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Music as the Food of Love and Life

Singing and music have added value and richness to every aspect of Peter Gatto’s life from listening to the radio on 3AR with his parents and playing with Wonthaggi Brass Band as a child, through to courting his wife Glenys as a young man in the 1960s.

From their very first date, singing remained an integral part of this couple’s love story, featuring consistently in the tapestry of their life together until Glenys’ death from ovarian cancer in 2012. At that point, as a quiet companion to his heavy loss, music acquired a new relevance for Peter, and played a significant part in dealing with the grief that persisted and still persists. Music offered him an opportunity for solace and therapy, it became the bond between his present and his past and a window to the memories of Glenys which light up Peter’s face as he speaks of her. Community singing became a reason for Peter to get out and connect with people, an opportunity to talk and reminisce about the happy times he’s been blessed with. He agrees with Nietzsche, that without music, life would be a mistake.

Peter is a born story-teller with a string of entertainingly moving warm memories to share about the importance and place of music in his life.

“Music and Community Music Victoria have been significant in dealing with my grief and loss. Glenys was a very capable and competent person, she had wonderful attributes. I mean she wasn’t perfect, Peter smiles, she had a fiery little temper!” Peter’s ambition now, is to write down his life story to pass on to his children and grandchildren as a tribute to Glenys. “I can’t write about my life story without mentioning music and Community Music Victoria which has played a significant part so far.

For the past nine months Peter has sung each week with Flinders Lane Community Voices. “I can’t wait to get there; it’s a source of enjoyment, I’m meeting new people, there’s encouragement and camaraderie and you feel secure in this group. My only criticism is that it’s only once a week and then for just an hour.”

Peter encountered the work of Community Music Victoria whilst doing ‘a bit of surfing’ and looking for ways to extend his music therapy. Having taught recorder to kids at school during his many years in education, Peter decided to return to the instrument and extend his playing ability after Glenys died. “I’ve taught myself how to play some of the masters… Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, on the recorder.” Making music by himself was one thing, but Peter felt the need to be part of a group.

“It’s been a lovely journey really. The other thing with music now I’m able – and it’s taken this long – is to use music to bring back the beautiful memories, and I have some superb memories of Glenys. It’s comforting, and it’s grieving because it’s gone. Although does music go? What happens to music?” Peter laughs. ”It can’t be destroyed. Music is a vehicle for facing, accepting and dealing with great loss. I think I’m done with my crying, the tears I cry now are of happiness for the wonderful life we shared.”

It wasn’t long ago that Peter couldn’t speak about it. One of his first memories of Glenys is taking her out in Melbourne. “I must have been 19, she would have been 17. All of a sudden, walking past the Arts Centre I heard this beautiful voice singing I’ll take you home, Kathleen, and it was Glenys and I can still remember it, and it was lovely.  Music became an integral part of my courting with her. Glenys would ask me to sing to her. I wasn’t listening to much radio then, I’d be playing football or busy teaching and so the songs I would sing to her were school songs.”

Glenys said and believed that she couldn’t sing, however two people in her life told her that she had a lovely voice. One was Peter, and the other was Dr Clare O’Callahan from Melbourne University who ran a musical therapy program for people in palliative care.

“Clare came out to Kew where Glenys was in the hospice and started playing one of our songs, I don’t know how that happened, but Clare started playing and then Glenys joined in – I can’t remember what the song was – and then Clare stopped playing and said, ‘Glenys, you have a beautiful voice!’ and I was forever grateful that happened, because I know Glenys was very pleased. She was one of the many people out there who was told by somebody else that she shouldn’t sing. That belief is so stifling. I have vowed and declared to never do anything to dissuade anyone from singing and I would never ever deny anyone the chance to sing!”

One of Peter’s earliest introductions to music was sitting around the radio as a twelve-year old, listening to the world-famous Italian tenors with his mum and dad, something he later discovered Glenys had been doing at the same time.

“I lived in Wonthaggi, she lived in the hills on a dairy farm in the hills about 12, 13ks away, so we’re listening to the same song and loving the same song at the exact same time which then came to mind about 40 years after the event driving through the Outback in Queensland. Glenys said ‘I know that song, I used to listen to that song with my parents on a Sunday afternoon’, I said, ‘so did I!’.  The song was Mattinata and I used some of the lyrics when I delivered Glenys’s eulogy. ‘Ove non sei la luce manca; Ove tu sei nasce l’amor.’: ‘Where you are not, the light is missing;  where you are, love is born.’ And Glenys exuded love. She was a wonderful teacher with a great reputation and she didn’t discriminate with the way she gave out the love: if a kid needed affection and attention, she’d give it out. Of course, she was able to dish out the discipline too!”

