://www.vline.com.au or call 1800 800 007

Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria with Judy Turner

Good Vibrations: How the infectious energy of John Lane makes life feel better

All my training has been on the job and I have learnt it by doing it… I always loved singing and I loved acting and I liked being the centre of attention, I guess, whether it was in music or theatre.” This love of the limelight may have been a starting point, but John Lane has spent his entire working life bringing others into the frame to experience the joy of participation that has perpetuated his own effervescent, irrepressible energy and enthusiasm for community arts practice.

“Being in musical vibration together with others is the closest I get to being really spiritual, that’s my spiritual observance, it’s why I like going to the footy; if your team wins you get to sing with 20,000 people! This world with all this pain and sorrow also has all this beauty and one way of plugging into that, viscerally, is to be vibrating in harmony together.”

Having learned piano as a child, John branched out into trumpet and the French horn at secondary school before teaching himself to play the guitar, inspired by the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. “I took every opportunity I could to be a part of productions, both at school and university where I was very much into musical theatre.” 

After three years of medical school, John decided to take a gap year to try and get theatre out of his system. This was a plan destined never to work. He was offered a job in Brisbane and spent three immersive years touring political musical comedy shows with the Popular Theatre Troupe, also organising and running drama workshops and improvisations based on what he had been doing in student theatre workshops, back in Melbourne. John found he couldn’t stop soaking up skills and knowledge in whatever ways he could from whomever he could.  “I worked my chops up by just ‘doing it’ and learning on the job from watching other people.”

“This world with all this pain and sorrow also has all this beauty and one way of plugging into that, viscerally, is to be vibrating in harmony together.”

While living in Queensland, John bumped into a fella named Linsey Pollak and the two of them went busking together; John played tenor saxophone and Linsey played a broom, the end of which he’d turned into a flute (of course). “We played songs that he had written, and some that we both knew, and it was Linsey who first said to me ‘you could write your own songs!’” Having been given his first lessons in the ukulele by Joe Geia from the band ‘No Fixed Address‘, John would carry his banjolele with him everywhere he went – wearing it slung around his back, ready to whip out at any point and pair it with a quick bit of kazoo to entertain people at festivals or in the streets, in the piazzas of Rome, Bologna and Perugia perhaps, and even on a 24 hour bus trip from Dharamsala to Kashmir.

“The only real formal performance training I did was later on, with the Nanjing Acrobats of China, spending six days a week with them for three months in Wodonga, practising alongside members of the Fruit Fly Circus and Circus Oz. I was open to anything and everything and by that stage was feeling ‘this is so much fun, everyone should have this opportunity’. ”

John’s primary focus became finding ways for other people to experience the joy that he’d had of participating and being ‘in it’. For the first ten years of his working life, John acknowledges that he was very lucky to have been employed full time doing theatre with the type of community-based theatre companies where you weren’t just an actor, you were involved in writing the material, creating sets and props and anything and everything else.

“With West Theatre we went into housing commissions, we did projects with the Vietnamese Community at a time when they had newly arrived in Australia, we worked with the Nurses Union, we put on these very professional big community shows. There was a collective of between 7 and 12 professional theatre makers and together we would run events that involved dozens to hundreds of people in the community, putting on shows that were sometimes political, often based around personal and local issues; and community music was always a big part of that work.”

By this point it was the mid-80s and John became heavily involved in festivals around Melbourne and across Victoria. “Festivals were the most obvious opportunity for lots and lots of people to participate in a cultural event. These could be run as projects with artists in schools and artists in the community that culminated in a festival.”

Towards the end of a long period of freelancing, one of the jobs John started doing in 2000 was working for the Royal Children’s Hospital. “They had acquired funding from VicHealth to engage professional arts facilitators to work in schools and they were looking for a coordinator. I got that gig which was 2 days a week for 6 months and this kept going as an annual contract job among the many other jobs I was doing like the Darebin Music Feast, the Kites Festival and the Kew Festival, and stuff for the Royal Melbourne Show and City of Melbourne.”

