Tag Archives: community music

Songs and strong bonds: The community choir celebrating a half-century of harmony

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‘Morefull’ The Maroondah Singers in concert.  Photo supplied

John Williams has been singing for 80 of his 90 years on the planet. Growing up on a farm on the Mornington Peninsula, there was little opportunity to express himself musically and John really had no idea he could sing. “The headmaster of the school would bring in a local girl to sing with us all once a week, My Bonnie lies over the ocean, Rule Britannia, that kind of stuff. When we moved to Mitcham, my mother and I joined the local Methodist Church choir and I started singing alto alongside my mother at the age of 10.”

John has been singing ever since and was a key player in the founding of the Mitcham based Maroondah Singers, which this month celebrates its 50th anniversary as a mixed voice community choir.1 It has encouraged young singers starting out and provided end of life care, too. It is a living, breathing singing entity as vital now as it was half a century ago, and it owes its origins, in part, to John.

“I was there before Maroondah Singers even existed”, he laughs.

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John Williams, singing for 80 years and a founding member of the Mitcham based  Maroondah Singers

The idea for a choir came about through a conversation between John and his good friend, George Irvine. At the time, George wrote a weekly column in the Nunawading Gazette, called ‘As it appears to me’ where he would comment on various social issues relevant to the City of Nunawading. George also worked in the same place as John in South Melbourne and the two men would often travel home together, putting the world to rights as they went:

“I found that usually, whatever we talked about on the way home would appear in the newspaper the week after next where he’d say ‘my friend John says’… I got used to it!”

One of their conversations was about what had happened to all the good choirs. A subsequent column posing the same question elicited a strong response from within the community so the following week George suggested trying to set up something locally and called a public meeting to gauge the level of interest. He hired a space in the Old Orchard Shopping Centre in North Blackburn, set a date and promoted it through the newspaper.

Coincidentally, at that same time, the Mitcham Methodist Church had moved to join the Presbyterians in a joint building venture which had just achieved completion. The very night that George called for the choir meeting, the Mountview Church property committee was meeting to allocate space for community rent.

“I should have been at that committee meeting but I apologised and went over there (to join George) Well, when we looked around and saw the number of people who were enthusiastic about the idea of starting a group, we realised things were going to roll.  The meeting continued with everyone agreeing that Monday night would suit, if only a space could be found.”2

Experiencing a light bulb moment, John told everyone to talk amongst themselves, then hopped in his car and gunned over to the Property Committee meeting. “I rushed in, said, ‘Have you finished the meeting? Do you have any space on a Monday night? With a piano?? Yes? Yes!’ ”

The first rehearsal of the Maroondah Singers was held in Mountview Church Hall the following Monday night in 1968, and has continued as a weekly event ever since. Numbers grew quickly under the leadership of Jim Watsford who, at that time, was conductor of the Mitcham Choral Society:  “Jim came to that meeting in the hope of securing recruits for MCS.  Instead, he got a whole new choir!”

Following Jim’s belief, “if you can follow the words you can sing” the Maroondah Singers was destined to be a success.

Within twelve months the choir had given its first performance with George publicising the event through the newspaper once again, and John continuing to use his powers of persuasion to recruit Lela Wright, his church organist as their first accompanist. (She stayed ten years.)

Fifty years on, and the Maroondah Singers has sung at venues all over Victoria including the MCG for a grand final, for nine years as part of Carols by Candlelight, the Myer Music Bowl, regional church halls, the Dallas Brookes Centre, and Melbourne Town Hall, among others. The Singers is an inclusive and welcoming bunch and Monday night rehearsals are open to anyone keen to drop by and listen. It isn’t essential to read music and there are no auditions, however there is a voice and ear test to determine a singers’ part.

“We’ve never said no – we’re full, to anyone who has wanted to join so we have a lot of sopranos and could do with more tenors. There are more women than men in the choir and a couple of them have moved from the alto line to sing tenor, which works well. And we’re always trying to find younger people, if we can.” Some members of the Maroondah Singers weren’t even born when George and John held that first public meeting, half a century ago!

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Carols by Candlelight circa 1984: Courtesy: Arts Centre Melbourne, Laurie Richards Archive, Australian Performing Arts Collection

Since 1991, young singers have been drawn to the choir each year through a scholarship program established to commemorate three of the choir’s founders, George Irvine, and May and Mervyn Vagg, the choir’s first President. This program has proved a sensational singing springboard with past scholarship singers now working with international and State operas, and the process and experience providing a huge amount of pleasure to the choir members in supporting and encouraging these young singers during the early stages of their musical journeys.

