Tag Archives: connection

Sharing Jewish Songs at the Community Music Victoria Music Camp

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.




Chocolate Lilies sing out and celebrate!

The Chocolate Lily is a hardy plant well suited to group plantings with a coping mechanism for surviving all weather conditions. Not dissimilar then, to Nerida Kirov’s community singing group of the same name which has just won an Australia Day award.

The award for Community Group of the year was given in recognition of the contribution made by the Chocolate Lilies to the fabric of the Nillumbik community for their  ‘can do attitude,  pitching in and sharing their talents freely to contribute to their community, as well as their work in helping hundreds of singers gain confidence, a sense of community and have fun.’

Nerida described the news they had won as ‘rather humbling and wonderful’…

‘it was a huge surprise and we are so grateful and blown out by the nomination.’

The Chocolate Lilies, led by Nerida from day one, has been empowering people from the area to come together and sing since its inception in 1993.

Over the past 22 years, a phenomenal bond has developed between members of the group. They have sung together In celebration and shared tears with each other through the tough times, The fires of 2009 caused devastation and loss to many and from within the Chocolate Lilies alone, people lost friends; people lost homes and partners.

Throughout that period, the Chocolate Lilies continued to reach out to those suffering grief and loss and to meet and sing, not only in Hurstbridge and Warrandyte but in Strathewen where 15% of the community perished.

Talk was not necessary; singing together was primal and healing and offered an escape from the terror and grief of the fires.

Immersing themselves in beautiful songs and being bathed in beautiful sound was a form of recovery, and singers, old and new to the group forged a deep sense of connection through their support for each other. It’s now seven years later and many of the people who were inspired to sing with the Chocolate Lilies at that time have stayed on.

With between sixty and seventy regular singers, the group is based across two venues, Allwood Neighbourhood house in Hurstbridge and Warrandyte Mechanics Institute & Arts Association, with everybody coming together for voluntary performances within the community, as many as twenty times a year. A dozen or so of the original members remain from 1993, and the group now feels like a family from which other networks have emerged and grown.

Nerida Kirov believes that when leading a community group it is vital to be instinctual in the way you approach things where people’s emotions are invested, and involved.

‘You cannot be contrived, be empathic with people (who have experienced trauma). It is very important to be sensitive and aware of the dynamics.’

There is a strong social conscience within the group, and as well as attending and performing at community events, many members of the choir frequently go on marches to demonstrate their opinions. The poignancy of the awards being tied in with Australia Day which is also seen as Invasion Day is not lost on Nerida.

‘Aboriginal Elders had a significant presence at the Awards Ceremony and spoke about the history of the day from their perspective. They spoke of the wonderful diverse Australia that we are working towards and the struggle we have been through to get here, and how it is insulting and disrespectful to tie that recognition to the day that began the wipe out of our indigenous people.’

Nerida feels while it is important to acknowledge and celebrate all the great things happening in our communities that possibly, this could happen on a different day.

Australia DayMany of the songs sung by the Chocolate Lilies have a political angle or issue at the heart of them, and the group also sings original material written by Nerida. One of her songs, ‘Sleepless’ was published in CMVic songbook, Short Stuff. This song was then seen by a Canadian woman who decided to get in touch with Nerida after identifying, bleary eyed, with the words of her song.

A connection was established and the Chocolate Lilies now include material written by that person in their repertoire. Material sent from one singing leader to another, in a song swap across the seas. Which pretty much sums it all up: Singing is a fantastic way to connect!

It provides us with the encouragement we need to reach out and connect, and to remind ourselves of the rich and diverse ways we can each contribute to our society. It brings together people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and it is fabulous that Nillumbik recognises the positive values and impact of the Chocolate Lilies on connectedness, health and well being, within its community.

So congratulations  Nerida Kirov and the Chocolate Lilies! And while we’re at it, congratulations to singing leaders and their groups everywhere, for enriching life, for promoting positive ageing, for providing the perfect stress outlet and moral support through the trials and tribulations of life. And if Nerida has one piece of advice to share?

“Integrity. Love what you’re doing. It’s the bottom line. Pass on the joy of what you do to the people around you.”

For more information about the Chocolate Lilies, contact Nerida Kirov: neridakirov@gmail.com

Article written by Deb Carveth with Nerida Kirov





Going the distance: Taking music on the road to schools in remote regions.

The benefits of music in childhood are multiple, impacting and well documented. Yet in spite of proven positive connections between music and early learning, and music and emotional development, mainstream education too often seems to view it as a peripheral extra, a luxury that can easily be dispensed of, and budget cuts in schools seem to hit music departments especially hard.

So it’s particularly great to read heart warming stories such as the one about Dennis Winbanks, from North Western Victoria, who travels over 550 kilometres each week to deliver music and music making opportunities to remote and geographically isolated students at schools in regional and rural Victoria.

The story, ‘Travelling music teacher going the distance for regional students’ by Sophie Malcolm,  was featured on the ABC news website on Wednesday, and is a celebration of Dennis’s recognition of the value and importance of music and his desire to ensure kids living in these remote areas are exposed to the same kind of opportunities enjoyed by their peers living in the state’s larger towns.

