In recent days the media has been full of news of the sad loss of Richard Gill – conductor, teacher, composer, and powerful advocate for school and community music. Many will remember him as the somewhat eccentric man with a shock of white hair representing classical music on “Spicks and Specks”.
He passionately believed that every child deserves music, and that SINGING should be the basis of all music experience from an early age.
I have been personally fortunate to be a student, then a teaching colleague, and a friend of Richard Gill since the age of 15, when as a country girl I went to a NSW state music camp and played the violin under his baton in a full symphony orchestra.
At that stage I had never even seen a French horn, or an oboe, and the experience of sitting in the heart of 60 musicians playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, in a tent, in the rain, with flutes behind and violas to the side, was an early inspiration. “Cellos, can you SOB a little more?” said Richard Gill. I melted with adolescent musical emotion!
So many people have an anecdote about Richard Gill.
“He remembered my name when I ran into him, 35 years after I left school.”
“He got me to sing an improvised melody in Solfege over a ground bass in a workshop – and surprisingly, I could do it.”
“At music camp in 1967 he played the piano for an evening Barn Dance in the style of Chopin, then Buddy Holly, then Souza.”
“At a teacher workshop we did one round of saying our names, and he remembered all of the 40!”
“At a choral rehearsal, we sang a 4 part, 20 page Kyrie, and at the end he said ‘Tenors, your E at Bar 68 was a little flat.’ ”
At workshops and conferences for teachers, he made each of us feel that what we were doing was important. “You are the salt of the earth,” he said.
Kim Williams, a close friend of Richard Gill’s for over 5 decades, says: “Richard was a remarkable person – a true citizen of music, warm, generous, passionate, talented, kind, thoughtful and loyal. His legacy is rich and deep – I intend to ensure the essence of it is embraced on a continuing basis.”
Richard Kefford AM, the Chair of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra – which Gill co-founded in 2013, and which has been his deeply-felt passion in recent years – says: “Richard Gill will be remembered as a giant in Australian music, an iconic conductor, teacher and passionate campaigner for music education. His death is a massive loss to Australian music and to the countless colleagues, students, friends and audience members who loved him so much. . . We are truly moved by Richard’s request that the Richard Gill Memorial Fund be established. . .so that we may keep the flame of his remarkable legacy alight.”
Richard Gill was an outspoken promoter of music for every Australian, through music in schools and in the community, as well as in concert halls and opera houses.
He was a passionate supporter of music at every level, equally at home sitting on the floor with 3 year olds, leading a Flash Mob of 500 singers with “When I’m 64”, rehearsing a Mozart opera, or conducting a symphony orchestra in a concert hall.
His inspiration lives on in many of us as we work in music and spread the enthusiasm that he encouraged in many thousands of people of all ages.
Heather was a Community Music Victoria Board member for 9 years, at the end of a career of teaching music – in primary schools, to young children, and to people of all ages in community sessions. Her special passion has been home made marimbas (Jon Madin style) and in retirement on the NSW mid north coast she can’t resist volunteering in primary schools and introducing older adults (aged 65-85) to music-making through U3A sessions.
Richard Gill’s TedEx talk on the importance of a child’s music education can be seen here.
When Annie Fletcher and her family moved back from WA to Melbourne, Hurstbridge seemed a nice spot at the end of the train line. It wasn’t until they’d been living there a few months that Annie realised the rich arts community they’d been fortunate to move into.
Keen to get into more hand-drumming, Annie decided to hook into the local scene, in particular the regular jamming sessions at St Andrew’s market, which at that time had a weekly drum circle. This lead to a conversation with the local neighbourhood house about starting a beginners group and, fourteen years later as Drum Connection, the beat goes on.
“I wasn’t a particularly experienced drummer at that time but, because I’d been a teacher for many years, I used my teaching skills to work out what I wanted to teach and how and it just grew from there. My intrinsic love of rhythm had also been honed over many years with my passion and tertiary study in Dance.”
Numbers were low to start with, but running the group gave Annie an opportunity to assimilate into the community, “it helped me find my place and it was just so rewarding”.
Participation in the new group continued to grow with spots of natural fluctuation, but the community music experience continued as a weekly dose of positive good fun.
“I always say there are no mistakes in the drumming, there are just variations on a theme and a bit of jamming is fine. People like that and if they struggle with a particular rhythm, they can just play the first beat of each bar or the main beats of the rhythm and when the finishing call comes, they can whack the drum again and finish with the group, so it’s accessible to all.”
