Tag Archives: community development

Sharing more than song: Singing life back into an old, old concept with a brand new barter choir.

‘If I can reduce my living expenses significantly that’s as good as making money.’ says Werribee singing leader, Steph Payne, who recently established ReciproVocal, a Barter Choir where instead of paying a termly fee to join, participants are invited to share and exchange skills and trades and even sing for their supper. (Steph dreams of dentists, desperate to sing, and who wouldn’t?)

At ReciproVocal, your money won’t get you anywhere! Steph’s vision is for the group to experience not only the bond of solidarity and support for each other common between members in community singing and music groups, but to educate themselves in ways of bartering and skills exchange that will extend out to enrich and sustain the wider community in unforeseen ways.

The idea for ReciproVocal germinated from a seed sewn at an inspirational workshop run by community facilitator, Debby Maziarz, at the Wyndam Arts Incubator, in Werribee. The workshop focussed on bartering and the establishment of mutually beneficial connections between artists and businesses, an idea that resonated heavily with Steph, inspiring a steep and positive learning curve. While she is in no doubt about the sense in trying this ‘revolutionary-retro’ approach, Steph acknowledges that she, herself, had to learn a lot of lessons in the lead up to the launch of the singing group, and that other people may also need time to come around to the concept:

 “There needs to be a huge amount of education around bartering and trading. People can’t see how bartering fits into their world because they’re used to a money based currency.”

Steph has also noticed that even amongst her existing  network of singers and ukulele players all keen to continue working with her, there is often the initial response of ‘but I don’t have anything to trade.’

“But they do! We are all so used to being valued monetarily and comparing ourselves based on what we have. People just don’t realise they have loads of things to trade and that you’ve got to look at it more creatively.”

To encourage new participants to dip a toe in the ReciproVocal waters, Steph is willing to accept money from her singers to begin with, gradually introducing the barter model as the group grows and develops its collective understanding of a non-monetary based currency.

image1
Steph leading Williamstown based singing group, Willin Wimmin

“We’re all fixated by the concept of money. On the one hand it’s a leveller because everything has a monetary value, it’s very open and clear and you can see what you’re buying into. But on a whole lot of other levels it’s incredibly unfair and messed up. Money’s convenient, but it’s a real trap and it only gives things one value, when certain things hold much more.”

A significant piece of the sociological scaffolding required to support the bartering model, is trust. Trust in the validity of the concept by the participants is crucial, and belief by Steph that the services and goods offered will be forthcoming in the way they are promised is important too. A clear, shared understanding of the need for mutual boundaries between the definitions of professional and personal space between members of the group is equally important. This line in the sand is necessary for the sake of all participants because the variety of tendered tasks require varying degrees of access to areas of each other’s lives.

And while response to the idea of ReciproVocal has been hugely positive Steph believes it will be a slow burn to reach a sustainable level of interest, and is prepared for this to take time.  She’s excited by an awareness that the more people she can engage and educate about bartering, the more likely it is that there really can be a functioning level of trading going on, with the possibility of a real alternative economy starting in Werribee.

To help people get their head around the type of things they can bring to the table, there’s an area on the ReciproVocal website which offers examples of what 8 weeks in a choir is worth. Steph has supplied this as a guide to allow people to work out for themselves the equivalent ‘value’ of what they might like to offer.

Again, a sliding scale of value applies because the value is not just monetary. It’s not as simple as being a term’s worth of singing valued at $150. Singers might offer a service which will save Steph time, or produce something she needs or simply just wants, or be able to arrange a lead into further work for her. The option of third party trade also exists. For example, you may not be willing to mow Steph’s lawn but you might know somebody who is for whom you can babysit, who will then mow the lawn and the chain of exchange grows longer and more embedded.

Steph is always looking to enrich and develop communities through the groups that she runs. It’s a strong part of what drives her. In the past she’s run a singing group in a pub because of the immediate social set up, and she’s hopeful that Reciprivocal will grow to enrich the community in a myriad of ways. Her hope is that once people are engaged in the trading and bartering concept, they will extend those terms and values of collaborative, sustainable living to each other, and eventually to people and life situations beyond the singing group:

“There’s a great level of satisfaction in getting your needs met in a way that’s not financial. As a person with something to offer, as a product as a service, any of us have a choice in how we exchange that. We have our needs, we have our resources, it’s about how to match those two things up. “

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, in collaboration with Steph Payne.

RECIPROVOCAL SEEKS SINGERS!! Open to adults of any age and experience. Rehearsals are Thursdays 7-8.30pm 8 weeks per term. Starting July 28, 2016-08-04  Venue: Wyndham Arts Incubator, Old Shire Offices, Room 4, Cnr Watton St & Duncans Rd, Werribee.VIC 3030 www.reciprovocal.com.au  www.facebook.com/reciprovocal  Email: unstrungmusic@gmail.com

 

 

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.

Dreams come true at Prahran Accordion Band!

Prahran Accordion Band’s home is the German Club Tivoli on Dandenong Road. It’s not a building to evoke architectural wonder as you pass, but inside on the first and third Thursdays of the month, magic happens.