Unsurprisingly, John had also learned to juggle by this point which came in handy and helped him to keep all these professional balls in the air at the same time, as well as beanbags, skittles, fruit, kitchen knives and whatever else came to hand.

Striving to support the voice of people who had been oppressed or suppressed drove John’s passion for agitprop theatre.

“It was therapeutic for me to be involved with music and with drama and I was always really interested in the application of creative arts techniques to psychological medicine, which I had only just begun to research as part of my medical training. This stuck with me and became a personal political goal of doing this type of work because of its benefit to people’s mental health… including mine!”

The Royal Children’s Hospital’s “Festival for Healthy Living” (FHL) program was an embodiment of this philosophy, and upon taking up a newly created salaried role of FHL Artistic Coordinator, by 2004 John found he had gone full circle from leaving medical school in 1976 back to working within a hospital where he remained until his retirement from that post in October 2021. 

So how did John keep up his energy? “Keeping a role for myself as a hands-on participant, even when I was coordinating projects, was vital for me. I’d end up being an MC or I’d pop up in the band playing the trumpet or tenor horn, keyboards or uke. I think my work as an overall coordinator suffered sometimes because I was so obsessed with being in things, but I gradually realised I didn’t need to be front and centre and that my role in life as I got older was in being a facilitator and capacity builder.”

John firmly believes that some of the best capacity building happens by learning on the job, side by side with someone who is really experienced. “I would be there alongside emerging artists, doing the stilt walking or juggling workshops, or building a gigantic puppet or encouraging kids in a songwriting session. At other times the job was all about writing funding submissions or facilitating steering committees, but doing only that would never last very long with me and I had to find at least some time to keep working on the ground. It was a crazy life rushing hither and thither!”

Finding ways to help people feel better, and experience wellness from connecting with other people in their communities, schools or families, working for the Royal Children’s Hospital proved to be a great way in for John to build countless productive partnerships in over 30 different communities across Victoria. More recently, working closely with local agencies, under the RCH/FHL banner the annual Dream Big Festival was established in Melton. This was run for the first time in 2015, with John at the helm as Artistic Director.

A year later, John decided he needed more brass back in his life and joined Melbourne-based street band, Havana Palava (cos he obviously had so much spare time on his hands). There he met Lyndal Chambers who at that time was coordinating CMVic’s StreetSounds project. As part of a collaboration between StreetSounds and the Dream Big Festival, together they established The Fabulous Meltones Street Band.

Facilitating the band was an opportunity for John to embrace participatory music-making and perform on a regular basis while bringing together community players of brass, strings, percussion and more, in a riot of colour and sound. The band has played at the Dream Big Festival each year, and at dozens of other community events including the local Djerriwarrh Festival, and also featured in spectacular appearances at Geelong After Dark for three consecutive years.

Since his ‘rewirement’ last month, John has been reflecting back on all of this history and allowing himself to dream of what might come next.

“In the future I do see myself as always wanting to get community music to happen with people of all ages.”

If history is anything to go by, John won’t be sitting still in one place for very long before his energy fizzes over and propels him towards his next adventure. There may be kazoos… Watch this space!

Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria, with John Lane

Photos supplied

Uke Lovers Get inTo the BUF in Ashburton

Boroondara Ukulele Festival (BUF) was born of Margaret Crichton’s desire to bring something to an area of Melbourne where, for some years, she has been running a number of community music groups. Back when plans were evolving for BUF, COVID wasn’t even a thing. Having experienced restrictions derail so many other face to face events since then,  Margaret, who is a program coordinator for CMVic, has been making ‘contingency plan after contingency plan’ to ensure the show goes on.

If by the end of September,  BUF is not able to go ahead ‘in real life’ then depending on the levels of regulations, Margaret and the CMVic team are ready, with a myriad of creative ways tucked up their sleeves to ensure its delivery, either entirely online, or as a hybrid event.  