Maroondah Singers pride themselves on performing from memory, firing on all neurological cylinders and giving their brains a weekly work out with songs from a wide repertoire by composers from Handel and Verdi to Rodgers and Hammerstein; Elton John to Billy Joel and beyond.

Currently directed by Lyn Henshall and accompanied by Dr John Atwell (who returned in 2010 for a second stint with the choir having previously accompanied them between 1980 and1997) the choir also sings in Japanese, Italian and Latin, and holds an impressive back catalogue including ‘Big Sings’ such as Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah and Handel’s Messiah. From time to time the singers team up for performances with other choirs and their comrades in the Maroondah Symphony Orchestra.

There is no pressure on anyone to ‘perform’ until they feel confident and ready to take this step.

“Everyone is issued with a CD with their part line, explains John, in my case Bass 1, emphasised in a digital recording of the score. All the items for the forthcoming concert are on that CD. Alternatively, they can be downloaded as an MP3 file. Playing these through with the music reinforces the memory, then without the music which strengthens it further.”

Innovation is an important contributor to longevity and the Maroondah Singers is enterprisingly equipped to hit the road and share its songs, thanks to a pop-up tiered platform designed to hold up to 100 singers. Bringing his background in engineering to the fore, John drew up designs for the staging, held a working bee at a college woodworking centre one weekend, and the end result packs down into a trailer, perfect for regional touring.

John’s commitment to the Maroondah Singers and his love of singing and community is evident. For the past 50 years he’s helped out in various ways to keep things going with the choir when needed, including as President for thirteen years and stepping up on the rostrum as leader for a while, in spite of a physical disability in one arm:

“I got the message over, I couldn’t wave two hands about all over the place but I could wave one, nod my head and smile. I get a lot of satisfaction from singing, I get a lot of satisfaction from conducting…. it was deeply satisfying to have to step up at short notice to conduct 104 singers to an audience of 800.”

His warmth and dedication is clear. Every choir needs a John.

Strong endorphin fuelled bonds have been forged between the Maroondah Singers members over the years as they do in all community choirs. When former member, Bill Holmes, was forced to retire due to ill health, he struggled without any family to look after him. ‘Team Bill’ came together from within the choir and closed ranks around him:

“We took care of him in his home until his health deteriorated to a point he could no longer stay. We were fortunate to get  him into respite care. We were then able to continue to support Bill until he died in January this year. We saw him through and the four of us were at his bedside singing to a Maroondah Singers CD to him as he died. We knew he could hear us even though he was in and out of consciousness. And we sang him out.”

What greater testimony could a community choir have? At the end of the day, we sing together to connect. It’s the connections we forge whilst doing what we love that enrich our lives and extend out into the wider community, strengthening the quality of its fabric for everyone.

The story and spirit of the Maroondah Singers is certainly one to celebrate. Here’s to John; here’s to each and every one of the Maroondah Singers, past present and future and here’s to the next fifty years of singing and music making in Mitcham and in communities everywhere.

Written by Deb Carveth with thanks to John Williams and Nick Hansen

1: John was also the founding member of the Methodist Youth Singers
2: there were 45 people present at the public meeting called by George Vagg in 1968

*The Maroondah Singers will celebrate a special 50th Anniversary concert on Sunday June 17 at Melba College Theatre, 20 Brentnall, Road, Croydon starting at 2.30pm. The spectacular concert will feature the choir’s past four Vocal Scholars. Tickets are $30 Adult, $25 Concession, under 12 Free. Bookings: https://www.trybooking.com/373628. Contact: Anne on 0422 050 323.

 

 

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Weaving homespun tunes into the fabric of daily family life

“… 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.’

Uke 5Woody 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.

RESOURCES:

* 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.

Woody’s debut album is available from his website which includes wonderful family collaborations. Check it out here here. You can keep up to date with his activities on his Facebook Page

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/

Undermining Adani with the Melbourne Climate Choir

“This particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.” 

If you were in Melbourne’s Fed Square last Saturday evening, chances are you’ll have heard the recently re-formed Melbourne Climate Choir in action on stage as part of their quest to raise awareness of the ongoing ‘Stop Adani’ campaign.

The Climate Choir first came together two years ago, formed by community musician and activist Jeannie Marsh, in collaboration with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) to bring a singing component to the People’s Climate March.  Jeannie was aware of the need for accessible, catchy songs and simple call and response material  for the choir to sing on the steps of the State library and along the Climate March route, as an alternative to the throat-wrecking cry of ‘what do we want, when do we want it.’

In her quest, Jeannie unearthed not only the extensive array of tune-age available on the Carbon Canaries website but also dug up Do it Now, a re-working of Bella Ciao, an Italian Partisan song popular in the Union movement and arranged by an ‘excellent’ group of choral activists based in Belgium, called Sing for the Climate.