From around 6.45pm, members of the Prahran Accordion Band (PAB) can be spotted lugging cases out of cars, setting up music stands and testing their bellows in eager anticipation of another fortnightly session, led by Phil Carroll.

PAB is not huge in numbers which means a real sense of connection is being nurtured and as word gets out, the ranks are growing steadily. There’s now an average of ten players on any given week from across a wide area of Melbourne, battling evening traffic and catching trains in their dedication to squeeze in the time and to get to grips with their accordions.

We are a mixed bunch. Our lineage extends out of that big rehearsal room into the streets of Windsor and from there, all over the globe. To Poland, South America, Germany, Italy and the UK. Our ability varies a lot too; some people, like Hans Gruneberg, are absolute beginners while others have been playing since childhood.

Hans moved from Germany to Australia at the age of 22. Raised in West Berlin, he made the passage by sea away from his family and his home. On arrival at Port Melbourne he was put into quarantine where he was forced to shower seven times a day and have all his belongings sprayed with disinfectant. Undeterred, he has made Australia his home for the past 43 years. Speaking English as his second language, Hans found work as a butcher, married an Australian woman and raised a family of his own.

Hans speaks nostalgically of hearing the accordion played in his German family home especially at Christmas time and about how, as a child, it was a dream of his own to learn to play.

At the age of 65, thanks to the launch of the PAB as part of CMVic’s StreetSounds project, Hans was finally able to tick this wish off his bucket list.  Having never played an instrument before, Hans was encouraged to join by Paul Smyth, founding member of the band, and Judy Gunson who occasionally leads the group.

Hans describes being able to play the accordion as a ‘dream come true’.

“It’s a great feeling to make music… it’s a great group, a friendly group.  I enjoy taking part and it gets me out…  it’s very supportive… and now I can play tunes by myself.”

Accordion (1)
Hans in action on his accordion at the StreetSounds Rough Riffs workshop held in July , 2015

The first thirty minutes of each session, is all about going slow for the beginners and that’s the time to ask questions and focus on tunes covering a range of no more than five notes in the right hand, and two chords or less, with the left.

Even then, it can feel surprisingly hard to correlate the two, and evokes the same looks of confusion and concentration as you see on the face of a child trying to simultaneously pat their head and rub their tum. But with just ten minutes practice every day or so, it’s amazing how quickly skills can noticeably improve.

The more extended part of the PAB repertoire includes classics such as La Paloma, and Roll out the Barrel. If you can’t play a piece with both hands, stick with one, join in when and where you can. In this way, we’re making great progress, and learning major and minor scales in the right hand, too.

The sound of a tune divided into alto and soprano parts can be amazing, the harmonies blending; the bits where we stumble and fall flat half way into a tune and have to go over a particular bar several times or start all over again, serve to deepen our connection and commitment to our practice because nobody minds and we all have a laugh.

The chat around the table during our break is also evolving to include more personal issues as people open up to share stories of their backgrounds and their daily lives.

Hans, for example, has overcome an ongoing battle with joint pain and a recent knee replacement makes him the most bionic member of the PAB. He is also a keen documenter of the club’s progress, taking photos of the group in action at Christmas and in concert last year at the Chris Gahan centre, which he then prints out and shares around. Old school, and precious. Hans is also a regular at the club’s shooting range and is a bit of a champion shot. As Phil says, Accordion Players, beware!

The Prahran Accordion Band meets every fortnight for two hours from 7-9pm. An annual subscription of $40 is paid by each player to Club Tivoli for the rehearsal space, which, as Phil points out, is probably cheaper than a one to one accordion lesson, so we’re onto a pretty great thing and there’s a weekly cost of $10. So if you or anyone else you know is using their cased accordion as a coffee table , get them to come down and see what it’s all about.

Prahran Accordion Band is open to players of all age, skill level and ability and is supported by Community Music Victoria through the StreetSounds project. For further information, email the team at Community Music Victoria

Article by Deb Carveth with Hans Gruneberg

Going the distance: Taking music on the road to schools in remote regions.

The benefits of music in childhood are multiple, impacting and well documented. Yet in spite of proven positive connections between music and early learning, and music and emotional development, mainstream education too often seems to view it as a peripheral extra, a luxury that can easily be dispensed of, and budget cuts in schools seem to hit music departments especially hard.

So it’s particularly great to read heart warming stories such as the one about Dennis Winbanks, from North Western Victoria, who travels over 550 kilometres each week to deliver music and music making opportunities to remote and geographically isolated students at schools in regional and rural Victoria.

The story, ‘Travelling music teacher going the distance for regional students’ by Sophie Malcolm,  was featured on the ABC news website on Wednesday, and is a celebration of Dennis’s recognition of the value and importance of music and his desire to ensure kids living in these remote areas are exposed to the same kind of opportunities enjoyed by their peers living in the state’s larger towns.

Dennis teaches about 350 students in four different schools, arriving in a ute and towing a trailer full of instruments. It’s no wonder there’s a strong attendance on the days Dennis rolls up, with his musical cargo in tow.