Dennis teaches about 350 students in four different schools, arriving in a ute and towing a trailer full of instruments. It’s no wonder there’s a strong attendance on the days Dennis rolls up, with his musical cargo in tow.

As if its contents and the accompanying diversion from the usual school timetable weren’t magical enough, what Dennis delivers has the potential to transcend all that.

He brings not only the opportunity for these children to experience music in a way they may not get anywhere else in their lives, but the subsequent potential for personal enrichment and the development of new pathways: neurological, emotional, educational and creative. Go Dennis! Go music teachers, music group leaders and facilitators, everywhere!

Read the full article from the ABC, here.

Deb Carveth. Online editor for Community Music Victoria.

Singing calms baby longer than talking

Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa
Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa

In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to speech. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” explained Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s centre for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.” The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this “entrainment” is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. “Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability,” Peretz explained. “Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be “entrained”.

Read the full article from the University of Montreal website, here…

Out of the Ash – A Bushfire Song

In February 2009 our region was thrown into chaos by the dreadful bushfires that decimated the district and stole away our friends and family, homes and more. Our group, the Whittlesea Township Choir, were all affected, as were all local people.

Every time the choir met to sing, the time was dominated by talk of the fires and everyone’s experiences and sad tales. I can’t remember who’s idea it was but a suggestion emerged to write about this overwhelming event in a song.

After our fulfilling experience writing our first original song, “Whittlesea Town”, in 2008 with Sue Johnson, we felt we could initiate our own project and write a song around our experience in the February 2009 Bushfires.

We put together a Grant Application to Creative Victoria, then Arts Victoria (which we thought was very good) and submitted it. It involved a plan of how the process would be structured and the costs involved.

We didn’t get the grant.

Not to be deterred, some funds appeared from elsewhere.

A local Community group had some Bushfire project funding unspent (from DPCD) and offered it to the Neighbourhood House where we were based. The manager of the Neighbourhood House suggested our Song Writing Project to the committee and they agreed to use it to fund the venture.

Our renewed plan was much more modest and involved a lot of volunteer input from the choir and in particular the choir leader. We asked Sue Johnson if she would work with us again on composing the song.

All of the choir members contributed  ideas in the form of poems, stories, and spoken reminiscences and these were developed into poem form by a professional author, the wonderful Sally Rippin. Out of the Ash had been born, amidst lots of tears and camaraderie.

Our musician, Sue Johnson,  then set the lyrics to music and the drafting and feedback process got underway. After many re-drafts the song was finished in June 2010.

Kerry Clarke, Sue Johnson & Suzanne Coburn at the CD launch
Kerry Clarke, Sue Johnson & Suzanne Coburn at the CD launch

We approached our local council, the City of Whittlesea, for a small grant to record and publish the song on a CD. Thanks to our Mayor at the time, Mary Lalios, we received the funds needed.

Then began the work to practise and hone the song to the best of our ability, with no further professional help.  It was challenging and at times it all seemed too hard, but the group pushed on and put in a major effort.

The next step was to get Sue Johnson back to manage the recording process.

We chose the local Uniting Church Hall as our recording venue, as it had good acoustics and was free. They were a most generous host.

Recording the song was a wonderful experience, with extraordinary guidance provided by Sue and her wonderful sound technician Haydn Buxton. They made us sound amazing.

We took the opportunity to also record our first original song, Whittlesea Town and one of our favourites, Shosholoza. By the end of May 2012 we had the recording mastered and ready to fly!

Three years later, after many delays and frustrations, the actual CD was finally produced in September 2015.

It is with great pride we offer this song to the world – ‘Out of the Ash‘.  It’s a very emotive song, with a blend of tears and hope. We hope it helps people in coming to terms with that terrible time.

By Kerry Clarke  Whittlesea Township Choir

*To hear the song ‘Out of the Ash’ click here, and select ‘view as a slideshow’

Sing a song of skylines: The inspiration .. & the idea…

A still taken from the work of Koshi Kawachi
A still taken from the work ‘note drawing’ by Koshi Kawachi

A recent article in the Huffington Post talked of a project by Japanese artist, Koshi Kawachi. Tracing an outline of the world around him and punctuating the pinnacles and troughs along it with strategic dots, Kawachi transposed what was laid out before him into music, the pitch rising and falling with the undulating level of the marked points. And from this representation of the skyline emerged a very simple yet unique tune: a topographical tune, the outline of an area of Japan mapped musically in a way not too far removed from a songline.

This caught my attention for a multitude of reasons. Our own continent is woven by an invisible network of songlines, after all, which continue to exist extremely effectively as communication and navigational highways and which did so long before google maps tried to conquer cartography and squash the arguably potential romance in ever getting lost. But Kawachi was not trying to communicate anything deeper than a musical translation of the mountains and cityscape of Sapporo, as he saw it laid out before him. And rather than being a song cycle carrying thousands of miles and shared between clans, his was the work of one person, starting and ending there.

