Researchers found that young men and women who shared musical experiences with their parents during childhood — and especially during adolescence — report having better relationships with their mums and dads as they enter young adulthood.
“If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them,” said study co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the UA Department of Communication.
“If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child’s perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood.”
Researchers surveyed a group of young adults, average age 21, about the frequency with which they engaged with their parents, as children, in activities such as listening to music together, attending concerts together or playing musical instruments together.
Read the full article written by Alexis Blue and published by the University of Arizona, here.
Feature photo: Markus Spisk; Violin and Flute: Micaela Parente on Unsplash
Leaving Melbourne via the Westgate Bridge on a Wednesday evening, clouds of steam cluster and dissipate into the darkening sky. It’s fair to assume these plumes are output from the factories and refineries dotting the coast like pins in a board from Port Melbourne to Geelong. It’s also possible that part of the component entering the atmosphere is a heady mix of CO2 and endorphins being exhaled by the Willin Wimmin of Williamstown, having their weekly sing.
Willin Wimmin past and present were reunited last month to celebrate 25 years as a community choir giving voice to women, and spreading the joy of singing and community to audiences in the west and beyond. By their reckoning, this amounts to roughly 1000 rehearsals, more than 200 performances, over 300 songs and 250 women who have been involved since the inception of the singing group.
Worthy of a knees up, by anyone’s standard. The room was filled with friends, partners and family, everyone brought their own dinner, there was support with sound and lighting from their mates at the Newport Community Choir: it was a community event in every sense of the word.
The group sprung from the John Bolton Theatre School which was based in Williamstown, back in 1991. John employed Bronwen Barton as his music teacher who, with John’s partner and a few friends started singing together. The seeds for Willin Wimmin were sown and interest quickly caught on among the community. The singers were not only Willin Wimmin, they were feisty women with a will and the current members continue to embrace this identity: They set out as sisters doing it for themselves, collaborating as a cooperative and proudly eschewing the committee way of doing things until more recently.
The increasing requirements of funding bodies and venues requiring insurance over the years created a gradual push to become incorporated and adopt a more formal arrangement. Willin Wimmin eventually (reluctantly) bowed to the external pressure, formed a management committee and became incorporated last year.
Back at the start, Bronwen was a great vocal coach whose philosophy that anyone can sing set the value of inclusivity which has underpinned the group ever since. There have never been auditions and the women make it clear that no singing experience or knowledge of music is necessary. A good sense of humour, the will to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity and a shared belief in supporting, and welcoming one another is what counts. Willin Wimmin sing with heart and choose their material from an eclectic selection of genres including world, folk, choral and contemporary.
Julie Merritt has sung with Willin Wimmin for 18 of its 25 years, joining when the youngest of her three children was around 12 months old. The social side of belonging to the group drew her in; she felt a sense of belonging and like she’d found her tribe.
A strong social justice theme runs throughout the choir, and Willin Wimmin have sung on demonstrations and rallies, at sport, art, health and women’s issues events. They’ve trodden the boards at a variety of venues, too: Deakin Edge Theatre, Melbourne Recital Centre, the NGV as well as Fairlea Women’s Prison and Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, to name but a few.
Willin Wimmin have been helped along their journey by the commitment from their leaders:
“We have been fortunate with our directors – they have each been fabulous, feisty, fearless, sometimes fearsome. Each of them brought unique gifts and talents with warmth, patience and fun. Without them, there is no Willin Wimmin.”
Bronwen Barton took the helm for the first ten years, followed by Jo Lange, Dan Scollay, Jennifer Lund, and since 2014, the group has been lead by Steph Payne. Collaborations with other choirs have enhanced their song filled journey, too. Willin Wimmin teamed up with Mark Seymour and the Victorian Trade Union Choir to sing in Dust, a musical by Donna Jackson about the devastating impact of asbestos. They were also joined by the VTUC and Newport Community Choir to sing excerpts of Dust when Donna’s book ‘Art & Social Change: Dust, a Case Study’ was recently launched.
Keeping Community and Women’s issues in their hearts and at the forefront of their philosophy, Willin Wimmin have sung at Reconciliation demos; the National Women in Construction awards and at the Victorian apology to women forced to give their babies up for adoption, where they sung for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers (ARMS). The list doesn’t end there.
Willin Wimmin were also way ahead of the current media frenzy that has gained such rapid momentum around women’s football, and sang at the Women’s AFL grand final before women’s footy was officially deemed cool.
“We have, very importantly, also just sung for each other, in times of sadness, joy, longing, celebration and always with love.”
The wimmin are willin in more ways than one and are happy to offer inspiration and support to everyone who comes into their orbit, irrespective of how long they choose to stay on and sing with them.
About five years ago, Julie recalls an influx of women to the group, aged around 40. Each and every one of them found their voice through the supportive environment before moving on to form off shoot groups or find other, more challenging ways of nurturing their singing souls.