“We all need to be able to plan things, we need it for our personal wellbeing, we need to have something to look forward and aspire to… it’s a bit like having that recipe where you go, ooh I’d love to make it but I haven’t got quite those ingredients I’ll just substitute this, and it might not be the same but it will still be amazing.”

BUF will feature a range of workshop topics offered by a host of leaders from across Victoria. There will be banjo techniques for ukulele and banjolele by Julie Bradley from Gippsland, Dan McEoin, the man behind the Hills Ukulele Festival and current president of AUTLA will be teaching picking techniques, Bruce Watson will be doing what he’s calling “I’ve got rhythm, Uke got rhythm” and running a session of his surely world-famous-by now, Ukeoke. Oli Hinton and Dave Rackham will be running bass workshops. 

As Margaret points out, “if you’ve got an instrument with four strings or even a guitar handy you’ll be able to have a go at the bass workshops, you won’t necessarily need to have a bass ukulele. And if BUF runs online, remember when you’re in a Zoom room no-one else can hear but the cat, you so you’ll be able to pick up a lot of techniques for when you can get your hands on a bass.”

Margaret will be offering a beginners workshop where there will be ukuleles and some basses to borrow for anyone coming along who has never played before. “If people come along to my workshop knowing nothing, they’ll be able to play something by the end of it, and if they know a little bit, they’ll leave knowing how to play a little bit more”.

Nicki Johnson and Craig Barrie will be leading a song writing workshop for ukulele, and the day will end with Tom Jackson leading a Q&A session to answer any uke-related questions to wrap things up.

What Margaret wants more than anything is for people to come to BUF and have a really good time, to learn new skills and make new connections.

“Should we all still be in lockdown,  connection is what we’ll need. If we can bring some brightness into people’s days – even if they can’t be in the room with us literally, we’ll bring them into our rooms.”

BUF is a testimony to Margaret’s longstanding love for the humble ukulele which began back when she was a child. “When I was about 10, I wanted a guitar but we couldn’t afford one so I had to save up. In the meantime I got a ukulele and played that for a little while. Then, eight or nine years ago, when ukulele really took off, I decided to get another one and predictably it was purple…” The CMVic queen of all things purple and a staunch devotee of stringed instruments from ukes to harps, Margaret still loves the uke’s accessibility for people of all ages and all levels of ability. “It doesn’t really matter what age you are, you can pick it up and instantly play a song.”

Margaret with one of her trusty four-stringed friends

Community Music Victoria will host BUF on September 24-25 in partnership with AUTLA and Pat’s Music. For all of the info click here and watch the CMVic socials for booking details, coming soon!

Written by Deb Carveth, CMVic Online Editor, with Margaret Crichton, CMVic Program Coordinator

Feature photo: Bennettswood Ukulele Groups and Singalong and Stringalong (BUGSS) at Hawthorn Market, supplied

Getting big feminists singing!

By Jane York

On Feb 5th this year I posted in a private feminist group I belong to, the following:

“Random thought for all singers (everyone) in this group: If I was to start a casual Inner North FEMINIST CHOIR, who would be interested? Singing tunes by powerhouse women of pop and indie including Beyonce, Peaches, Meryl Bainbridge.  Like if you would be keen to come along  x”

The idea for a feminist choir had been rattling around in my head for a long time, nurtured through chats with lefty, femmo, artist friends about what our creative responses to this unique cultural moment in history might look like. I made a playlist entitled ‘Feminist Choir’ that may or may not have included the song Bitch by Meredith Brooks. So when I got 12 comments of support under my Facebook post I thought ‘fantastic, great, let’s do this right away…’

Right away turned out to be 5 months, and change. I booked the room, made a poster, created a Facebook event and – for lack of any better ideas – titled it BIG FEMINIST SING!, thinking this would do until I came up with a much more clever and witty title.

I then proceeded to completely overthink what we would sing: What is a feminist? What does a feminist song sound like? Am I even a good enough feminist? What if I forget how to feminist and I am never allowed to feminist again?!!!!