“Their version of the song comes with all the resources you could possibly need to use at a rally or action: sheet music, instrumental parts, lyrics sheets, different keys, etc and it’s one of the most powerful and catchy pieces of “protest art” I have ever seen”, says Jeannie. “We have sung this song repeatedly at many events around Melbourne, and people always love it.” Do it Now is an urgent plea to world leaders to commit to ‘reducing carbon emissions, year on year, and highlights the need for strong leadership on climate change to put a stop on the devastation it brings to the world.’

Jeannie has found the song’s structure works really well in a protest setting because it’s bouncy, it’s fun, people know the tune and it’s easy to pick up and sing along to:

We need to wake up
We need to wise up
We need to open our eyes and do it now, now, now!
We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now…

“It’s incredibly powerful to be there standing on the steps of the state library with a choir of forty people, an accordion and a trombone and people say that they find it very positive because, you know, Climate Change is a depressing topic…”

Th increased presence of Stop Adani campaigns in the press over the past year or so and the depressing prospect of Australia leading us all into a fossil-fuelled future re-ignited in Jeannie a desire to bring members of the Melbourne Climate Choir back together with a renewed sense of purpose, tuning in once more to the work of the ACF and the group of community singing activists reformed earlier this year:

“I saw all these actions around the place and in politicians’ offices and just thought ‘isn’t that great’ and that maybe it was time to get singing again.”

Jeannie put the word out to all the people who’d identified themselves previously through the work with the ACF in 2015 and before long had a flock of songbirds congregating to sing ‘Do it Now’ outside the office of Josh Frydenberg, Federal MP for Kooyong and Minister for Resources and Energy. Jeannie recalls the event as being ‘really joyful.’

“There was an accordion, the media turned up, people gave speeches, there were plenty of placards and people with banners all processing across the middle of busy Camberwell Junction (where Frydenberg’s office is based). Passers-by were blowing their horns and waving in solidarity. So, I then decided to take up an offer from the ACF to use a room and go through some other songs.”

Jeannie continues, “this particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.”

The Climate Choir has collated a sheet of songs using material from the Carbon Canaries, including Why dig up coal.. to the tune of YMCA complete with all the actions, and Love and Marriage as you’ve never heard it before, the words of which go something like ‘Reefs and fossil fuels, reefs and fossil fuels, go together like babies and power tools…Jeannie feels that ultimately it’s about keeping things fun but being heard about a subject which incites passion in people who would otherwise feel disempowered:

 “Community Choirs are such a huge thing in Melbourne. You can really make noise and it’s beautiful and it’s uplifting and it’s ultimately empowering.”

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh

To find out more about the Melbourne Climate Choir, contact Community Music Victoria

*Feature photograph and all photographs in this article were taken by Julian Meehan for the Melbourne Branch of ‘Stop Adani’ at the screening of Guarding the Galilee in Federation Square, Melbourne, Saturday September 16th, 2017

This article is part 2 of the previous CMVic blog article: Carbon Canaries sing out for Climate Change.

 

 

 

Singing aids the sound of silence for snorers

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photo by Cris Saur

If all you crave at night is the sound of silence, encouraging somebody who snores to sing for their supper could be the key to a peaceful night’s sleep, and the clip below will be music to your ears. We know from experience that an interrupted sleep pattern impacts negatively on concentration levels and increases the likeliness of accidents and mistakes during our waking hours.

Snoring can also lead to loss of friends if we’re putting up enough zeds to disrupt the sleep of others on a regular basis, and when we’re tired, we become more susceptible to illness so the ramifications of this nocturnal behaviour can be detrimental to the general health and well being of everyone in the fall out zone.

Having first hand experience of a partner who snored, British community choir director and composer, Alise Ojay, designed and created a set of simple singing exercises, Singing for Snorers, focussed on strengthening the soft tissues of the palate and the upper throat, specifically the pharyngeal muscles which, like any other areas of the body, grow slack without exercise.

Sorry folks, it’s true: even your epiglotiss needs a work out. But don’t lose heart at this point, because it’s where the good news begins: Epiglottal flaps don’t require tread mills or gym memberships to start shaping up. All that’s required is for the soon to be proud owner of the pharyngeal muscles to open their mouth and sing, making the sounds ‘ung’ and ‘gar’ a practise Alise Ojat refers to as ‘giving the whole snoring apparatus a work out.’

Alise, a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners network, undertook her initial research to determine whether singing exercises could in fact be used as a non-invasive treatment to increase muscle tone in the tissues of the throat in 2000, as an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. A clinical trial followed in May 2013 involving a study group of 93 patients who completed a self-guided treatment programme of singing exercises, performing from a 3CD boxed set for 20 minutes daily.