Julie doesn’t pause as she emphatically describes this as ‘brilliant’, seeing it as a natural part of what Willin Wimmin exists to allow; an integral component of its entity and a tangible example of the generosity required for a happy, cohesive community spirit. She acknowledges that seeing people move on is bittersweet “like a parent waving a child goodbye”, but that it is more wonderful to enable people to literally find their voice.
Many members have a story of ‘finding their voice’ thanks to Willin Wimmin.
Confidence, courage and strength are uncovered through singing and performing within a group of supportive, welcoming women, week in, week out. Julie offers herself as a prime example and has felt her confidence grow gradually “not just enough to sing in small groups, but to be back-up conductor, speechmaker, even president of the committee.” This has extended beyond the context of Willin Wimmin and into other areas of her life, proving once again, how impacting and profound the values and benefits of community musicking can be on the lives and well being of its participants.
So congratulations to Willin Wimmin on 25 years of singing together, supporting each other and creating opportunities for community cohesion and connection in lucky old Williamstown. There’s no sign of the sun setting in the west, anytime soon.
Written by Deb Carveth with Julie Merritt, President of Willin Wimmin.
If you’d like to join Willin Wimmin, they meet on Wednesday evenings at 7.30-9.30pm during term time, and further information is available here.
Tides of Welcome Choir has been celebrating diversity and harmony through a shared passion for singing, and has just blown out the candles on its thirteenth anniversary cake. The choir comprises locals from Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, who enjoy the experience of singing together and creating soulful harmonies under the direction of their dedicated leader, singer songwriter, Andrea Robertson.
Based in Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House, Tides of Welcome has never struggled with numbers enjoying a consistently strong turn out and cohesion from day one, back when it was lead by Sarah Carroll and known as The Ripchords.
Carolyn Williams is one of the founding members, and has been heavily involved in the development and evolution of the choir from its outset, participating in the fun stuff at the front end, and overseeing the administrative nuts and bolts behind the scenes:
“Myself and a few other people were keen to start up a choir and had been for some time but we knew we had to find the right person to lead it, somebody charismatic who would bring people along with her or him. And we found Sarah Carroll who at that stage was in the Melbourne based country band, Git, and had recently moved down to the Bellarine Peninsula. We approached her and she was very keen, so we advertised and on the first night we had about 40 people. Given that Queenscliff is a small population this was a real coup!”
So was it something in the sea air, or was there simply a gap in the singing market?
Carolyn believes it was Sarah’s reputation that drew singers in and the hard to resist attraction of what she had done previously in her own musical right. The group found a home in the senior citizens centre in Queenscliff, changed their name to Tides of Welcome Soul and Gospel Choir, and remained singing with Sarah, for the next 7 years.
One clear problem emerged extremely early on, during the group’s first year, and stemmed from an ebb and flow in the number of people attending. “At times there were 20 people who’d turn up, while on other nights there’d be 40. Sometimes there would be an entirely different group from one week to the next based on who came to sing and who stayed at home. “
This caused a few challenges around the practicality of teaching songs to a group whose dynamic would shift and change, and where people were remembering the repertoire in varying ways and to differing extents.
The choir committee decided to nip the problem in the bud by introducing termly rates, and this immediately fixed the problem. “Once people weren’t paying on a weekly basis it really sorted things out, reiterated everyone’s commitment to the group and regardless of whether you were on holiday half way through term or whatever, you were in it for the duration.”
By 2004, the choir was performance ready and scored themselves a spot at the Queenscliff music festival. Their debut turned into an annual place on the bill, and offers incentive and focus to the singers, and a shape to the year.
A strong set of values underpin the group. As an inclusive community choir, there are no auditions and everyone’s welcome. Tides of Welcome have had a range of experiences over the years including recording five CDs and the production process has been so tight that every voice counts. There are people within the choir who are happy to do solo spots while others can think of nothing worse than being out there by themselves. If a person joins the group who is less confident in their ability to hit the notes, they’ll be put alongside stronger, more confident singers until they find their groove.
So what’s the secret in the success and longevity of the choir? Carolyn believes that comes down to a combination of factors such as the willingness of individual choir members to support the group. For example, they’re fortunate to have a guy who makes time to record all the songs and put them on Soundcloud so that everyone can rehearse in between choir practise, and who has also prepared the website, a fantastic resource richly populated with photos of the group in action, songs and lyrics.
Another huge bonus is the auspicing received by Tides of Welcome from Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House. Not only does this assure them a rehearsal space, it means the administrative and financial needs of the group are all taken care of by the House; the emails which need sending around; the printing of the lyrics, any photocopying; the list of admin and back house tasks which are necessary to underpin all community music groups, are entirely taken care of. And the cherry on the cake is that Carolyn is not only a founding member of the choir, she is the Coordinator for the neighbourhood house, too.
“We have always had the wider community as our heart and the Queenscliffe Neighbourhood House as our heart beat.”
A small Tides of Welcome executive committee meets regularly to take stock, review guidelines and ensure things are on track for everyone, while the final choice about material sung by the group, is made by the leader. During their incarnation as a soul and gospel choir. Sarah Carroll sourced some amazing and rare gospel songs for the group to sing, “what she’d call white gospel from the southern states of America.” Tiffany Eckhardt who went on to direct the choir later on, wrote songs specifically for the choir which was also wonderful, and choir members are always welcome to contribute ideas for material, at any point in time.