Annie has found that some drummers just keep coming back while others take time out and return after an extended break. Consequently, a consistent core has developed with several drummers having earned themselves a Drum Connection ‘10 Year badge’!
“Over the years we’ve built up a community which is really very special and the group always welcomes and nurtures whoever walks through that door.”
Drum Connnection participants vary widely in age, ranging from a few older school-aged kids through to seniors. Everyone jollies each other along, learning, nurturing and playing as a collective group. Annie runs two long sessions, one on Thursday evenings and one on Friday afternoons. Within these sessions, levels 1, 2 and 3 are covered in particular time slots, which allows specific groups to learn layers of the shared rhythms at a complexity appropriate to them.
Drummers are offered an opportunity to perform at community events and when this occurs all of the different drum voices are combined within a structure for the whole rhythm, so that the entire group can play as one ensemble.
Annie also likes to introduce a singing element into her workshops, when simple parts of traditional songs can be taught to accompany an appropriate rhythm. Annie saves this ‘surprise’ until around week 3 by which time anyone new has settled in. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘oh you’ll never get me singing but of course, in time, they all sing!”
Occasionally, people will express concern that they lack enough rhythm to join in, and some people certainly find drumming a bit trickier than they expect to, but Annie has found that when she can assist them to relax, the drumming falls into place more easily. A number of drummers come to Drum Connection as part of a personal recovery process. For people who have suffered some sort of trauma, loss, bereavement, separation, anxiety or illness it can be of assistance when they are at a transition phase in their lives. “Often people will say to me afterwards, “that was just the best thing”.
“Some people find they can actually switch off from the big thing in their life because they are concentrating so hard on drumming, others find they can go into this quite meditative state and those people might have one or two rhythms you can see really working for that person and they totally zone out.”
Annie believes it’s unnecessary to highlight the healing or meditative aspects of drumming for discussion in the context of these community classes, preferring to consider these positive outcomes as an added bonus of the experience of participation and rhythms in a shared music-making context:
“People will discover this for themselves, it doesn’t have to be labelled… it can still be having this effect for many people whilst other people are just enjoying the music or the social aspect. Drumming can be different things to different people and we don’t necessarily need to put a label on any of those.”
Kids have joined in with Drum Connection workshops over the years, usually accompanying a parent although not always: “Anyone over the age of around 10 is welcome. I have occasionally had someone as young as 7 and although it’s an adult class there’s no problem them joining in if it works for them. It can be a nice thing for a parent and child to do.”
This month Annie is starting a series of drumming workshops in Hurstbridge specifically for kids, to gauge interest and uptake. “There are some good music programs in the local primary schools but for any kids who can’t get in or are too young, it could offer a good transition… I’ll give it a go and see!”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Annie Fletcher
If you would like any more information about these classes or single workshops for specific groups, contact Annie: Mob: 0407 102 578; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; fb: Drum Connection Aus
The following article was co-authored by Jim Morrison, who is a senior Noongar man, a traditional custodian of Western Australia’s pristine southern coast. He has been operating in a range of pivotal roles dealing with Aboriginal advancement for more than three decades.
This is the story of how karaoke, that quintessentially global entertainment, came to Noongar country in Western Australia in the 1990s and was transformed into Noongaroke, a 21st-century version of corroboree events of bygone days.
Noongar people engaging with karaoke created a contemporary process for cultural healing and wellbeing that dealt at a profound level with the anguished politics of death in their community. Leading the charge was the “deadly Noongaroke singing DJ” Jim Morrison.
Jim’s parents, both from the stolen generations, survived to raise their large family whose members are now prominent in Noongar service organisations, politics and the arts in Perth. Jim generously shared his journey in an interview with my partner Darryl Kickett and myself that is quoted extensively here.
Noongar people are the traditional custodians of the south-west region of Western Australia. They bore the full force of settler invasion and colonisation: the deaths, dispossession, loss of land and culture, racism, segregation, removed children, forced assimilation and dire poverty within a rich country.
What survived of their way of life was invisible to most outsiders: the ancient family lineages, connection to country, kinship values and obligations, hidden knowledge and rituals and elements of language.
