Tag Archives: community music

A Community in Action

Dr Laura Brearley

Terry and I have been walking and filming in the Coastal Woodlands over the last couple of weeks. We’ve also been spending time with singing and ukulele groups who have been learning the song ‘Are You Listening?’ for the outro of a film we are making about the precious Western Port Woodlands, currently at risk from sandmining expansion. 

We have been inspired by the community’s willingness to come together and raise their voices in this way. This week, we have worked with two of Mandy Farr’s local ukulele groups, one at the Warrawee Senior Citizens Club in Inverloch and another at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre. There we were joined by members of the Bass Coast Post community and the Gippsland Singers Network. We have filmed the Vocal Nosh group at St John’s Uniting Church in Cowes, as well as some Coastal Connections participants singing outside the Wonthaggi Arts Centre. In the middle of the week, a group of us sang together and went for a walk in The Gurdies Nature Conservation Reserve, led by knowledgeable birder and conservationist Gil Smith. Last weekend, the Melbourne Climate Choir gathered in a park in Brunswick to sing for the film in support of the Western Port Woodlands campaign. The Climate Choir brings together members of different choirs from across Melbourne to support environmental actions. 

Next week, the U3A Choir on Phillip Island will be learning and singing the ‘Are You Listening?’ song. We will also be filming members of the Melbourne-based ‘Music for a Warming World’ collective and a choir from the ‘Save Western Port’ community, who are offering their support from the other side of the Bay in Balnarring. 

Nicki Johnson is a musician, an environmental activist and the Program Coordinator at Community Music Victoria. We have worked and sung together in environmental and intercultural arts projects in Bass Coast and beyond over a number of years. Nicki performed at the 2019 Island Whale Festival and has facilitated singing and ukulele workshops at Community Music Victoria’s Music Camps in Grantville. Terry has made a short film about Nicki’s work as a singing leader which reveals her commitment to climate justice and her approach to interweaving music and environmental action:

Nicki believes that community music can play an important role in raising awareness about environmental issues. In her words …

‘Music has a way of bringing us together.  If we venture into the areas of despair and grief, we won’t be able to get any work done. If we don’t feel hope, we can’t go forward effectively. I love to facilitate conversations and sing songs about the planet and the responsibility we have for making sure it is as healthy as possible. 

Singing and playing music opens us up. When we sing with people, our breathing and our heartbeats synchronise and we become one organism vibrating together. This opens our hearts and our senses and we are able to connect. I think the ability to feel connected to other people and to experience empathy is the thing that will really enable us to make a difference. 

I love that when we sing together, we start to resonate together and our hearts open. Singing is 90% listening. Ideas of blending and harmony are not just aural concepts. A choir is a living organism that can teach people how to be in harmony. Harmony is a lived experience. Giving people the opportunity to be heard is a powerful way to move forward together.’

Dr Peter Dann is another community leader who raises environmental awareness and inspires action. Peter is the Research Director of the Phillip Island Nature Parks. He has been working for over forty years in wildlife conservation, with a particular interest in seabirds and shorebirds, the ecology of islands and the conservation of threatened species. Peter was a guest speaker at a General Meeting of the Phillip Island Conservation Society held earlier this year. The topic of his presentation was ‘Ten Remarkable Things about the Natural History of Phillip Island: A Personal List.’ It was a compelling presentation, informative and from my perspective, very moving. Peter’s commitment to conservation was clear, as was the sense of care that has underpinned his decades of scientific work in the field. 

One of the ‘remarkable things’ he spoke about was the successful introduction of a population of Eastern Barred Bandicoots to Phillip Island (Millowl), now extinct in the wild on the mainland. After a successful trial release on Churchill Island, they were introduced to the Summerland Estate on Millowl. Their numbers are growing and the bandicoots are now doing so well, they have also been released onto French Island. 

A sense of possibility and agency was also central to Peter’s story of the buy-back of the Summerland Estate on Millowl, which has enabled the on-going restoration of the Little Penguins’ habitat on the Peninsula. Peter’s stories are engaging and inspiring. I wrote two children’s songs in response to his stories, one about Eastern Barred Bandicoots and one about Little Penguins. Over the coming months, I will be teaching the songs to local children and telling the stories about the conservation work that inspired them. The world our children and grandchildren are inheriting needs stories like these. Here are the links to the songs:

There are many reasons to feel discouraged at times in the conservation field. So much has been lost and continues to be threatened. It’s easy to slip into a sense of despair and powerlessness. The conservation work that Peter as a scientist and Nicki as a musician undertake is vital in the deepest sense of that word. 

On Saturday 17th July, COVID-willing, you can also be part of this life-affirming work that calls for the protection and preservation of the natural world. The Bass Coast Artists Society is hosting an event, Halcyon Harmonies and Reflections Exhibition’ at the Goods Shed in Wonthaggi. There will be photographs on display and local musicians will be performing all day. At 2.00pm, we’ll be facilitating a Pop-Up Conservation Choir to learn and sing the song ‘Are You Listening?’ for the Coastal Woodlands film. You are warmly welcome to join us. The lyrics and recording of the song can be found here.

