How do we measure the legacy of a singing leader? It seems apt that, as I ask myself this question, a song comes to mind:
How many cabs in New York City?
How many angels on a pin?
How many notes in a saxophone?
How many tears in a bottle of gin?
(Paul Kelly, Careless)
How many songs were taught and were shared? How many connections and bonds were formed? How many experiences of being held or embraced in harmony, or of adding one’s voice to a solid-gold, full-bodied unison? There are many ways that a singing leader’s efforts and commitments can be traced. The researcher in me thinks about network analysis, imagines tracing a song on its pathway from leader to choir, from choir members to other leaders, from leaders to leaders. Or tracing connections and friendships, new choirs formed, new leaders inspired.
Benjamin Patrick Leske, musician, composer, researcher, community singing advocate, conductor and choir leader, passed away this month from brain cancer, aged 37. I am not the only one of his friends feeling bereft. There are many others who knew him longer, who had shared more songs and more conversations than I had with him. But in our short friendship, Ben and I bonded. We shared stories from the PhDs in community music that we were both pursuing at the time (his about the experiences of young LGBTQI singers in a Melbourne choir, mine about young music learners in war-torn countries), and we shared our experiences of dealing with the compounding challenges of major illness and treatment during PhD study.
The community musician in me remembers Ben teaching the song ‘Let it Go’ (not the one from Frozen, but another, drawn from a Michael Leunig poem and cartoon and set to music by Melbourne composer Suzann Frisk) on the Excursion Day bus during the International Society for Music Education’s Community Music Commission in Edinburgh, July 2016. A colleague sent me her recording of that song-share recently, capturing Ben’s voice as he sang the song line by line, repeating as necessary, with the bus passengers echoing him. “I’ve never told this story to a busload of people before!” he admitted, before sharing the significance of the song with the group. More than one person refers to ‘singing while crying’ in that recording.
More recently, Ben led a pop-up choir in a performance of the same song in the ward of St Vincent’s Hospital where he had been a neuro-oncology patient many times. He donated a framed print of the Michael Leunig cartoon that had made the song so meaningful for him, a print that now hangs on the wall of the ward. Leunig and Frisk joined Ben for this special event.
Singing leaders bring people together to sing, both informally and in more formal structures. Ben conducted many different choirs in Melbourne. One speaker at the memorial service began to list them, and I learned that Ben’s conducting ‘tentacles’ had reached more widely than I knew. I was in the audience for the inaugural performance of the Footscray Community Choir, a choir that he co-founded with pianist Chris Nankervis. It was a lovely, affirming concert. The audience was invited to sing as part of the program, a programming inclusion that spoke to Ben’s commitment to getting people singing and connecting with each other. They performed a superb rendition of “Wonder” by Emeli Sandé. It was the first time I’d heard that song, although I’ve listened to it many times since. Its opening lyrics (“I can beat the night, I’m not afraid of thunder, I am full of light, and I am full of wonder”) bring a lump to my throat now. I can imagine them resonating for Ben, and am sure it was by design, not chance, that he chose a song that would affirm the strength, resilience, and wonder of every one of his singers.
And there were more choir projects planned. One of Ben’s last Facebook updates (20 January 2018) announced, “I’m excited to be working with Newlands Choir (formerly the Carpark Choir) from Monday! P.S. We’re currently recruiting, with vacancies in all sections”. I can remember the excitement with which he spoke about this new project too. Dear Newlands Choir, I’m so sorry you didn’t get to work with this fine musician and conductor. He loved to nurture voices. He would have been so committed to you.
How many stars in the Milky Way?
How many ways can you lose a friend?
Paul Kelly’s song drifts away from me at this point—it is impossible to imagine Benjamin Leske being a ‘careless’ friend to anyone. His memorial service filled one of Melbourne’s largest cathedrals, and friends and family in turn spoke of this kind, gentle, generous, funny, determined colussus of a man, sharing stories of the intrepid traveler and “Germanophile” who was an exchange student in Germany and studied in Freiburg, retaining many deep friendships there; the studious, contemplative, and curious young man who spent time living in a monastery in Cambodia; the organiser, devoted to Excel spreadsheets; the International Relations specialist who nurtured and realised his longheld desire to conduct, to compose, and to spread music and joy; the man in his prime, forced to confront his mortality and who reframed the diagnosis as an opportunity to live more fully, focusing on what really matters; the activist and advocate for brain cancer research, gay pride, and community singing; the beloved son, brother, godfather, friend; the loving partner and husband of Khang Chiem.