The findings of the trial concluded that use of singing exercises to strengthen the throat across a period of three months  contributed significantly to a reduction of snoring pollution in the atmosphere. It demonstrated that singing holds real potential to improve the health and wellbeing not only of snorers, but the quality of life for their partners and housemates, too:

“The Epworth Sleepiness Scale  improved significantly in the experimental group compared to the control group. The frequency of snoring also reduced significantly in the experimental group and loudness of snoring showed a trend to improvement…” The research write up concluded:

Improving the tone and strength of pharyngeal muscles with a 3 months programme of daily singing exercises reduces the severity, frequency and loudness of snoring, and improves symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnoea.”

So if you’re living with somebody who snores, or if you suspect that you are susceptible to it yourself, try frequent singing exercises (and singing more frequently!) as an early approach to addressing the issue and set to work on achieving a set of buff pharyngeal muscles: they’re understatedly sexy and guaranteed to make you better off in bed.

A list of singing groups across Victoria can be found on the groups page of the Community Music Victoria website to assist you in your mission and a link to Alise’s Singing for Snorers exercises can be found on the CMVic online repertoire resources page. Let us know how you go!

Reference: Singing Exercises Improve Sleepiness and Frequency of Snoring among Snorers—A Randomised Controlled Trial

Written by Deb Carveth, online Editor for Community Music Victoria

 

There’s no place like Tecoma: A new peace choir celebrates the positive things in life

There’s a new drop-in choir in Tecoma, that’s all about feeling good, celebrating resilience and being grateful for Community, our safety and the Environment. During the time when Singing Leader and Community Music Activist Barb McFarlane was planning to form Tecoma Peace Choir, Donald Trump was elected to the stage and the ensuing political pantomime has done nothing to reassure anyone about the state of the world:

“These are turbulent times and people want a bit of escape, they want to go to a zone where none of that’s even mentioned, they want to believe that all could be well because we’re singing about it being well…”

The desire underpinning and driving Barb’s vision for the Tecoma Peace Choir is to promote affirmation of the positive things in life. It’s about making the world a better place through positive celebration of self rather than singing about specific causes. To facilitate this, Barb writes simple chants to affirm the positive things in life. Singing simple and meaningful ‘mantras’ in English that give out messages of positivity:

“We had a really big storm here last year and there was a lot of damage; trees were down and the power went out, businesses flooded. While there was lots of damage and danger, I recognised that we had all the help we needed to restore power, fix roads and buildings and that people are very well looked after in situations like this in our country. In gratitude, I had one line running through my head “I am safe and I am well’ and it turned into this: ‘We are safe and well, We are warm and dry.’ “

I worked it into a boppy little 8 part ‘thing’ on garage band and taught it at choir at the next opportunity. It’s a reminder that mostly, in this lucky country, we are all fine, we’re all alive, safe and walking around, and that we could be grateful for that.

A few other chants penned by Barb are:

  • “ I’ve been forged in the fire of life and I am strong…..woah!”
  • “ Deep river of love X3 Carry me, carry me  Deep river of love”
  • “ I remember I remember I remember who I am”

Tecoma Peace Choir is inclusive of people with all abilities and highly accessible in terms of material. It operates on a drop in or ‘low commitment’ basis where people can pop along and have a sing, even if this happens only once every few weeks. As the perceived pace of our lives picks up, the model of Barb’s new choir offers people with busy lives the chance to stop everything and slow right down into a different space for a little while: “It’s inclusive of people who work really long hours, work shift work, or who just have a lot going on in their lives. It provides an opportunity to sing without any commitment or guilt!”

Each week there is toning, improv, sound baths, and percussion jamming. Songs are chosen with a focus on peace, hope, resilience, comfort and fun and Barb makes sure there is a good ‘play’ component to each session, too.  In compiling the program for a group without not knowing exactly who will be coming along, Barb draws up a Plan A and B. ‘I’ll write a song name down, add an alternative and I know at what point during the session I’ll change my mind.”

Barb is also planning to incorporate some yoga and breathing practice into the structure with a view to encouraging people to bring a pillow and a blanket as part of the process of reaching peace.

“The emphasis is on feeling good. In modern times people are so stressed and really need a space for relaxation.”

Barb has been incorporating yoga into singing sessions as she’s studying and will soon be a Dru Yoga student teacher.  There are many benefits – physical, mental and emotional from both singing and yoga and combining them works beautifully.

“I’ve been adding sounds to movement and using sound and singing as a relaxation tool for many years and that feels pretty good.”

