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!
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
I have been running two community choirs for fifteen years. I have found that over time in our groups, we have had singers with varying skills and experience, some coming in briefly, but most staying for decades and developing lasting friendships. ALL have improved their skills over time.
One gentleman with a glorious baritone voice could only sing a monotone note, no matter the key! I would arrange the other singers’ parts around this drone note, and over a period of ten years, his ear developed to match his really lovely voice.
This has been my experience with all voices – over time, we develop better ears/aural skills, and become capable of very complicated harmonies and rhythms. Especially as our breath control improves with practice.
Some singers, over time, have developed an interest in furthering their music theory and reading skills – these singers have all been musical beginners. I provide them with as much theory as they wish, but at no time do we lose sight of our shared goal – the joy of singing together.
When new singers come in, we often return to known and loved favourites, and all of the singers love helping new singers in learning their part by surrounding them with sound-support, friendship and laughter – the generosity of music!
Another technique for making new singers feel welcome, is to introduce entirely new material – everyone is a beginner!
I am a great believer in the equalising power of singing in other languages. When some of my singers know the language far better than me, it is an opportunity for us all to learn from our local expert.
We frequently practise experimenting with sound – if you don’t like the sounds you are making – change them! A safe, friendly environment where we can experiment – no pressure. I believe in the beauty of the harmonies we create by listening to ourselves and others while learning aurally. Despite this belief and the fact that most of my singers were musically illiterate, I have noticed great interest developing in the ‘dots’. All of my singers can now ‘follow’ the dots and do so to aid ageing memories!
However, despite these developing literacy skills, I do insist on ‘NO DOTS’ for performance – listening to each other produces the best sound.
Singing is community bonding in harmonious, creative activity.
Singing improves our immune system cytokines and lowers stress cortisol. This means, we feel happier, healthier and less stressed. It also improves our heart rate variability.
A number of qualitative and survey studies with diverse samples have shown that singers report a wide range of social, psychological, spiritual, and health benefits associated with singing, such as improved mood, enhanced quality of life, greater happiness, stress reduction, and emotional wellbeing.
Singing lifts your spirits, focuses concentration and breathing on creative activity, and reduces isolation. The evidence is overwhelming – SINGING IS GOOD FOR YOU. 😀
By Kass Mulvany. Kass is a community singing leader, retired performing-arts and science specialist teacher and community volunteer, who delights in playing and singing with others, the sharing of resources and the universal language of music and dance.
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.
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.
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
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!!’
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!
If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
of a safe place
it wraps me in welcome
and pictures leave
traces and tracks in the air
a long slow outbreath
letting go of everything
but the now
reading wisdom in the lines
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
Leaving Melbourne via the Westgate Bridge on a Wednesday evening, clouds of steam cluster and dissipate into the darkening sky. It’s fair to assume these plumes are output from the factories and refineries dotting the coast like pins in a board from Port Melbourne to Geelong. It’s also possible that part of the component entering the atmosphere is a heady mix of CO2 and endorphins being exhaled by the Willin Wimmin of Williamstown, having their weekly sing.
Willin Wimmin past and present were reunited last month to celebrate 25 years as a community choir giving voice to women, and spreading the joy of singing and community to audiences in the west and beyond. By their reckoning, this amounts to roughly 1000 rehearsals, more than 200 performances, over 300 songs and 250 women who have been involved since the inception of the singing group.
Worthy of a knees up, by anyone’s standard. The room was filled with friends, partners and family, everyone brought their own dinner, there was support with sound and lighting from their mates at the Newport Community Choir: it was a community event in every sense of the word.
The group sprung from the John Bolton Theatre School which was based in Williamstown, back in 1991. John employed Bronwen Barton as his music teacher who, with John’s partner and a few friends started singing together. The seeds for Willin Wimmin were sown and interest quickly caught on among the community. The singers were not only Willin Wimmin, they were feisty women with a will and the current members continue to embrace this identity: They set out as sisters doing it for themselves, collaborating as a cooperative and proudly eschewing the committee way of doing things until more recently.
The increasing requirements of funding bodies and venues requiring insurance over the years created a gradual push to become incorporated and adopt a more formal arrangement. Willin Wimmin eventually (reluctantly) bowed to the external pressure, formed a management committee and became incorporated last year.