The songs keep coming. At the memorial service I learned that Ben was a huge Kylie Minogue fan. But I am a little older than him and ABBA comes to mind more quickly: “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Who could live without it? I ask in all honesty – what would life be? Without a song or a dance, what are we?” Towards the end of the wake, most of the remaining guests gathered on the stage to sing a song (from ‘Wicked’) that was new to me, but seemed so perfect and poignant for a celebration of this young man’s life. “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
How much good in a single song? So, so much good. Go gently, Ben would say. Live fully. Love generously. And keep singing.
 Ben submitted his PhD in August 2017 and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Melbourne in December 2017. I submitted mine in December 2017 and am nervously awaiting examiners’ reports.
In just one year, Pub Choir has revolutionised the community music scene in Brisbane and beyond, bursting forth in a blast of fresh energy and zest and attracting hundreds of singers to its informal fortnightly singing sessions. The success of Pub Choir can be attributed to a combination of zeitgeist mixed with a twist of right time right place all shaken up with a direct, no frills attitude to music making. That and the fact it’s in a pub…
The ingeniously simple idea for Pub Choir was dreamt up in a conversation between co-founders Astrid Jorgensen and Megan Bartholomew. The women who met at uni, share the belief that everyone can sing and that music belongs to everybody. In talking, they realised that whilst music was their livelihood, they were no longer singing for fun and so, in March last year, Meg called a pub.
Astrid and Meg then recruited guitarist Waveney Yasso, whose job is to keep everyone singing in time and in tune. The Pub Choir dream team came into being and with support from a photographer and videographers to capture the magic, they were set to prove to the world it could sing.
“The hope was that if we put it in a friendly setting then people would come and remember that music is fun with friends. We should all be making music an everyday experience, and if we’re doing it more often and in casual ways then it becomes less ‘scary’.”
Astrid and the team put a single post on Facebook before the first session stating, ‘No Commitment, No Auditions, No Sheet Music, NO WORRIES!’ They smashed their hopes for 30 people that first night when 70 rocked up, and every event from then on has sold out. As Astrid says, “It’s been pretty crazy!”
The Bearded Lady in Brisbane trusted the vision, provided a space and supported the idea of Pub Choir at a time when it wasn’t a ‘thing’. The event soon outgrew the capacity of the room there, but its walls play a significant part in the success and history of the choir’s first year, something Astrid is very thankful for.
So does alcohol play a significant role in the success and phenomenon of Pub Choir? Even though it’s available, Astrid attributes the sense of anonymity that goes with being in a pub along with lots of other people, as the reason new singers feel disinhibited enough to relax and have a go. And once they start singing, the release of endorphins and the sense of connection can work their magic and do the rest.
There is no place for judgement at Pub Choir, it’s all about enjoying yourself and singing to have a good time. Astrid chooses well known songs, something she finds makes life easier for everyone:
“For each upcoming session I try to pick something in a different style to the last so as not to be too repetitive; something very well known so that the melody doesn’t have to be taught too much, and; songs that are achievable in 90 minutes. I also am constrained by whether or not I can obtain the relevant licenses. Occasionally publishers will say no, so I try to have a few options up my sleeve.”
To teach the song, Astrid, who is qualified in choral conducting and voice, divides the group into three sections, taking them through line by line and within 90 minutes everyone is revelling in the buzz of singing in three part harmony.
There has been such an amazing outpouring of support for Pub Choir from the online community, that Astrid and the team are now in the process of booking dates for a tour. The idea is to travel around the country later in the year and share the experience of Pub Choir more widely in its original format. Astrid likes to combine elements of comedy into all aspects of her work including Pub Choir in the belief that if people are having a laugh they will relax and sing better, and she’s keen to share this out on the road too.
“Everyone is saying the same thing: We could really use this in our community, this looks so much fun.”
Pub Choir has received hundreds of emails from people across the country who are keen to use the same model, and asking if they can start up their own Pub Choir. This includes requests for Pub Choir’s budgeting, licensing, event planning, and even web content creation – some of which Astrid admits makes her feel a little uncomfortable.
