Tag Archives: community development

Why I love Marimbas

Great instruments for community music-making

by Heather McLaughlin

MARIMBA

I have been a keen fan of homemade marimbas since the very first community-built instrument was made in Australia, at a family music conference in Melbourne in 1991. As I now come to the end of my teaching career in schools, I’ve realised that the absolute favourite part of my job in recent years has been getting kids and adults playing marimbas (often along with xylophone and other melodic percussion). I also really enjoy helping people to make marimbas, and a one-day working bee with a group of families can result in an instrument that will last for years. For adults in the community they are a perfect step into playing music in groups. (One of my most satisfying workshop sessions was getting some novice 90 year old men playing marimbas.)

In the early 1990s, Jon Madin and Andy Rigby began what is now an international movement by adapting the marimba-making model Andy had learnt about in Botswana. Ever since then, playing marimbas, encouraging others to play them, and making them with school and community groups has been a big part of my life.

Some of the instruments I have been using in schools recently were made in the early 1990s and are still going strong – with perhaps a few bars replaced over that time, and a bit of re-tuning every few years.

What’s so magical about Marimbas?

  • Lots of things!  They are so big, you can make them yourself, they are made of lovely wood, they can be played by anyone, they always sound good, and you can play with your friends! Someone can play just a two note bass and others can add in other patterns and it will sound good. Or you can play more complicated things like the “Can Can” which is great fun. All levels, all ages.
  • I just love the sound of a room full of marimbas booming away, whether it’s school kids or top-level musicians or a mix of all ages or beginner adults.
  • Anyone can sound good on a marimba within ten minutes.
  • With carefully selected pieces, even a new group of players can sound terrific in fifteen.
  • Marimba playing = Immediate gratification!

In schools    PPSperf2012

As a foundation to a classroom set of xylophones and other percussion, they have now become common in music programmes, especially in the Australian states where music specialists are regular members of staff in primary schools (Victoria, Queensland etc). Ideally they are the Jon Madin design and have been made by parents and children at the same school, for feelings of ownership and empowerment.

Carl Orff, a German composer and music educator, inspired an approach to learning music that encouraged playing  and singing as a group, integrating music and movement or dance, and used instruments that were easy to play.

The set of instruments used in an Orff-inspired music programme is called the ‘instrumentarium’ and usually consists of ‘melodic percussion’ or barred instruments:  xylophones (wooden bars), glockenspiels (the little high-pitched metal ones), and metallophones (larger, lower-pitched metal ones), Percussion instruments such as drums and wood blocks, and recorders, are also part of the ‘Orff Instrumentarium’. Marimbas are an ideal addition to this collection, and are common in primary schools around Victoria. One of the enormous bass marimbas added in gives great ‘oomph’ to the music and is always popular with students.

The Victorian Orff Schulwerk Association (VOSA) runs lots of workshops and other events for teachers and other adults interested in music and/or working with children. Carl Orff also emphasized improvisation, and marimbas and percussion.

Marimbas:90yr oldMarimba

  • sound great, look impressive
  • are really satisfying to build (for $300 or less)
  • are perfect for schools and community music-making
  • improvising is easy, with a visual aspect
  • are good for people with varied musical background
  • can be used for quick group music
  • are a non-threatening introduction to instrumental music
  • are ideal for social interaction.

The large size and physical nature of the marimbas make them appealing, especially to older students and adults, and they give a good bass to the other instruments.

Ideas that work

Many of the musical pieces Jon Madin and others have developed over the last twenty years have a quite simple bass line – often only a few notes – and use similar ideas to those developed by composer and music educator Carl Orff after his interest in African and Indonesian traditional music:

  • repeated patterns or ostinatiHeatherClose-upMarimba
  • segments that are visually and aurally separate
  • sometimes removal of some of the notes to make patterns easier
  • familiar tunes (from the Pachelbel Canon to Hell and Toe)
  • catchy rhythms can emphasise the percussive nature of marimbas
  • a small number of notes
  • avoiding big jumps
  • songs which tell players which letters to use

By combining a simple bass with a middle part which is not too difficult, and perhaps a more complex top part or melody which is fairly quick to learn, groups of novice musicians can be led to group music-making that is immediately satisfying.

Jon Madin’s “Boris the Bassman” has been a great favourite for 20 years because it incorporates these elements.