Back at the start, Bronwen was a great vocal coach whose philosophy that anyone can sing set the value of inclusivity which has underpinned the group ever since. There have never been auditions and the women make it clear that no singing experience or knowledge of music is necessary. A good sense of humour, the will to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity and a shared belief in supporting, and welcoming one another is what counts. Willin Wimmin sing with heart and choose their material from an eclectic selection of genres including world, folk, choral and contemporary.
Julie Merritt has sung with Willin Wimmin for 18 of its 25 years, joining when the youngest of her three children was around 12 months old. The social side of belonging to the group drew her in; she felt a sense of belonging and like she’d found her tribe.
A strong social justice theme runs throughout the choir, and Willin Wimmin have sung on demonstrations and rallies, at sport, art, health and women’s issues events. They’ve trodden the boards at a variety of venues, too: Deakin Edge Theatre, Melbourne Recital Centre, the NGV as well as Fairlea Women’s Prison and Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, to name but a few.
Willin Wimmin have been helped along their journey by the commitment from their leaders:
“We have been fortunate with our directors – they have each been fabulous, feisty, fearless, sometimes fearsome. Each of them brought unique gifts and talents with warmth, patience and fun. Without them, there is no Willin Wimmin.”
Bronwen Barton took the helm for the first ten years, followed by Jo Lange, Dan Scollay, Jennifer Lund, and since 2014, the group has been lead by Steph Payne. Collaborations with other choirs have enhanced their song filled journey, too. Willin Wimmin teamed up with Mark Seymour and the Victorian Trade Union Choir to sing in Dust, a musical by Donna Jackson about the devastating impact of asbestos. They were also joined by the VTUC and Newport Community Choir to sing excerpts of Dust when Donna’s book ‘Art & Social Change: Dust, a Case Study’ was recently launched.
Keeping Community and Women’s issues in their hearts and at the forefront of their philosophy, Willin Wimmin have sung at Reconciliation demos; the National Women in Construction awards and at the Victorian apology to women forced to give their babies up for adoption, where they sung for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers (ARMS). The list doesn’t end there.
Willin Wimmin were also way ahead of the current media frenzy that has gained such rapid momentum around women’s football, and sang at the Women’s AFL grand final before women’s footy was officially deemed cool.
“We have, very importantly, also just sung for each other, in times of sadness, joy, longing, celebration and always with love.”
The wimmin are willin in more ways than one and are happy to offer inspiration and support to everyone who comes into their orbit, irrespective of how long they choose to stay on and sing with them.
About five years ago, Julie recalls an influx of women to the group, aged around 40. Each and every one of them found their voice through the supportive environment before moving on to form off shoot groups or find other, more challenging ways of nurturing their singing souls.
Julie doesn’t pause as she emphatically describes this as ‘brilliant’, seeing it as a natural part of what Willin Wimmin exists to allow; an integral component of its entity and a tangible example of the generosity required for a happy, cohesive community spirit. She acknowledges that seeing people move on is bittersweet “like a parent waving a child goodbye”, but that it is more wonderful to enable people to literally find their voice.
Many members have a story of ‘finding their voice’ thanks to Willin Wimmin.
Confidence, courage and strength are uncovered through singing and performing within a group of supportive, welcoming women, week in, week out. Julie offers herself as a prime example and has felt her confidence grow gradually “not just enough to sing in small groups, but to be back-up conductor, speechmaker, even president of the committee.” This has extended beyond the context of Willin Wimmin and into other areas of her life, proving once again, how impacting and profound the values and benefits of community musicking can be on the lives and well being of its participants.
So congratulations to Willin Wimmin on 25 years of singing together, supporting each other and creating opportunities for community cohesion and connection in lucky old Williamstown. There’s no sign of the sun setting in the west, anytime soon.
Written by Deb Carveth with Julie Merritt, President of Willin Wimmin.
If you’d like to join Willin Wimmin, they meet on Wednesday evenings at 7.30-9.30pm during term time, and further information is available here.
‘If I can reduce my living expenses significantly that’s as good as making money.’ says Werribee singing leader, Steph Payne, who recently established ReciproVocal, a Barter Choir where instead of paying a termly fee to join, participants are invited to share and exchange skills and trades and even sing for their supper. (Steph dreams of dentists, desperate to sing, and who wouldn’t?)
At ReciproVocal, your money won’t get you anywhere! Steph’s vision is for the group to experience not only the bond of solidarity and support for each other common between members in community singing and music groups, but to educate themselves in ways of bartering and skills exchange that will extend out to enrich and sustain the wider community in unforeseen ways.