“We were very, very close, we did a lot of things together. One of the things Glenys asked me do was help her put on a production of Oliver at North Melbourne Primary School. Now she had no musical knowledge, she believed she couldn’t sing so when she asked me to help I said of course I would. So I taught all of the difficult songs and left what I considered to be the easiest song til last. But of course when things go wrong they go wrong, and at the particular time when I was ready to teach that song I was committed elsewhere and couldn’t go, I said to Glenys, ‘you’ll just have to do it’. Well, she was very unsure about doing this, having never taught anyone to sing before.”

Some days later Peter recalls dropping into Errol St Primary School and hearing ‘some beautiful singing’ of Oom Pah-Pah coming from Glenys’s room. “I thought, who’s doing this? I sneaked around to take a look through the window and there was the greatest sight that anyone could see because the kids were all up on their feet singing in full voice with huge smiles on their faces and I turned around to Glenys’s table and there she was in full flight and I mean full flight! She was up on the table, she was singing in full voice, the kids were singing with her, it was the most beautiful singing I’d ever heard so I went in there and I said to Glenys, ‘now who could top that? No one!” The kids never, ever sang that song as well as then and to see that gave me great joy.”

Throughout  the course of his own career, Peter taught at schools all over the state, including at a one-teacher school in Strzelecki. “When I got there, there were 30 children in seven grades and one teacher. Discipline was a major problem. What I used to bring a little bit of order, was singing.” Peter would sing with the children every hour on the hour for around three or four minutes at a time. “They were beautiful singers and it had that wonderful calming effect of music. They loved it and I loved it.”

“During mid-winter in the Strzelecki Ranges it gets really miserable sometimes and it also gets absolutely beautiful. You can go from not being able to see metres in front of you and then the weather clears up and you get the clearest blue skies and the sun streaming down and it’s magnificent. On one of those days in mid-winter the kids had been inside all day and then at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the weather broke so I said to them ‘go outside and play.’ It was at the time when you had district inspectors overseeing everything. Sending the kids outside to play outside of regulated playtime hours was a risky thing for me to do. Anyway, the kids were out there playing in this beautiful sunshine and I look up the drive and there are two cars coming up to the school… and everyone recognised the inspectors car. Well I thought my career was in tatters, but the inspector, Mr Bull, stopped me and then he said, ‘look, I’ve got both my family and my wife’s family with me, do you mind if you bring them in as I’d like them to hear your kids sing.’ I bought them in and explained to the children that there had been a request for them to sing from Mr Bull. And the kids sang in full voice and it was a glorious, triumphant moment, and thank god for the kids of Strzelecki – that’s the power of music.”

Peter’s final story about the influence and importance of music in his life, is of a song his mother used to sing.

“My mother was illiterate. She’d never been out of her Southern Italian village, had never listened to radio or anything like that; never been to a concert, nothing. She then travelled from this little village right across the world carrying a beautiful tune with her. I’m sitting in the pea patch with her in South Gippsland as a ten or eleven year old and I hear her singing with the other Southern Italian pea pickers and I love it. I loved hearing her sing in the pea patch with all the other ladies. Then later, as a teacher I introduced one of my favourite composers to the kids, who was Tchaikovsky. And I played some of Tchaikovsky’s music and it was the same tune that my mother had sung in the pea patch. She carried it within herself, she couldn’t read or write, had never been to school, never read a newspaper, didn’t listen to a radio until the 1950s, and yet she knew this. As it turns out, Tchaikovsky spent two years in Italy, during which time he travelled around and collected the Italian folk tunes. The piece of music is called La Caprician Italienne, which, by the way, I can play on the recorder!”

As our time for talking drew to a close, Peter had one last thing to say in reflection: “Music gives you so much to discuss, and to think about. What is it that we’re doing, in our schools, that is more important than teaching our children music? Why aren’t we making music an integral part of the curriculum? It just doesn’t make sense.”