More than anything, it was the beauty in the simplicity of Kawachi’s idea which inspired me and got me to thinking… a dangerous thing, late on a Thursday afternoon when there’s nothing in the house for dinner.

From the urban landscapes of our cities and townships to the wilds of the promontories and coastlines; the green rolling hills, mountains and wide open expanses in between, we each occupy very different spaces with which to identify and call home. And dotted across all these regions are singing groups telling stories through song, weaving communities together and creating a network, via which to communicate.

So as Thursday wore on, my imagination became fired until I arrived at the point of suggesting we borrow Kawachi’s idea of mapping in music, the variety and diversity of what our respective regions represent to us, physically and emotionally. The outline of a favourite view, a place of deep personal meaning, or just the familiar, and combining this with the idea of a song carried across the land with each community reached, owning a part of it.

If singing groups spanning the length and bredth of Victoria were to write a simple song with a tune defined by the rise and fall of local chimney pots, lone gums, sharp bends, dense forests, gullies, or whatever affects and appeals to us from the uniqueness of our surroundings and connects us to our little piece of earth, then perhaps we can devise a song cycle of our own.

Shared across the statewide singing community, we could create a cycle stretching from Mallacoota to Mildura, from Wodonga to Warracknabeal and everywhere else around and about, in any old geographical way. Sitting here in a chilly house by myself, I dream of this taking shape and of a massed sing of all our skylines, and it warms my heart.  Would we be able to identify the region from which a song came? How varied would the resulting songs sound? Does this idea, in fact, sound bonkers?  We won’t know until we try, so come on, how about it? Let’s get Victoria singing Victoria!*

*If you feel inspired to take up this idea in your singing group and have time to make it happen, please send us your song, we’d love to hear it! (info@cmvic.org.au) We’ll share any songs we receive on the CMVic blog, and see what unfolds.

Article by Deb Carveth, Online editor for Community Music Victoria

Learning to play music and deal with hearing loss: Part Two


**This is the second part  of Shirley’s story. Read as she explains the strategies and methods she has adopted to compensate for her hearing loss, which have enabled her to continue learning and playing  music.  It’s an inspiring read and a testimony to sheer determination. Read part one here.

By Shirley Allott

I watched others playing harps, read harp books, looked online, and practiced and got used to the sound and vibrations.  I also found a harp teacher who helped me to understand harp technique, playing chords, and rhythm.

I wanted to play music with others but I found sessions difficult as it is difficult for me to recognise and distinguish pitch. There were only occasionally other harps I could watch at the sessions I went to, so I needed to find other strategies. I could read music but I understood very little music theory. I needed to know how chords worked so I read and studied everything I could in books and online and I learnt how to play chords and I learnt which chords are used in each key and how these are played on guitar so I could watch the guitars. I came to recognise changes in vibration and tone within chord changes.

I found out about Community Music Victoria not long after I started playing the harp and this has really been helpful. Through Community Music Victoria, (CMVic) I learnt new ways of learning music and I gained confidence. I met so many people with different skills and experiences.

Rhythm has always been difficult for me.   Before I started going to CMVic events I tried using a metronome for rhythm and I tried an app on my iPad with a flashing light. Both needed concentration and I couldn’t play while trying to hear a tick or watch a flashing light.

Shirley and her harp at Treetops 2015
Shirley and her harp at Treetops 2015

At CMVic events I realised I needed to feel rhythm. Marimbas were so helpful. I didn’t play one, but I realised I could feel rhythm as well as pitch through their vibration. I love having marimbas, drums or a double bass at a music gathering because I can feel the beat so well.

I have found that learning tunes can be a challenge as I learn by eye, and the feel of the tune, but not by ear.  Music notation for me is easiest but it is not always available.

Through going to CMVic events I have learnt there are other ways of writing down a tune – letters or a chord list on a piece of paper or on a white or black board. Sometimes another person writes down an outline of a tune and I copy it.

Technology is also helpful. I can photograph a tune on a board and I can make a film clip of finger movements on a harp with my iPad.  I can later play it back, slow the film down and watch as strings are plucked.  I can also record a tune with an app which will give me an outline of the notation.   Once I know how a tune goes and have played it a few times, I can play it without any notation, but not always as it is usually played.

I continue to watch others and feel vibration and rhythm and if I know what is in the music, I can adjust what I do.

I am also learning to record a tune on my iPhone or iPad and play it back using my hearing loop which delivers the sound directly to my hearing aids. I am still exploring what I can do with this technology. I have a streamer with my new hearing aids but I still need to explore the possibilities with this. I have recently completed therapeutic harp training with international harp therapy campus in the USA. I researched the harp and palliative care after my mother’s death and I found the international harp therapy campus with Christina Tourin. I learnt that as well as having a clear tone, the vibration of the harp is important in therapy.

If you are experiencing hearing loss Deafness Forum of Australia has a useful list of contacts, organisations and resources which may be of use to you.