The idea for ReciproVocal germinated from a seed sewn at an inspirational workshop run by community facilitator, Debby Maziarz, at the Wyndam Arts Incubator, in Werribee. The workshop focussed on bartering and the establishment of mutually beneficial connections between artists and businesses, an idea that resonated heavily with Steph, inspiring a steep and positive learning curve. While she is in no doubt about the sense in trying this ‘revolutionary-retro’ approach, Steph acknowledges that she, herself, had to learn a lot of lessons in the lead up to the launch of the singing group, and that other people may also need time to come around to the concept:
“There needs to be a huge amount of education around bartering and trading. People can’t see how bartering fits into their world because they’re used to a money based currency.”
Steph has also noticed that even amongst her existing network of singers and ukulele players all keen to continue working with her, there is often the initial response of ‘but I don’t have anything to trade.’
“But they do! We are all so used to being valued monetarily and comparing ourselves based on what we have. People just don’t realise they have loads of things to trade and that you’ve got to look at it more creatively.”
To encourage new participants to dip a toe in the ReciproVocal waters, Steph is willing to accept money from her singers to begin with, gradually introducing the barter model as the group grows and develops its collective understanding of a non-monetary based currency.
“We’re all fixated by the concept of money. On the one hand it’s a leveller because everything has a monetary value, it’s very open and clear and you can see what you’re buying into. But on a whole lot of other levels it’s incredibly unfair and messed up. Money’s convenient, but it’s a real trap and it only gives things one value, when certain things hold much more.”
A significant piece of the sociological scaffolding required to support the bartering model, is trust. Trust in the validity of the concept by the participants is crucial, and belief by Steph that the services and goods offered will be forthcoming in the way they are promised is important too. A clear, shared understanding of the need for mutual boundaries between the definitions of professional and personal space between members of the group is equally important. This line in the sand is necessary for the sake of all participants because the variety of tendered tasks require varying degrees of access to areas of each other’s lives.
And while response to the idea of ReciproVocal has been hugely positive Steph believes it will be a slow burn to reach a sustainable level of interest, and is prepared for this to take time. She’s excited by an awareness that the more people she can engage and educate about bartering, the more likely it is that there really can be a functioning level of trading going on, with the possibility of a real alternative economy starting in Werribee.
To help people get their head around the type of things they can bring to the table, there’s an area on the ReciproVocal website which offers examples of what 8 weeks in a choir is worth. Steph has supplied this as a guide to allow people to work out for themselves the equivalent ‘value’ of what they might like to offer.
Again, a sliding scale of value applies because the value is not just monetary. It’s not as simple as being a term’s worth of singing valued at $150. Singers might offer a service which will save Steph time, or produce something she needs or simply just wants, or be able to arrange a lead into further work for her. The option of third party trade also exists. For example, you may not be willing to mow Steph’s lawn but you might know somebody who is for whom you can babysit, who will then mow the lawn and the chain of exchange grows longer and more embedded.
Steph is always looking to enrich and develop communities through the groups that she runs. It’s a strong part of what drives her. In the past she’s run a singing group in a pub because of the immediate social set up, and she’s hopeful that Reciprivocal will grow to enrich the community in a myriad of ways. Her hope is that once people are engaged in the trading and bartering concept, they will extend those terms and values of collaborative, sustainable living to each other, and eventually to people and life situations beyond the singing group:
“There’s a great level of satisfaction in getting your needs met in a way that’s not financial. As a person with something to offer, as a product as a service, any of us have a choice in how we exchange that. We have our needs, we have our resources, it’s about how to match those two things up. “
Whether you like it or hate it, the ways in which we absorb and process information have changed irrevocably, and putting a message out into the world is easy as pie. The challenge comes in finding your target audience before the pastry turns crusty and hard.
How long have you spent on social media today? The chances are you’ve been bombarded by information and communications of all kinds. Like magpies, our eyes are drawn to whatever stands out and glitters in the proverbial online hedgerow.
Of all the online hooks, film clips wield a mighty power to entertain, inform, amuse and to educate. Armed with smarter and smarter smart phones we each have the capacity to be the storytellers and documenters of our own life. Our pockets hold the power and the tool, all we need is the incentive and the imagination! A single clip delivered via the right platforms can be successful in attracting new audiences and engage the attention of people right across the world. As singing and instrumental group leaders and participants, a short film can be a highly effective way to share resources, increase participation, attract potential sponsors and funding and, let’s face it, it makes a way sexier tool for evaluation than a written report.