Tides of Welcome have benefited from three sessions of professional development over the course of the past 13 years, including a ‘tune up’ from Jonathan Welch, which Carolyn feels was extremely valuable. They continue to be led by experienced leaders, rich in musical background and experienced in teaching a variety of age groups and abilities. Local musician and educator Andrea Robertson is the current director.
“Andrea is a singer songwriter based in Ocean Grove… whilst new to directing a choir like Tides of Welcome, she is an experienced singing and piano teacher and has worked with children’s choirs and church groups. We were very fortunate to have Andrea join us. She’s embraced the role of Director and continues to teach and inspire us to create our soulful sound layered with rich harmonies. She’s also expanded our repertoire to include many songs that she has written specifically for us.”
Thirteen years constitutes many, many weeks of singing together and a handful of the original singers involved since the start are still coming back for more.
While people come and go, for Carolyn, it’s the camaraderie of being in a group and just the fun of singing together that keeps her engaged.
“There is something undeniably powerful about the experience of singing together where the feelings of warmth, joy and harmony are enjoyed and shared…people will often say “I’ve had a really hard day and I didn’t want to come tonight but I forced myself and I feel so much better.”
Join Tides of Welcome in concert to celebrate their 13 year anniversary on Wednesday September 14th,from 7.30pm at the Uniting Church in Queenscliff or join them at 6pm for a community meal (by donation). For tickets and further information, click here.
‘If I can reduce my living expenses significantly that’s as good as making money.’ says Werribee singing leader, Steph Payne, who recently established ReciproVocal, a Barter Choir where instead of paying a termly fee to join, participants are invited to share and exchange skills and trades and even sing for their supper. (Steph dreams of dentists, desperate to sing, and who wouldn’t?)
At ReciproVocal, your money won’t get you anywhere! Steph’s vision is for the group to experience not only the bond of solidarity and support for each other common between members in community singing and music groups, but to educate themselves in ways of bartering and skills exchange that will extend out to enrich and sustain the wider community in unforeseen ways.
The idea for ReciproVocal germinated from a seed sewn at an inspirational workshop run by community facilitator, Debby Maziarz, at the Wyndam Arts Incubator, in Werribee. The workshop focussed on bartering and the establishment of mutually beneficial connections between artists and businesses, an idea that resonated heavily with Steph, inspiring a steep and positive learning curve. While she is in no doubt about the sense in trying this ‘revolutionary-retro’ approach, Steph acknowledges that she, herself, had to learn a lot of lessons in the lead up to the launch of the singing group, and that other people may also need time to come around to the concept:
“There needs to be a huge amount of education around bartering and trading. People can’t see how bartering fits into their world because they’re used to a money based currency.”
Steph has also noticed that even amongst her existing network of singers and ukulele players all keen to continue working with her, there is often the initial response of ‘but I don’t have anything to trade.’
“But they do! We are all so used to being valued monetarily and comparing ourselves based on what we have. People just don’t realise they have loads of things to trade and that you’ve got to look at it more creatively.”
To encourage new participants to dip a toe in the ReciproVocal waters, Steph is willing to accept money from her singers to begin with, gradually introducing the barter model as the group grows and develops its collective understanding of a non-monetary based currency.
“We’re all fixated by the concept of money. On the one hand it’s a leveller because everything has a monetary value, it’s very open and clear and you can see what you’re buying into. But on a whole lot of other levels it’s incredibly unfair and messed up. Money’s convenient, but it’s a real trap and it only gives things one value, when certain things hold much more.”
A significant piece of the sociological scaffolding required to support the bartering model, is trust. Trust in the validity of the concept by the participants is crucial, and belief by Steph that the services and goods offered will be forthcoming in the way they are promised is important too. A clear, shared understanding of the need for mutual boundaries between the definitions of professional and personal space between members of the group is equally important. This line in the sand is necessary for the sake of all participants because the variety of tendered tasks require varying degrees of access to areas of each other’s lives.
And while response to the idea of ReciproVocal has been hugely positive Steph believes it will be a slow burn to reach a sustainable level of interest, and is prepared for this to take time. She’s excited by an awareness that the more people she can engage and educate about bartering, the more likely it is that there really can be a functioning level of trading going on, with the possibility of a real alternative economy starting in Werribee.
To help people get their head around the type of things they can bring to the table, there’s an area on the ReciproVocal website which offers examples of what 8 weeks in a choir is worth. Steph has supplied this as a guide to allow people to work out for themselves the equivalent ‘value’ of what they might like to offer.
Again, a sliding scale of value applies because the value is not just monetary. It’s not as simple as being a term’s worth of singing valued at $150. Singers might offer a service which will save Steph time, or produce something she needs or simply just wants, or be able to arrange a lead into further work for her. The option of third party trade also exists. For example, you may not be willing to mow Steph’s lawn but you might know somebody who is for whom you can babysit, who will then mow the lawn and the chain of exchange grows longer and more embedded.