After this initial bout of imposter syndrome, I realised that I needed to focus on what I wanted from a Big Feminist Sing. What I wanted was to express a complex set of conflicting emotions around identity. To do more than argue with strangers on the internet. To make a physical space for catharsis. To express vulnerability, anger, humour; to be fierce, silly and soulful. I wanted to be unapologetically critical of our leaders, cultural values and institutions. I wanted to build community, and I didn’t need to have all the answers!

It was important to me that the Big Feminist Sing workshop was a welcoming and safe space for all non-binary, gender fluid, intersex and trans singers. There is a disturbing amount of discrimination in some pockets of the feminist community and I wanted it to be clear from the outset that everyone is welcome. I have tried to do that by stating explicitly on all our promotion that we are for everybody. I have also been conscious of this when making song choices and lyric changes in songs. Not just choosing songs with lyrics about Woman power and giving pronoun options on lyric sheets. I hope that this has made the space more welcoming and I will continue to listen to feedback around this.

As with my other projects I knew that selecting material would be crucial to the success of the initial workshop. I wanted it to be satisfying and surprising, so the first song in our first session was the children’s song There’s A Hole In My Bucket, which was my dry and humorous way of finding a song that accurately depicted the domestic mental load and the infantilisation of adult men. We then sung a mournful a capella lament on the destruction of Mother Earth by trans singer-songwriter, Anohni, and Radiohead’s Creep, with guitar accompaniment and the lyrics re-written to be about Trump.

Over 40 people showed up to the first workshop and many were not regular choristers or singers. For the second Big Feminist Sing over 80 people came through the door and I was excited and nervous in equal parts. I now had an unruly mob of lefty feminists to wrangle and lead. What did they want or expect? Luckily our venue had a stage and my accompanist had brought a headset mic for me to use so I had physical command of the room. With prior permission, I had arranged Tiddas’ My Sister in two parts and in just under an hour we had something glorious and powerful. The video of that session was shared nearly 4,000 times and, by her own admission, we had Sally Dastey in tears.

We travelled to Docklands Library for the third session, inspired by the big turnout for the previous workshop in Northcote, however I want Big Feminist Sing to be of no fixed address and to move around, allowing different groups of people to take part. Although the turnout for the Docklands workshop was smaller, a third of those who attended did so only because it was held in a central location.

Our fourth workshop was a collaboration with Reclaim the Night were we learnt Mylk’s Quiet, the anthem from the Women’s march. We were then invited to sing it at the conclusion of the RTN event the following week. I made an online resource of the song so that people who couldn’t attend the workshop could still be a part of the evening event and on the night we had around 40 voices leading the crowd in song.

I have a lot of ideas for the future of Big Feminist Sing and am in the process of putting together a committee to help put them into action. The main question in my mind right now is ‘what is our activism’? What will it look, sound and feel like? I look forward to answering these questions and making music with the incredible humans who make up the BFS community.

Jane York
October 2018

The next Big Feminist Sing is on 13 November, 7-9pm at Kindred Studios, 3 Harris St, Yarraville. Click here for info.

About Jane: Jane is a multi skilled musical instigator committed to the community building power of group singing. She is the founder and director of contemporary community choir ‘Just Holler’, musical director of Nillumbik Youth Theatre and producer and musical director of Big Feminist Sing. She has directed choirs and music groups for people aged 10-90 with a focus on mental health recovery and inclusive practice for the disability community.

When she is not waving her hands around Jane is producing community music events including choir jams, a sold-out tribute to 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields, It’s Our Side Project and #Sing4equality.

On rare occasions she can also be seen performing with madrigal group Tierce De Picarde and a capella trio The Northern Belles.

Featured image: Photograph by recalcitrant

 

Big Sing in a Big Shed under a Big Sky puts Murtoa on the Community Music Map… and it’s happening all over again

James Rigby spent years driving past the mighty Murtoa Stick Shed in awe of its size and wondering how on earth the monolithic structure looming up out of the landscape could still be standing. He never imagined that one Spring day in 2017 together with Jane Thompson, he would lead around 300 community singers in a Big Sing under its cathedral-like roof of bush poles and corrugated iron.