Tecoma has a rich and very inclusive community outreach program emanating from the Tecoma Uniting Church, including a Community garden and a Food is Free initiative, where people share their garden produce or store cupboard contents. This provides a source of food for people who need it and is run along the lines of take what you want, leave what you don’t and share what you have with love.

The Hills Food Frontier, a group dedicated to promoting healthy eating and growing is also based there. Barb brings gardenny songs to some of their events and working bees and now Tecoma Peace Choir’s home is based in the Uniting Church Chapel.  “There are so many things already going on there, it’s a very happening sort of place.” All of the activities grow from the sense of sharing and connection  evident within the community made famous when it took on McDonalds, campaigning against the fast food giant and holding off the development of a restaurant in the town for three years.

Above all, Barb hopes the Peace Choir will provide ‘a bit of a service’ to people who want to sing, but can’t commit to a performance choir due to work or life.

“I imagine as things go on that I’ll see the same things happen as in other groups… watching the friendships develop is always lovely, especially for the single people who wish to be with other people in a meaningful way”

Barb also hopes to see some blokes dropping in to sing with Tecoma Peace Choir: “I would love to think that blokes feel comfortable to come and have a sing too. It’s great having the full range of human tones singing together.”

Article by Deb Carveth with Barb McFarlane.

Tecoma Peace Choir meets Tuesdays during school terms from 7 – 8.30pm at Tecoma Uniting Church,1566 Burwood Highway, Tecoma.  For information, contact Barb McFarlane: 0407 548 165

Have you heard what’s happening in Girgarre?

Girgarre is a small rural township situated in the Goulbourn Valley in Northern Victoria. Surrounded by dairy farms it’s taken a few knocks in recent years. Falling milk prices and drought have impacted the livelihoods of local farmers and in 2012, the Heinz tomato processing factory closed its doors for the last time putting 146 people out of work.

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Girgarre Town Hall

The town’s infrastructure suffered in the fall out. Local shops shut and people started moving away to find work and opportunities elsewhere. But for all the adversity they’ve faced, a big community heart continues to beat strongly in Girgarre. The monthly community music phenomenon, Jigarre Jammin’ has the moto: “Don’t die wishing you’d done it” and it seems this attitude runs deep through its streets.

Not prepared to give in to decline, the people of Girgarre took the bull by the horns and applied to Regional Arts Victoria’s Small Town Transformation initiative; an invitation to small towns across Victoria ‘to be ambitious in imagining what transformation might mean for their town – now and into the future.’

Girgarre was one of  six small towns constituting less than 6,000 people selected to receive $350,000 each over two years “for projects that realise big ideas” and puts artistic practice at the centre of community life.

The official title of the Girgarre Revival is ‘The Sound of Our Spirit Rising’ and will explore the concepts of common ground and connection to place through the medium of sound. Members of the community will work together with three internationally recognised artists to develop the project, which will run until October 2018.

In November, electronic light and sound artist Robin Fox unveiled the first in a series of temporary installations, a huge, human-activated theremin* built in Girgarre’s public reserve next to the town hall. It’s an intuitive structure, activated by the movements of up to eight bodies in the electromagnetic field around it and emitting notes, samples and tones into the air, in response.

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The Theremin by Robin Fox at its launch in Girgarre on November 12. Photo taken from Regional Arts Victoria’s gallery of the launch.

 

Local Girgarre quilters will work in collaboration with Gloria Loughman, an award winning quilter, curator and teacher to create new quilted acoustic sound curtains for the town hall, a focal point in the community and home to the monthly meeting of Jigarre Jammin’.

And for the next three months, composer and musical director Graeme Leake is taking up residency in Girgarre.  Graeme, who has been involved with numerous grass roots music making projects such as Raising the Roof,  and  The Musical Fence in Winton, Queensland, will be working with members of the community to design and build a series of permanent sound installations including an interactive sound sculpture on the boundary of the local school which will become the centrepiece of a community concert, and something everyone can come and play together.

Graeme will also be running a series of open workshops in music skills and instrument making for both Girgarre residents and visitors to the town. The plan is for the community to develop their skills and for a community orchestra to be formed, playing a series of cast off objects which have been salvaged and reinvented as musical instruments.

“All of my activities will be located in the ex-supermarket which will become a music making and playing ‘shed’.  Anyone can drop in and work on their creation, attend workshops or music skills classes, or help design and construct the school fence sound sculpture.”

If you’re reading this and thinking how cool the revival of Girgarre is already sounding, there’s a way you can be involved and support Girgarre and Graeme in their mission. The hunt is on for  ‘junk’ to transform into musical instruments for the orchestra to play. From hubcaps to tea chests, old broken instruments to broomsticks, the list is endless and can be read here together with the important details about how to unite Graeme’s trunk with your junk.