Today most Noongar people live in city suburbs and country towns. Numbering more than 40,000, they constitute the largest Aboriginal language group in Australia. Many identify as members of a distinct Noongar nation within the Australian settler state. In 2006, Noongar claimants won Australia’s first and only successful native title claim over metropolitan lands.
This was a rude shock for most West Australians, who assumed there was no Noongar culture. In 2013, the West Australian government presented an offer intended to resolve native title claims across Noongar country but one of the negative effects has been to divide the Noongar community and encourage public racism based on fear and ignorance.
What karaoke can do
Karaoke is a form of public singing using the simple technology of a microphone and sound box and a book of lyrics.
Popularised in Japan in the 1970s, it soon spread to South-East Asia and then further to become a global phenomenon. In her 2012 book Karaoke Culture, Dubravka Ugresic uses karaoke metaphorically to denote the “unoriginality” of global culture that is repeated everywhere, endlessly and that encourages bad late-night performances, such as the actor Bill Murray singing More Than This in the 2003 movie Lost in Translation.
In Karaoke: The Global Phenomenon, Zhou Xun and Francesca Tarocco present a contrasting perspective. They describe karaoke as “an interactive global network”, a form of “global traffic” with “no centre or periphery” moving out in all directions. Like a fluid, karaoke takes on different forms as it “rushes and trickles” through.
Local people incorporate karaoke into their cultural traditions and imbue it with their own “cultural-specific meanings and symbolisms”.
That’s exactly what happened when karaoke came to Noongar country.
Noongaroke was far more than a good night out; it was an inspired intervention to support grieving Noongar families during an unprecedented crisis of deaths in the community during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Noongaroke nights were performances of global culture enmeshed in Noongar ways of being and doing. Noongaroke merged karaoke technology and public singing with Noongar traditions and strategies of survival.
The simple technology fitted neatly into family gatherings to mourn loved ones by providing an attractive way to sing and dance and to restore wellbeing in the manner of earlier corroboree events. It was this combination of the past in the present that powered Noongaroke.
Performance theorist Diana Taylor describes a similar process in Mexican village communities where contemporary performances are structured according to hidden ancient principles and relationships and how performers draw on this embodied knowledge as a repository of strategies for their current struggles and for envisioning new futures.
Jim Morrison started Noongaroke in the late 1990s after years of DJing for Noongar fundraising events and working with street kids in Northbridge, the heart of Perth’s club scene. His first intention was to raise funds for funerals and impoverished families. He recalls that Noongaroke quickly gathered a huge following:
It grew and grew and grew, if you did a head count, you know, thousands and thousands of people have come through Noongaroke. There are people who were just there every night. They just love to sing. It’s always a good atmosphere.
In fact it was a unique atmosphere of pride and enjoyment from being together as Noongar people. Apart from sports carnivals and funerals there were few other community gatherings, although in early days corroborees had been a constant activity. This was due to a lack of resources – land, venues, funds – and an over-zealous police force.
So what was so Noongar about Noongaroke?
We may as well ask what was not Noongar, apart from the equipment and the venues. The singers were all Noongar people and the audience was made up of their extended families. The atmosphere was relaxed, warm and friendly. Noongar colours – red, black and yellow – were everywhere to be seen in flyers, decorations, flags, coloured lights and clothing.
The venues were rooms in hotels in Noongar suburbs that were private and “Noongar comfortable”.
Sadly we had to use a hotel because we don’t own nothing. Aboriginal people don’t own nothing. We don’t have our own places.
Noongar values of respect replaced the usual impersonal rules for behaviour at karaoke nights. Few people drank alcohol. Jim explains:
there’s a code of conduct based on respect: respect yourself, respect others, respect other people’s property and respect other cultures. And that was the Kanya Code of Conduct, Kanya meaning, shame, behave yourself.
But Jim admits it would have been unusual if there weren’t any problems because:
it’s part of our culture. That’s a culture thing. If we’re going to disagree we’re going to do it publicly so you accept it. But mostly, they’d never bring their fights to a fundraiser.
And there were the unmistakable sounds of Noongar talk – the words, tones of voice and the accents – as families reminisced about the good and sad times and the texture of the singers’ voices and their choices of nostalgic rock and country songs – Johnny B. Goode, Brown-eyed Girl, Neon Moon, Satin Sheets, Seven Spanish Angels – from the Noongaroke Top Ten and a book called Lubbli Songs.