Steph is always looking to enrich and develop communities through the groups that she runs. It’s a strong part of what drives her. In the past she’s run a singing group in a pub because of the immediate social set up, and she’s hopeful that Reciprivocal will grow to enrich the community in a myriad of ways. Her hope is that once people are engaged in the trading and bartering concept, they will extend those terms and values of collaborative, sustainable living to each other, and eventually to people and life situations beyond the singing group:
“There’s a great level of satisfaction in getting your needs met in a way that’s not financial. As a person with something to offer, as a product as a service, any of us have a choice in how we exchange that. We have our needs, we have our resources, it’s about how to match those two things up. “
Whether you like it or hate it, the ways in which we absorb and process information have changed irrevocably, and putting a message out into the world is easy as pie. The challenge comes in finding your target audience before the pastry turns crusty and hard.
How long have you spent on social media today? The chances are you’ve been bombarded by information and communications of all kinds. Like magpies, our eyes are drawn to whatever stands out and glitters in the proverbial online hedgerow.
Of all the online hooks, film clips wield a mighty power to entertain, inform, amuse and to educate. Armed with smarter and smarter smart phones we each have the capacity to be the storytellers and documenters of our own life. Our pockets hold the power and the tool, all we need is the incentive and the imagination! A single clip delivered via the right platforms can be successful in attracting new audiences and engage the attention of people right across the world. As singing and instrumental group leaders and participants, a short film can be a highly effective way to share resources, increase participation, attract potential sponsors and funding and, let’s face it, it makes a way sexier tool for evaluation than a written report.
“People are watching more than they are reading, and people are watching small screens, not big ones.”
Below are some tips from Bill Pheasant* on building skills and developing technique that will help you be more mindful of the content you select to film, and how you then go about presenting and editing that content for maximum effect, whether it’s your cat climbing the curtain or your community choir in full belt. Bill has worked in communications for close to 30 years, and for the last 5 has been working globally to create tools and approaches to help almost anyone use modern technology such as a mobile phone to create short, compelling stories:
“Filmmaking for the movies is incredibly complex, but the stories at the heart of any clip are often simple. Why not consider how can we use the equipment we have, and the skills we bring, to tell meaningful stories that will help this community music work to continue.”
The following tips are taken from Bill’s notes for his workshop in Storytelling at the Community Music Victoria music camp at Grantville in April 2016.
First things first. If you’re the one in your group keen to start filming, take some time to ask yourself the following questions:
Why are you – and all the others – involved in the group?
What does it give you?
How does it make you feel?
How many people know about that?
If other people knew your stories and how you feel do you think they would get involved?
And the money question: Do you think those funding your activity would be interested in your stories? (If you got to this point, you know the answer is always yes!)
Key points to remember before you film:
People love to watch emotion.
They don’t have a long attention span.
So we need to show people the key moments. And as filmmakers – we need ways to find those moments efficiently.
Film can be a great medium for observing. A lot of clips on social media are just that: little moments of ordinary life. But to communicate well we often need more context: Why am I watching these trombones?
To get more context, use interviews with people/participants. Interviewing somebody – rather than having them talk at a camera or phone – puts them at ease, makes them feel less self-conscious and more relaxed. It also allows them to demonstrate their passion more effectively. To stay out of the picture yourself, ask the question, then listen attentively while you film the answer, without responding. If possible, pair these interview clips with some overlay images to elaborate on what is being said and hold the viewer’s attention. It means the speaking continues while the images change – even free edit software can do this.
Unless you have rock-solid arms, consider using a tripod for your phone/camera to allow you to be involved in the human connection as interviewer. It makes for better viewing and also means the person you are interviewing isn’t looking directly into the lens.
Before you begin filming, check the following:
Phone/camera memory space.
A pocketful of ideas!
A bit of technique.
A way to manage what you film.
Ways to share it.
Here are some things that will make your video better:
Light – you need enough or your film will be drab. You need to be able to adjust it. Most current smartphones have light level adjustment on the screen. It it’s still too dark, change where you film.
Cut them down to make the outcome more watchable! It may not feel like you’re shaking much while you are filming but try watching more than a few seconds of playback.
Listen for background noise and replay to test the sound is clear. Poor audio ruins many videos.
Don’t be afraid to set the scene and start filming before your subject comes into view. This creates context and draws the viewer in.
Consider the types of shots you plan to use: Wide shot. Mid shot. Close up. Why? What sort of feeling are you trying to evoke in the viewer?
Avoid panning and avoid zooming. Instead, stop filming, move closer to your subject and start again, or change your position for a different angle. If you can edit, you can sew your sequence together, later on.
Use the background as well as the foreground to tell your story.
A little forethought can mean when you sit down later to put the pieces together, you have all you need! Set the scene, as you would in any story. Take some context footage. The hall as everyone enters, for example, or a bit of the banter before the magic begins. This allows people to begin imagining what will happen next and gives them an opportunity to begin to ‘feel’ your story.
Finally, give some thought to how you are going to share your film, once it’s made. This may dictate the length and the style you go for. In giving some thought to the style, message and content of your film, try storyboarding.