Community Marimba Playing

There are regular events where you can play marimbas.  Weekends such as Community Music Victoria’s Treetops Music Camp, Turramurra Bush Music Camp, Roses Gap/Charnwood Folk Camp, and the monthly playing sessions in West Heidelberg (HeidyMarimba) all offer opportunities for everyone to try these instruments.

You’ll see them at some festivals. Look out for Jon Madin and his marimbas (plus all those other surprising instruments such as Musical Bikes and DingBoxes). Andy Rigby may be there with some marimbas as well as harps or flutes of various types. The annual Melbourne Wood Show has a stand where you can see an instrument being made, and try them out. In Geelong, and at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, you may see the Tate Street Primary group playing. Maybe your local primary school has a couple.

Marimbas are all around, especially in Victoria – hooray!

Want to know more? Want to play? Want to make one? Contact CMVic or like Marimba Victoria on Facebook

Resources

Jon Madin: Make Your Own Marimbas ; Jon Madin: Marimba Music 1 etc. (Four books/CDs of pieces and songs);

Walt Hampton Hot Marimba

Gerard van der Geer Marimbamania

Andy Rigby Marimba!

Click here for Jon Madin’s website

Video clips:

Joseph Bromley with ukes and marimbas in Wangaratta, Spanish Harlem

Dani Rocca’s session at CMVic Tune Up 2012 – “Banuwa”

Jon Madin’s “Rocking Dogs” – NSW Small Schools Marimba group

2012 Tune Up  session with Heather McLaughlin

Joseph Bromley with Morricone at Treetops:

The joy of song swaps: singing leader Barb McFarlane sings out

Vokallista Community ChoirThe Dandenong hills are alive with the sound of music but there’s no sign of the Von Trapps in any of the tea shops, anyone running is probably just late for Puffing Billy not making a dash for the Swiss border, and for lonely goatherds there are open mic nights and online forums. How times have changed… Much of the music ringing around these green hills is community music, championed and facilitated by, among others, Barb McFarlane, a long time community music activist and valued supporter of Community Music Victoria.

Barb recently dropped us a line in response to a blog post about Song Swaps: “Song Swaps are my favouritest CMVic short activity! I love that you never know what will be presented and I always come away with some new gems, some new ideas and the warm glow of connecting with others who love gathering people to sing.”

Ooh, now who doesn’t love a bit of positive feedback? It spreads happiness and comfort like butter on hot toast. So, getting a little greedy, we pursued Barb shamelessly with questions about her style and approach to singing leadership that she was good enough to answer with further reflection on why she loves Song Swaps so much, as well as offering some insight into her own musical journey, which began at a young age.

“I remember sitting at the piano, striking notes one at a time and putting my ear close to the keys and waiting ’til I couldn’t hear the note ringing before playing the next one. Also making melodies with no end. When I was a bit older, I’d pretend I was Julie Andrews and sing songs from the Sound of Music. I was sure I sounded just like her! Many school holidays visiting with cousins where we’d all sing songs we’d learned at Guides, Sunday school or School remind me of SongSwaps!”

So what was it that made Barb decide to become a Singing Leader? I realised that I didn’t get much pleasure out of performing and was embarrassed by praise. I felt there was something I was missing, a realisation about the thoughts and feelings that audience members had, that seemed to make them think they couldn’t do what I was doing. It bothered me that over the years, people said things that seemed to put performers above themselves. It was like finding gold when I realised that I could help empower people to sing without judgment and with no audience but the circle of other singers.

Barb leads two weekly Sing for Fun groups that are inclusive of people of all abilities, a Strum and Sing Ukulele group and a Community Choir called VoKallista, which she started in 2009 and runs with assistance from Libby Price. Vokallista is an open, performing choir who sing a variety of material that Barb describes as dealing with themes such as social justice “and the fascinating challenges of being human.” She leads sings at many community events and festivals such as The Hills and finds that people really love to celebrate!

VoKallista has been going for a while now; how do you keep it evolving and what do you think is the secret of its success? VoKallista evolved from a caroling group I was leading. We’d all troup around nursing homes and the like in the busy lead-up to Christmas, instead of being swallowed up by the craziness. I think the kind of people we are has led the style and subjects of music and then we’ve attracted more people who like our songs and are similarly community minded, like to live more simply, are very caring of the environment and keen on social justice, peace and equality among human beings. So maybe the ‘secret’ has been that ‘like attracts like’! Having an Assistant Director in Libby Price has been invaluable. I’ve had someone to talk through difficult stuff with, as well as lots of the practical things running a choir calls for.