The idea for a Stick Shed Sing was conceived by Judith Welsh, Chair of the Committee of Management which took over the running of the shed when it was gifted back to the community in 2016. The vision was to create an event to reflect the ambience and glory of the Heritage listed building and bring singing into the shed for the first time as part of Murtoa’s Big Weekend celebrations.

“We wanted an event that anyone could join in on but which gave local choirs, the singers from the Wimmera, an opportunity to perform as part of a massed choir, as well.”

As highly experienced community singing leaders, Jane Thompson and James Rigby expressed their interest in coordinating the event, working with Judith to decide a shape for the day, which included a massed singing workshop open to anyone keen to sing in the shed and a concert by any community choirs attending, who were happy to perform.

Jane and crowd

The first Stick Shed Sing was held in October last year, attracting a huge amount of interest from within the local community and further afield with around 6 full choirs performing at the concert and individual singers from many other choirs attending too.

“We had the signing choir from Horsham Primary School where AUSLAN is taught as a second language, which was lovely as it meant there was lots of children’s energy in the building too.”

The Signing Choir sign what they sing, culminating in a dance-like blend of a song’s rhythm and the natural gestures of the signs. This theatrical style of delivery is well suited to the vast, 270 metre-long Stick Shed where you can occupy as much space as physically possible and still feel incredibly small.

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James and Jane found that facilitating singing of any sort in a space the size of the Stick Shed is not without challenge – all part of the excitement of being there. For a start, there is the all-important issue of acoustics.

“The shed is like a tent with an incredibly long, high pitched roof so the acoustics vary dramatically, whether you go in near the edges close to the roof, or whether you stand in the middle of it underneath the ridge, at which point the acoustics disappear. What we found was that about two-thirds out from the edge you hit this magic sweet spot where the natural reverb of the shed is really flattering to the singing and meant we could hear ourselves and, when singing as a group, what the group was sounding like.”

 As luck would have it, this particular area of the shed is well lit by a line of skylights set into the roof enabling the singers to see all that is necessary whilst feeling a part of that beautiful big space, and with the added option of gazing at the clouds moving above them over the Wimmera.

For the workshop, James and Jane used ‘Here in the Stick Shed’ a short warm-up song written for the occasion by Jane, and a song about trees by Scott Wise called ‘Hold up the Sky’.

“We sang a beauty about trees and how they hold up the ground in mines, and on the land they hold up the road, and then when you get to the forest they hold up the sky. It’s a beautiful song about how trees prop up everything all around us and of course we’re standing in a shed where there’re these ridiculously tall little skinny mountain ash poles holding the whole thing up…”

For everyone involved in the Stick Shed Sing, James believes the first show stopper of the day was probably the magnificence and scale of the shed itself:

“You approach this massive looming building through the Wimmera wheat lands, it’s bright, it’s flat and then you go into the shed through this administrative area and suddenly you’re inside this dark and immense space… I can only say that it’s like walking into the most amazing, ancient cathedral in Europe, that’s the sense of scale and the sense of awe it inspires when you first walk in, you can’t quite believe it.”

The venue is too big to simply whip a vacuum or broom over, so a day before the community choirs and singers arrived armed with picnics and BYO seating, a street sweeper from the neighbouring shire was brought in and driven up and down to prepare the space. Pieces of conveyor machinery still hang from the ceilings in some spots, evidence of the shed’s industrial heritage.

On a personal and professional level, James and Jane were delighted to have assembled another group of community singers in such a unique setting.

“Jane and I have worked quite a bit in the North and the West of the state and had probably connected with a lot of the individuals who sang with us on that day at some point previously, but we hadn’t worked with any of the choirs before and had no idea of their skill levels, we were assembling a really diverse bunch of singers. In finding a song by an Australian songwriter which spoke about trees and then feeling like we were standing in a forest was a very powerful thing and it connected the people and the place and the music. On an emotional level it worked really well.”