If you’ve never tried this before, give storyboarding on paper a whirl. All you need is a whiteboard or some paper and pens and the time to let your imagination flow out – progressing the story scene by scene – onto the paper or whiteboard.
Storyboarding in your head
Also known as a daydream. Which can lead to some great things and unexpected ideas. Use the same principles as above and be sure to give some thought to how you’re going to store the great ideas and examples you dream up!
Give it a go! Better to get out there, try and fail than never try at all. As Bill said in his workshop, Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Written by Deb Carveth & Bill Pheasant. Huge thanks to Bill for providing the notes from his workshop as the basis for this post.
*Bill Pheasant is the Director of Communications for Children’s Ground in Jabiru, NT. Children’s Ground was established to work with communities experiencing disadvantage and inequity as they lead the way towards positive change. To learn more about the organisation, visit https://www.childrensground.org.au Children’s Ground also has a page on Facebook.
Last Thursday, singing leader Richard Lawton woke up planning to head to the Royal Melbourne Hospital as he has done for the past eight weeks where he runs a singing group for outpatients living with an eating disorder. Except last Thursday Richard felt “a bit crappy with bit of a headache and feeling sludgy.” He could feel his resistance before he’d even emerged from under the covers.
“I was wondering ‘do I have to?… I’d rather stay in bed …’ and it’s a familiar voice in my head because as a card carrying introvert, every night before choir (I have four now) I have to walk myself through this, and it’s the same voice that says ‘I really don’t want to expose my self and be seen by a room full of people’ which is of course what a singing leader does.”
So last Thursday morning, Richard persevered and as he reached the entrance of the hospital it dawned on him how he probably wasn’t alone in his thoughts and how difficult it might well be for the outpatients heading along to his group. Anxiety and eating disorders are good friends, and eight weeks is a relatively short period of time in which to feel completely at ease in a new and unfamiliar situation. Richard senses an element of uncertainty lingering among his singing group at the Royal Melbourne and works to create a welcoming environment in which the outpatients can let down their guard and relax in a safe and fearless space.
“The chairs all have cushions on, and for the first couple of weeks people would come in, sit down and put a cushion on their lap. So they were putting up a defence immediately… There’s a lot of shame involved among patients with eating disorders and it’s important to be mindful of this as somebody encouraging them to open up and let go.”
Supported by a psychologist from within the department, Richard takes guidance from the singing group about ways to put the singers at ease and overcome challenges particular to them, often having to modify approaches and practice he would use readily with his other groups.
Care also has to be taken around use of words. No allusions to image or physicality or exercise. These boundaries are set by the singers who make it clear that to do so will provoke unnecessary anxiety among them. The group Richard works with does not comprise solely of the stereotype teenage girl. Participants range in age from Year 12 to their 40s and while there are guys in the inpatients at the hospital, Richard’s current singing group is all female.
Not knowing the background or the trigger of the illness among the individuals with whom he is working, it is also important that Richard allows them the freedom to choose which songs they sing to avoid material with unsuitable content or unwelcome connotations which may, again, instigate anxiety and prevent people from taking part. “The Cups song from Pitch Perfect is a favourite, and ‘Titanium’ is another one they like.”
Early on, in the inpatient program, only a handful of patients chose to take part in the singing group and it was a challenge to get those who did come along to sing at all during the hour long session. They looked so glum, Richard was wondering if he’d ever be able to break through. It was feedback from the psychologist which encouraged him to keep going in those initial weeks. Even if few of the patients were singing for the entire session and giving no outward signs of engagement or pleasure, their feedback was that they found it relaxing. In the outpatients program, more of them are singing and the numbers have increased.
“Anxiety levels are high. You want control. The thing about purging and eating is that you feel like you don’t have control over your life or your environment and this is one thing you can control. So when they talked about finding singing a relaxing thing, I thought, “oh right, so it’s doing something.”
One exercise Richard uses to combine movement with sound encourages everyone to stand up and shout as if hailing a taxi: Hey! Heeeey! HEEEEEEY!.. with each exhalation and sound growing louder and more sustained. The group cooperate well with this one, becoming less self conscious and more engaged as time goes on. It’s an activity that produces good vibration and masses of endorphins, too.
“When you enter the building everything is so quiet but when the group leaves, they are vocal and enlivened. They have found their voices. They also appreciate the act of singing together, of doing something with other people.”
Anyone who has sung regularly with a singing group will identify with the sense of connection which develops between members of the group. The act of singing facilitates this bond and even aligns the heartbeats of people singing together. Experiencing this sense of connectedness is an important contributor to mental health recovery and a sense of individual peace and wellbeing.
Richard works to empathise with the group, sharing his own doubts and insecurities. The more they feel at ease, the more they will open up and sing. The more they sing the better they will feel and hopefully, the stronger they will grow. And it really seems to be working.