I credit the circle formation that I’ve learned to work in, with much of the success of the model of Sing for Fun, otherwise known as Vocal Nosh. (I don’t do food!) Without words each participant is saying “you are welcome, you are one of us, you have value as a person, we are all equal, we are on the same team, however you are today is fine, I can see you, I can hear you and let’s create something beautiful together.” CMVic have given this amazing gift to the community by teaching this model to all Singing Leaders who have come to them and taken this back into their communities. Working in a circle is, for me, the most important element to the success of any singing group but so many of the basic singing leadership skills have become my second language as I see how easy they make the learning of a song for people.

CMVic has been Mothership to me and I have developed further skills and confidence to lead a group in song. I receive such wonderful support and encouragement from CMVic to continue to skill share and song share with other leaders and this keeps my practice very fresh and keeps me inspired and energised! CMVic members are like my musical family.

The songs I’ve collected from Song Swaps that I treasure most and use most are the little shorties, such as ‘After the Journey’ by Laura Brearley:

After the journey

“After the journey

there’s always the rest,

time to be quiet and blessed”

What is it about short songs that makes them so effective to teach a group? The thing about these songs is that they are easily passed on….to other Leaders to use and then to groups of people who may be singing for the first time in their adult life or who have not had many opportunities to sing. The song messages are often very nurturing, reassuring and inspiring and, because they are usually repeated many times and because some are rounds, we tend to go away with the songs stuck in our heads. This can sometimes override other less helpful stuff that may be going on in our heads! I love ear worms!

Do you think more people are turning to community music making in greater numbers as a way of reaching out and connecting with one another? Oh Yes!! I love to see the friendships and connections that are made through a regular sing for fun. I love to hear people’s stories and know that they have found a place to be where whatever they sound like is fine, where there is lots of non-verbal communication through laughter and grimaces, little teams clinging together to stay on their part, eye rolling as my ‘secretary’ is once again sacked for a funny typo. I choose songs that will encourage a positive thought or two, funny songs and songs that are beautiful with just two parts so that people may feel that they are the creators.

I reckon that all times have their difficulties but the time we live in now calls for strengthened, tightly woven communities who will be able to pull together when needed.

What do you like to do when you’re not singing and music making? I read a lot. I love a good chat and a walk in the forest. I also get involved in Community events.

Finally, if you were let loose in one of the many tasty cake shops nestled in those hills, which tasty treat would be in the most danger? Lemon Meringue pie!

Barb’s community choir have struck lucky in having her as their leader, something they’re probably highly aware of as they continue to try and determine the human condition and sing to bring awareness, change and enrichment to the lives of themselves and of others. Huge thanks to Barb for playing ball and giving her time and energy to this post. The song ‘After the journey’ is published here, courtesy of Laura Brearley and is taken from the CMVic publication ‘Short Stuff’.

For information about Vokallista, click here or visit their Facebook page www.facebook.com/VoKallista

Interview with Barb McFarlane by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for CMVic

Pollyphonics 6 min documentary – The start of a great musical journey

Give people an opportunity to feel good - Polly Christie, Pollyphonics Choir Leader

Polly has shared this video on our CMVic facebook page and we thought it was a fantastic example of how powerful music can be in connecting with others.  Runs for 6 minutes and offers a great insight into the many benefits of community music from both a leader’s and participant’s perspectives.

Here’s a little of what’s covered.

  • Deciding to become a leader
  • Where to start a group
  • Objectives
  • Fee structure
  • Going from being the conductor, facilitator, coordinator to introducing section leaders
  • Challenges

Here’s what the choir participants had to say

I got my mojo back

When I come here I know that I’ll feel so much better

It’s the start of a great musical journey

This link will take you to the video:  Pollyphonics Choir documentary Sep 2014

Documentary created by Rebecca Fitzgibbon for her music course at Northern Melbourne, Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

The Pollyphonics Choir is located in Woodend, Victoria Australia
Website: www.pollychristie.com
Facebook:  facebook.com/PollyphonicsChoir

Article by CMVic Team

Helping a Singer Match Pitches: Handy Hints for the Teacher

Sing It - CMVic Publication - Cover PageAn article from Sing It – A quarterly publication created by Community Music Victoria. 
To download your FREE online copy visit our website: https://cmvic.org.au/resources/newsletters
To purchase a hardcopy for $12 AU ($10 AU for CMVic Members) visit our store: https://cmvic.org.au/resources/store

Most people can learn to match pitches if helped constructively. Some may need more assistance and experimentation than others. I don’t accept that there is a condition in some people of ‘tone deafness’, although where there is a physical injury to voice or hearing apparatus, it may not be possible to match pitches.