Whilst the level of interest from other singing leaders keen to borrow and learn from the model of Pub Choir is flattering, Astrid feels this has to be done in conjunction with a good dose of self-assessment and points out that the Pub Choir model might not translate and work as well for everyone. She explains:
“I like being at the pub and I like joking around and I’m definitely more into casual community music making than something more ‘high brow’, but I think people may try to copy and paste something that might not necessarily fit their skill set as an educator, or even their personality. I mean, consider 500 drunk people who you don’t know,” laughs Astrid, “it won’t suit everyone, so play to your strengths and find what you are passionate about!”
An unexpected challenge faced by Pub Choir is the number of costs involved in running such a simple idea. Each singer pays $10 cash on the door and pretty much every cent of that goes back into licensing to pay for arranging and then filming the song. “Sometimes it’s thousands of dollars.”
This was an area they didn’t anticipate but their popularity and strong online presence thrives as a result of the high quality film clips they post, and their recent clip of the Cranberries song ‘Zombie’ sung and posted as a tribute to Dolores O’Riordan was shared by the band and went viral, a real high point for Astrid and everyone involved.
Pub Choir will be celebrating its first birthday in March with a party to end all parties at the Triffid in Brisbane, a venue with capacity for over 700 singers. It’s a beautiful old aircraft hangar which is a brilliantly apt place to celebrate a singing group that has taken off so fast. Go, go Pub Choir: the sky’s the limit.
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Astrid Jorgensen from Pub Choir
Featured image by Jacob Morrison, supplied by Pub Choir
**Interest in Pub Choir has come from each of the capital cities and beyond and the team hope to have visited them all by the end of the year, returning in between times to sing with their Brisbane crowd. If there are any pub landlords or venue managers reading this in Victoria who are open to the idea of hosting Pub Choir, hop onto their website and express your interest now!
- It repeats on you only in positive ways and doesn’t get stuck in your teeth
- It’s more effective than mistletoe in bringing people together
- Music doesn’t kill your fingers all the way home from the shops in a bag about to break
- It’s perfect shared with friends and there’s always enough to go around
- It’s eco-friendly! Singing and music making requires neither wrapping nor cellotape
- Music won’t sit around gathering dust and is brilliant to re-gift
- Your jeans may fit even better after a month of singing and musical indulgence
- Instead of breaking after five minutes, it gets better and lasts a lifetime
- No ransacking of the house is necessary for batteries or dice
- Making music and singing is good for the heart, soul, health and well-being of yourself, your pals, your Aunty Sheila, and your community too
3 ways to give the gift of music and song with Community Music Victoria (we’ve got this covered):
- Sign up your family, friends and neighbours to the CMVic monthly giving circle for a gift that gives all year
- Renew your annual membership to Community Music Victoria for twelve months of music making benefits, including membership discounts on all events, camps and workshop bookings, and a range of wonderful resources
- Make a one-off donation to Community Music Victoria. All donations over $2 are tax deductible so you’ll get another little gift in June.
Music is better made together:
Any donation you make can help ensure that more singing and instrumental music leaders get the skills they need to establish more groups, and that special projects like Voices of Peace, StreetSounds, Singing from Country, and That Girl can bring more music to more people who need it in their lives.
Community Music Victoria.
Sarah Mandie is a Melbourne based singer songwriter and the mother of two young girls. These two highly personal and defining elements of her life are brought into sharp focus though her new project, That Girl, and it is from her unequivocal belief in the potential of each and her passion for both, that this project has come about at all.
That Girl is a song and a music video dance project that invites participation from girls and women of all ages from Wodonga, Yarra Ranges and Boroondara. The song and the project arising from it was conceived by Sarah as a creative way to empower women and girls in communities everywhere. It’s strong, it’s beautiful and it carries a positive message about the need for society to respect ‘that girl’: That girl who is our daughter, our mother, our wife.
Sarah wrote the song three years ago following a series of distressing news reports and around the time of the brutal killing of two young girls in India. The alleged perpetrators of the crime bribed police and were released without charge. It was a story that horrified people around the world and resonated particularly deeply with Sarah who has a connection with Rajasthan through her Indian husband and her daughters, too.
“When this happened to these girls in India it made me think about my girls, their futures and their safety which then extends out to all girls, from all countries. I was so angry and upset, I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world.