“Last week, when I started the session I could tell that a few of them were having a rough day and I told them a story about how the night before I’d gone to a Contact Dance class for the first time in months. Contact Dance is something I used to be very good at, but it’s mostly a young person’s form, and my mind was coming up with all the familiar excuses as to why I should stay home. Then, when I was almost there I couldn’t find the venue, and almost turned back. Eventually I got through the door and it was wild – I had a ball.
When I told the singing group that story, a couple of them said ‘yes, I had so many excuses for not leaving home today,’ and ‘I got as far as Central station and very nearly turned back.’ So we talked about the importance of ‘getting through the door,’ and how so many times in life we allow our fears to hold us back, and how important it is to get ourselves through the door…
The door metaphor is about how we sometimes shy away from the very thing that is good for us. We know that singing makes us feel better and yet sometimes it still feels too hard.”
For Richard who leads the singing group on a voluntary basis, reward comes from feeling his work is having a positive impact on the lives and the recovery process of the singers.
“I think what touches me about working there is about those days when my skin feels too thin to be out in the world, to be seen, to have to show up, (and as a white male I have it stacked in my favour). When I’m with these women who are wrestling with the human condition there’s a part of me that’s very humbled. And there’s another part of me that wants to wave a magic wand so they can see how most of the negative thoughts they have about themselves are a cruel illusion. “
While magic wands are scarce, Richard’s work in the outpatients’ department might be the next best thing. The group reports feeling calm, more free and relaxed after singing together. “A lot of them are perfectionists, seeking something they can never have. Eating disorders are one of the few mental illnesses which can kill you or from which you can make a full recovery. It is very hard to measure the success rate of patients who are discharged as they go off and live a full life.”
As each weekly session ends, the group leaves and the hospital corridor echoes with voices raised in more chatter with less silence. The soothing balm of singing works its wonder, the endorphins flow, and the world feels a better place for it. Just last week, Richard heard from the supervisor how after the group had finished, the singers went out to a café where they were much more upbeat and talked about how much they’d enjoyed getting up on their feet and singing and moving that day. That’s pretty magical.
Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria, with Richard Lawton.
‘Playing music with people from other cultures is more than just communication, it’s an act of love’ believes Brian Strating, leader of mens’ singing group, Homebrew Verandah Music and Brunswick Old Time String Orchestra. (BOTSO)
Strat and his partner, Lyndal Chambers, have played music with community musicians in many different countries, something that’s proven a highly effective way to experience the culture of those musicians and forge firm and lasting friendships.
BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music operate on a non-virtuosic model of inclusivity, creating a space that’s free of judgement that allows those within it the freedom to experiment with their skills. Tunes are taught aurally, improvisation is welcome and mistakes are embraced. In order for this to work effectively, listening to those around you is paramount, and knowing when to start and when to stop, is also key.
When you think about it, the same skills and values are directly transferable to our lives and how we live. They have the potential to positively impact the equilibrium of society and influence a harmonious co-existence between people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs based on mutual respect, acceptance and understanding. After all, knowing when to be quiet can be as important as knowing what to say.
It is these same values that Strat and members of his groups will be carrying in their hearts and their heads to the Palestine Choral Festival in August. The group have been invited to participate in the festival by The Choir of London, and will be travelling as part of The Open House Ensemble, a musical and visual arts collaboration between Homebrew Verandah Music, BOTSO and Motherworks.
The aim of the festival is ‘to bring together Palestinian and International Choirs to celebrate the world in song’ and the opportunity will provide the Open House Ensemble a chance to experience the lives and culture of the many communities in Palestine using music and visual art to introduce themselves and engage.
The trip will enable them to experience this country away from the fog of the media lens, and will be made in the spirit of peace and free of any political or religious agenda. Travelling under the banner ‘Musicians not Munitions’ the group will work to plant seeds of collaboration and further communication, using music to develop and broaden connectivity. They will then share their experience through music and visual arts in recordings, performance, exhibition and workshops, here in Melbourne and Victoria.
“This is about inclusion and a celebration of Palestinian culture. The Choir of London and the Palestinian Choral Festival are about bringing cultures together and that is how we came to be invited… it’s about participating without fear of making mistakes and without judgement.”
The invitation from the London Choir came via a young English fiddle player called Alice Howick who played with BOTSO while working as part of the MSO’s outreach program in Broadmeadows. Inspired by her work with young kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, she returned to the UK to start teacher training where she is also involved with planning the program for the London Choir’s Palestine Choral Festival.
“Alice clearly loved the model of BOTSO. She’s a classically trained violinist and was gaining inspiration from learning tunes by ear, having to learn tunes aurally and also the philosophy of not being fearful of making mistakes, of embracing the mistakes and the process of learning in an environment that is non-judgemental.”
After returning to the UK, Alice got in touch with Strat, having had ‘a crazy idea’… It had occurred to her that what was needed as part of the festival was something along the lines of BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music: the representation of a community music model which celebrates inclusion and participation above all else, and the creation of a safe and fearless space in which to make music.
It’s been a slow burn, and the decision to go to Palestine wasn’t one that Strat and the group rushed into making. There have been many conversations with many different people, gradually unfolding to the point where the Open House Ensemble are now preparing to pack their bags and head off to Palestine at the end of July.
