Tag Archives: community

From Our Street to Yours: Taking the Band Online

It was participating in an online music session for pre-schoolers which turned around Brian ‘Strat’ Strating and Lyndal Chambers’ thinking about playing and delivering instrumental music online.

“We were invited, us and our grandchildren, to participate in a family session for Drummond Street by Amanda Testro, and it was really interesting. We learned a lot being participants in that group. The fun thing was seeing all the little screens of people doing the same thing or people doing the actions to a song in their own remote locations. We all started off together and then slowly the kids began rambling around the lounge room, you know it’s kind of really interesting and fun to see everyone doing the same thing in different places and we learnt from that experience that things with actions work much better than trying to play music.”

There’s no getting away from it, the communal aspect of instrumental music making online can be dissatisfying for a number of reasons: you don’t have your external speakers cranked up; you don’t own external speakers, your own instrument sounds way louder than what’s coming into your room so there’s no hope of playing along with the facilitator because you’re struggling to actually hear the music itself.  And then there’s the unavoidable reality that in real life sessions, everybody’s bits go together to create a tune and while one person on their own might fumble and stumble over their part or lose the beat, it is everybody playing together in real time that makes everything work and is beautiful.

So how can we make the most of collective instrumental music-making opportunities during these times of physical distancing?  After all, they’re a great vehicle for checking in and hearing how everyone’s doing.

As highly experienced community music facilitators and musicians, this quandary is something Lyndal and Strat have spent many hours contemplating and experimenting with since COVID put an end to most of their other commitments – and income – overnight.

“As a practitioner delivering music online, you need to think about ‘how do I make it work, what’s the reason for doing community music online, and then if you decide to do it, how do I make it successful? Because, you know, if somebody really wants to learn a tune, they can sit in front of a video on YouTube, they can learn the tune slowly and repeat it as many times as they like.” But this isn’t fun, nor is it what brings it to life. We get together in groups because we want to be with other people.

Playing with the pre-schoolers led Lyndal to realise how dancing and responding to action songs works well online because it doesn’t matter if you’re hearing the tunes with lag, you can still do the actions. “At one point, Amanda said ‘go on kids go into the kitchen find your pots and pans’ and they all ran off eagerly to go and get their pots and wooden spoons, and so I ran off and got this big pan and wooden spoon! And when I went to play along, my pans were soooo loud, I couldn’t hear a thing from the computer! We learnt that not only can you not play in real time, you can’t even hear what’s going on unless you have some decent external speakers set up on your computer.”

What both Lyndal and Strat enjoyed most was the social aspect of participating in something in this way. “Our grandkids, all three of them – and one is only 18 months old – are in Blackwood and we are in Inverloch, and we are all watching Amanda’s show and we can all see each other!”

So the main purpose of all being online together is to maintain that social connection which we all need and seek out, and music is still that common thread.

“In our physical groups, music-making is a vehicle for us getting together and we can all play together which is just not possible with the technology that we have. At least not without phenomenal expertise and state of the art equipment. The reality we’re stuck with is we’re not going to be able to play real time music together in virtually any online context anytime soon because there’s such huge variability in everyone’s situation. There are barriers such as internet speeds, internet cabling. And some people don’t have a good, functioning computer with a good camera and good audio, some people don’t have internet at all, and some people are too old to wrestle with technology.”

The takeaway from their experience of online participatory music making has shown Lyndal and Strat the importance of identifying a clear purpose at the start of the online session, articulating this as a group and agreeing on an expectation of what everyone is trying to achieve together. “It’s the same as those values we use when we are face to face.”

Lyndal and Strat were recently invited by Aaron Silver to do a Virtual Bush Dance for the Turramurra community. “When we started trying to work out how to do it, we figured that we needed to actually get up and moving ourselves to get other people off their bums, so we did a practise, and videoed ourselves calling the dance and playing the music simultaneously, and it was hilarious.

“The bush dance worked really well but it took a lot of preparation. We had a dry run with around ten people before the session and discussed which settings were needed on Zoom, what settings people should change, and all the technical stuff. Even this was an opportunity for fun and reconnection, we were all laughing and talking to each other, so the social thing was happening even then. This small group of testers were able to say whether or not they could hear if Lyndal danced away from the computer, or when they stood away from their own computer.”