And there were Noongar people dancing – young girls and women in groups and couples skilfully negotiating their way around them. Jim explained:
When you go to a karaoke night, it’s mostly singing. But ours was about singing and dancing … you had to do it – it was a bit of a balance.
Community music-making continued down the generations. In rural areas, families segregated in town camps and the bush made their own entertainment: corroborees with traditional singing and accompaniment and family dances round the campfire with singers, harmonica, piano accordion and guitar.
In the early 1950s, when the policy of assimilation was in force but Perth was still a prohibited area for Noongar people, an Aboriginal political organisation, the Coolbaroo League, held popular dances at the Coolbaroo Club in a hall in East Perth with Noongar musicians like drummer Ron Kickett and singer Gladys Bropho and visiting Afro-American performers.
New song and dance styles spread through the Noongar community at Coolbaroo dances organised in country towns. Noongar rock bands were playing in Perth in the 1970s for youth dances at the Aborigines Advancement Council Hall and in the 1990s at the Kyana festivals on Perth Esplanade. Whenever the opportunity arose, Noongar people joined in to sing and dance.
During the rush of deaths in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Noongaroke helped to clear distressed bodies and minds of sorrow and haunting spirits.
Jim described how DJing and singing at the events raised his sense of wellbeing:
You see, singing is really good for therapy, you know, to really tear yourself inside and sing a good rock and roll song … and with all the people in the room, the temperature goes up.
This link between singing and wellbeing, known intuitively by singers, has been the subject of much research in recent years, demonstrating improved physical and mental fitness and relief from stress, depression and anxiety. Noongaroke performances were special events that we were all privileged to attend. Sitting in the audience we were carried away by the power of the singing to unite us and to evoke memories and emotions.
John Williams has been singing for 80 of his 90 years on the planet. Growing up on a farm on the Mornington Peninsula, there was little opportunity to express himself musically and John really had no idea he could sing. “The headmaster of the school would bring in a local girl to sing with us all once a week, My Bonnie lies over the ocean, Rule Britannia, that kind of stuff. When we moved to Mitcham, my mother and I joined the local Methodist Church choir and I started singing alto alongside my mother at the age of 10.”
John has been singing ever since and was a key player in the founding of the Mitcham based Maroondah Singers, which this month celebrates its 50th anniversary as a mixed voice community choir.1 It has encouraged young singers starting out and provided end of life care, too. It is a living, breathing singing entity as vital now as it was half a century ago, and it owes its origins, in part, to John.
“I was there before Maroondah Singers even existed”, he laughs.
The idea for a choir came about through a conversation between John and his good friend, George Irvine. At the time, George wrote a weekly column in the Nunawading Gazette, called ‘As it appears to me’ where he would comment on various social issues relevant to the City of Nunawading. George also worked in the same place as John in South Melbourne and the two men would often travel home together, putting the world to rights as they went:
“I found that usually, whatever we talked about on the way home would appear in the newspaper the week after next where he’d say ‘my friend John says’… I got used to it!”
One of their conversations was about what had happened to all the good choirs. A subsequent column posing the same question elicited a strong response from within the community so the following week George suggested trying to set up something locally and called a public meeting to gauge the level of interest. He hired a space in the Old Orchard Shopping Centre in North Blackburn, set a date and promoted it through the newspaper.
Coincidentally, at that same time, the Mitcham Methodist Church had moved to join the Presbyterians in a joint building venture which had just achieved completion. The very night that George called for the choir meeting, the Mountview Church property committee was meeting to allocate space for community rent.
“I should have been at that committee meeting but I apologised and went over there (to join George) Well, when we looked around and saw the number of people who were enthusiastic about the idea of starting a group, we realised things were going to roll. The meeting continued with everyone agreeing that Monday night would suit, if only a space could be found.”2
Experiencing a light bulb moment, John told everyone to talk amongst themselves, then hopped in his car and gunned over to the Property Committee meeting. “I rushed in, said, ‘Have you finished the meeting? Do you have any space on a Monday night? With a piano?? Yes? Yes!’ ”
The first rehearsal of the Maroondah Singers was held in Mountview Church Hall the following Monday night in 1968, and has continued as a weekly event ever since. Numbers grew quickly under the leadership of Jim Watsford who, at that time, was conductor of the Mitcham Choral Society: “Jim came to that meeting in the hope of securing recruits for MCS. Instead, he got a whole new choir!”
Following Jim’s belief, “if you can follow the words you can sing” the Maroondah Singers was destined to be a success.