“We are taking the community music model of inclusion in which to explore your music making and we’ll be doing that collaboratively with Palestinian musicians and community music groups, and it’s such an exciting prospect.”
An incredible essence of music making is how what you feel in your heart is expressed through the sounds you create. This energy is capable of transcending differences in opinions, backgrounds, cultures and language. This is not ephemeral. It seeds the potential for mutual respect and understanding between yourself and those with whom you sing or play. In this way, it should be able to take you everywhere.
Strat and the Open House Ensemble are extremely aware of the political tension and the sensitivity of the region and are keen not to alienate anyone, either by their decision to visit or while they are there. The emphasis of the trip is cross cultural connection and collaboration.
“We are taking peace, love and healing with us. It’s a philosophy we are taking to play through our music… we’ll hold this in our hearts and it’s moulding the repertoire. Carrying this intention with us, we’ll be peddling peace through community connectedness, through the celebration of culture and the sharing of culture through the act of collaborative music making.”
The next time you sit down to read to a toddler, consider popping that ole book back to its place on the shelf for a while*, and playing some homemade music together instead. Over time, the long term effect of your action might just make the world a better place to be. Research from the University of Queensland conducted over two years on more than 3000 young children showed that making music with toddlers could have even more of a positive impact on their development, than sharing a story. And lets face it, banging on pots and pans is loud and fun for everyone (especially the neighbours, who will loveyou).
Findings from the study, ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’ (2013–2015) indicate that early involvement in music participation has the capacity to improve numeracy, increase attention and assist with the development of prosocial behaviour and skills which, being the opposite of anti-social skills, are therefore beneficial to the good of society as a whole.
Professor Margaret Barrett, head of University of Queensland’s School of Music and a key leader in the study funded by the Australian Research Council, claims that “Children who experienced more frequent parent-child music activity at two to three years showed stronger vocabulary and numeracy skills, more prosocial skills and stronger abilities to regulate their own attention and emotion at four to five years old….The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children.”
Read the full article ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books’ published on the Medical Xpress website here
*But be sure to come back to the book later on. Balance in all things, and all that…
Article by Deb Carveth based on information found in ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books.’ Published by Medical Xpress. September 2015
I recently attended the 2016 CMVic Music Camp at Grantville Lodge. I had never attended a CMVic event before and was somewhat trepidatious. I do not play a musical instrument myself, but I do sing in a choir, and I love singing, so was keen to take part in the singing workshops during the weekend in particular.
On the Sunday morning I took part in the Sharing Jewish Songs Workshop. From the minute our facilitator Sarah started talking to us about Jewish and Yiddish Music, about how (according to the strict Jewish faith) women are not really supposed to sing the songs we were about to learn, and about how we were about to make a song together consisting of only “ay di-di dies” I think we were all hooked. Sarah herself had the most beautiful singing voice, and encouraged us to “put the cry in our voice” in the way that she had been. It worked, we sounded good!
Within what seemed only a few minutes we had all engaged in a very emotional moment together, singing what sounded like a heart-breaking song that lifted all of our souls.
I know that may sound extreme, but that is how it felt at the time. We must have done something right, as Sarah herself had to wipe away a tear and told us we sounded beautiful when we had finished.
Sarah then went on to teach us two other Jewish songs, this time with lyrics, which she explained to us from a Jewish perspective, with an enjoyable sprinkling of humour thrown in. Again, the group very quickly seemed to be able to pick up the nuances and tunes of the songs, and before we knew it we were all singing in a circle, with our eyes shut, and “putting the cry in our voice” in a way we never knew we had in us. This was aided by Sarah’s youngest daughter who had joined us (who I’d had fun learning to play the marimba with the day before), adding the little harmony lines to accompany the songs. We then learned those too.
I enjoyed my whole weekend at Grantville, but this workshop was the one I didn’t want to end. I don’t think I was alone. I had a sneaky suspicion beforehand that I was going to love this workshop, but I had no idea how much.
I have just returned to England where I live and am now thinking about looking into if there is a local Jewish singing group in my area. I never saw that coming. I think Community Music Victoria’s weekend hit the mark in ways I never expected.
By Sarah Jackson
Listen to a recording of the beautiful song Adio Querida from Sarah’s session, here.
All-in ensembles: a mix of instruments, a mix of ages, a mix of skill levels with everybody welcome to squeeze up together and join in. They may be a whole heap of fun to be part of, but how does it feel to be the person standing in the middle, holding every thing together?
CMVic’s recent music camp featured a wonderful wealth of workshops for instruments and singers of diverse experience and skill levels. The all in ensemble, led by Lyndal Chambers, gave everyone the opportunity to come together and make music en glorious masse.
Imagine being the facilitator. You’re stood among a squeeze of accordions, a swathe of strings, a blast of horns, a strum of ukuleles, and a chorus of voices, all keen, all excited to be a part of this amazing thing, this swelling of sound, all packed into a room with a fairly low ceiling, and all looking at you … Where do you start things off and how do you keep it all going?