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Glenys and Peter. (Photo supplied)

As told by Peter Gatto to Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria

Flinders Lane Community Voices meets in Ross House on Thursday lunchtimes at 1pm during term time. Led by Sarah Mandie and John Howard. Open to everyone! 

Feature photo by Pradeep Ranjan on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘That Girl’ Song calls for Safety and Empowerment for Women and Girls, and an end to Gender-Based Violence.

 “You put something like this out there and you just hope that it might contribute to improving the situation” says Sarah Mandie, songwriter and creative director of That Girl, a song and dance-based community focussed project run in conjunction with Community Music Victoria to empower women and girls, encourage them to stand up against gender-based violence, stereotyping and inequality and say ‘stop’.

Two years after its launch in 2017, That Girl has brought together girls and women from the Indian and Bhutanese communities of Wodonga; culturally diverse groups of primary schoolgirls in Boroondara; and secondary school-age girls from Healesville High School and the Healesville Indigenous Community Association in the Yarra Ranges.

A day of song, dance and dialogue was also held at the Immigration Museum for the Prevention of Violence Against Women: Voices of Shakti was presented by Community Music Victoria, Sarah Mandie and Dr. Priya Srinivasan (ADI Deakin). Drawing on Indian cultural themes of the Goddess to educate, inspire, mobilise and create understanding between people of diverse backgrounds and genders, the program included That Girl song and dance workshops with Sarah and choreographer, Marshie Perera Rajakumar. That Girl has been mentioned in Parliament too.

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‘That Girl’ performance at the Voices of Shakti event at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne.

“I really just wanted to make a powerful, impactful song and music video that showed diversity of origin and ethnicity and locations around Victoria to show violence against women is something which can affect anyone and everyone and that girls everywhere have faced these issues. The process then opened up. Getting involved with different communities, I couldn’t have foreseen what was going to come out of it.”

The idea of the project was to get girls and women to come together in a way which was fun, engaging, and using the opportunity to learn the That Girl song and dance as a platform for discussions and talk about how they feel as girls and women around issues of respect, and anything else pertinent to them and their personal experiences.

What transpired depended on the community. In Wodonga a connection was clearly made between the local health centre and the women who might need to access it at some point, which was a really positive outcome, as were the connections the participants built through supporting each other. “The women realised that it was okay to talk about this and that it’s really good if they talk about it together as women in their cultural community so that they understand each other. Tricia Hazeleger from Gateway Health in Wodonga was really progressive and saw the value of using a music video dance project to deliver a message.” It was this phase of the project, where Sarah worked in partnership with Tricia and the staff at Gateway Health, which led to the project being mentioned in Federal Parliament by the former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, AO.

For That Girl Boroondara, there was a different focus and the girls didn’t come into the situation in the same way. There the workshop focussed more on what it felt like to be a girl, considering questions such as ‘do we feel respected?’; ‘how can we feel more empowered?’. A lot of the discussion was around gender stereotypes.

That Girl Boroondara became a real cultural festival which included both Indian and contemporary hip-hop style dances. Mothers of some of the girls became involved too, initially as volunteers but then going on to become part of the discussion groups which was a good representation of the community. In that sense the experience was uplifting for the girls involved, and Sarah was also touched by this development:

“The commitment of people who became involved along the way as creative or organisational volunteers and became so positively committed to the message of That Girl, sticking with the project until completion was really great. One of these people was Marshie who choreographed the dance for both That Girl Boroondara and Voices of Shakti. Marshie’s commitment to That Girl was because of the aims of the project and its message. The message is the thing that people identified with and committed to.”

In the Yarra Ranges where the girls who took part were older, some slightly more complex issues emerged, not all of which there was time to talk about. The therapeutic angle wasn’t something Sarah had necessarily anticipated when she embarked on the workshops, and she believes a need exists for further kind of That Girl styled programs in this area because of the many levels on which music and arts projects work. Working together with Wurundjeri elder, Aunty Joy Murphy, a verse of the That Girl song was translated and sung in Woiwurrung, the ‘nulu’ language of Healesville and the Wurundjeri people as part of That Girl Yarra Ranges. For Sarah, this was particularly rewarding and something she’d love to do again, taking the project into different communities and translating the song into different languages.

Each That Girl workshop was similar but tailored appropriately to the ages of the girls taking part: “I had grade four and fives in Camberwell and that’s a really different crowd to year seven. Then there’s the socio-economical and various other aspects of each group to consider, and the culture of the location, so that was interesting. Once you get to high school it’s harder to get people to want to dance and let go in front of their peers, so the method was a little bit challenging for them but very rewarding as well. The feedback was that it brought them together as friends in the year level, so again, it was good for their connections.”