Because I love the medium of music and song, I thought it would be really good to write a song that talked about those issues, a song that contributes to the prevention of violence.”
Channelling these negative feelings of anger and helplessness into a positive act of creativity was tough but worthwhile. It took Sarah a long time to get the song right, for the lyrics to say what she wanted them to without the song being something people wouldn’t want to listen to. Sarah wanted to write a strong song, and knew that finding the right ‘catch’ was crucial for the message to be carried.
“I think the challenge in writing a song about a difficult issue is that you want to acknowledge the issue but at the same time have a positive frame around it so that people will want to sing it and listen to it and be inspired by it… a song to promote change needs to be attractive for people to listen to and want to sing.”
During the early stages, Sarah was struck by frustration as she realised what a craft it is to write this type of song:
“Sometimes we write a song that comes from within and we trust the processes of creativity but with this song it went through a few changes because I really wanted the end product to be something positive and something people would respond well to.”
Jamie Saxe stepped in to help Sarah nail the end: “Jamie took the song and created real magic with it through his arrangement and production of the instrumentation.”
Saxe’s enthusiasm to be involved reiterated to Sarah the power of her song and its potential to deliver broadly within the context of a wide scale project: What had inspired her was now beginning to inspire the other people coming into contact with the song and feeling similarly moved by the importance of the cause. The shape of the project became clear on completion of the song: Involve girls from the community in learning the song and making of a video to accompany it, then take the completed package out to the world as an empowering catalyst for awareness and change.
“I want That Girl to change the future for my daughters and for all daughters, it’s a hugely personal thing.”
Sarah’s personal and familial connections with India inspired her to translate the chorus into Hindi, bringing the feminine energy of the divinity Shakti into the song: “That girl is the one that gives life, she has the power, that girl is Shakti. Whilst India has high levels of gender based violence, as Sarah is quick to point out, the need for greater levels of respect and the creation of safe environments for girls and women is necessary everywhere.
The first phase of That Girl begins on December 2nd, with an information session inviting women and girls of all ages from within the Indian and Bhutanese communities in Wodonga to join a dance workshop to be held in February next year to embody the Hindi element of the song. The dance routine they will learn in that workshop has already been choreographed and recorded and now needs bringing to life:
“I want all genders to feature in the final video, however the workshops are an opportunity for women and girls to come together to find strength and focus through working together. Once the song goes out there, boys and men will be involved with the project too as part of the awareness.”
The list of project partners is long and impressive and a testimony to the belief and passion shared by everyone who hears the song. In Wodonga, Sarah will be working with Gateway Health, Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council and Albury Wodonga Indian Australian Association. In Healesville, Healesville High School and the Healesville Indigenous Community Service Association will create a film each. This will then be edited and blended with the videos that emerge from the Wodonga and Boroondara communities.
For the time being, Sarah is reluctant to share That Girl song beyond the context of the project but given the significance and the urgency of the issue it addresses and the brilliant catchiness of the composition it’s unlikely to stay under wraps very long. And as That Girl emerges and gains exposure and momentum, the world will be a better place for having heard it and the power of the message it conveys.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in collaboration with Sarah Mandie.
That Girl Song Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/That-Girl-song-140108396617517/
That Girl Song: Lyrics and music Sarah Mandie
Arrangement, instrumentation and production, Jamie Saxe
“… the fish in the river, the clouds in the sky,
the wattles and gum trees that grow up so high
the kookaburra singing so gaily and free
good morning to you and good morning to me…”
from the Good Morning song* by Woody Clark
Woody Clark dreams of a world where families find time to make music as they go about their lives together. Over the past fifteen years or more, Woody has been working to build a catalogue of songs and resources available to parents and carers to turn this vision into reality and help integrate the rich experience of intergenerational singing and playing into the familial tapestry of homes and lives across Australia.
For Woody, the value is in ‘creating music rather than consuming it’ and, where possible, within a familiar setting involving children, parents or carers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins…
“Make music relevant and engaging and something that’s just part of the fabric of the household rather than something external to that, find the means to utilise it in your life in a way that will bring expression and joy, or whatever that might be.”
Woody’s own three kids have collaborated with him on musical projects, co-written songs for his album, and in recent years toured as part of the family band ‘Woody’s World’. This includes his parents, folk singer-songwriters Kate Townsend and Dave Clark. Woody’s World played at many regional festivals and events in 2016, including Adelaide Festival Centre, Melbourne Cabaret Festival and Ukulele Festivals, Pt Fairy Folk Festival and Mt Beauty Music Festival.