“When it came down to the actual event we were dancing and moving around at the same time as everyone else, we could still see the concert view on our computer and there was everybody dancing in their living rooms. Mark Jackson took a video of himself and Jane with us in the background on the telly and it was so hilarious, so funny!”

As part of Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020), Strat and Lyndal will be re-visiting this approach and facilitating a Virtual Street Band Parade! The tune is available and can be downloaded ahead of camp so that anyone preparing to play in the virtual street band will be familiar with it. Lyndal and Strat would like more than anything for this workshop to be about letting go, healing and having fun.

“We want it to be a lively thing, a joyful experience! We want it to be ridiculous, a coming-together and dressing up; a fooling around opportunity, a joyful, love-filled safe place!”

“We’ve recorded a multi-track tune ourselves so that there are lots of parts. On the day, we’ll press ‘play’ and everyone will be able to hear the pre-recorded piece of street band music which they’ve also been learning and it will have the counting, and everybody can play along on mute, or sing, or dance or even just mime! And they won’t just be playing on their own, they will actually be playing and singing along to a full band sound in their lounge room, bedroom or study or wherever they might be, or even outside on the veranda! Our aim is to light up the screen with participation.”

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The Virtual Street Band Parade will be about dressing up, getting together and having fun!

In considering the transitioning of their leadership skills into the virtual space, Lyndal is reflective about the challenges of maintaining diversity and inclusion.

“Thinking about the values, this idea of ‘from one to many’ is not my ideal for community music making, I think that’s a real stumbling block for me. In a real-life situation, there may be a nominal leader or a leadership team, and you’re allowing everybody’s voice to contribute ideas to the circle and they feel invested. When you have an online platform there’s one person is sitting in front of the computer directing the actions and everyone’s speakers are on mute, its completely the antithesis of the kind of ideal for me of a democratic community music group…”

Strat agrees, “I think it’s impossible in the online setting, so yeah that’s a great challenge, and the other thing is the thinking that if your normal session goes for an hour, have an hour online. You absolutely cannot! With the bush dance, we would usually go through something like that twelve times, whereas online we went through it just three. The elements that are most important are dancing and movement and linking up and having a great time.”

“Enabling people to do their own dressing up and their own dancing allows them to participate as much or as little as they can, or want to or feel able to, while still contributing. And if we can record it, which I know is possible, there will be this amazing collage of everyone doing their own thing in their own way and interpreting it somehow in a way that’s personal to them.”

And, because you’ll be muted if you have always wanted to play the trumpet in a street band but don’t actually play the trumpet – now’s the time! If you’ve got a trumpet, pick it up and be able to play without any bum notes, straight off the bat!  This one of the advantages of the virtual street band; anything goes.

“There are no limits! Oh my gosh” says Lyndal, “The No Limits Street Band…

Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020) runs May 29-30. It’s a free event and registrations are now open!  To register for the Virtual Street Band Parade, click here.

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in conversation with Lyndal Chambers and Brian Strating. Thank you both!

Threshold Choir Tecoma offers Songs for the Dying

For the close-knit community in the hills above Melbourne, comfort and support in the form of song will soon be available to those on the threshold of life, offered by a fledgling new group of singers, Threshold Choir, Tecoma, led by experienced singing leader, Barb Mcfarlane.

“I went to the Sacred Edge Festival about four years ago and there was a singing session which, of course, I went to. The woman leading it was from the Threshold Choir in Melbourne. Speaking with her afterwards I was fascinated by the idea of singing for the sick and the dying and immediately wanted to be part of it, but Melbourne Threshold Choir meets on a Wednesday night which is when my choir Vokallista rehearses.”

Barb let the idea ride for a while until the subject came up again in conversation with her friend, Christina Reeves, who is a trained death doula. A death doula supports the person who is dying and their loved ones in whatever way is required to come to terms and be able to deal with what is happening. Christina shared and encouraged Barb’s excitement about the idea of a Threshold Choir and the possibility of forming one based in the hills. And so, this particular story begins.