And if singing publicly is not your thing, there are other ways you can be involved. You can learn to sign-dance the song (a slow form of deaf-signing) or you can be there to simply witness the strength and resolve of our community in action. 

To learn more about the Save Western Port Woodlands campaign and become involved in a range of ways, go to http://www.savewesternportwoodlands.org/

Nicki Johnson with partner Craig Barrie at the 2019 Island Whale Festival – Photo Teresa Cannon
Mandy Farr’s Ukulele Group at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre – Photo Terry Melvin

Written by Dr Laura Brearley
feature photograph: Walking in The Gurdies Nature Conservation Reserve with Gil Smith and friends – Photo Laura Brearley

Making Music, Chocolate for the Soul

By Scarlet Lee

A common mindset when approaching musical participation, especially working collaboratively, is that you need to reach a certain skill set before you can perform. However performance can have many advantages beyond other people enjoying your music.

Community Music Victoria is driven by the belief that every person should have access to the benefits of making music regardless of skill set. Making music can help improve our state of mind and stimulates the brain. Performing in a group provides opportunities to socialise and build friendships, and can also build up our team-based skills.

From personal experience as someone who plays the ukulele, performance is exponentially more enjoyable if it’s in a group. It gives the feeling that you are part of something more and that you’re contributing to something meaningful. It’s as though you are helping create a masterpiece in an auditory art form.

From a medicinal standpoint music can provide clear benefits. In treating depressive illnesses, four out of five trials involving music therapy were shown to be effective, this can be correlated to the brain’s reward centre. When a person is singing or playing music it triggers the reward system in the same way it does for things such as eating chocolate. This indicates that participation in musical activities can improve your mood. Additionally, researchers theorise that music making can stimulate the cerebral cortex which manages higher functions such as memory, correlation and processing of information. By stimulating the cerebral cortex it is essentially providing a warm-up for that area of the brain which allows it to process information more effectively.

Medically speaking, it is evident that there are advantages to playing music, especially in terms of mental health and cognitive function.

Although solo music playing can be constructive, singing and playing music in a group provides all the same health benefits whilst also introducing a social aspect. Making music in a group allows for social interaction and collective catharsis. We can express emotion through music as a group and certain song choices can provoke certain emotions. It also provides a sense of belonging for those included as they are part of a collective, and share experiences with their musical comrades. Friendships can also be built and strengthened through communal music, as everyone is participating in the same thing and building skills and confidence together.

Expanding on this, collective music making can build teamwork and communication skills through working collaboratively with others and learning how to have discussions with fellow group members.

Overall there are many reasons to participate in communal music making. Group music can improve mood and provide a cognitive warm-up, both of which have clear benefits to wellbeing. There is also a strong social aspect involved when playing music with others, and there is a sense of belonging and feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.

As someone learning the ukulele I can personally verify that playing music definitely has its benefits, but when participating in a music group it is far more rewarding. The atmosphere itself is much more lighthearted and warm. There is opportunity for conversation or constructive feedback and you get to appreciate others abilities as well as the group’s as a whole. When you compare this to solo practise or performance you miss all the laughter and joy that comes from collaboration.

There is a strong social aspect involved when playing music with others, and there is a great sense of belonging and feeling that you are contributing to something greater than yourself…

Music is often a key component that relates to many cultures and allows people to be immersed in their culture. The engagement in our own culture is important, as we gain a sense of inclusion within our cultural community. Through music people can gain a stronger understanding of their identity and culture, and the identities and cultures of others. For example in Indigenous Australian culture the stories of creation are told through songs and music, and sacred music performed in ceremonies are a crucial aspect of indigenous culture. In terms of my own culture my father is British, and always enjoys when I play popular British songs on the ukulele. This illustrates how we can connect with our culture and share parts of our culture through music.

Scarlet with her ukulele

Overall there are many reasons to participate in communal music making. Group music can improve mood and provide a cognitive warm-up, both of which have clear benefits to wellbeing. There is also a strong social aspect involved when singing and playing music with others. Friendships and skills develop, and there is a sense of belonging and feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.

Scarlet Lee is a year 10 student and a keen ukulele player who joined the CMVic team for work experience in April and May

Photo supplied

Singing In Step With Leanne Murphy

Over the past ten years, Leanne Murphy, a community musician from North East Victoria, has experimented with ‘a lot of things’ to keep herself and other people energised; running long-term projects, singing groups and ukulele groups.

Since the pandemic began, Leanne has been finding it ‘hard to know what’s what’, with the restrictions around group music-making changing so often in recent months. Not one to let this get her down, Leanne has returned once again to experimenting and having fun in finding new ways of getting back to community singing.

“I’d optimistically do ‘pay in advance for four sessions and invariably, one of them would have to be cancelled and it’s a nightmare having to do refunds and stuff so I’ve just decided I’m going to keep things casual, see how it goes and keep it all nice and fresh!”