Woody remembers feeling surprised by the excitement of former classmates in recalling the novelty of a school teacher who would sing and play guitar to them during art classes. For Woody who grew up in a household where music-making was a normal and assumed part of daily life, this occurrence was familiar and common to him. He realised as an adult, the experience at school had evaporated from his memory as something unremarkable tends to.
Years later as a father and classroom teacher himself, Woody is using his experience and knowledge as a songwriter and musician to uphold the tradition set by his own background, advocating for the benefits and joys of the style of unplugged family music-making he’s enjoyed in his own life.
Woody’s tips for anyone who’s keen to encourage kids to make music are:
- Model the behaviour and expose your kids to live music-making.
- Have a guitar or ukulele sitting on the couch and build music into your day, for example sing a morning song*, or sing a song before you eat your food, or a bedtime song.
- Make it fun! A lot of music education is serious and focuses on the classical side, so if you can show kids that learning and making music can be really fun and engaging too, you’re half way there.
“I’m not putting pressure on my kids to be musicians but if when they leave home, they can play instruments, have some appreciation of the language of music, it’s accessible for them and they can express themselves, then I’ll feel I’ve done my job in that regard.”
As a way to facilitate integrated music-making in the home, Woody runs 8 week ukulele classes teaching kids aged from 5-12 years and their grandparents, parents or guardians, to play the instrument together. In doing so, Woody’s observed the positive benefits and effects that intergenerational learning brings:
“The parents who model the behaviour, doing weekly practise with their kids really upskill in the ukulele, they come back the next week and they’re both excited; they can play that new chord or they can do the new strumming technique. By the end of the 8 weeks instead of the uke being a foreign object that they are wondering how to hold and tune, they are learning to speak that language.”
Next year Woody will take this course online, making it available as a learning resource for kids, parents and carers, everywhere. “It’ll be a kind of crash course in how to learn the basics and there’ll also be an opportunity to play along with Woody’s World during our live shows.” The course will provide footage recorded by Woody for all L-plate ukers to strum along to for practise in their own time. Woody describes it as ‘an integrated project, and a preparatory engagement experience.’
Woody has been working towards this point for a long time having coordinated a number of musical projects, including reKINDle, a response to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and he’s dedicated to continuing this momentum around family music making and taking it onwards: “I’ve been developing my ideas around family music participation for well over a decade. I am passionate about music and how it can connect families and communities and through my upbringing and my teaching and my work with my own kids, it feels like all these strands are coming together.”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, and Woody Clark.
* Woody’s Good morning song is available online! Download the lyrics and mp3 here for freeeee! You can also download the chords and to complete the experience, there’s a colour-in poster to download, print off and complete as you learn the song.
Listen and learn ‘Catch the leaves’ a song written by Woody’s daughter when she was 7 years old.
For further information and inspiration, visit Woody’s website: http://www.woodysworld.com.au/
If the ongoing issues surrounding climate change and the proposed Adani Coal mine leave you wanting to blow your top we’ve unearthed a way to help channel that frustration and anger into inspiration and joy. Let us begin. Pop a coin into your cerebral jukebox and select the tune to the chorus of the Abba song Fernando substituting the words penned by Bjorn, Agnetha and co with the following:
There’s more carbon in the air each night
We’ve got to fight Adani
Causing climate change for you and me
It’s planet’ry Adani
And we know that we must never lose
The stage is set
We’ll occupy your office suite
Until you’re beat Adani…
Great isn’t it? Spirits depressed and deflated by overwhelming environmental concerns are momentarily lifted and buoyed with the added bonus that the familiar tune makes it an easy song to pick up and join in with in no time: empower yourself and others by engaging in a spot of choral activism and sing out against climate change. And there’s plenty more material where that came from, including for traditional folkies ‘Stop Adani Stop the mine’ to the tune of Oh my darling Clementine, guaranteed to stick firmly in ears everywhere:
Stop Adani, Stop Adani, Stop Adaaaani, Stop the mine
Shouldn’t aughta poison water
It’s an order – Stop the Mine
Clever and simple, these songs are addictive and accessible and are the work of two radically minded musician/activists from Queensland and NSW, Jenny Fitzgibbon and Paul Spencer, who have together created Carbon Canaries, an online song resource ‘enabling people everywhere to sing out for climate action with songs that ‘poke fun at fossils & fuelish humans, celebrate renewables of all genders and make choirs spring up at an action or staffroom near you.’