‘The Mother Ship’ as Barb calls it, is the Threshold Choir established in California in 2000, by a woman called Kate Munger. The Threshold Choir is a secular organisation run by volunteers which supports people all over the world to establish their own chapter of the choir with the shared goal ‘to bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying’.

Permission to sing Threshold Choir songs is granted only to members of the organisation. There is no set rate to join; singers pay what they are able or would like to, from one dollar upwards. This membership facilitates access to tips, mentorship and a cappella singing resources to support them in their journey.

It was important to Barb to feel completely at ease with the rules set by the Threshold Choir before introducing any of her singers to the organisation. “I thought about going maverick and doing it my way, then I thought some more. The Threshold Choir Mother Ship has many beautiful songs which are tested, tried and trusted. They also offer mentoring support meaning if something happens I can contact my ‘coach’ or anyone else I meet through that network, and say, ‘hey look, this happened…what would you have done?’ It’s a way to de-brief and check in. On balance it’s worth it for the peace of mind.”

Barb’s coach, Cathy, is based in the US and mentoring is possible via Skype and email. Cathy has been available to Barb since the inception of her initial idea through to the launch of Threshold Choir, Tecoma. It’s an ongoing relationship and she offers Barb mentoring and advice on some of the more common questions which come up, and advises how to prepare the singers for the emotional aspect of what they’re preparing to do.

Barb knows that it’s difficult for anyone to know what to expect in the emotional sense: “There’s a huge range of possibilities to prepare for in a room where someone’s dying.” Threshold Choir, Tecoma rehearsals runs for three hours and at the end Barb finds people are keen to stay and keep talking and singing.  “It’s common for people to feel that we’ve lost the art of talking about death and dying and the experience of belonging to the Threshold Choir allows a way for the singers to reconnect with memories and share their own experiences of bereavement and loss should they wish to do so, or if they find grief and emotion is triggered by what they are doing. It’s a safe, empathic space where people are free to open up. If you bring it out by way of tears and having other people listen it’s always a healthy process.”  

Having spent a year familiarising herself with the material, Barb now has 15 Threshold Choir songs which she’s taught to her group. “We sing them for a long time, each of them might be the length of a Short Stuff style song, and we’ll sing that for around 15 minutes.”  

As somebody highly experienced in leading community choirs and singing groups, having guidelines to follow has required some adjustment for Barb. “I’m still getting my head around how to behave within the rules, cos that’s a bit of a challenge for me, I’m used to doing my own thing, but I also feel protected by it as well because they’ve all been doing it for a very long time.”

In preparing for a session, Barb sets up a circle with a reclining chair covered with a blanket and cushions in the middle. The singers are then invited into the centre to experience the sensation of being sung to for themselves. “We’ve taken a lot of time to do that. We’ll sing for a good 20 minutes to give the person in the chair the feeling of what they might be giving to someone else when they go out and start singing. We then allow for some space and listen to whatever they might want to share about sensations or how they felt.”

Threshold Choir guidelines suggest that singers go out in groups of 2-4 to avoid crowding  out a space. Most hospital rooms and private bedrooms aren’t able to accommodate more singers than that without their presence becoming overwhelming. This means that the singers who attend not only have to be confident in singing their parts but need to be able to hold it on their own, which is what takes the time for most people.

Barb now has around 30 singers who’ve been to gauge whether singing in a Threshold Choir is something they think they could do, with a good core of 12 coming along to most sessions. She’s happy to allow for a slow build of interest, the work may not be for everyone. Barb’s also working to factor in obsolescence for herself in order to ensure longevity for the group. As an ongoing part of rehearsals, Barb models and shares solid CMVic Singing Leadership skills, offering others in the core group the opportunity to teach and lead songs, encouraging them to develop their own skills in leading rehearsals and eventually, to deliver the actual work with people in the community.

The services of the Threshold Choir, Tecoma will be available for people in Palliative Care at home, or in a hospice. The songs may also be used as a way for soothing the room down after somebody has passed. Effects of the singing are reported as calming, peace inducing and pain relieving for the person who is ill, for their relatives, for the staff if the person is in a facility and, of course, for the singers themselves. 

Living in such a connected community, Barb foresees a high demand for the services of the Threshold Choir Tecoma in time and is hopeful to have enough singers available to manage a roster service available to voluntarily sing for the sick, the dying and their families. 