The determination of the population of Girgarre to transform the town and Graeme’s call for cast offs are great reminders that when something is broken, damaged or temporarily impaired, it doesn’t have to spell disaster or the end. A fresh way of looking at things and the ability to find positivity and new purpose in the familiar is what drives innovation and sparks creativity.

Cultivating a brighter future through the involvement of community, sound, music, and collaboration,  the rising spirit of Girgarre is a sound that’s sure to be heard and celebrated, far and wide.

*If you’re in the vicinity,  stop off at Girgarre Public Reserve on Winter Rd and have a play with the giant theremin between 10am and 5pm every day until April 2017.

Follow the transformation of Girgarre and Graeme Leake’s involvement with the project here.

The next meeting of Jigarre Jammin is on February 25th 10.30am til 4pm at Girgarre Hall, 9 Morgan Crescent, Girgarre, VIC 3624

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Mayhem in Mirboo North

Twice a week Mayhem breaks out in the life of Gippsland based Singing Leader, Jane Coker. This has nothing to do with escaped chooks or lost car keys, Mayhem is a music and drama group, organised by Scope and facilitated by Jane, for adults from day centres in Traralgon, Wonthaggi, and Warragul. Everyone comes together at the Grainstore, a beautiful old wooden building in Mirboo North, to sing and dance and meet other people. It’s about therapy, fun and having a good time together. It’s about making a racket and making a mess. And it’s awesome.

The group are extremely wide ranging in their abilities, some people are really high functioning, others communicate with the blink of an eye and Jane runs the group by herself. Five or six carers come along and take care of the physical needs of participants, assisting them with morning tea at the start of each session and with lunch at the end, as well as helping them to take part in the activities.

The group was established by Jane’s mate, Kate Jackson, who recognised a need in the area for this type of group and was doing all she could to enable people to have a creative experience. When the time came for her to hand over to somebody else, she approached Jane who had no previous experience of leading a group of people with such diverse abilities.

“Kate was getting people singing, she was getting people dancing, she was doing a bit of drama. I looked at it and thought, well, I reckon I’ve done enough of this in my life, I think I can probably have a go at that and I’ll treat it as a training course because everything I’ve ever learnt around Community Arts Development in my life has been learnt on the job.”

Jane decided to train herself, try leading Mayhem for a year and see if she liked it driven by her guiding principle: To find a way to enable everyone in this group to participate in some way in what’s going on. The next question then, was how? How to do this with such a mixed group?

To begin with, Jane took a lot of guidance from the carers. While it’s obvious to see when some people are participating, with others this is more difficult particularly if you don’t recognise the significance of the sentiment they’re relaying with their eyes or from their movements or the sounds that they make.  For one or two of the participants, it is hard for anyone to decipher whether they’re benefitting from taking part or not and for them Jane believes Mayhem has to exist as a sensory experience in as much as they’re having something happen as opposed to having nothing happen around them and this, perhaps,  is as participatory as it can be.

Jane approaches leading Mayhem as she does all her other groups. People are people.

‘If my main aim is full participation and I’ve got to fathom out how to get somebody to participate where it’s not obvious and it’s not easy, the only way to go about facilitating that is (a) To collect as much information about each person as I can, and I engage the carers to make sure they are part of the whole process, and (b) to actually engage with that person as much as I possibly can and try to find out how I can have a relationship with them. It might just be the tiniest thing like a finger uncurling when I touch their hand but if that happens repeatedly, that’s feedback and that’s me developing a relationship with that person.’

Over the course of the past four years, Jane has learnt a lot about the subtlety of changes in the facial expressions of  participants: ‘I’ve really learnt to to recognise the sounds and the subtle little changes in their faces and their eyes….I’d never had that experience before and it has been amazing.’

Jane begins and ends each session with the same song. To begin with she thought everyone would grow really bored of this, but the opposite has happened, and they love it. And the more they do it, the more they know it. For some of them, it has taken four years to develop the confidence to sing that song and Jane recognises this as something working with Mayhem has taught her: there is so much to be said for repetition of material.

Using the same song also acts as an effective signal to everyone that the class has begun, and that it has ended so that even if they don’t really know what’s going on, people have a sense that something is in process and that they are a part of it.

Music played on the PA gets the Mayhem mob dancing and taking it in turn to pick the tunes which vary from ABBA to YMCA, to Pink and everything in between, reflecting the range in their ages.  While the dancing is taking place, anyone in a wheelchair is helped to move by Jane and the carers: ‘It’s dancing in the broadest sense with some people dancing in their minds.’

‘One guy’s into really heavy aggressive rap, and I draw the line there as the material isn’t suitable to impose on other people and politically I can’t play it myself, but he participates fully in other ways, and I talk to him about why I don’t play his stuff and I think he gets it!’