Back at the end of March, the first project off the blocks was a Beechworth Easter Sunday Walk and Sing which was run, (well, walked!) by Leanne through Albury Wodonga Bushwalking Club as a freebie for club members.

“Combining bushwalking with singing, I wasn’t certain if anyone would be interested but 16 set off from the Beechworth Powder Magazine at 9am, after entertaining a number of tourists in the carpark with a rendition of Bele Mama (from Cameroon), and one more joined us halfway along the track.” 

The group’s first stop was One Tree Hill where they sang Hamba Nathi, with the English translating as “Come with me for the journey is long” in 3-part harmony.  Then it was on to The Precipice and morning tea, accompanied by Swing Low Sweet Chariot to celebrate the spirit of Easter Sunday. Various other stops along the way included Fiddes Quarry where the group had an audience of one for the haunting round, Be Still And Know by Jokhim Meikle.

 “A delightfully curious lady from Palestine stopped to listen and insisted she definitely did not want to join in.  We did manage to coax her into taking a video though.   By the time the group returned to the Powder Magazine, discussions were already underway about the potentials for a ‘next time’. I realised I’d never done a singing walk before and nobody else on the walk had ever done that before either. It was quite eye opening for me.”

Leanne has been walking with the Border Bushwalkers for around three years now. “They’ve really developed my confidence in how far I can walk and also what kind of challenges I can achieve, so I’ve gone from being somebody who’s never camped or hiked overnight to doing the Great Ocean Walk which is nine days of carrying everything on my back by myself! For me to be able to give something back to the club that I’m qualified to do and lead a walk with people who are very good at bushwalking but may not be as strong with singing, it was a real joy!”

Singing outdoors felt particularly good as Leanne has noticed people feel nervous about singing inside, in spite of the North East having had no recorded cases of COVID.

“There’s an underlying sense of wondering whether we’re allowed, or are we going to get a visit from the authorities looking over our shoulders saying ‘you can’t do singing’ and so I thought let’s just get something going and see who’s still interested in having a sing, and I think that people were just really grateful to have the opportunity to sing together again.”

From May 2, Leanne is running a series of informal, drop-in Sunday singing sessions to help see out the winter months. This project is called ‘Hearth Songs’ a name inspired by the album Hearth by Michael Kennedy. “I really want to do one of the songs off that beautiful album. It’s called ‘Indigo’ and is all about looking after this indigo planet we live on. Because I live in the shire of Indigo I thought it would be a good match up, too!”

Leanne is interested to see how Hearth Songs will go in a venue with casual numbers. “I’m just putting out an intention to the universe, as you do, to say ‘please let the numbers be perfect for this venue! So we’ll see how that goes.”

Prior to COVID, Leanne developed and delivered a program called Spring Sing which was run two consecutive years during October and November, and was enjoying thinking up other, short-term programs. “I used to run a longer-term singing group but couldn’t sustain once a week sessions throughout the whole year, and so I’ve been focussing on programs I know I can manage.”  

Following the success of the Easter Sunday Walk and Sing, Leanne’s hoping to continue with the bushwalking and singing theme to celebrate the springing of Spring, sometime in November. Her vision is to combine a weekly mid-week walk with more, joyous outdoor singing and hopes this will build up the health and stamina of everyone involved:

“We might possibly work up to a weekend hike where people can camp overnight and sing, doesn’t that sound good?”

Until then, drop in and join Leanne for some heart-warming community singing sessions to banish the cold and keep the glow going as we head towards winter. Hearth Songs will be stoking up each Sunday afternoon throughout May and June with chants, rounds and songs to warm your cockles through the cooler seasons.

Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for CMVic, in conversation with Leanne Murphy

Hearth Songs is held from 4-6pm each Sunday at Wooragee Hall. Email leannemurphy@bigpond.com to join the event’s emailing list. Walking boots optional.

Online or On Stage: A look at What’s On with Bruce Watson

As both a song writer and performer, Bruce Watson is always thinking about how to relate to people through his music. “I’m very involved with Community Music Victoria although I’m mostly a solo performer who tries to bring about that musical connection through audience participation rather than teaching or leading groups.”

Over the course of the past year, Bruce has been exploring new ways to do this. The hiatus to live music and performing fed a pre-existing interest in ways to incorporate technology into his music-making practice which was forced to evolve as everything locked down in order to continue.

“I had quite a few gigs lined up which just disappeared and all the CD sales disappeared too. I found myself in a vacuum and I wanted to fill it with something in a way which would benefit my ongoing music career.”

Unwilling to surrender fully to Netflix and bread making, Bruce embarked upon ‘30 songs in 30 days’a daily song-writing challenge conceived as a way to keep himself distracted and busy. As a frequent facilitator of song-writing workshops, Bruce has been a long standing advocate of the ‘just give it a go’ approach. His self-appointed mission was to write a song a day throughout April, last year.

“If you write a song a month, then after a year you’ll probably have 3 or 4 songs that are really good, which you might not have had if you’d sat waiting for the inspiration to come. I’ve always said that, but I haven’t always done it.”