This weekend, Christina Reeves, Death Doula, is heading up a ‘Dying to Knowexpo being held in the Hills (August 8-11). The focus of the weekend is to explore ways to ‘create a world where we all know what to do when someone is sick, dying or grieving’. Threshold Choir, Tecoma will be singing at this event and Barb will host immersion sessions on Sunday 11th August for anyone keen to experience the songs or who would like to try singing with the group and find out further for themselves, what this incredible service is all about.

Written by Deb Carveth, CMVic Online Editor, and Barb Mcfarlane for Community Music Victoria.

Photo by Bobby Stevens on Unsplash

Getting big feminists singing!

By Jane York

On Feb 5th this year I posted in a private feminist group I belong to, the following:

“Random thought for all singers (everyone) in this group: If I was to start a casual Inner North FEMINIST CHOIR, who would be interested? Singing tunes by powerhouse women of pop and indie including Beyonce, Peaches, Meryl Bainbridge.  Like if you would be keen to come along  x”

The idea for a feminist choir had been rattling around in my head for a long time, nurtured through chats with lefty, femmo, artist friends about what our creative responses to this unique cultural moment in history might look like. I made a playlist entitled ‘Feminist Choir’ that may or may not have included the song Bitch by Meredith Brooks. So when I got 12 comments of support under my Facebook post I thought ‘fantastic, great, let’s do this right away…’

Right away turned out to be 5 months, and change. I booked the room, made a poster, created a Facebook event and – for lack of any better ideas – titled it BIG FEMINIST SING!, thinking this would do until I came up with a much more clever and witty title.

I then proceeded to completely overthink what we would sing: What is a feminist? What does a feminist song sound like? Am I even a good enough feminist? What if I forget how to feminist and I am never allowed to feminist again?!!!!

After this initial bout of imposter syndrome, I realised that I needed to focus on what I wanted from a Big Feminist Sing. What I wanted was to express a complex set of conflicting emotions around identity. To do more than argue with strangers on the internet. To make a physical space for catharsis. To express vulnerability, anger, humour; to be fierce, silly and soulful. I wanted to be unapologetically critical of our leaders, cultural values and institutions. I wanted to build community, and I didn’t need to have all the answers!

It was important to me that the Big Feminist Sing workshop was a welcoming and safe space for all non-binary, gender fluid, intersex and trans singers. There is a disturbing amount of discrimination in some pockets of the feminist community and I wanted it to be clear from the outset that everyone is welcome. I have tried to do that by stating explicitly on all our promotion that we are for everybody. I have also been conscious of this when making song choices and lyric changes in songs. Not just choosing songs with lyrics about Woman power and giving pronoun options on lyric sheets. I hope that this has made the space more welcoming and I will continue to listen to feedback around this.

As with my other projects I knew that selecting material would be crucial to the success of the initial workshop. I wanted it to be satisfying and surprising, so the first song in our first session was the children’s song There’s A Hole In My Bucket, which was my dry and humorous way of finding a song that accurately depicted the domestic mental load and the infantilisation of adult men. We then sung a mournful a capella lament on the destruction of Mother Earth by trans singer-songwriter, Anohni, and Radiohead’s Creep, with guitar accompaniment and the lyrics re-written to be about Trump.

Over 40 people showed up to the first workshop and many were not regular choristers or singers. For the second Big Feminist Sing over 80 people came through the door and I was excited and nervous in equal parts. I now had an unruly mob of lefty feminists to wrangle and lead. What did they want or expect? Luckily our venue had a stage and my accompanist had brought a headset mic for me to use so I had physical command of the room. With prior permission, I had arranged Tiddas’ My Sister in two parts and in just under an hour we had something glorious and powerful. The video of that session was shared nearly 4,000 times and, by her own admission, we had Sally Dastey in tears.

We travelled to Docklands Library for the third session, inspired by the big turnout for the previous workshop in Northcote, however I want Big Feminist Sing to be of no fixed address and to move around, allowing different groups of people to take part. Although the turnout for the Docklands workshop was smaller, a third of those who attended did so only because it was held in a central location.