James and JaneJames and Jane were mindful of the distance some of the singers had travelled to participate in the Stick Shed Sing, and due consideration was given to this in planning the concert element of the day:

“The trick of running an event with multiple choirs is to really balance the effort that choirs are making to get there with the opportunity to showcase what they do and what they’ve learned. You can’t ask a highly rehearsed hardworking choir to drive 3 hours to Murtoa and then only give them time for one song. Neither do you want to force a smaller choir, meeting less frequently, to get up and sing five songs. It’s a challenge to make sure we respect the capabilities and the ambitions of all of the choirs.”

The mighty Murtoa Stick Shed is a monument to an older time, built during the second world war to stockpile grain at a point when no steel was available, it is the world’s largest remaining timber-built shed and its iconic void is filled with echoes of its industrial past where the dust motes carry history as they drift in the shafts of light. It’s an evocative place with the capacity to emotionally move anyone stepping into it.

If you missed the opportunity to make the sticks ring last year, there’s an opportunity for community choirs and singers to do it all over again and make music together in this amazing space on Saturday October 6. With Jane overseas, James will be going in on his own this year but, as he says, he knows what the challenges are and is already genuinely excited and looking forward to stepping back into the Stick Shed’s phenomenal space:

“…there will be the need for some big moments. You have a big crowd in a big space and it’s very satisfying to have a go at filling that mighty venue with sound.”

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Join James Rigby for the second Stick Shed Sing on Saturday October 6th, 2018. For more information and to express an interest in participating in the workshop and/or afternoon concert with your choir (or as an individual!) contact office@makingmusic.com.au  

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with James Rigby
Main image: photo: National Trust @NTAV All other images supplied

Playing to Spin: Celtic tunes keep Contra dancers on their toes

Contra dance… que’est-ce-que c’est? For those of us who’ve never dipped a heel or toe into this aspect of the folk or social dance scene, a quick spot of online research explains contra dancing as ‘social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.’ A hot stepping cousin of square dancing or bush dancing, contra dancing is done in pairs with couples moving up and down a line or in sets in response to a caller. It originates from North America and is steadily gaining an enthusiastic following of new, young dancers here in Australia. It is also a fantastic way to link social dancing with community music making.

Melbourne based musician, Judy Oleinikov is a big fan of the inclusive nature of contra dance and for the past three years or so has been doing her bit to bring a wider awareness of it to musicians and dancers alike: “ Contra dances can  be more vivacious and also a little bit more informal than some of the other dances we have here… unlike something more structured such as Scottish Dancing, it isn’t intimidating to beginners.”

It may be a relief to hear that a sleek technique isn’t required and you don’t need to point your toes to take part. Contra dancing is open to anyone of any age and people seem to find it highly addictive due to its inherent element of fun. That and the amount of spinning involved.

For Judy, Contra dance kicks come from her involvement as a fiddle player for the dance:

 “What I love about social dance is seeing a roomful of people in sync, the dancers and the musicians. There’s just nothing better, that buzz of live music and everyone responding to it.

In addition to the fact it’s fun, Judy considers the resurgence in contra dancing important in helping to sustain a complex skill and a vital element of musicality which she believes is at risk of becoming lost: the ability to play for dancers.

“A lot of Celtic musicians learn the music completely separate from the dance and so they haven’t quite got the feel… they can be brilliant players but to a dancer it just wouldn’t be right. We’ve grown used to hearing recordings or playing tunes in pubs and so what I really like about bringing a dance back is doing it while people are learning the music to go with it.”

Contra dance music is lively, and drives and energizes the dancers. Like all forms of music, it has originated from a blend of traditions, noticeably Irish, Scottish, Breton, Québecois, Cape Breton, New England, and Appalachian, and is constantly evolving, as living traditions do. As an avid player of Celtic music herself, Judy explains that the origin of this form of music was in playing tunes for people to dance along to as entertainment.