To date, Carbon Canaries have parodied and posted the tunes of 35 well-known songs re-writing the lyrics to reflect, as Paul writes, ‘the human experience of the social change movement and of living in a world that’s so beautiful, so alarming and so inspiring all at the same time.’
Jenny is motivated by the desire to offer protesters and climate campaigners a source of ‘joy and energy’ and to enable people everywhere.
The Carbon Canaries’ website provides all the tools group facilitators could wish for to get singing for positive change. Song sheets and tunes are available to download as well as backing tracks and videos of Carbon Canaries’ songs and climate inspired parodies of songs by other activists, such as the superb Specials-inspired ‘A Message to you Turnbull‘ by Melbourne’s Glorious Rabble led by Stephen Taberner and accompanied by the Horns of Justice, (below). In the spirit of solidarity, Carbon Canaries resources don’t cost the earth, in fact they are all available absolutely free, although visitors to the site are invited to support their great work by donation.
Source: singing out for climate action
Tune in to the next CMVic blog post to read how the Carbon Canaries’ work is being used in Victoria by the Melbourne based Climate Choir in their singing for social change.
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria
“Diversity and inclusion must be about understanding your identity and the identities of all people. Only then can we be courageous enough to steer away from like-mindedness through assimilating people’s differences (melting pot) and towards like-mindedness through honoring those differences (mosaic). To do this, initiatives designed for “cultural competency” aren’t enough. Diversity and inclusion requires diverse and non-diverse leaders to work together to create a culture that embraces diversity of thought and deploys the required best practices, development tools, and resources to maximize talent engagement, advancement, workplace performance, and overall satisfaction.” Glenn Llopis; Forbes.com
An exciting new training program focussed on Diversity and Inclusion in Singing Leadership was rolled out in Melbourne this year to kick against the concept of the cultural melting pot, replacing that sticky, outdated cauldron with shared knowledge, experience and insights that recognise and celebrate the difference we each bring to a situation as individuals in our own right, and to develop community singing leadership so that more programs supporting disadvantage and community building can be established across Victoria and beyond.
Singing for Inclusion (SINC) is the outcome of an inaugural collaboration between Community Music Victoria and Creativity Australia. The two organisations joined forces to train and refresh new and existing community Singing Leaders in how to create genuinely nurturing, safe environments for singing group participants that are inclusive and open to everyone, irrespective of their physical and mental needs or cultural background.
SINC is anti-assimilation and pro positive acknowledgement of visible and invisible difference. The program was conceived to encourage leaders to reflect and consider their perceptions and understandings of the depth and breadth of the meaning of diversity and how to be properly inclusive, a word Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator for CMVic and the SINC Program Manager, believes ‘people use very freely and don’t always consider the full implications of what they are offering.’
Community Music Victoria has successfully trained and mentored hundreds of Singing Group Leaders across the state through its Victoria Sings program for over a decade. Its focus has consistently been creating a ‘free and fearless space’ in which participants feel safe to be open with themselves and each other. Through its partnership with CA, CMVic was able to share this experience and knowledge and combine it with observations and learning derived from CA’s With One Voice program.
Sarah Mandie together with Jane Coker from CMVic and Ross Maher from Creativity Australia ran a community consultation process to devise the framework and content of the SINC training program which was then run as a series of free one day workshops. Sarah Mandie explains:
“We put out a survey to people working in key areas of diversity and followed this with a consulting workshop to review the results and finalise and identify what people would want and need out of a course like this. Key people in given areas such as disability and mental health all gave similar feedback and the main thing to emerge was this: If you are going to run a course about people with different abilities, then these people need to be involved in the program somehow, which was always our intention.”
The course content was a mixture of singing leadership skills, diversity awareness, discussion with people with lived experience of mental and physical disability and sessions on how to run your group. SINC also addressed awareness of best practice in how to include all these components with the central and focal point remaining what is needed to be inclusive. As Sarah says, “are we as singing leaders really doing that or are we just talking about it…?”