Our fourth workshop was a collaboration with Reclaim the Night were we learnt Mylk’s Quiet, the anthem from the Women’s march. We were then invited to sing it at the conclusion of the RTN event the following week. I made an online resource of the song so that people who couldn’t attend the workshop could still be a part of the evening event and on the night we had around 40 voices leading the crowd in song.

I have a lot of ideas for the future of Big Feminist Sing and am in the process of putting together a committee to help put them into action. The main question in my mind right now is ‘what is our activism’? What will it look, sound and feel like? I look forward to answering these questions and making music with the incredible humans who make up the BFS community.

Jane York
October 2018

The next Big Feminist Sing is on 13 November, 7-9pm at Kindred Studios, 3 Harris St, Yarraville. Click here for info.

About Jane: Jane is a multi skilled musical instigator committed to the community building power of group singing. She is the founder and director of contemporary community choir ‘Just Holler’, musical director of Nillumbik Youth Theatre and producer and musical director of Big Feminist Sing. She has directed choirs and music groups for people aged 10-90 with a focus on mental health recovery and inclusive practice for the disability community.

When she is not waving her hands around Jane is producing community music events including choir jams, a sold-out tribute to 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields, It’s Our Side Project and #Sing4equality.

On rare occasions she can also be seen performing with madrigal group Tierce De Picarde and a capella trio The Northern Belles.

Featured image: Photograph by recalcitrant

 

Take karaoke to Noongar country and you get … Noongaroke

 

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Noongaroke was far more than a good night out; it was an inspired intervention to support grieving Noongar families.
Mika Hiltunen

Anna Haebich, Curtin University

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

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”.

Jim explains:

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.

Noongar music

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.

This is an edited extract from an essay by Anna Haebich and Jim Morrison that appeared in the Griffith Review 46: Cultural Solutions.The Conversation

Anna Haebich, Senior Research Professor, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

http://theconversation.com

Ageing in harmony: why the third act of life should be musical

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It’s never too late to pick up a musical instrument. In fact there are many reasons why it’s a great idea, particularly in old age.We normally hear about reasons to increase music education for children, and for good cause. There are many cognitive and social benefits to playing an instrument that aid a child’s development. Consequently, as an older adult, there are long-term effects of having taken part in these musical activities, as it can limit cognitive decline.

Even a small amount of training can have long lasting effects. But this doesn’t mean that those who have never played an instrument in childhood have missed the boat. The ageing brain is plastic: that means it is able to learn new things all the time. So, should we consider an increase in music programs for those in the third age?

Playing music as a workout for the brain

Learning to play a musical instrument is an extremely complex task that involves the coordination of multiple sensory systems within the brain. Many instruments require precise coordination between the eyes, the ears and the hands in order to play a musical note. Using the resulting sound as feedback, the brain prepares for the next note and so it continues. The act of music-making is quite a brain workout.

The relationship between the motor and auditory parts of the brain is strengthened when physically playing music. This may explain why adults trained to play certain melodies have an enhanced representation of music in the brain compared to adults only trained to listen to the same melodies.

As playing music involves many different parts of the brain, even a short-term program for older adult musical novices can lead to generalised improvements for cognitive ability.

Music as a workout for the fingers

Learning to play an instrument such as the piano involves many complex finger sequencing and coordination tasks. As such, it can be a great test-bed for learning to move fingers independently.

The creativity of music and the enjoyment people take in playing is particularly important for rehabilitation, as it encourages sustained practice leading ultimately to higher benefits.

It’s thanks to this that piano lessons have been used to successfully retrain hand function for patients who have had a stroke. The immediate auditory feedback from each finger movement is thought to help adults reduce errors in movement and work towards moving at a more regular pace.

Music training is an excellent environment to train cognitive and motor abilities, both in the contexts of child development and for rehabilitation. The question for older adults is this: can learning a musical instrument not only put the brakes on cognitive and motor decline, but actually allow development of new skills?

Older adults can improve their motor learning – that is, they can improve their rate of learning new things – and the best environments for brain training are ones that are novel and flexible.

Of course many activities can be novel such as juggling or knitting, but the advantages of learning an instrument can be found in the breadth of skills required to play. At Western Sydney University, we are currently investigating how piano training can be used with healthy older adults to improve their general hand function in unrelated daily tasks.