Bruce admits that staying inspired to write a song a day for a month was actually quite hard but having a good level of insight, he promoted it in ways that left himself no wriggle room.

“If you want to do something that you see is a challenge I always think the best way to make it succeed is to tell other people that you’re doing it. If I’d just kept it to myself I might’ve stopped after a week or two, so I posted it all over Facebook and I made a commitment to do a YouTube video every day. Sometimes making the video was even harder than writing the song.”

Bruce started getting good feedback which he describes as ‘a lovely encouraging thing’, but still found there were times when the inspiration wasn’t immediately forthcoming. He had a fallback folder of song ideas and ‘scraps of things’ but found much of April was spent wondering what he would do tomorrow and what he would write about that day. He came to realise that, in the end, something always percolated to the surface.

“To me it was a great illustration of how there’s an awful lot of stuff sitting in all of us in terms of creativity and if we do something to bring it out, if we consciously tap into that, inspiration will actually strike and it’s an amazing thing to realise!”

At the end of the month Bruce felt exhausted but satisfied. “It was something I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do and I did it! I anticipated writing a lot of little bits of songs that weren’t really proper songs, but they ended up being all whole songs. And more of them were of a higher standard than I had expected, in fact I was surprised by the quality I produced under those circumstances” laughs Bruce.

Since the latter part of 2020, Bruce has been part of the CMVic team instrumental in bringing Music Software Workshops to the world. While the pandemic made the need for this knowledge sharing particularly important and brought it to the fore, the MSW team were visionaries who had perceived a need for the implementation and delivery of such a program for some time.

This wasn’t just about COVID it was about the ways software can help to share music for both leaders and music group members.

For some time, Bruce has been using MuseScore, a music notation software, to share music with his panpipe band in a way which allows players to practice at home on their own. “Because of the traditional panpipe playing that we do, any given player only plays half a tune because the scale is split between the notes. It’s like you’re playing a button accordion or a harmonica and only playing the blow notes or the suck notes, so you can’t play a tune by yourself. This means you can’t practice on your own and that makes it harder to learn the material. It’s the same for a choir or any band if you’re singing or playing a harmony against the melody you can use this software to easily create all the parts yourself to practice with, and that’s how I’ve used it.”

Last year, Bruce also got to grips with virtual choir technology, which he tackled in a highly successful experiment using his song, Déjà Vu. This project brought together a number of singers from several different countries who each recorded themselves singing to a backing track provided by Bruce which they uploaded to Dropbox. “I updated my video editing software to DaVinci Resolve and used some of the processes talked about in the music software workshops to plan the project, put all the tracks together and work out how to share files. In some ways file sharing can be the biggest hurdle – which can be very easily overcome.”

Bruce’s ‘Deja Vu’ virtual choir project in the making. Photo: Facebook

“I think what’s happened is that COVID came in and everyone searched for something new, in terms of both technology and how to relate to each other and how the musical experience can be shared and there are some really good things about that that didn’t exist before, and those are things that I don’t think we want to give up, such as sharing music across geography. People can join from remote locations and even from other countries. I’ve been involved with Zoom folk clubs where people have participated from five different continents and it’s been absolutely wonderful. Understanding how to make Zoom work well is something I think people might continue to explore.”

That said, upon his return to live performing a couple of weeks ago, Bruce realised more than ever how the sharing of live music is a tremendous and absolute gift.

“I don’t know whether I ever really took live music for granted because it was always just a part of my life, whereas now I am conscious of what life is like without it and yes, you can share music through Zoom and so on, but it’s not the same.”

Something Bruce loved was seeing people react spontaneously to his new material. “At my first festival since lockdown recently I decided only to perform the 30 songs in 30 days. So every song was a live premiere, which was incredibly nerve wracking and I was very nervous, but it was so good to have these songs exposed to the real world and to be able to judge how people were reacting to them.”

On 2 April, Bruce will be playing live to a small live audience Under the Oaks where he will be encouraging lots of audience participation.  Bruce laughs, “It’s really great with these COVID restrictions because you can have a small, intimate audience AND a sell out!”

“I think for a long time we’ll value that gift of live music and that’s what I’m loving now, to hear people singing back to me. Music was a great connector during COVID but the magic wasn’t quite there. That’s something that only really happens when people gather together and share a physical space, but I’m so grateful that I’ve been going to Zoom folk clubs in the UK and have made new friends along the way too, it’s been really, really great. And there are a couple of people over there singing my new songs now, too!”

Catch Bruce Under the Oaks on 2 April, or stay in touch with his gig guide at brucewatsonmusic.com

Recordings of previous CMVic Music Software Workshops are available on Community Music Victoria’s website, here.

Photographs: Jill Watson via Facebook

Singing Stories for the Fun of Folk

‘Non-stop Australian folk music’ was the soundtrack to Martie Lowenstein’s childhood. Martie, whose mother Wendy Lowenstein was an author, oral historian and co-founder of the Victorian Bush Music Club, is now using the folk songs she heard as a child and incorporating them into an online music history course called ‘History of Australia in Song 1788-1988’. 