 “People used to dance every week. There’s the story of how in Ireland, people used to meet on the crossroads whenever there was a full moon because there were no halls big enough to fit everyone into… it’s been people’s enjoyment for so long.”

While this form of dancing fell out of favour as other new and exciting ways to pass the time were thought up and invented throughout the twentieth century, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that when people rediscover it as a form of unplugged entertainment, it becomes a bit of an addiction.

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Photo supplied

As a musician, one of the things Judy loves most about this form of traditional music is that tunes are learnt and carried by ear. There are no scores to follow and whilst a framework is essential to prevent chaos breaking out on the dance floor, musicians can be spontaneous and creative in their playing and because they’re not following markings on a piece of paper, their interpretation can come across.

 “Because there are no hard and fast rules about chord choices and where the notes should be played, you’ll hear something different about the melody each time… there’s no break out like there is in jazz, it’s more about taking the framework of the tune and finding elements in it to change around or highlight, and that’s really exciting.”

For the past four years, Judy has run the Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle Weekend, a music camp dedicated to French Canadian music, a type of Celtic music that’s “as much fun to play as it is to listen to” which has remained very rhythmic, very lively and is a style extremely well suited to contra dancing.

Each year, Judy has included a dance in the camp’s program, inspired by the social dancing she’d seen in Quebec to this particular style of music. “I thought it would be absolutely brilliant to run a dance like that here at my camp!” Two friends of Judy’s are dance callers and dancers in different styles, and they each asked if she’d consider a contra dance.

 “They’d fallen in love with the style and knew of hardly any contra dance happening here in Victoria. Once we had a go I could see their point – it’s a really great form of social dancing.”

Jeanette Mill, who is an experienced Contra dance caller from Canberra, has worked with Judy for the past three years. “Jeanette is highly experienced with a range of dances up her sleeve for whoever comes along and, in order to be as inclusive as possible, starts each of the dances quite simply.” As Judy points out, the skill of the caller has to combine with the skill of the musicians to ensure that the dancers can pick up and maintain a rhythm and flow.

“We have kids, we have parents holding toddlers, we have more elderly people and even teenage boys joining in! It’s great to get all the age groups up and dancing with people they may feel too shy to sit and talk to and, as some of the dances are progressive, it mixes everyone up.”

Whilst Contra dancing isn’t actually a French Canadian thing, it’s been carried across the borders into Quebec from the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the heartland of Contra Dance. Subsequently, a lot of the musicians from that region make their money as dance players and tend to be extremely good at it.

In November this year, Judy will once again be hosting a four-day French Canadian music camp in Gippsland ‘which will honour the traditional way of learning music by providing an environment open to all players, teaching the music by ear and enjoying a great community atmosphere.’

The Quebec Fiddle Camp will offer musicians and dancers the opportunity to participate in an afternoon’s contra dance workshop led by visiting musicians from Quebec. “Australia has very few musicians who can play for contra dances so far, and it’s great to have the opportunity to book visiting musicians here who are strong in the genre.”

Judy is keen to encourage players who attend the weekend to have a go at the dancing in order to experience it from a dancing perspective, to feel the music and the impact it has.

The 2018 Quebec Fiddle Camp will take place over cup weekend, (Nov 2-6) and on Monday November 5, (Cup Eve), Judy is planning a big contra dance in Trafalgar. This event will be open to anyone out there in the community who’s keen to join in and – literally – give it a whirl.

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Getting into the swing of things: Photo supplied

For information about the annual Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle weekend, visit www.quasitrad.com

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Judy Oleinikov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Assyrian Women’s group: celebrating, preserving, and sharing Assyrian Culture in Melbourne.

Foundation House is an organisation set up to help refugees and migrants who are survivors of torture in other countries, assisting them with settlement services and connecting them with other organisations such as AMES on arrival in Australia. It is also the starting point in this story of a group of Chaldean Christian women who have hopes of becoming the Assyrian Women’s Choir.