Music for health and wellbeing

Often, the worry is that playing an instrument will be too difficult for older adults to manage. On the contrary, learning to play an instrument can provide a great sense of achievement and satisfaction.

Older adults relish the opportunity to learn something new. Cogntive benefits aside, music can also be a great social activity for older adults, facilitating social bonding and decreasing feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Music programs are linked to improvements measured in markers of the body’s immune system such as the presence of antibodies and vital signs (heart rate/blood pressure).

It’s suggested that this is a consequence of decreases in stress that can happen when taking part in musical activities. However, further research is needed to determine exactly how this relationship functions.

Music for all

It’s vital to understand how we can aid the current generation of older adults, in terms of both health and personal enjoyment. With the myriad benefits provided by playing a musical instrument, it would seem beneficial to have a wider variety of musical activities on offer to the older generation.

Wouldn’t it be great if the third age wasn’t viewed as a final descent from some mid-life peak, but some new act of life that opens up these opportunities? Perhaps we should give older adults the chance to develop in ways they could never have imagined before.

Activities such as singing in a choir, or playing the piano can provide this opportunity, as well as offering many general benefits to health and wellbeing.

Ageing in harmony: why the third act of life should be musical was written by
Jennifer MacRitchie, Research Lecturer in Music Perception and Cognition, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Playing music is good for people at all stages in their lives – including the elderly – photo by Jeremy Brooks, CC BY-NC

 

Playing to Spin: Celtic tunes keep Contra dancers on their toes

Contra dance… que’est-ce-que c’est? For those of us who’ve never dipped a heel or toe into this aspect of the folk or social dance scene, a quick spot of online research explains contra dancing as ‘social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music.’ A hot stepping cousin of square dancing or bush dancing, contra dancing is done in pairs with couples moving up and down a line or in sets in response to a caller. It originates from North America and is steadily gaining an enthusiastic following of new, young dancers here in Australia. It is also a fantastic way to link social dancing with community music making.

Melbourne based musician, Judy Oleinikov is a big fan of the inclusive nature of contra dance and for the past three years or so has been doing her bit to bring a wider awareness of it to musicians and dancers alike: “ Contra dances can  be more vivacious and also a little bit more informal than some of the other dances we have here… unlike something more structured such as Scottish Dancing, it isn’t intimidating to beginners.”

It may be a relief to hear that a sleek technique isn’t required and you don’t need to point your toes to take part. Contra dancing is open to anyone of any age and people seem to find it highly addictive due to its inherent element of fun. That and the amount of spinning involved.

For Judy, Contra dance kicks come from her involvement as a fiddle player for the dance:

 “What I love about social dance is seeing a roomful of people in sync, the dancers and the musicians. There’s just nothing better, that buzz of live music and everyone responding to it.

In addition to the fact it’s fun, Judy considers the resurgence in contra dancing important in helping to sustain a complex skill and a vital element of musicality which she believes is at risk of becoming lost: the ability to play for dancers.

“A lot of Celtic musicians learn the music completely separate from the dance and so they haven’t quite got the feel… they can be brilliant players but to a dancer it just wouldn’t be right. We’ve grown used to hearing recordings or playing tunes in pubs and so what I really like about bringing a dance back is doing it while people are learning the music to go with it.”

Contra dance music is lively, and drives and energizes the dancers. Like all forms of music, it has originated from a blend of traditions, noticeably Irish, Scottish, Breton, Québecois, Cape Breton, New England, and Appalachian, and is constantly evolving, as living traditions do. As an avid player of Celtic music herself, Judy explains that the origin of this form of music was in playing tunes for people to dance along to as entertainment.

 “People used to dance every week. There’s the story of how in Ireland, people used to meet on the crossroads whenever there was a full moon because there were no halls big enough to fit everyone into… it’s been people’s enjoyment for so long.”

While this form of dancing fell out of favour as other new and exciting ways to pass the time were thought up and invented throughout the twentieth century, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that when people rediscover it as a form of unplugged entertainment, it becomes a bit of an addiction.