Common to both school groups was a desire to be ‘the same’; for everyone to be treated as equals irrespective of their gender. Girls want the freedom to be whatever they want to be, based on who they are.

To close each of the project’s three stages, a film was produced showing the process and the journey of That Girl within the community. All three films are highly moving, goose-bump inducing testimonies to Sarah’s vision. “I just think, wow! Look at all the girls and women that were involved in this and putting their hearts and souls into this dancing and dressing up, and it doesn’t end there! They’re in a video now and they can watch it again and again…”

There was significant council support for the project each time the films were shown with people ‘blown away’ at each of the three screenings. “The principal of Healesville High commissioned a huge poster of the project for the school hall; the principal of Camberwell Primary cried when she first watched That Girl Boroondara; the Wodonga phase of the project was acclaimed in parliament and the film of That Girl Yarra Ranges was shown at the Memo Cinema in Healesville with the Mayor in attendance who welcomed the involvement and knowledge sharing of the Indigenous community. Each of the films are online and people keep watching them.”

As the project went along the priority became about getting as many people involved and participating as possible. As Sarah says, this takes time and then there’s life and unexpected things happen.  “It did get hard at times to keep the momentum up when I had other personal challenges going on, so I’m very proud and happy that we kept this project afloat! Now it’s all about preparing for the launch and getting it out there.”

The film launch will showcase and promote one final, overarching musical artistic video combining footage from That Girl Wodonga, That Girl Boroondara and That Girl Yarra Ranges. The film, which is just over three minutes long, can be used in a multitude of settings and makes an excellent educational tool within community networks, schools and the health sector: “People can watch it and then if they want to learn the dance and the song, they can, it has all those elements to it. It’s a great resource because it makes you feel things and think things which can then be spoken about.”

Sarah’s ‘ridiculously super excited’ about this. As a conglomeration of the entire project the film will be shown and celebrated on a cinema screen at the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne on December 7 during the United Nations’ 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. A choir made up of individuals and community singing groups are invited to sing in a flash mob style to celebrate the success of the project and anyone is welcome to come along and get involved in the launch.

I’m hoping that people will come together to sing the That Girl song for the first time. A few groups have learned it so far and are really loving it. We’ll have a workshop rehearsal just before the performance on the night for anyone new to the song in need of a run-through. It’ll be an opportunity for people to sing and dance and to see the end product and feel proud of being part of it or moved to share it with people. What That Girl needs next is support from the community to share, share, share, to get the message out there to offer strength to the people who need it.”

For the launch, Sarah has partnered with Impact for Women, an organisation run by ‘an amazingly committed woman’ called Kathy Kaplan. Impact exists to make a difference to women and children fleeing extreme violence at home. All money raised by the launch of the That Girl film will go to paying for any children needing to be looked after in safe, professional care whilst their primary caregiver is attending court due to family, domestic and relationship abuse.

Sarah was inspired to write and produce That Girl because of acts and crimes against women featuring repeatedly in the news from across the world, and then looking at her own two girls and thinking, what am I going to do? “They’ve now been part of something game changing and meaningful, something powerful. I want girls everywhere to watch the film and go ‘yeah!’ and I want boys and men to see it too and keep talking about this because it’s important. Above all, I want people to sing the song, watch the film and share it, I want That Girl to go viral and I want it to be valuable and used widely to raise awareness and bring about positive change.”

That Girl is for every girl. Join the film launch at the Victorian Trades Hall on Saturday 7 December.

Tickets are available on the door or can be booked here!
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/752851091897561/

Watch all of the That Girl films to date, here

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Sarah Mandie

‘Come and Sing’ in Stawell

“At 7pm on a night in the dead of winter, there’s often nobody but me in the room.  As people come in they’ll say ‘ah there’s only three of us tonight’, then a fourth person turns up and there’s five… By 7:20pm, there’ll usually be eight of us and I’ll joke with them all – but it’s true – that I made this group, because I want to sing, and even if nobody else ever turned up, I’d still stand there and sing!”