Singing through the microphone proves popular, offering a lot of fun and visibly increased confidence to the singers. Jane says ‘I never thought I’d think that was a good thing to do but I do! Because it’s what they see on the TV and it enables them to do something that they recognise and they have a LOT of fun doing it… And while they’re doing that, everyone else is dancing and using really nice bright coloured pom poms and stuff to dance with, twirling around, there’s a lot of colour and everyone’s doing their own thing, and it is, well, mayhem!!’

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Jane in dress-up mode at CMVic’s 2016 Music Camp

Jane uses a big pile of percussion and dressing up clothes with Mayhem. Because there’s no funding for this, she spends spare time scouring op shops for anything they can use in the group. For anyone who can’t physically grip a shaker or move their hands, Jane has made velcro variations and modified instruments which can be strapped onto an arm, enabling that person to make music and she’s always on the look-out for instruments that can be adapted. Soft stuff comes in handy too, as there are a lot of participants who throw things.

“If I can find a soft ball with a bell inside it, that’s perfect because it can be used as an instrument but when it’s thrown, it doesn’t decapitate anybody…”

Call and response features heavily in Mayhem, techniques learnt by Jane through voice-work training workshops. “I make sounds  to the group, they make sounds back at me, and it’s a beautiful thing because people who are non-verbal do still use their voices a lot  and will do that when invited to do so. So they’ll make sounds and we can make them back, and in this way they are participating fully.

There is a basic sign language called Key Word Sign used by the carers to indicate food, going to the toilet, etc, and Jane feels this is a skill which should be developed and taught more widely: ‘If I was able to go on some sort of course to learn Key Word Sign, or the appropriate sign language to use with people which is used across the board in those kind of facilities, that would really add to my skills.’

A forum was held at the recent CMVic Singing Camp between singing leaders working with marginalised sectors including disability.  Jane found being a part of this conversation invaluable because it reinforced her belief that the best way to develop confidence and strength in your own ability is to network with other people who are doing the same kind of thing:

‘Have a phone conversation with somebody, go to their group, see what they’re doing and participate. If you can apprentice yourself to somebody else who is doing it, that would be amazing, but this is a little bit unlikely, given that we are so few and far between. It might work better in the city…’*

Now into her fifth year working with Mayhem, Jane reflects on how it has become easier as time has gone on. “I’d say the training course took two and a half years of me leading the group once a week, and since then I’ve led it twice a week. And now I feel confident in doing what I go there to do. It’s about the fun, the relationships and the positive attitude…

“I love the fact that I’ve proved to myself that the principle of as much inclusion as possible, in the moment that you’re in is the one that works best.”

 Article by Deb Carveth with Jane Coker

 If you have any percussion instruments, shakers, bells, or things which are fun to play that you would like to give Jane and Mayhem, let us know!

RESOURCES:

If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on jane.coker@bigpond.com

*Music Action is a closed Facebook group run by Melissa Murphy for people facilitating all abilities music groups for adolescents and adults. It’s an ideal forum to share ideas, news and conversation.

Dunroamin? Just startin! A hot stepping new street band hits the streets of Dunolly

Picture the scene: a large group of leather clad bikers on a pit stop; add a healthy dose of community musicians into the mix, and what do you get? Broadway, a street through the small, regional town of Dunolly, last Saturday afternoon.

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A scene from Broadway, Dunolly

The latest addition to the CMVic StreetSounds project shook its collective feathers and stepped blinking into the light at 2pm last Saturday as the new and perfectly formed Dunolly Street Band. Emerging from the Ministry of Fun after less than two hours playing together, the fledgling band wasted no time in taking their newly learnt tunes into the street, where the bikers proved an enthusiastic audience for the horns, ukes, flute and accordion players.

Anna and Phil Ashton who organised the afternoon in collaboration with StreetSounds project manager, Lyndal Chambers, declared it it loads of fun and a total success.

“It was nicely low key and I don’t think anybody was scared!”

Anna was inspired to start a Street band in Dunolly after hearing about the opportunities offered by other bands emerging from the project, particularly the Kyneton Street Band, led by Andy Rigby, but still more than an hour’s drive from Dunolly. For Anna and Phil,

“It didn’t make sense to be part of a street band anywhere else.”

The last community brass band in the town finished up about fifteen years ago. A Ukulele group formed a couple of months ago, but for players of more honky and stronger sounding instruments, an opportunity to gather regularly has been a long time coming. Once she knew support from Lyndal Chambers and Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds* project would support her vision of a Street Band for Dunolly, Anna felt the idea was too good to pass up and set the wheels in motion, posting publicity within the community and on Facebook. A street band is a fantastic way to bring together local people from all age groups and backgrounds, playing different types of instruments in different ways; a wonderful smorgasbord of sounds and skills.