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Photo supplied

As a musician, one of the things Judy loves most about this form of traditional music is that tunes are learnt and carried by ear. There are no scores to follow and whilst a framework is essential to prevent chaos breaking out on the dance floor, musicians can be spontaneous and creative in their playing and because they’re not following markings on a piece of paper, their interpretation can come across.

 “Because there are no hard and fast rules about chord choices and where the notes should be played, you’ll hear something different about the melody each time… there’s no break out like there is in jazz, it’s more about taking the framework of the tune and finding elements in it to change around or highlight, and that’s really exciting.”

For the past four years, Judy has run the Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle Weekend, a music camp dedicated to French Canadian music, a type of Celtic music that’s “as much fun to play as it is to listen to” which has remained very rhythmic, very lively and is a style extremely well suited to contra dancing.

Each year, Judy has included a dance in the camp’s program, inspired by the social dancing she’d seen in Quebec to this particular style of music. “I thought it would be absolutely brilliant to run a dance like that here at my camp!” Two friends of Judy’s are dance callers and dancers in different styles, and they each asked if she’d consider a contra dance.

 “They’d fallen in love with the style and knew of hardly any contra dance happening here in Victoria. Once we had a go I could see their point – it’s a really great form of social dancing.”

Jeanette Mill, who is an experienced Contra dance caller from Canberra, has worked with Judy for the past three years. “Jeanette is highly experienced with a range of dances up her sleeve for whoever comes along and, in order to be as inclusive as possible, starts each of the dances quite simply.” As Judy points out, the skill of the caller has to combine with the skill of the musicians to ensure that the dancers can pick up and maintain a rhythm and flow.

“We have kids, we have parents holding toddlers, we have more elderly people and even teenage boys joining in! It’s great to get all the age groups up and dancing with people they may feel too shy to sit and talk to and, as some of the dances are progressive, it mixes everyone up.”

Whilst Contra dancing isn’t actually a French Canadian thing, it’s been carried across the borders into Quebec from the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the heartland of Contra Dance. Subsequently, a lot of the musicians from that region make their money as dance players and tend to be extremely good at it.

In November this year, Judy will once again be hosting a four-day French Canadian music camp in Gippsland ‘which will honour the traditional way of learning music by providing an environment open to all players, teaching the music by ear and enjoying a great community atmosphere.’

The Quebec Fiddle Camp will offer musicians and dancers the opportunity to participate in an afternoon’s contra dance workshop led by visiting musicians from Quebec. “Australia has very few musicians who can play for contra dances so far, and it’s great to have the opportunity to book visiting musicians here who are strong in the genre.”

Judy is keen to encourage players who attend the weekend to have a go at the dancing in order to experience it from a dancing perspective, to feel the music and the impact it has.

The 2018 Quebec Fiddle Camp will take place over cup weekend, (Nov 2-6) and on Monday November 5, (Cup Eve), Judy is planning a big contra dance in Trafalgar. This event will be open to anyone out there in the community who’s keen to join in and – literally – give it a whirl.

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Getting into the swing of things: Photo supplied

For information about the annual Quasitrad Quebec Fiddle weekend, visit www.quasitrad.com

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Judy Oleinikov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Euroa loves singing for its supper: Di Mackrell and the enduring appeal of Vocal Nosh

Word of mouth plays a big part in recruiting singers to the Euroa Vocal Nosh,* an informal community singing group run regularly for almost seventeen years and counting. That and the fear of missing out…

One evening last year, a couple were driving past Strathbogie church where one of the Nosh leaders, Di Mackrell was holding a session of the Strathbogie singers. Seeing a significant number of parked cars along the roadside, the couple pulled up to find out what was going on and were invited in by one of the choir members, whom they happened to know. In the funny fateful way life sometimes has, this pique of curiosity brought them straight into a setting where one of them would later find unexpected closure.

Having been told by a teacher to “mime not sing” at the age of just five, this woman’s confidence in her ability had remained squashed flat for her entire life. Once they stepped into the Strathbogies’ session, it wasn’t long before Di had them joining in with the singing.