“Mum loved Australian history and folk songs. She started the first folk festival in Melbourne, and used to edit the magazine called Australian Tradition which published both traditional and contemporary Australian songs and folklore, so yeah that was her thing!”

In 1969, our whole family travelled around Australia for a year while my mother recorded everyday  peoples’ life stories in the outback, and these songs and stories would play in our small house as she was writing her books. Earlier than that, we used to go to monthly sing-alongs and bush dances run by the Victorian Bush Music Club so I’ve been familiar with traditional Australian songs and music since I was around 7 or 8 years old.”

Apples seldom fall far from the tree and earlier this year Martie decided to go back to her roots and incorporate her family’s love of history and the folk tradition into her own work as a singing leader: 

“I run a singing group down here called “Sing till you Grin”, (on the Mornington Peninsula) and I was getting a bit bored with people wanting to sing the same songs again and again, so I asked what Australian folk songs people knew and they came up with Peter Allen, The Seekers, John Farnham and Waltzing Matilda.  Nobody came up with what I would call real Australian folk songs and that’s when I got the idea for the course.”

The result is an 8-week blend of singing and history following a chronological timeline, and is delivered via Zoom. The songs are short and easy to teach and Martie finds the weaving of history with music suits people who don’t necessarily consider themselves singers or musicians. “We sing for fun”.

“”We cover 200 years of what life was like throughout Australian history, using Australian folk songs, poems and real life stories from 1788 to 1988. The sessions cover a mix of well-known and unfamiliar Australian bush songs, poems and a few of Mum’s real life interviews that are now held in the National Library. That leads to interesting group discussion. I start with the convict era songs, then there’s a week on squatters and settling the land… people really love the bushranger songs, and the bullocky songs.  Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson are the ones they often remember, then through to Slim Dusty and Men at Work. We sing about the gold rush, and of the struggles of the adventurous people who chose to come here to make a better life.  Ordinary people had a tremendous struggle in our rugged environment.”

Along the way, Martie invites contribution from participants and encourages the telling of family history-stories, outback Australian experiences, favourite Australian poems and songs. Every participant gets a copy of the Joy Durst Australian Song Collection to take away and enjoy. (This songbook with music chords and lyrics is available free from the Victorian Folk Music Club website.)

“People will say ‘oh my great-great-great-great grandfather was a convict’ or ‘my grandpa was a settler on this place but lost his land’, so I just let people talk and often they’ll share how their ancestors had this tiny little property but couldn’t make a go of it over here. One lady had an ancestor who came over as a convict. I believe we really don’t know our own history  well, not in-depth, about what conditions were like, what droving was like, what being a convict was like, or being a woman alone in the bush whilst her husband went out droving or shearing to make ends meet.”

Martie addresses the consequences of this period on Indigenous Australians and how colonialism derailed and disrupted Aboriginal life but the emphasis  is on the telling and sharing of White Australian history, as this sits within her own frame of reference.

“We discuss the role of slavery on the cattle stations and how it was the Aboriginal stockmen who kept the Australian cattle industry going, and about the Aboriginal women who were taken off as drover’s wives. I am very familiar with teaching  the white history of Australia but not having the background in Indigenous history or music, we do listen to some Indigenous droving songs but I feel  that’s not my story to tell.”

For song references Martie resorts to rifling through her own record collection and also finds inspiration from the website of cultural historian and singer-songwriter, Warren Fahey.

“Warren is a prolific folklorist  who has written and recorded so many Australian folk songs covering all these topics.  And his amazing website incorporates all the history and stories behind our  folk songs.”

Martie ensures that the singing component of the course is simple, easy to pick up and easy to teach. Many of the songs are singalongs she used to sing around the campfire as a child, her father playing guitar under the stars.

“Because Mum was well known in the folk music industry there would always be lots of people over at our house so I’ve sung from childhood and I think singing for the joy of it – not to perform or for anyone else – that really comes from being round the campfire when we were camping as kids.” 

For Martie, the beauty of the folk genre lies in the telling of simple stories about everyday life, the tapestries from and by which we are woven into the history of unremarkably remarkable things.

“I think that’s the beauty of folk music, it is literally of the people, for the people; it’s about taking everyday peoples’ music and stories and bringing it into this time. It’s freely available, in the public domain and I’d love to see it used more extensively for community music making.”

Written by Deb Carveth, Online editor for Community Music Victoria, and Martie Lowenstein

Feature photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash

Songs for Western Port Bay

By Laura Brearley

My husband Terry and I live on Phillip Island (Millowl) and we love Western Port Bay. We love its beauty and its stillness and we love its birds.

It is from this place of love that we have been writing songs, making films and bringing community members together though music in response to a proposal by AGL to moor a regasification plant at Crib Point and build a 60 kilometre gas pipeline from there to Pakenham. We want to celebrate the richness of life in Western Port and stand up for its protection.