Even with a proven track record as a highly experienced music leader, facilitator and teacher, Lyndal admits the prospect of leading the 2016 CMVic ensemble made her nervous.
“I was incredibly anxious about being able to meet everybody’s needs. Usually working with a group of kids or adults, working with a group of say 25, you’re reasonably able to suss out the room and observe who needs what. You can physically run around and see who needs a simple B-flat part or the harmony in C part or whatever…you get an idea of what people need to get the most out of the experience and can sit them next to a relevant support person, but I was aware during the preparation that with so many people (100+) in the ensemble there was no way I was going to be able to do that.”
All Lyndal’s preparation payed off, and the ensemble at camp went with a swing on Saturday when everyone was full of beans and last thing on Sunday, too, when Lyndal pulled a fantastic second session out of the bag to end things on a high note.
So what were the processes and strategies used by Lyndal to prepare for the diverse needs of an all in ensemble? Here she shares some of the pointers and tips she put into play for planning things out and staying on track:
First things first, find a tune; find a song
Lyndal used ‘Caderas’ (a traditional Balafon band tune) and ‘Coffee Love’, a song by Leanne Murphy and Frank Prem in four parts which worked for the singers and across the ranges of the instrument families too.
“People played Coffee Love really well; you could hear all the quiet instruments, which was really great. And Caderas is a great tune… the accordions can play it, the horns can play it, and the strings can play it.”
Draw on your resources and be prepared to learn too
“Preparing for the ensemble, one really big piece of learning I had was about the overlap between singing groups and instrumental groups. The decision to use Coffee Love out of the new song book (Sing It) came to me like a bolt out of the blue, having sung it while recording for the book. I could apply the same process to learning Coffee Love as I would use with a singing group. Sing the part over and over and then apply that part to an instrumental group. This makes it a lot quicker for people to learn their part and it makes the transition to playing that part on an instrument easier having sung it through, so many times.”
Have section leaders in place
Having section leaders in place when leading a large group works well. “All of the weekend’s workshop leaders were sitting in the ensemble as well as all of the CMVic regulars and leaders who also understand the importance of listening and looking out for the people sitting around them. Seeing some people do this automatically in the ensemble was a great relief.”
Keep things simple
In addressing the diversity of skill level and experience in a large group, Lyndal recommends the key to success is in keeping things simple.
“Think about how simple you think it should be and then go one step simpler.”
Solos and Extensions
“Leave room for solos and extensions so the competent musicians aren’t left wondering at what point you’re going to move off three notes and are given opportunities, too.”
Provide a tune that has easy access
Coffee Love has two chords so Lyndal took her partner Strat’s ukulele and learnt those two chords from scratch. The process of doing this made her think that anyone else trying something for the first time would be able to join in with at least one chord or note of the tune. Lyndal also set the tempo and created a groove using clapping and dancing before starting on teaching the tune.
“I feel dancing is like singing. Everyone can do it and you can do it as much or as little as you like. It’s a real mixed ability thing.”
Keep the faith!
How do you stay focused and keep everything together leading a group that size and diverse?
“At no point did I feel I had to pull the whole thing back. I just felt really optimistic. You have to have faith in the group and remember that they’re going to be forgiving. If you have to stop to collect your thoughts, do it.”
Some good tips to remember are:
Have faith in the group: they will be forgiving.
If you have to think on your feet, that’s okay!
Be mindful of the fact that everyone in the room is barracking for you and again, it will be okay!
You will get to where you want to go and the group will cooperate and help you to get there.
Once everyone’s cracked the tune, extend the musical experience.
In the lead up to the weekend, Lyndal spent time considering the elements of music: tempo, rhythm, dynamics, pitch and timbre and how these could be explored in the context of the workshop, including:
Being able to do a solo
Being able to improvise
Playing slowly at times
“This was particularly helpful in the second session on Sunday because by then everyone knew the tunes and I was wondering how we could vary things and make it more musical.”
I threw it over to the group to answer these questions but at the back of my mind, I had those elements to fall back on to make it more interesting, more satisfying and to extend people’s musical experience.
Leading a large group of varied skill and experience levels makes you draw on your resources as a leader, whatever those are. In the preparation stages Lyndal drew on her expertise and experience in terms of how complicated to make the music and considering what the instruments were capable of doing. In the actual leading of the session she was thinking about ways to make things more satisfying and more musical, but as she says, there are different approaches to take and outcomes and direction will vary between leaders:
“I don’t think necessarily that you have to have the full palette of musical elements. My palette is just my palette, other people will have a full palette that’s a different palette.”
And so I think it’s about tapping into the people you’re working with. They bring skills and they bring cooperation.
Listen to the whole sound and listen to the needs of people who will let you know if things aren’t clear to them! For example, if the ukuleles can’t hear themselves or if somebody is confused by a chord, they’ll generally ask you.”
How does it sound? Take a listen here! And, above all, remember to enjoy the experience.
Article written by Deb Carveth with Lyndal Chambers
Sound recording by Stuart Ashburner at the CMVic Music Camp 2016, reproduced here with permission from Leanne Murphy and Frank Prem