As if its contents and the accompanying diversion from the usual school timetable weren’t magical enough, what Dennis delivers has the potential to transcend all that.

He brings not only the opportunity for these children to experience music in a way they may not get anywhere else in their lives, but the subsequent potential for personal enrichment and the development of new pathways: neurological, emotional, educational and creative. Go Dennis! Go music teachers, music group leaders and facilitators, everywhere!

Read the full article from the ABC, here.

Deb Carveth. Online editor for Community Music Victoria.

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

Drumming reaches the heart of the matter

By Stephen Heart

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Singing & Swinging in the Treetops

Here at CMVic, we love hearing your stories and experiences of our events and workshops! Here’s one reflection of the weekend at the Treetops 2015 Music Camp, to get the ball rolling.

Blog3What do you get if you combine 150 people, two marquees, marimba building, singing and music workshops, mulled wine, giant bubbles floating skywards and tasty food? Why, Treetops 2015, of course! We arrived home from camp in the dark on Sunday evening, happy, tired, and muddy. It was a similar feeling to the one I’d have as a student after Glastonbury festival, only this time round, there was a washing machine on hand to take the strain, we hadn’t jumped the fence to get into the weekend and we’d been encouraged and welcome to participate in all the music making going on around us.

Treetops was a success in so many ways, it’s impossible to capture it all here. It was brilliant to see so many kids and adults of all ages mingling, singing and playing together. For the most part the threatening grey clouds behaved and during the day there were so many great workshops, the weather faded well and truly into the background. Volunteer firies stepped up and kept the wood stocked and burning. The heat encouraged people to pull up a chair and strike up the jams, and when the little coffee van rolled into camp on Saturday afternoon, life couldn’t have got much better.

My teenagers took part in strings and horn workshops, something I was quietly chuffed about cos it’s increasingly uncool for them to show interest in anything I’m around or involved with these days. Younger children got stuck into marimba playing with Dani Roca and Adam Burke, and hovered around the sessions and workshops, watching the leaders and just soaking up the general vibe of musicality. For the real littlies, Katie Hull Brown was up with the kookaburras leading a Sunday singing and music session before I’d even had my morning muesli.

It’s always good to have the opportunity to try something new so I gave Indian singing a whirl in two separate sessions led by Parvyn Kaur Singh, a totally new experience for most of us in the group, and one I found very moving.

I think it was the combination of new sounds, the beauty of the tone and the singing blended with Parvyn’s harmonium, that unlocked something in me. I was still trying to pull myself together to focus on lunch, half an hour later. (My second new experience of the weekend.)

As the sun emerged from the clouds and finally set, the two marquees strung with coloured lights offered refuge from the evening chill and for those inclined to indulge, Jess and Oli’s mulled wine was available from the bar, banishing further thoughts of pesky draughts.

Saturday night’s Jam Dance Party with The Scrimshaw Four and members of The Horns of Leroy was a whole heap of fun. I didn’t deliberately set out on a one woman mission to inflict ultimate embarrassment on my kids with decidedly dodgy dance moves, though the thought did occur to me that I was toast if they clapped eyes on me at any point in the evening. Turned out I was safe as they’d been too busy having a good time to notice. Maybe it’s time to head to no lights, no lycra and be a dancer in the dark.

The all in ensemble with Aaron Silver and Matt Sheers was a rambunctious riot of fiddles and strings, horns and voices, and the song, ‘Warm heart of Africa’ by Architecture of Helsinki, became a definite ear worm and one we’ve downloaded since being home.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and the procession swept through camp. Everyone congregated with an assortment of instruments, percussion, coloured hats, streamers and flags, all spilling out into the autumnal afternoon light. IMG_0594

This musical stream of people wound its way through the trees and across and around the unsealed road of the camp, led by Declan and The Seduceaphones, with Matt bringing up the rear still wearing the white dressing gown he’d won in the raffle the night before. I bet any lyre birds around Riddells Creek have been singing ‘Single Ladies’ by Beyonce ever since.

Andy Rigby and Dave Paxton’s marimba builders all emerged from their shed in time to join in, proudly sporting beautiful, freshly built marching marimbas ready to go out into the world and be played. What a great thing to be able to take home from an absolutely awesome* weekend and how cool to be able to build a playable instrument from scratch! (*I read on the internet the other day that we shouldn’t use that word anymore: it’s kinda like my style of dancing all over again.)

There was a stash of fantastic sounding stuff in the program that I didn’t make it to but I got to connect with people I haven’t seen for ages, play my accordion and sing and soak up so much inspiration. Another year, inspired by the fat happy sounds of the horns, I’d love to join the buddies for beginners program and get to grips with the saxophone.

That’s enough reflection for now, but we’d really LOVE to read about what YOU made of it all. Drop us a line or too below if you came to Treetops 2015, and if you’re feeling really motivated, write something about a workshop you attended that we can use on the CMVic blog, over the coming weeks.

See y’all again next year, Treetoppers!

Article by Deb Carveth