Within twelve months the choir had given its first performance with George publicising the event through the newspaper once again, and John continuing to use his powers of persuasion to recruit Lela Wright, his church organist as their first accompanist. (She stayed ten years.)
Fifty years on, and the Maroondah Singers has sung at venues all over Victoria including the MCG for a grand final, for nine years as part of Carols by Candlelight, the Myer Music Bowl, regional church halls, the Dallas Brookes Centre, and Melbourne Town Hall, among others. The Singers is an inclusive and welcoming bunch and Monday night rehearsals are open to anyone keen to drop by and listen. It isn’t essential to read music and there are no auditions, however there is a voice and ear test to determine a singers’ part.
“We’ve never said no – we’re full, to anyone who has wanted to join so we have a lot of sopranos and could do with more tenors. There are more women than men in the choir and a couple of them have moved from the alto line to sing tenor, which works well. And we’re always trying to find younger people, if we can.” Some members of the Maroondah Singers weren’t even born when George and John held that first public meeting, half a century ago!
Since 1991, young singers have been drawn to the choir each year through a scholarship program established to commemorate three of the choir’s founders, George Irvine, and May and Mervyn Vagg, the choir’s first President. This program has proved a sensational singing springboard with past scholarship singers now working with international and State operas, and the process and experience providing a huge amount of pleasure to the choir members in supporting and encouraging these young singers during the early stages of their musical journeys.
Maroondah Singers pride themselves on performing from memory, firing on all neurological cylinders and giving their brains a weekly work out with songs from a wide repertoire by composers from Handel and Verdi to Rodgers and Hammerstein; Elton John to Billy Joel and beyond.
Currently directed by Lyn Henshall and accompanied by Dr John Atwell (who returned in 2010 for a second stint with the choir having previously accompanied them between 1980 and1997) the choir also sings in Japanese, Italian and Latin, and holds an impressive back catalogue including ‘Big Sings’ such as Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah and Handel’s Messiah. From time to time the singers team up for performances with other choirs and their comrades in the Maroondah Symphony Orchestra.
There is no pressure on anyone to ‘perform’ until they feel confident and ready to take this step.
“Everyone is issued with a CD with their part line, explains John, in my case Bass 1, emphasised in a digital recording of the score. All the items for the forthcoming concert are on that CD. Alternatively, they can be downloaded as an MP3 file. Playing these through with the music reinforces the memory, then without the music which strengthens it further.”
Innovation is an important contributor to longevity and the Maroondah Singers is enterprisingly equipped to hit the road and share its songs, thanks to a pop-up tiered platform designed to hold up to 100 singers. Bringing his background in engineering to the fore, John drew up designs for the staging, held a working bee at a college woodworking centre one weekend, and the end result packs down into a trailer, perfect for regional touring.
John’s commitment to the Maroondah Singers and his love of singing and community is evident. For the past 50 years he’s helped out in various ways to keep things going with the choir when needed, including as President for thirteen years and stepping up on the rostrum as leader for a while, in spite of a physical disability in one arm:
“I got the message over, I couldn’t wave two hands about all over the place but I could wave one, nod my head and smile. I get a lot of satisfaction from singing, I get a lot of satisfaction from conducting…. it was deeply satisfying to have to step up at short notice to conduct 104 singers to an audience of 800.”
His warmth and dedication is clear. Every choir needs a John.
Strong endorphin fuelled bonds have been forged between the Maroondah Singers members over the years as they do in all community choirs. When former member, Bill Holmes, was forced to retire due to ill health, he struggled without any family to look after him. ‘Team Bill’ came together from within the choir and closed ranks around him:
“We took care of him in his home until his health deteriorated to a point he could no longer stay. We were fortunate to get him into respite care. We were then able to continue to support Bill until he died in January this year. We saw him through and the four of us were at his bedside singing to a Maroondah Singers CD to him as he died. We knew he could hear us even though he was in and out of consciousness. And we sang him out.”
What greater testimony could a community choir have? At the end of the day, we sing together to connect. It’s the connections we forge whilst doing what we love that enrich our lives and extend out into the wider community, strengthening the quality of its fabric for everyone.
The story and spirit of the Maroondah Singers is certainly one to celebrate. Here’s to John; here’s to each and every one of the Maroondah Singers, past present and future and here’s to the next fifty years of singing and music making in Mitcham and in communities everywhere.