“You should have seen her face at the end of that choir session, it was just beaming. Then I had this little thought that maybe Vocal Nosh might be something they’d be interested in and I dropped a program into their mail box  – they came to the next session and were just blown away by it – and they’ve lived in Euroa longer than I have…”

Like most singing leaders, Di encounters singers who have lost confidence because of cruel or thoughtless comments made in the past ‘all the time’. Being able to turn this around is heart-warming for everyone.

“It just makes me think YEEEEEESSS! That’s what it’s all about!!!”

Di Mackrell is a little bit biased about the transformative power of Euroa Vocal Nosh with good reason and actually, this is where the story starts.

At the final 2017 session of Euroa Vocal Nosh, there were 26 singers in the room which prompted Di to celebrate and reflect on the magic of this phenomenon which has been a regular fixture on the community music calendar there, for sixteen years.

The group was established in 2001, but Di didn’t take a central role until one of the original leaders had to move away and a second leader felt it was too much continue running alone.

“I didn’t think that I could ever lead a group but I thought, well, I don’t want it to stop either!”

Di then attended a series of CMVic leadership training days during the early 2000s, which she says were ‘just amazing.’ For repertoire, the group uses the CMVic Songbooks and lots of recordings from the older training days, as well as songs shared more recently too:

“We came back from Amberley (CMVic Singing Camp) with lots of things, I’ve always got my recorder on the lookout for things that would work.”

The Nosh leaders continue to teach songs aurally, something Di values the challenge of:

“It’s a head stretch and it’s good for you! The ability to keep things in our memories is one we are using less and less. We only occasionally hand out song sheets but sometimes I’ll write the words on a piece of card which we put in the middle of the circle. If we hand out pieces of paper, noses tend to get stuck in them, so if we can avoid doing this, we do.”

Di attributes the ongoing appeal of Vocal Nosh to the philosophy, ‘if it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter’. It’s a free and fearless space and people can carry this positive attitude out of the door to transfer into other aspects of their lives.

“We’ve stuck to the model started by Fay White;* meeting on a Sunday evening at 6pm, singing for an hour then eating together before finishing with another group sing. We’ve had people say to us, ‘oh Sunday night, I don’t want to go out on a Sunday night, I’ve got to get ready for work or whatever, but we decided well, you can’t please everyone so we tried to make people see that actually it doesn’t make you tired, and that singing will energise you for the start of the week.”

Di shares the load of running the Nosh with two other leaders, Chris Day and Margie Chowanetz. The group runs on the goodwill of the three women and their shared passion for inspiring others to discover and share their love of singing. Each singer pays $15 which covers the cost of a generous caterer and the local venue. To make it more sustainable for themselves they have reduced pressure on their time by cutting the number of sessions held each year from nine to five, meeting every second month from March to November.

“Of course, people said oh no, we want it more often but we felt if we gave it up altogether, that would be no good at all!”

“People travel from all over the place, Wangaratta, Murchison, Kyabram and even Melbourne, so it’s interesting cos there is a bit of a network and we all stay in touch via email. A couple of weeks before we meet, Chris, Margie and I meet up for a coffee to plan things then I’ll send out an email and that helps people’s memories.”

New people pop in all the time and there’s only been one session Di can recall when there hasn’t been a fresh face in the room.  It doesn’t matter if you miss a session, three, four or even more. Everyone can be guaranteed of a heartfelt greeting upon their return, no matter how long the period of their absence. Di finds it ‘magic’ to take a roomful of people who have never sung together before and within ten minutes, have all these beautiful harmonies and connections happening.

“After 16 years, we’re all still really keen…there’s something very special about Vocal Nosh, you’re gathering people who do not wish to commit to a regular group or who aren’t confident to join a more formal group and well, it’s great fun and it’s just an amazing phenomenon!”

Vocal Nosh
Di Mackrell, Margie Chowanetz, Nosh guest Jane Coker, and Chris Day. The cake was to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Euroa Vocal Nosh.

 

** Euroa Vocal Nosh follows the model developed by Community Music Activist, Fay White back in 1999. Read about the story, the values and the evolution of Vocal Nosh in Fay’s words, here

Featured image of Euroa Flour Mill taken from www.visitvictoria.com

To join Euroa Vocal Nosh, or to find a singing group near you, click here.

Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in collaboration with Di Mackrell.