We are now at a critical point in the community conversation. The issue has been in our awareness for years, but we have a short window now to gather our collective strength, listen to the science and do what we feel the future is asking of us. We strongly believe Western Port is not the right site for industrialisation. The eco-system of the Bay is too significant and fragile to risk the irreparable damage that would be caused. We respect the significance of the UNESCO Biosphere reserve and the Ramsar wetlands that support and sustain migratory birds and many other interconnected forms of life.

The COVID times we are living through have heightened our perceptions of what matters most and how interconnected we all are. The economic imperative is not the main narrative here. It is life itself and our collective responsibility to care for it. Wendell Berry has a version of the golden rule that applies in this situation.

‘Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you’, he writes. ‘Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.’

We will be including links to these films and songs in our written response to the Environmental Effects Statement and the call for submissions which is open and receiving submissions until August 26.

Here are links to three of Terry’s films which contain songs from the Western Port Bay Song Cycle, (below).

‘Blessings’ is a call for justice and a song of love for Western Port Bay. It recognises the future impact of decisions being made about the proposed AGL Regasification Plant in Western Port Bay and appeals to the best in everyone involved.

‘No Way’ features members of our local community as well as choir members from the Climate Calamity Choir, led by Jane Coker and the Melbourne Climate Choir, led by Jeannie Marsh. Both choirs collaborate on environmental actions, drawing together members from different choirs from Gippsland, Melbourne and beyond. They have developed innovative ways of facilitating and recording virtual choirs.

‘Time to See’  focusses on the significance of Western Port as a Ramsar site. Inverloch-based community musicians Lyndal Chambers and Brian ‘Strat’ Strating have added recorder and accordion to the song. Drone footage of Queensferry Jetty and the Bass River taken by Mick Green has also been incorporated into the film.

WESTERN PORT BAY SONG CYCLE
Here are SoundCloud links, descriptions and lyrics of the seven songs in the Western Port Bay Song Cycle.

1 Time to See 
Migratory birds enlarge our worlds. They connect us to places across the planet and to those who share our love for them.

2 Flowing On
Everything is interconnected. The past flows into the future, carrying the memories and the stories of the living beings who have preceded us.

3 No Way
Some things in life are so precious, they are priceless. The AGL’s proposed gas facility in Western Port Bay highlights the question of what we value most.

4 Beautiful Bay
Clean water is central to all of life, everywhere. It is the source of life. There is a Slovakian proverb which says, ‘Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine’.

5 Taking a Stand
As we witness the damage being done to the Earth, we are all diminished. We experience the sense of loss and it is profound.

6 Out on the Bay
Life has its own rhythm. The seasons and the cycles of the natural world keep it steady and balanced.

7 Blessings
We are in relationship with Country. First Nations people around the world wait for us to listen and learn and so does the Earth.

We are sharing these films and songs with the community and with decision-makers as an act of hope and in solidarity with the natural world. In Albert Einstein’s words, it is time to ‘widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.’

We warmly encourage you to take your place in this widening circle of compassion and to raise your voices on behalf of Western Port Bay.

-Laura Brearley. Photographs by Terry Melvin

You can find out more about the Save Western Port Bay campaign at …
https://savewesternport.org/
https://environmentvictoria.org.au/campaign/stop-agls-dirty-gas-plan-for-our-bay/
https://vnpa.org.au/protect-action/save-westernport-bay/

Submissions are going to be reviewed by an Inquiry and Advisory Committee, led by the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne. A directions hearing will be held on September 17, followed by a public hearing starting on October 12 which is likely to run for eight weeks.

 

Pumping Out Songs with the Cann River CFA Community Choir

“I really only work through the arts, and I think that community resilience and bonding and all of those things can come through the arts.” This conviction combined with a natural ability to strategise and inspire people has led Margaret Summerton to find herself holding a position of responsibility for CFA Volunteers and Sustainability across the South East Region of Victoria; an area of the State covering 2 million hectares, from Bairnsdale to Mallacoota, Omeo to Lakes Entrance. This region was hit hard by the devastating bushfires, last summer.

“It was burnt to a crisp here, 60% of our land mass was burned and as happens with bushfires and disasters we continue to be heavily affected in so many ways.”

When Margaret applied for the role a year ago she wasn’t sure that her arts-based approach and style of delivery would be compatible or aligned with a paramilitary organisation.

“After a few weeks in the job, I walked into the District Manager’s office and said that we needed really needed to start a choir! He was speechless and looked at me like WHAAT? and I said, ‘no, let me explain!…’ ”

Margaret’s reasoning was while you are singing for an hour and a half, you are not thinking of your problems. “You are not thinking of how your dog needs to go to the vet or how your car has broken down, you are thinking about singing, and you’re thinking about breathing, and you’re thinking about listening to each other…you are thinking about the music -just that, I mean just totally that!”

The District Manager listened to Margaret’s idea which she offered as part of a bigger strategy plan that included how the arts can activate their stations. After hearing her out, he simply said. ‘I love to sing’.