It’s been twenty years since community singing leader, Dianne Stewart, made the move to Stawell in the shimmering Wimmera region of Victoria. Dianne relocated from Bendigo, via the Northern Territory: “I did my Grade 6 AMEB in Alice Springs at a time when they’d never had anybody do a voice exam there before, which was interesting. I come from the City of Bendigo which has this huge musical and choral culture, and I moved to Stawell where there was a two-act musical performance once a year which then disappeared. The state musical theatre wasn’t my background and it wasn’t my thing, but it was the only thing that was sitting in town that I could access, and I wanted to sing!”

Dianne approached Stawell Performing Arts Company (SPACi) and asked them about the possibility of creating a singing group or choir in the town. “They said if you put something to it, we can put something together so I spent the next year doing research and connected with CMVic back when Fay White was doing the Vocal Nosh stuff. Fay came to the Grampians to do some work around bushfire recovery and I went to a workshop she was running and I got some lovely feedback from people.”

Receiving the encouragement to ‘just start it and step out’ made Dianne feel a Stawell-based singing group of her own was possible if she adopted the Vocal Nosh model and set it up as a singing circle. Which is exactly what she did.

“I put the proposal to SPACi, told them this was what I wanted to do, how it would run and why it would work really well for them.” Dianne then started the Come and Sing  group and it’s been running ever since.”

“I’d never led a group before, never been a singing leader at all. I’d been a singer in a choir and a voice student, but I’d never run a group, it was all very new to me. I don’t play the piano and I didn’t feel I could do the kind of things I’d been involved with in the past because my choir leader and singing leaders had all played the piano and had been the accompanist as well, but I couldn’t do that… “

Attendance to Come and Sing is very relaxed with no expectation for singers to attend every week. “It’s come as you like; come each week, or just when you can – pay as you go, and there’s only a very small payment each week because it allows access to more people. I’ve done a lot of work with SPACi around people’s capacity to pay. We’ll probably have between 8 and 15, sometimes 16 or 17 people through the door. The ages range from a couple of senior high school students (and their dads come as well) all the way through to people in their 80s.”

Dianne finds the geography of the Western District of Victoria can make connecting up with other leaders and attending events something of a challenge: “Trying to build and connect with anything past Ballarat is more difficult because of the distance.  I see what Community Music Victoria is doing and a lot of the time the workshops are not accessible for me because of the distances involved.”

To stay up to date with professional development and for support in her singing leadership, Dianne seeks out resources and ‘stuff’ she can access online and in her own time at weekends. Despite the tyranny of distance, Dianne’s a member of several organisations including CMVic and the Singing Teachers Association, and these connections to the larger network give her the incentive to work at creating and making more of the community in which she lives.

“It brings me great joy. It’s the connection with other people and the community.”

“We always tell people come and see what we do, try it out, if we are your tribe, if we are your thing then you’ll continue to come, and if we’re not, then that’s ok too. The group is called Come and Sing because it’s for anybody at all who walks through the door who just wants to sing.”

Because Come and Sing sits within SPACi, for some people trying out for shows is a way to build skills and try bigger things. Being part of Come and Sing’s weekly sessions builds their capacity to prepare for the auditions which are a requirement of taking part in a rehearsed show. “They can choose to do that, or not. Quite a lot of our Come and Sing singers aren’t interested in doing that, but others are.”

“SPACi also runs a junior program which is very much a musical theatre program, and the kids who grow out of that tend to come and sing in the group, but being in the country, those kids usually move on and leave the community. “We don’t tend to get that 20 to 30 age group because they’ve moved elsewhere or gone to university and we work with that. I think we attract the people who are interested and we attract the people who want to do what we want to do!”

Dianne is happy to share the role of leader and enjoys encouraging anyone keen to have a go. “I always say if anybody comes along with better skills than me I’d be really happy to sit down and participate or if somebody else would like to step up and lead, I’ll be very happy to learn from them.”

“…As a leader, at the end of the day it’s good to keep reminding yourself that what you’re providing wouldn’t be there if you weren’t.”

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with big thanks to Dianne Stewart.

Come and Sing meet on Wednesday evenings, 7-8:30pm; 52 Wakeham Street, Stawell, Victoria, Australia. For info, contact Dianne Stewart: 0427850278

Songs & Chants for Planet Earth: A Compilation of Songs by Jane Coker

“The outpouring of freedom songs went to the core of the struggle and expressed, as nothing else was able, the hope, belief, desire, passion, dreams, and anguish of the conflict.” Mary King speaking of the power of song during the US Civil Rights movement.