Written by Deb Carveth with thanks to John Williams and Nick Hansen
1: John was also the founding member of the Methodist Youth Singers
2: there were 45 people present at the public meeting called by George Vagg in 1968
*The Maroondah Singers will celebrate a special 50th Anniversary concert on Sunday June 17 at Melba College Theatre, 20 Brentnall, Road, Croydon starting at 2.30pm. The spectacular concert will feature the choir’s past four Vocal Scholars. Tickets are $30 Adult, $25 Concession, under 12 Free. Bookings: https://www.trybooking.com/373628. Contact: Anne on 0422 050 323.
“… the fish in the river, the clouds in the sky,
the wattles and gum trees that grow up so high
the kookaburra singing so gaily and free
good morning to you and good morning to me…”
from the Good Morning song* by Woody Clark
Woody Clark dreams of a world where families find time to make music as they go about their lives together. Over the past fifteen years or more, Woody has been working to build a catalogue of songs and resources available to parents and carers to turn this vision into reality and help integrate the rich experience of intergenerational singing and playing into the familial tapestry of homes and lives across Australia.
For Woody, the value is in ‘creating music rather than consuming it’ and, where possible, within a familiar setting involving children, parents or carers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins…
“Make music relevant and engaging and something that’s just part of the fabric of the household rather than something external to that, find the means to utilise it in your life in a way that will bring expression and joy, or whatever that might be.”
Woody’s own three kids have collaborated with him on musical projects, co-written songs for his album, and in recent years toured as part of the family band ‘Woody’s World’. This includes his parents, folk singer-songwriters Kate Townsend and Dave Clark. Woody’s World played at many regional festivals and events in 2016, including Adelaide Festival Centre, Melbourne Cabaret Festival and Ukulele Festivals, Pt Fairy Folk Festival and Mt Beauty Music Festival.
Woody remembers feeling surprised by the excitement of former classmates in recalling the novelty of a school teacher who would sing and play guitar to them during art classes. For Woody who grew up in a household where music-making was a normal and assumed part of daily life, this occurrence was familiar and common to him. He realised as an adult, the experience at school had evaporated from his memory as something unremarkable tends to.
Years later as a father and classroom teacher himself, Woody is using his experience and knowledge as a songwriter and musician to uphold the tradition set by his own background, advocating for the benefits and joys of the style of unplugged family music-making he’s enjoyed in his own life.
Woody’s tips for anyone who’s keen to encourage kids to make music are:
Model the behaviour and expose your kids to live music-making.
Have a guitar or ukulele sitting on the couch and build music into your day, for example sing a morning song*, or sing a song before you eat your food, or a bedtime song.
Make it fun! A lot of music education is serious and focuses on the classical side, so if you can show kids that learning and making music can be really fun and engaging too, you’re half way there.
“I’m not putting pressure on my kids to be musicians but if when they leave home, they can play instruments, have some appreciation of the language of music, it’s accessible for them and they can express themselves, then I’ll feel I’ve done my job in that regard.”
As a way to facilitate integrated music-making in the home, Woody runs 8 week ukulele classes teaching kids aged from 5-12 years and their grandparents, parents or guardians, to play the instrument together. In doing so, Woody’s observed the positive benefits and effects that intergenerational learning brings:
“The parents who model the behaviour, doing weekly practise with their kids really upskill in the ukulele, they come back the next week and they’re both excited; they can play that new chord or they can do the new strumming technique. By the end of the 8 weeks instead of the uke being a foreign object that they are wondering how to hold and tune, they are learning to speak that language.”
Next year Woody will take this course online, making it available as a learning resource for kids, parents and carers, everywhere. “It’ll be a kind of crash course in how to learn the basics and there’ll also be an opportunity to play along with Woody’s World during our live shows.” The course will provide footage recorded by Woody for all L-plate ukers to strum along to for practise in their own time. Woody describes it as ‘an integrated project, and a preparatory engagement experience.’
Woody has been working towards this point for a long time having coordinated a number of musical projects, including reKINDle, a response to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and he’s dedicated to continuing this momentum around family music making and taking it onwards: “I’ve been developing my ideas around family music participation for well over a decade. I am passionate about music and how it can connect families and communities and through my upbringing and my teaching and my work with my own kids, it feels like all these strands are coming together.”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, and Woody Clark.