Experienced singing leaders and key people involved in community arts practice around Melbourne were invited to come and present or facilitate a session, and this element of peer exchange as a substantial component of the course proved highly effective in giving people an opportunity to speak with passion, and to continue their own personal learning through listening to each other’s different viewpoints and things to be mindful of:
“Recognition of everyone’s experiences, needs and skills and bringing everyone together in a course like this actually maximises everyone’s learning… I would say for me as an experience it totally helped shape my understanding of these areas and this nature of facilitation allows everyone to contribute to something so that even in a training course about leadership, everyone, including even the facilitators, is learning. That’s the environment: the environment and the culture.”
A brilliant result of the course has been a wonderfully supportive network of leaders who are working with diverse singing groups and choirs and we hope this network will continue to grow and help each other.
Through its very essence, diversity is not restricted and defies definition. Ultimately, it’s about never taking anything or anyone for granted.
“A clear message to emerge from the SINC training course is as a Singing Leader, you don’t know who’s in the room before you get there and you don’t know what’s going on in their head, and you don’t know how different they are to you or how they are feeling… AND YOU CAN NEVER ASSUME!”
“Jane Coker did an exercise to demonstrate this by getting people to share their favourite musical artist , and it was highly effective at showing how different everyone is about something you can’t see, and it was a good example of how there is always something about somebody you don’t know.”
- Resources from the SINC training program will be available online in due course. Watch this space!
- Further reading: Diversity and Inclusion: Why we shouldn’t be indifferent to difference.
The SINC program was made possible with funding from the Ian Potter Foundation and the RE Ross Trust.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator for Community Music Victoria
The ‘mighty’ Murtoa Stick Shed stands majestically against the open skies of the Wimmera, built in 1941 as a solution for grain storage during the World War II wheat glut, when exports were restricted. The shed was originally one of three, built using logs of rainforest mountain ash and of those three is the only one still standing, saved by the people in the local town of Murtoa who recognised the cultural significance and uniqueness of the building.
“When you get inside the shed you get an extraordinary feeling about it that’s hard to explain, says Judith Welsh, chair of the committee of management for the Murtoa Stick Shed, “It is five Olympic swimming pools long, over three storeys high and contains 560 poles or ‘sticks’ and is known as the Cathedral of the Wimmera because of its cathedral like quality.”
In 2016, after many years of lobbying with support from Heritage Victoria, the Stick Shed was finally handed back to the community and Judith is optimistic this will put Murtoa firmly on the map in more ways than one:
“We’re in the middle of the Wimmera and what we would call the Silo Trail. The Stick Shed is significant not only as a tourist attraction for Murtoa but for all of the nearby small towns too; if you come to one, you come to all.”
In October this year, Murtoa will host its annual festival, ‘The Big Weekend’ and for the first time the committee of management and the town will have operation of the Stick Shed.
To reflect the ambience and the glory of the building, Judith and the management committee are now working to build an event which will bring voices into the shed for the first time to sing, celebrate and enjoy the building and to give back to the community the experience of a concert, open to everyone and hopefully involving local choirs from Horsham, Stawell and surrounding areas.
“We want an event that anyone can join in on but that gives local choirs the singers from the Wimmera an opportunity to perform as part of a massed choir, as well.”
As a beautiful and evocative space laden with heritage, the shape and materials used in its construction make the Stick Shed a perfect venue: “A massive forest of trees with a soaring overhead, vaulted canopy produces subdued natural lighting, and gives the impression of a huge empty natural space, with considerable religious overtones…. It is both HUGE and peacefully QUIET, with wonderful acoustics.”
What Judith needs now is to find enough voices to supplement the number of local singers and help fill this great space, built to hold 100,000 tonnes of wheat.
To do this, a proposed workshop component is planned to encourage participation from singers of all abilities to come and be part of the event. Judith and the committee are seeking expressions of interest from any local singing facilitators happy to volunteer their time to run a workshop session and help bring life to their vision of a massed sing in the Stick Shed.
An invitation is also extended to any other choirs and singing groups willing to make the journey to Murtoa on Saturday October 7th, to sing alongside the local community groups and join in this unique and exceptional experience.