I put this selection of songs and chants for climate justice together with the specific aim of helping us all to find stuff that was simple and catchy enough to use outdoors at protests. I wrote a few and gathered a few from other people but this is only the beginning of my collection and there’s loads of other great stuff out there. The problem is finding stuff that is really short and easy to learn, yet effective. (Kavisha Mazzella’s Mother Earth song is a perfect example of all these things).

As yet –  to my knowledge – there isn’t a central place where this specific type of song and chant are gathered but the Extinction Rebellion Choir is a good model and has some good resources available on Facebook. Closer to home, Climate Choir Melbourne is also creating a great collection of resources, available here.

People are writing and sharing new songs and chants all the time. Singing together gives us enormous sense of our shared humanity, makes us feel strong and positive, allows us to express our emotions in these desperate times and communicates in a non-threatening way to people observing and participating in  our protests.

Jeannie Marsh, Jane York, Emily Hayes and others have been bringing singing to this week’s Extinction Rebellion protests in Melbourne. I humbly thank them for making this huge contribution to the campaign. Those of us who have the skills to enable people to sing together – now is our moment to make a huge difference to the face of the campaigns and the strength of the movements.  Act now!

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For recordings of these songs and chants, click below! Feel free to use any of mine as long as your protest is non-violent.

Sing out Strong!

Jane Coker
jane.coker@bigpond.com
October 2019

*Photo of the Spring Rebellion in Melbourne, courtesy of Hilary Walker

 

 

The Journey From The Song, by Stuart Ashburner

It is only a short song. In fact it was just the chorus that started it all.

Perhaps I should start from where it all began. Polly, my wife, has always loved listening to ‘a capella’ so for several years we would go to the Selby Folk Club’s annual a capella concert in Upwey. Then about 5 years ago, after the concert, I made the irrational decision to join Sweet Sassafras, one of our local choirs. Irrational because I’d not sung since my youth, and never in a concert. A few weeks after that our choir director announced that we would be learning Light by Light by Liz Frencham and singing it along with VoKallista, another local choir, at the Belgrave Lantern Festival and if we wanted to get started on the song, go to VoKallista on Wednesday evening.

That song, Light by Light, started a new journey in our lives.

I went along to VoKallista, got an amazingly warm welcome from Libby Price and met Barb McFarlane whose name was vaguely familiar. I knew by the end of the session that I needed to join VoKallista as well as being in Sweet Sassafras. It took a while to get Polly along, for the usual reasons. “I’m not musical, I can’t sing.” etc.  Within three months they were among her best friends, almost like family, and she had done a short solo recitative on stage at Daylesford during the Choirs Concert.

Then one day Barb Mcfarlane told me that she was on the Victoria Sings Steering Group at Community Music Victoria. I’d never heard of CMVic let alone the Steering Group. She said that the group consisted only of women and needed a male to give it a bit of balance and I was that male. That’s how I got involved. I decided to go to Treetops to find out what a CMVic camp was all about. Polly said I was on a high for weeks afterwards.

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Stuart (left) at Treetops, back in 2014

So, we’ve just got home from our third CMVic Singing Camp, met up once again with the loveliest bunch of people on the planet, are both inspired from the workshops, from the interactions, the singing, talking and the warmth. Our lives have changed into totally new directions over the last four years with new confidences, new friends and new adventures. 

And it all started from that one little song.

Thank you Liz Frencham for Light by Light. And thank you Barb Mcfarlane, for getting me into CMVic, and thanks to all of you wonderful CMVic people.

-Stuart ‘Fuzzy’ Ashburner

Postscript: It is as relevant to me now in 2019 as it was when I wrote this in January of 2014. Wild horses wouldn’t keep Polly and me away from the CMVic Singing Camp!**

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Stuart and friends at the 2017 CMVic Singing Camp

**The 2019 CMVic Singing Camp at Amberley runs from October 18-20. It is a weekend of peer exchange for Singing Leaders of all experience levels, new, aspiring or experienced, and anyone who loves to sing! For information and bookings, click here. 

Intercultural Collaboration: An Ocean of Possibilities

Dr Laura Brearley

Intercultural collaboration is a slippery and elusive art. I find it a spacious and revealing place to work. It sings to me and draws me in and on. I think it was a mixture of naivety and courage that led me to working in this field. I am a singer, song-writer and creative researcher with an Anglo-Celtic and Scandinavian heritage. What I have learned over the years is that an ocean of possibilities is available when we open our hearts and take the risk to make genuine contact.