* Woody’s Good morning song is available online! Download the lyrics and mp3 here for freeeee! You can also download the chords and to complete the experience, there’s a colour-in poster to download, print off and complete as you learn the song.
Woody’s debut album is available from his website which includes wonderful family collaborations. Check it out here here. You can keep up to date with his activities on his Facebook Page
Listen and learn ‘Catch the leaves’ a song written by Woody’s daughter when she was 7 years old.
“This particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.”
If you were in Melbourne’s Fed Square last Saturday evening, chances are you’ll have heard the recently re-formed Melbourne Climate Choir in action on stage as part of their quest to raise awareness of the ongoing ‘Stop Adani’ campaign.
The Climate Choir first came together two years ago, formed by community musician and activist Jeannie Marsh, in collaboration with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) to bring a singing component to the People’s Climate March. Jeannie was aware of the need for accessible, catchy songs and simple call and response material for the choir to sing on the steps of the State library and along the Climate March route, as an alternative to the throat-wrecking cry of ‘what do we want, when do we want it.’
In her quest, Jeannie unearthed not only the extensive array of tune-age available on the Carbon Canaries website but also dug up Do it Now, a re-working of Bella Ciao, an Italian Partisan song popular in the Union movement and arranged by an ‘excellent’ group of choral activists based in Belgium, called Sing for the Climate.
“Their version of the song comes with all the resources you could possibly need to use at a rally or action: sheet music, instrumental parts, lyrics sheets, different keys, etc and it’s one of the most powerful and catchy pieces of “protest art” I have ever seen”, says Jeannie. “We have sung this song repeatedly at many events around Melbourne, and people always love it.” Do it Now is an urgent plea to world leaders to commit to ‘reducing carbon emissions, year on year, and highlights the need for strong leadership on climate change to put a stop on the devastation it brings to the world.’
Jeannie has found the song’s structure works really well in a protest setting because it’s bouncy, it’s fun, people know the tune and it’s easy to pick up and sing along to:
We need to wake up We need to wise up We need to open our eyes and do it now, now, now! We need to build a better future And we need to start right now…
“It’s incredibly powerful to be there standing on the steps of the state library with a choir of forty people, an accordion and a trombone and people say that they find it very positive because, you know, Climate Change is a depressing topic…”
Th increased presence of Stop Adani campaigns in the press over the past year or so and the depressing prospect of Australia leading us all into a fossil-fuelled future re-ignited in Jeannie a desire to bring members of the Melbourne Climate Choir back together with a renewed sense of purpose, tuning in once more to the work of the ACF and the group of community singing activists reformed earlier this year:
“I saw all these actions around the place and in politicians’ offices and just thought ‘isn’t that great’ and that maybe it was time to get singing again.”
Jeannie put the word out to all the people who’d identified themselves previously through the work with the ACF in 2015 and before long had a flock of songbirds congregating to sing ‘Do it Now’ outside the office of Josh Frydenberg, Federal MP for Kooyong and Minister for Resources and Energy. Jeannie recalls the event as being ‘really joyful.’
“There was an accordion, the media turned up, people gave speeches, there were plenty of placards and people with banners all processing across the middle of busy Camberwell Junction (where Frydenberg’s office is based). Passers-by were blowing their horns and waving in solidarity. So, I then decided to take up an offer from the ACF to use a room and go through some other songs.”
Jeannie continues, “this particular campaign focussed on Adani has really mobilised people across political parties, across age groups and demographics. They’re worried about their children and they’re worried about their grandchildren and what they’re going to inherit…Singing about it gives anyone feeling powerless and outraged a way to feel better and join with other people who feel the same.”
The Climate Choir has collated a sheet of songs using material from the Carbon Canaries, including Why dig up coal..to the tune of YMCA complete with all the actions, and Love and Marriage as you’ve never heard it before, the words of which go something like ‘Reefs and fossil fuels, reefs and fossil fuels, go together like babies and power tools…Jeannie feels that ultimately it’s about keeping things fun but being heard about a subject which incites passion in people who would otherwise feel disempowered:
“Community Choirs are such a huge thing in Melbourne. You can really make noise and it’s beautiful and it’s uplifting and it’s ultimately empowering.”
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh
*Feature photograph and all photographs in this article were taken by Julian Meehan for the Melbourne Branch of ‘Stop Adani’ at the screening of Guarding the Galilee in Federation Square, Melbourne, Saturday September 16th, 2017
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