  1. Singing in a large group may help, but can also mask the problem or limit the singer to particular tunes or a particular group.
  2. I have discovered or learnt various things that will help the teacher who is helping a singer to match pitches (sometimes referred to as ‘singing in tune’). I would welcome feedback on these:
  3. Work with student/singer alone. Avoid group situations where family or peers act as an audience
  4. Work with a recording device if the student feels comfortable with this. They often discover extra ideas from listening to it later.
  5. Many will know this one. Experiment with slides, hoots, yells, growls, etc. Play with the sounds. There is no right or wrong in this exercise. Avoid the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – use ‘comfortable’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘matching’ as appropriate.
  6.  At first, the teacher can try matching pitches with the student rather than the other way around. If you don’t have the same registers (e.g. other sex) use an instrument to match the student’s pitches (piano is best even if you don’t play). This shows the student how ‘matching pitches’ feels. Later, get the student to match pitches with the teacher.
  7. •Once the student has started to match pitches with the teacher, find out which notes or area of notes (low, middle, high) they feel most comfortable with. Most recently I have worked with female students whose range focuses between middle C and F below it. (Later, in two cases, we have explored up to an octave in range).
  8. See if the student can distinguish between low and high areas of her/his own voice. There are tests but you can just ask the student to make what they hear as high or low notes in their own voice. (Men are usually weaker on this point).
  9. Extend the range gradually, using three or five note runs. It will also help if you can find songs in the student style of preference, first songs in their comfortable pitch area and later others.
  10. If the student is almost matching pitches but not quite, encourage them to slide their voices around in a small way until they match. Whatever method that helps is OK.
  11. Get the student to make positive affirmations about their voice (e.g.‘I am now discovering new areas of my voice’). The student rather than the teacher needs to do this, though the teacher may guide.
  12. Often people who sing off key are quick to pick up on technique.
    I have developed an abridged and adapted version of (classical)
    technique, which works well for beginning singers in all styles,
    especially relaxing the throat. Student’s confidence can increase
    quite a bit on this point, even if they are struggling to match specific pitches.

Further reading: Judy, Stephanie Making Music for The Joy Of It Wigglesworth, Leigh Post Graduate thesis on types of out-of –tune singers.

Article by Jill Scurfield
Singing Leader

Lose your troubles in the trance of making music – an interview with Pete Gavin

PeterInterview

Pete Gavin wandered into the CMVic office (Melbourne, Australia) one Monday morning, with a few hours to spare and has been a valued member of the volunteer team since. Pete is a Ukemeister Extraordinaire from Bendigo where he leads Bendigo Uke Muster and The Uke Joint Jumpers who set a record in November 2013 for the ‘the most ukuleles playing on a poppet head’.  His earliest memory of community music making began at home, as it does for so many of us even if we’re not aware of this until we reflect back, “dancing around the lounge room” with his four older sisters and his younger brother.

Pete found his way into music making whilst he was still at school “One of my mates played guitar. That seemed cool, so I booked in to have some lessons and it stuck. It suited me.” While plenty of people take up the guitar at school, many will cast it aside as other things supersede that moment of interest and all too soon, the guitar is left to gather dust and sit forlornly in a corner. This obviously wasn’t so in Pete’s case, so how did he come to be so passionate about community music making and what is it about leading a group, which resonates so strongly with him?

“I’ve long wanted to share the amazing benefits of being able to lose your troubles in the trance of making music.
Being approached to guide the Bendigo uke group was a perfect fit. I never tire of seeing people discover that they too can make music.Ukulele: Great as a painkiller and an antidepressant. Only known side effects – joyous laughter and a sense of belonging.” Pete also speaks of seeing the light come on in people’s eyes as they grow in understanding and confidence.