Anything can emerge when trust is laced with risk. What we share and what makes us different has room to come alive. There are no formulas for success and this, I think, is a good thing. The riskiness of it keeps us awake and alert.

The capacity to listen and the qualities of trust, respect and openness are central to fruitful intercultural arts collaborations. This is never more so than when the intercultural collaborations are between First Nation community members and people from other cultural backgrounds. We work together against the backdrop of colonisation, the massacres and government policies of enforced dispossession and attempted cultural genocide. The impact of these policies continues today and are evident in disproportionate rates of incarceration and inequities in health, economic and educational opportunities. The list of inequities goes on and is still being experienced by First Nation peoples in Australia and across the world. 

There are many compelling reasons why trust takes a long time to build in intercultural collaborations. Collaborations across cultures can create a bridge for connection, but it can be a perilous crossing. The potential risks of neo-colonial appropriation and misunderstanding are ever-present. The space in-between is where reconciliation can occur.

I have come to see that trust is everything. It is slowly gained and easily lost. Trust is what keeps the conversation alive. There are so many reasons not to trust in this world but in my experience, a kind of magic emerges from the in-between spaces when music and art are involved and an interdisciplinary approach is taken. A spaciousness appears. The reasons not to trust will always be there, but creative engagement and active participation can enable people to see and be seen, to hear and be heard. This is what bridges are made of and this, I believe, is why the work is worth doing. 

There was an opportunity to have a direct experience of these in-between spaces at the Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival, held on the 5th – 7th July in Cowes on Phillip Island. The Island Whale Festival, now in its third year, celebrates the arrival of humpback whales and southern right whales in the coastal waters off Phillip Island as they migrate north to the warmer waters off Queensland.

The Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival was designed to bring people of all ages and cultural backgrounds together through music, art, science and a love of the natural world. Steve Parker named the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Island Whale Festival, ‘Balert Yirramboi’, which translates as ‘Strong Future’, literally ‘Strong Tomorrow’. Steve is a Traditional Custodian, an artist and musician and one of the Directors of the Yowengarra Bun Wurrung Balug Clans Aboriginal Corporation. Steve has lived on Millowl (Phillip Island) all his life.

Activities of ‘Balert Yirramboi’ included Ceremonies, Drumming Circles, Music and Dance, Song Circles, Song Exchanges, Concerts, a Street Parade and a Collaborative Artspace weaving together music, art and science. Elders and Special Guest Artists lead the activities, all of which were designed to deepen intercultural understanding, strengthen community and raise environmental awareness.

The 2019 Intercultural Arts Program of the Island Whale Festival was auspiced by Community Music Victoria, an organisation dedicated to bringing people together and strengthening communities through the power of music.

Here’s a link to a short film ‘Singing with Whales’ from the Intercultural Arts Program at the 2018 Island Whale Festival. https://vimeo.com/288066243

We acknowledge the power and beauty of the Bunurong/Boon Wurrung Country on which this event takes place. We honour and thank all the Ancestors and Elders who have lived on this land and sung it into being the strong place that it is.

Dr Laura Brearley leads a song at the 2018 CMVic Music Camp

**The latter part of this article was updated by CMVic on August 1, to reflect the fact that the 2019 Whale Festival is now a past event.

Love Songs for Whales… & A Creative Invitation

by Dr Laura Brearley

The Whales Are Back

The whale migration season off Phillip Island has begun again and the texts have started to arrive …

  • Wednesday 29th May 9.45am

First Island whales this season. Two whales off San Remo jetty, heading to Cape Woolamai.

  • Tuesday 4th June 3.31pm

One humpback sighted 1.4 kms of the Nobbies, heading towards Pyramid Rock.

  • Friday 7th June 10.48am

One humpback whale, close to shore at Cape Woolamai.

We live at Cape Woolamai and although I was deep in work at the time that this third message came through, I answered what I felt was a call to action. When I arrived at Anzacs Beach at Cape Woolamai, the car park was full. A crowd of people was standing looking out to sea. There were families with children and people who had never met before were talking and laughing with each other. Just as I had, everyone there had dropped what they were doing when that text came through. Excitement was in the air and it felt like a shared experience of connection with the whales, as well as with each other.