As a singer with the Melbourne Women’s Choir as well as numerous other choirs, Judith knows first-hand that singing is a fabulous thing to do:
“It’s uplifting for the person singing and it’s uplifting for the person hearing it and we want to be able to do something for the people in these communities and to tell the story of the shed. “
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Judith Welsh from the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management
**If you are a singing leader who can help Judith with the workshop, or who would like to involve your own singing group or choir in the event as part of ‘The Big Weekend’, please contact the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management via email at email@example.com or call 03 5385 2422
Foundation House is an organisation set up to help refugees and migrants who are survivors of torture in other countries, assisting them with settlement services and connecting them with other organisations such as AMES on arrival in Australia. It is also the starting point in this story of a group of Chaldean Christian women who have hopes of becoming the Assyrian Women’s Choir.
The Assyrian Women’s group is a group of Chaldean women who have fled persecution and torture in Iraq and Syria. Persecuted for being Christian and for speaking a different language, these women have been migrating to safety in Australia to begin a new life for more than twenty years, and they keep coming.
Whenever new refugees or migrants arrive, the women mobilise themselves into a welcome committee, travelling out to the airport. They help the new arrivals to find their feet in this foreign country where for many of them, language is a barrier. Every Friday, the women meet to sing and cook food together, sharing stories of their lives, old and new, as well as offering skills and support to each other. They are from places in Iraq we’ve all heard about in the news, and they know the pain of conflict, displacement, persecution and loss.
A strong love for singing their traditional Arabic and Chaldean folk songs exists between the women, and this is how Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator with Community Music Victoria came to be involved in their journey.
Sarah approached Foundation House to offer skills and support to the staff and community to in her capacity as a singing leader and facilitator. Carolyn Wilson, one of the senior counsellors there, immediately thought of the Chaldean Christian Women’s group and arranged for Sarah and CMVic’s Coordinator, Oli Hinton, to meet with them. Translator and Foundation house worker, Dr Salam Dankha, made communication possible. At the first meeting, Oli and Sarah were welcomed with traditional food and songs, and a bond was formed. In 2017 a further two sessions were planned for Sarah to work with the group ahead of their participation at the International Women’s Day celebrations, at Dianella Health in Craigieburn.
During the first session, the women chose to sing two songs: one, an Iraqi song about the beauty of Iraqi women, and the second a folk song about courtship and the relevance of bringing gifts for the girl. Their enthusiasm was evident and they conveyed their hopes of galvanising the group into something with a more formal structure which would enable them to preserve and share the music as messengers of their culture and as advocates for peace in the wider community.
Sarah has been enabling the women to find a focus and they have plans to write a song together, an anthem unique to the group, written around universal morals and themes such as peace, as part of their journey of healing, participation and empowerment.
The next phase is to obtain the funding necessary for Sarah to continue her work with the Assyrian women because, as she says, “I’ve already developed a relationship with them, and it’s a good one.” Supporting the group in selecting a repertoire and helping them to develop the structure they need to become a sustainable choir constitutes part of a proposed new CMVic led project called ‘Voices of Peace‘.
“It’s about giving the leaders already in place within the Assyrian community some skills and structure to use, it’s also about support in identifying potential new leaders and it’s about assistance with sustainability.” as well as offering suggestions and feedback around how the songs are sung: “It’s one thing for the women to sit and sing music of their culture together but in order to get out and share the material, some guidance is necessary.”
While the group is comprised solely of Assyrian women, these women are open to everyone, no matter where they are from. They don’t have any barriers around ethnicity, religion, etc. Instead, there is open-ness, recognition and acceptance of difference:
“They just understand…I told them I have an Indian husband, and that I’m Jewish and it created this openness, I mean, we’re all just different aren’t we, and we want to get along.”
This is the focus and purpose of the group: to sing their music, celebrate and preserve their unique culture and through sharing this love of it with others, to create greater harmony and understanding in society, improving mental and physical health and well-being along the way on the road to recovery.
As part of the International Women’s Day event, there was a fashion parade and it was a chance for everyone to get dressed up and a celebration for all women, from all cultures. “The Assyrian women came out wearing jewelled gowns, and having a wonderful time with the Indian women; celebrating being women.”
As the Assyrian Women’s Choir, these women will find new opportunities and ways to meet people, make connections and friendships, to share and celebrate where they are from and and to participate and contribute to the richness of the diverse, inclusive and safe society they have found themselves part of.
Listen to an early session with the Assyrian Women’s group, here.
Written by Deb Carveth with Sarah Mandie for Community Music Victoria