We all look forward to catching up with Pete at CMVic on a Monday morning and this short interview came about as material for the CMVic blog, when we decided to ask him some random questions about himself which he was good enough to answer.
Whilst we knew that Pete is partial to good coffee, we’re now seeing him in a whole new light as his penchant for soup…. and chocolate has been revealed. (Stand by Cadbury’s!) But he’s far more likely to be found putting energy into promoting and sustaining his uke groups than cans of chocolate soup because he’s devised an effective method of facilitation and is clearly able to convey the magic of this simple instrument: “You need a number of them in order to sound good. The bigger the number, the more joyous the sound. Therefore you need friends and if you don’t have any you need to find some.”
As with so many interviews, we threw in a couple of daft toe-curling questions in an effort to be random and you know, a bit edgy, but they didn’t perturb Pete at all and he rose to the challenge admirably.  Eg: if you could choose one super power, which one would it be? He kept everything in context beautifully. His answer? “Perfect pitch or the ability to spell rythmn rythym …..you know what I mean…”
Pete’s answer to our final question provided further testimony to how community music making increases fulfillment. We asked him if he could make music with one person or band from any point in time, who would it/they be? To which he replied:
“Too hard….actually, you know what? I reckon I already do get a chance to play with the people I’d like to play with. Chief amongst the list, Pretty Miss Kitty and the rest of the Tequila Mockingbirds, James, Geoff, Steve, Del, Matisse and Mick the Filthy Gringo. Not to mention all the part time Mockers, too numerous to mention. The page isn’t long enough and besides, who knows when, where and with whom you’ll have the next amazing musical connection. The best moments are unexpected.”
We couldn’t have said it better.
Massive thanks to Pete Gavin for stepping up to the mark.
See here for more information about the Uke Joint Jumpers and Bendigo Uke Muster

Article by Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor

At CMVic, we’re not into beating about the bush, so if you’re wondering what a song swap is, well, it’s exactly that.

I told you we should have taken that last left for the CMVic song swap

One of the challenges faced by singing leaders is finding ways to source new material to keep things fresh and exciting not only for their groups, but for themselves. (Even Matt Preston must occasionally wonder what on earth to cook for dinner.) To overcome this, CMVic holds regular song swaps throughout the year offering singing leaders an opportunity

  • to come together and share favourite songs,
  • discuss any problems they may be facing, and
  • to try out new material in a safe supportive and friendly environment.

We can have our very own Song Swap right here! We’ve got some interesting things to share over here: Free Resources – send a song, and we’ll post here and share it with our fabulous community.

As well as extending repertoire, song swaps provide valuable time to check in and recharge with like-minded people and form the basis for new connections. In short, song swaps are soul food for anyone who loves a good sing. Visit our website for more information www.cmvic.org.au

Article by Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor

What do we want a Blog for, anyway?

Why blog?For ages, we eschewed social media at CMVic. We were almost afraid it would alienate us from each other; that we would sit at home screen gazing in increased isolation and forsake hooking up to make music. Because we prefer not to rush, but to relish things slowly in life (read funding shortfall, folks) the reality dawned on us only gradually that there was a whole online community thing happening under our very noses that wasn’t going away any time soon, which we’d be bonkers to let pass us by and that contrary to our initial perception, heaps of goodness, connectivity, and learning was coming from it.

Having accepted that this phenomenon had potential to be a great tool and not the cruel master we’d once feared, CMVic moved to embrace social media. Actually, ‘embrace’ might be slightly emphatic, it was more of a luke warm hug to begin with (even my grandparents beat CMVic to starting a Facebook page) but then another amazing realisation occurred: In terms of developing networks, communicating and resource sharing, the social media landscape in some ways, is an online echo of the very essence that drives us.

Hang on to your hats, world! Having gained momentum we quickly found our feet, collecting account names and logins all over the place to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter among others and now, finally, we are blogging. We’ve propelled ourselves into the blogosphere, such a great word and synonymous – to me anyway – with the sound and feel of walking in wellies through mud.

Working as we do to promote and facilitate connections through music making, we have dreams that our blog will enable us to extend the CMVic network beyond Victoria, beyond Australia to a worldwide community of music makers, leaders and activists, and help us to promote the uniqueness of what we do here in our home state, as leaders, pioneers and supporters in the field of community music.

To connect with an audience of bloggers and followers who are like-minded people, to read and share their articles and to hear of their projects, philosophies and dreams for sustaining and growing the future of music making, whether they’re from just around the corner or somewhere around the globe is a magical and empowering thing. The CMVic blog is our glass against the wall to listen in to what’s going on out there, and it’s our tin can on a piece of string for telling everyone all of the great things that we do and what we’re all about.

Deb Carveth
Online Editor Aug 2014