“People are watching more than they are reading, and people are watching small screens, not big ones.”
Below are some tips from Bill Pheasant* on building skills and developing technique that will help you be more mindful of the content you select to film, and how you then go about presenting and editing that content for maximum effect, whether it’s your cat climbing the curtain or your community choir in full belt. Bill has worked in communications for close to 30 years, and for the last 5 has been working globally to create tools and approaches to help almost anyone use modern technology such as a mobile phone to create short, compelling stories:
“Filmmaking for the movies is incredibly complex, but the stories at the heart of any clip are often simple. Why not consider how can we use the equipment we have, and the skills we bring, to tell meaningful stories that will help this community music work to continue.”
The following tips are taken from Bill’s notes for his workshop in Storytelling at the Community Music Victoria music camp at Grantville in April 2016.
First things first. If you’re the one in your group keen to start filming, take some time to ask yourself the following questions:
Why are you – and all the others – involved in the group?
What does it give you?
How does it make you feel?
How many people know about that?
If other people knew your stories and how you feel do you think they would get involved?
And the money question: Do you think those funding your activity would be interested in your stories? (If you got to this point, you know the answer is always yes!)
Key points to remember before you film:
People love to watch emotion.
They don’t have a long attention span.
So we need to show people the key moments. And as filmmakers – we need ways to find those moments efficiently.
Film can be a great medium for observing. A lot of clips on social media are just that: little moments of ordinary life. But to communicate well we often need more context: Why am I watching these trombones?
To get more context, use interviews with people/participants. Interviewing somebody – rather than having them talk at a camera or phone – puts them at ease, makes them feel less self-conscious and more relaxed. It also allows them to demonstrate their passion more effectively. To stay out of the picture yourself, ask the question, then listen attentively while you film the answer, without responding. If possible, pair these interview clips with some overlay images to elaborate on what is being said and hold the viewer’s attention. It means the speaking continues while the images change – even free edit software can do this.
Unless you have rock-solid arms, consider using a tripod for your phone/camera to allow you to be involved in the human connection as interviewer. It makes for better viewing and also means the person you are interviewing isn’t looking directly into the lens.
Before you begin filming, check the following:
Phone/camera memory space.
A pocketful of ideas!
A bit of technique.
A way to manage what you film.
Ways to share it.
Here are some things that will make your video better:
Light – you need enough or your film will be drab. You need to be able to adjust it. Most current smartphones have light level adjustment on the screen. It it’s still too dark, change where you film.
Cut them down to make the outcome more watchable! It may not feel like you’re shaking much while you are filming but try watching more than a few seconds of playback.
Listen for background noise and replay to test the sound is clear. Poor audio ruins many videos.
Don’t be afraid to set the scene and start filming before your subject comes into view. This creates context and draws the viewer in.
Consider the types of shots you plan to use: Wide shot. Mid shot. Close up. Why? What sort of feeling are you trying to evoke in the viewer?
Avoid panning and avoid zooming. Instead, stop filming, move closer to your subject and start again, or change your position for a different angle. If you can edit, you can sew your sequence together, later on.
Use the background as well as the foreground to tell your story.
A little forethought can mean when you sit down later to put the pieces together, you have all you need! Set the scene, as you would in any story. Take some context footage. The hall as everyone enters, for example, or a bit of the banter before the magic begins. This allows people to begin imagining what will happen next and gives them an opportunity to begin to ‘feel’ your story.
Finally, give some thought to how you are going to share your film, once it’s made. This may dictate the length and the style you go for. In giving some thought to the style, message and content of your film, try storyboarding.
If you’ve never tried this before, give storyboarding on paper a whirl. All you need is a whiteboard or some paper and pens and the time to let your imagination flow out – progressing the story scene by scene – onto the paper or whiteboard.
Storyboarding in your head
Also known as a daydream. Which can lead to some great things and unexpected ideas. Use the same principles as above and be sure to give some thought to how you’re going to store the great ideas and examples you dream up!
Give it a go! Better to get out there, try and fail than never try at all. As Bill said in his workshop, Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Written by Deb Carveth & Bill Pheasant. Huge thanks to Bill for providing the notes from his workshop as the basis for this post.
*Bill Pheasant is the Director of Communications for Children’s Ground in Jabiru, NT. Children’s Ground was established to work with communities experiencing disadvantage and inequity as they lead the way towards positive change. To learn more about the organisation, visit https://www.childrensground.org.au Children’s Ground also has a page on Facebook.