As the promotional poster for Dunolly Street Band promised, ‘absolutely no experience needed, just come and play for fun.’

Anna admits she felt a bit nervous about numbers ahead of the gathering on Saturday. Strat (Brian Strating) and Lyndal were travelling up from Gippsland to help facilitate and Anna wanted them to have a good ole group to lead when they arrived. She needn’t have worried. Keen community musos travelled from the other side of Newstead and Bendigo to join local Dunollians, including a musician fairly new to the area which is what it’s all about, after all.  Anna knows other people are out there and keen for the band to happen, who simply couldn’t make it along last Saturday.

Following this hugely successful inaugural get together, there are plans to carry the band forwards into a bright (and brassy) future, and working together with Phil’s uke group. Anna is also hoping to encourage local school kids and their families to try it, too.

By the time the StreetSounds festival rolls around next May, it sounds like there will be a thriving Dunolly contingent out in the throng on the streets of Geelong.

And what happened to the bikers? They gave the new Dunolly Street Band an encouraging round of applause before heading off through the Central Goldfields, chasing the dissipating, freed-up notes of newly learnt tunes as they dispersed into the atmosphere.

Below is a video clip of the band in action, out on Broadway. (Thanks to band member Judy Meldrum for the footage)

Article by Deb Carveth with Anna Ashton

Join the Dunolly Street Band! The band is in the process of arranging its next rehearsal. To be a part of it, contact Anna and Phil: 0490 077 902

*StreetSounds is a major project that resulted from the Victoria Makes Music Program and started in January 2015 with the help of funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the R E Ross Trust.  The project aims to create at least 10 new street bands in Victoria and will run until Dec 2017 – find out more about StreetSounds here.

 

 

Where StreetSounds Meets Sounds of Country

Dr Laura Brearley

Last week, members of Boomulele, the StreetSounds Street Band from Morwell, took part in a Ceremony at the Latrobe Regional Arts Gallery to mark the end of the Sounds of Country exhibition and to celebrate the community of Aboriginal artists within it. The Sounds of Country exhibition explored the Aboriginal concept of Deep Listening, revealing the relationship the Aboriginal artists have to the land and to the natural world.

The Sounds of Country Ceremony was conducted as a Deep Listening Circle. About 45 people participated in the event which included local Aboriginal artists, community members, guests from the Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place, the Torch Project and staff from local organisations and educational institutions. The oldest participant was 89 and the youngest was 10.

It was the first time the Boomulele Ukulele and Percussion Group had played in public and they did a marvellous job, performing strongly and including everyone. Boomulele is one of ten Street Bands within the Community Music Victoria’s StreetSounds project, each of which is making a unique contribution to cultural community development within its region.

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Mick Harding ‘Taungwurrung Goork-Ngada Biik Blood Country, 2016 with Lisa Kennedy and Laura Brearley’s ‘Magic Dilly Bag Circle’, 2016

Before the Ceremony, Lyndal Chambers and Brian (Strat) Strating led a rehearsal with Boomulele and other community members, creating a sense of fun and inclusivity. Ronald Edwards, a Traditional Custodian then welcomed people to his Country and Boomulele led everyone in a Gunaikurnai Acknowledgment Song. During the Ceremony, artists and community members shared stories about their creative practice and a dancer from Wulgunggo Ngalu spontaneously performed a Creation Dance around Ronald Edwards’ painting which lay in the centre of the Circle. At the end of the Ceremony, Boomulele performed ‘Djapana (Sunset Dreaming)’ and it raised the roof.

One of the participants in the Circle was Jeannie Haughton, a local playwright. This is how she described her experience of being part of the Sounds of Country Ceremony:

I feel

the embrace

of a safe place

it wraps me in welcome

I listen

heartfelt words

and pictures leave

traces and tracks in the air

breathe deeply

a long slow outbreath

letting go of everything

but the now

stories

the unspoken

reading wisdom in the lines

on faces

voices from the strong

the fragile cradled

all joining in song, and dance

connecting as one

The combination of music, dance, art and the exchange of stories at the Sounds of Country ceremony led to a strong feeling of community and connection in the room. It was a living example of Deep Listening, a way of listening which goes well beyond what we can hear with our ears. To listen deeply, we need to take time to engage and to create space in which genuine contact can be made.

Boomulele and the SteeetSounds project are making a significant contribution to creating spaces like these across the State.

Feature image: Ronald Edwards: Telling stories on Gunai Country, (detail)2016 acrylic on canvas 

For more information about the StreetSounds project, go to https://cmvic.org.au/pages/streetsounds