“That surprised me! Then I asked him ‘how do you feel when you are singing?’ And he said, ‘I feel great!’ and I said ‘of course you do!’ ” And almost on the spot, the Cann River CFA Community Choir idea was launched as a vital part of a bigger plan to promote positive health, healing and well-being within the brigade and community.

The Cann River CFA Community start-up choir now has seven members; the singers are comprised of CFA volunteers, a member of Bushfire Recovery Victoria, and locals working with the Bush Nurse, a sculptor and retirees. In addition to providing an opportunity for first-responders to come together for mutual support, connection and an escape from the demands of their roles, it’s truly a community choir and that’s the primary aim. Since June, the group has met weekly for a sing in the brigade shed, with a repertoire ranging from Talking Heads to Janice Joplin.

“Anyone can join and that’s been great. We have seven people who come every Thursday night, who just sing their guts out, which is wonderful, just wonderful.” The choir keeps in contact during the week via the Community Centre’s Facebook page. During the week the posts fly with happiness. Margaret’s favourite post to date is “Christmas has come early, and it’s in the form of a choir!”

The CFA Choir is run with funding support from Regional Arts Victoria and the Australian Government Regional Arts Fund to support its director, Cindy Parrett.  “Cindy is fabulous, an ex-Cabaret singer who teaches singing and music at the local P-12.”

Sometimes things are just meant to be, even in these COVID affected times, and when Margaret collided with Cindy, it was a case of the stars aligning.

“It was an extraordinary coincidence, I had just started at the CFA, and my choir idea was bubbling along. I was visiting the town quite often, meeting all the community leaders; the high school principal, the community centre manager; who I got to know quite well. I was in a meeting with the high school principal that has been at the P-12 for 40 years, and every year he has written an original play for the school with a role for every single child.  He’s phenomenal.  I told him how I was wanting to start a choir in the CFA shed, and he said, “Well fancy that! I have just hired a singing teacher for next year”.  It was destiny.

Fast forward to June and being in a remote part of the state not affected by lockdowns or too many restrictions, the singers were able to meet weekly. “We’d take our temperatures, sanitise our hands, and stand at a distance. But once the second wave took over; it didn’t feel healthy to be singing behind a mask. We had no choice but to postpone.” The choir is currently in hiatus, and this breaks Margaret’s heart.

“I am madly in love with this choir, and I know that they are just super sad that they can’t do it right now.”

Margaret has been driving two hours each way to sing with the Cann River CFA Community Choir, and together with her partner sings all the way home into the darkness; not just because it is her baby, but because she has always been in a choir and she loves singing.

“Getting people together to sing, bonds us in some weird way, I mean it doesn’t matter what walk of life you are coming from, once you are singing it transcends everything else. It’s fundamental and it feeds your soul on so many different levels and I’m so glad that the District Manager of the CFA understood that. I mean, if he hadn’t, I don’t think any of this would have happened.”

For information about how you can join the Cann River CFA Community Choir, contact Margaret Summerton: Margaret.Summerton@cfa.vic.gov.au

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, in conversation with Margaret Summerton,

The Peace Choir: A Sanctuary of Song in Castlemaine

Not so quietly getting on with singing together in a little corner of its community is the Castlemaine Peace Choir. A beloved group, not particularly well known outside of the town, its spirit is forged by the values of inclusion and compassion which underpin it and are its reason for being. Peace Choir is a free, no-obligation community choir funded by philanthropy.

The Peace Choir was born after a couple who manage a small philanthropic fund within the town made it their mission to embrace the people who look on from the sidelines of society, marginalised from the offerings of the mainstream because of mental illness or intellectual disability, and bring them into the frame. Motivated by the effects of a profound personal loss, they approached the district’s community house, mental health support groups and disability services about establishing a choir.

They approached community singing leaders, James Rigby and Jane Thompson, who were aware that they were  running groups for people of a certain age and demographic from within their town: “We always said they were open access, anyone-can-join choirs but we just knew we were missing a whole lot of people who would have benefitted from the experience that these choir members were having.”

James and Jane were initially worried about the concept of mixing together people with intellectual disabilities with people with mental illness. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to both of those groups and we were worried that people with mental illness may not want to be classified as being the same as people with intellectual disabilities and vice versa. We ran separate workshops and then brought the two groups together and it was just a magical event.”

A minister in the town who was helping to coordinate the whole process gave the Castlemaine Peace Choir its name, something James says has been ‘an absolute gift’: “Many people with mental illness are just looking for some internal sort of peace, some stillness. It’s ended up being absolutely a choir for people who feel on the edge and there are also people in the choir who are there because they want to interact with these people who are on the fringes. We’re creating a space that actually and selectively recruits in the corners.”

People who work in the disability services in Castlemaine are aware of the choir. If you live in the district and you suffer from a mental illness, you’re quite likely to be referred to ‘Maine Connection’ and the fellow who runs that group is also on the organising group for the Peace Choir. This means it’s only a matter of time before he’ll say to somebody, ‘well look, why don’t you come along and have a sing?’ There are no processes or paperwork involved and its recruiting methods are pretty organic: Sooner or later you’re going to run across somebody in the town who has heard of the Peace Choir who will invite you along for a sing. “It’s a self-perpetuating thing.”