The Assyrian Women’s group is a group of Chaldean women who have fled persecution and torture in Iraq and Syria. Persecuted for being Christian and for speaking a different language, these women have been migrating to safety in Australia to begin a new life for more than twenty years, and they keep coming.

Whenever new refugees or migrants arrive, the women mobilise themselves into a welcome committee, travelling out to the airport. They help the new arrivals to find their feet in this foreign country where for many of them, language is a barrier. Every Friday, the women meet to sing and cook food together, sharing stories of their lives, old and new, as well as offering skills and support to each other. They are from places in Iraq we’ve all heard about in the news, and they know the pain of conflict, displacement, persecution and loss.

A strong love for singing their traditional Arabic and Chaldean folk songs exists between the women, and this is how Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator with Community Music Victoria came to be involved in their journey.

Sarah approached Foundation House to offer skills and support to the staff and community to in her capacity as a singing leader and facilitator. Carolyn Wilson, one of the senior counsellors there, immediately thought of the Chaldean Christian Women’s group and arranged for Sarah and CMVic’s Coordinator, Oli Hinton, to meet with them. Translator and Foundation house worker, Dr Salam Dankha, made communication possible. At the first meeting, Oli and Sarah were welcomed with traditional food and songs, and a bond was formed.  In 2017 a further two sessions were planned for Sarah to work with the group ahead of their participation at the International Women’s Day celebrations, at Dianella Health in Craigieburn.

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Members of the Assyrian Women’s group in one of their initial sessions with Sarah

screen-shot-2017-06-23-at-10-28-33-am-e1498191904892.pngDuring the first session, the women chose to sing two songs: one, an Iraqi song about the beauty of Iraqi women, and the second a folk song about courtship and the relevance of bringing gifts for the girl. Their enthusiasm was evident and they conveyed their hopes of galvanising the group into something with a more formal structure which would enable them to preserve and share the music as messengers of their culture and as advocates for peace in the wider community.

Sarah has been enabling the women to find a focus and they have plans to write a song together, an anthem unique to the group, written around universal morals and themes such as peace, as part of their journey of healing, participation and empowerment.

The next phase is to obtain the funding necessary for Sarah to continue her work with the Assyrian women because, as she says, “I’ve already developed a relationship with them, and it’s a good one.” Supporting the group in selecting a repertoire and helping them to develop the structure they need to become a sustainable choir constitutes part of a proposed new CMVic led project called ‘Voices of Peace‘.

“It’s about giving the leaders already in place within the Assyrian community some skills and structure to use, it’s also about support in identifying potential new leaders and it’s about assistance with sustainability.” as well as offering suggestions and feedback around how the songs are sung: “It’s one thing for the women to sit and sing music of their culture together but in order to get out and share the material, some guidance is necessary.”

While the group is comprised solely of Assyrian women, these women are open to everyone, no matter where they are from. They don’t have any barriers around ethnicity, religion, etc. Instead, there is open-ness, recognition and acceptance of difference:

“They just understand…I told them I have an Indian husband, and that I’m Jewish and it created this openness, I mean, we’re all just different aren’t we, and we want to get along.”

This is the focus and purpose of the group: to sing their music, celebrate and preserve their unique culture and through sharing this love of it with others, to create greater harmony and understanding in society, improving mental and physical health and well-being along the way on the road to recovery.

As part of the International Women’s Day event, there was a fashion parade and it was a chance for everyone to get dressed up and a celebration for all women, from all cultures. “The Assyrian women came out wearing jewelled gowns, and having a wonderful time with the Indian women; celebrating being women.”

As the Assyrian Women’s Choir, these women will find new opportunities and ways to meet people, make connections and friendships, to share and celebrate where they are from and and to participate and contribute to the richness of the diverse, inclusive and safe society they have found themselves part of.

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Members of the Assyrian Women’s group singing at an event for International Women’s Day 2017 (above and below)

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Listen to an early session with the Assyrian Women’s group, here.

Written by Deb Carveth with Sarah Mandie for Community Music Victoria