I’ve noticed this sense of connection on whale cruise boats too. We board the boats as individuals and when the first whales are sighted, any separateness between passengers seems to dissolve. We sing and clap and whistle to the whales, reaching out to them together. Sometimes, they’ll swim along with us, even diving under the boat. If they’re feeling playful, they seem to dance in the water, breaching and splashing with their bodies and tails. It’s a profound experience to be part of that joyful play.

The whale at Cape Woolamai a few days ago was surfacing from time to time. I found it moving to see a whale in this early stage of the season and to know that the age-old cycle of the whale migration was underway again. With all the human interference of the natural world and the damage done, the rhythm of the migration endures. It is larger than all of us and that is a wonderful thing.

Humpback Whale Research

Over the last few weeks, I have been in touch with members of a team of international scientists who have been undertaking research on whale songs for many years. Led by Dr Ellen Garland (St Andrews University, Scotland) and Dr Jenny Allen (Griffith University, Queensland), the research has been tracking how the songs of humpback whales are transmitted over time and distance in the Pacific Ocean. The two lead researchers, Dr Ellen Garland and Dr Jenny Allen, have both expressed interest in the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Island Whale Festival.

Their research has shown that whale songs are communicated across the South Pacific, moving from populations from eastern Australia in the west to French Polynesia in the east. The whale songs appear to come originally from the Indian Ocean, west of Australia representing a transmission of almost 10,000 kilometres. The research team has found that thousands of male humpbacks can synchronously change their song to a new version introduced from a neighbouring population in as little as two months. Their research in song learning has revealed that humpback whales employ some of the same learning strategies as songbirds and humans when acquiring a new song.

Below is a short film about this research:

Creative Responses

With the support of local First Nation community members, Bass Coast Shire Council, Destination Phillip Island, Community Music Victoria, Cowes Uniting Church, we are currently organising the Intercultural Arts Program ‘Balert Yirramboi’ of the Island Whale Festival happening in Cowes on Phillip Island on the 5th – 7th July, 2019.

A talented group of musicians, artists and cultural advisors is coming together to help celebrate the whales through song, story, dance and collaborative art-making. Activities will include Ceremonies, Drumming Circles, Music and Dance, Song Circles, Song Exchanges, Concerts, a Street Parade and a Collaborative Artspace which weaves together music, art and science.

Jazz pianist, Steve Sedergreen, is composing music in response to the scientific whale song research. During the Festival, he will be performing his new composition with his long-time collaborators, Wamba Wamba didgeridoo player, Ron Murray and jazz drummer, Mike Jordan. Camille Monet, who is coordinating the Collaborative Artspace at the Festival, will be facilitating arts activities in response to the whale song research. Participants will be invited to create visual responses to the whale songs, making patterns on long sheets of paper which will be carried in the Whale Parade at the end of the Festival. Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir has generously gifted local Boon Wurrung language to a Whale Song Cycle that I have composed and that Trawlwoolway artist Lisa Kennedy has illustrated.

Creative Invitation

We would like to extend a creative invitation to you. If you are someone who loves whales and is interested in creative collaborations, song-writing, poetry or story-telling, there is an opportunity for you to share your ideas and make a contribution to the Intercultural Arts Program of the 2019 Whale Festival.

If you are seeking inspiration, one way of getting focussed is to reflect on some core questions, such as …

  • Why do you love whales?
  • What do whale songs stir in you?
  • What does the sense of connection with whales feel like for you?
  • If you had a message to send to the whales, what would you say or sing to them?

If you would like to make a creative contribution to the Intercultural Arts Program, please send an email to Laura Brearley  laura.brearley@tlc21.com.au by COB Friday 28th June, 2019 with your contact details and a brief description of what you would be interested in sharing at the Festival, eg song, poetry, story. The program has been designed with activities in which creative exchanges and collaborations can occur. The copyright of all material will remain with the contributing artists.

The full program of the Island Whale Festival is available at: http://islandwhales.com.au/program/

Many events are free and bookings for ticketed activities can be made on-line.

And … next time you hear that there are whales off the coast, and you are nearby, just stop what you are doing and take some time to be near the whales and feel the gift of their presence. I suspect they will feel you too.

-Dr Laura Brearley

Featured image ‘Whale Tail’ by Lisa Kennedy