“We run from 5:30 with a late afternoon tea; then sing from 6-7. That afternoon tea is the best fruit you can get in the district; really beautiful, quality food from the local suppliers, delicious cheeses and good bread, it’s not flashy or extravagant but it’s wholesome and nourishing. A lot of people in this cohort are used to cordial and a plate of mixed bickies when they go to things, so to be able to off them decent, quality food is a way of saying ‘we’re going to look after you here’, and it’s extremely levelling. We eat for half an hour and that’s when all the catching up goes on. “Every time I walk into that gathering my heart just warms, you see this quite extraordinary mix of people carrying on like old friends. Nobody new is ever left on the outskirts. It’s all very low key but I don’t think there’s any chance anyone in this room would ever feel not attended to, or not cared about.”

The choir has borne witness to some pretty extreme behaviour from some of its members over the years too. “It’s not just a warm fuzzy group of lovely people – they are a warm fuzzy group of lovely people – but these are people who are prepared to really actively challenge themselves to look after other people who they might not normally be with.”

“We had a guy in the choir for a while who was floridly psychotic, he was very heavily tattooed and he had a very intense flat aspect to his face and he was lean and dangerous looking; he used to just stand up and sort of prowl during the sessions and start pulling off martial arts stances. He looked like he was about to kick someone’s head in but people in the group would settle him down and he kept coming back for a couple of years. For a time we were able to give this fellow a connection to his town and an introduction to some people who would continue to care for him. He could be an intimidating presence around our town and yet the choir was a place he kept coming back to, somewhere to be present with a group of people who were all happy to have him in the room. We were all a little bit uncomfortable but a little bit of being uncomfortable is a good thing for you, I think.”

James used to be an Emergency Department Nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and has plenty of experience of people disrupting a situation: “I’m not actually scared by scenarios where people come in demanding attention. I guess I’ve worked in places that have been full of very scary people on many occasions and I’m not frightened of people with mental illness or who demonstrate extreme behaviour. The number of people who are actually dangerous is vanishingly small. And there’s a massive amount of compassion and care among the Peace Choir singers. If I have to take somebody outside to calm them down there’s a whole lot of people who have got my back, I’m not going out on a limb or doing this on my own.”

James thinks the choir’s repertoire is absolutely the guts, the heart of the whole thing. “We sing a lot of songs about taking care of each other, caring about other people, and we’ve got some old folk songs from back in the era when peace songs weren’t unfashionable.”

But it’s digging into songs written by Indigenous musicians such as Archie Roach where the group finds relevance. “The group can really see and identify with the marginalisation which comes with being Aboriginal and living on the fringe and songs written about coming from an underprivileged demographic. We sing songs like ‘We won’t cry’ from Archie Roach and they’re songs about resilience and strength and the choir just totally gets it.”

These people who have lived with these scenarios for ‘years and years and years’ tell James that ‘these songs absolutely tell my story and they tell the story of the people who have helped me to survive.’

Another important aspect of the choir there since the beginning is that people come along with their carer, whether that’s their mum, their sister, or whoever: “Every song we sing has an affirmation of the experience and the aspirations of the people in the choir”.

One of the singers in the Peace Choir is David, a man in his mid-30s, who comes along with his mother. David has autism and is nearly non-verbal although he has been known to burst into song in the supermarket. “David is a gentle, beautiful looking man, but vocalises with squeaks, grunts and whistles and makes all these crazy noises through the singing of these sensitive songs about peace, and nobody in the room turns a hair. David’s part of the group and if he’s making noises, good on him, we don’t care.”

At the end of David’s first year with the choir, his mother wrote a letter to James and Jane. In the time since her husband had died, this woman had never been able to do anything without wondering first what she was going to do with David. The Peace Choir was the first time in their life that they had been able to go and do something together and be involved in a community activity together.

James spends a lot of the time teaching people to listen. “As the years have gone by, we’ve sung more and more quietly, we have a massive dynamic in the choir now, and here’s this bunch of people with every problem under the sun and it’s absolutely the most beautiful sounding choir I’ve ever worked with. I find myself in the middle of a tender song about peace or the Melanie Shanahan song, Walk with me, written about mental illness and about crying out for people to just please help, it’s very passionate, a really raw song and we just sing it soooooo beautifully and it’s so achingly tender. And I think ‘how on earth do you teach this lot to sing that song with such commitment or insight?’

I believe it’s because they really care about the people on the other side of the room and they’re really listening to what the other people are singing and nobody in the room wants to be the person singing louder than everyone else… They’ve just become the most incredibly beautifully tuneful choir; we keep shocking ourselves.”

The Castlemaine Peace Choir is run by James Rigby and has around 60 regular singers. It runs for 30 weeks each year on Wednesdays from 5.30pm and everyone is welcome.

For more info, contact office@makingmusic.com.au, 0408 547 511

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with James Rigby and Jane Thompson

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash