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
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.
Many 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Endings. They’re the new beginnings, folks. And while December can feel like the calendar equivalent of a French waiters’ trick where everything’s whipped off the table before you were sure that you’d finished, it can also be the perfect time to combine contemplation and celebration with the launch of something new. An opportunity to look beyond the craziness of the silly season, and turn your focus to the calm, blank canvas of the future and all the potential it holds.
Like buses, there hasn’t been a new CMVic publication for aaaages, and over the past week, two have come along at once.
Whether you’re a Singing Leader or somebody who simply loves to sing, the new song book from Community Music Victoria, Sing it – Songs of Wisdom Hope and Laughter, together with ‘A Guide to Community Singing Leadership’ hold within their respective covers enough new material, advice and guidance to ensure 2016 is both an inspired and inspiring year, packed with new tunes and songs to discover, and fresh methodologies to adopt and incorporate into your leadership practise.
Both of the books were sung into being at a CMVic celebration held last weekend. Beneath the bunting in Ross House, the fairy lights were unravelled, paper plates piled perilously high were passed around, and CMVic members, coordinators and volunteers gathered together to celebrate the double launch.
Each of the books has a place close to everyone’s hearts and has been in the pipeline for a number of years, so it was just incredible and also a relief to see them both fresh back from the publishers and dressed to party in their shiny dust jackets, finally sharing a table and their moment in the spotlight.
The final selection of 45 songs in Sing it was edited and arranged by Jane Thompson and James Rigby with Fay White sorting out the vital scaffolding of contracts and copyright, while a large amount of work was undertaken to get the project underway in the initial phase, by Corinna Peachey.
Written in the main by community singing leaders for community singing groups, the gorgeous variety and quality of the songs will no doubt put wind in the sails of many singing groups in Victoria, across Australia and beyond, with the songs breezing through the wattles and into the wide world over the course of 2016 and for many years to come.
Suzanne Petersen’s song, ‘Walk away from your trouble’ has more words than those published in the book. To enjoy the song in its full extent, download the lyrics here.
A Guide to Community Singing Leadership was written and compiled by Michelle Morgan as a personal project and also as a means of raising funds for Community Music Victoria. Michelle is an experienced singing leader and, for several years, was a member on the board of Community Music Victoria. Here she talks a little bit about what moved her to pick up her pen and break out the ink:
I’d been feeling inspired to write, and knew I wanted to write something, but didn’t know what.
At that stage, I’d been running choirs as my full time business for a few years. I wasn’t an expert by any means, but I had a good grounding in the practice that had been guided and supported by Community Music Victoria. I wrote wildly for a few days straight, forming the structure of the book and a lot of the content. I knew the book could not be mine alone and wanted it to reflect the myriad of voices and collective wisdom of our singing leader community.
I read every edition of Shout! and Sing It! that I had access to, and requested permission to re-publish many of the articles that fit within the scope of the chapters. People were generously willing to share their work in this format and so it began to come together. Over the years, there were chunks of time where I got caught up in life and totally dropped the project. There were also times where my own doubt stopped me from taking the next step… making that phone call, re-reading that draft. But somehow it continued, and somehow we’ve now reached the point of publishing and release!
A Guide to Community Singing Leadership has truly become a collaborative creation, in the spirit of all CMVic activities. I’m so grateful to the precious people who have become part of the team; the initial readers, the cheer squad, the editors, the board members in the communications group, the designers and others who’ve assisted.”
With a foreword written by Fay White, Michelle’s book also tells the story and the history of the Vic Sings movement and how it unfolded and manifested as the strong network it is today. In the words of Jane Coker who coordinated the Victoria Sings program for CMVic:
“I’ve been lucky enough to preview this lovely book. As well as being a really intelligent and practical guide to leading sustainable, accessible group singing, it’s also a social history in that it tells the story of the Victoria Sings network and leadership development program from it’s earliest days. Fabulous reading.”
You can buy either (or both!) A Guide to Community Singing Leadership and Sing it – Songs of Wisdom, Hope and Harmony, from the store section of the CMVic website. Please be aware that orders placed after December 16 may take a little while to reach you as CMVic HQ is shutting down for the holidays, but reach you, they will.
And finally, with endings and fresh starts still very much in mind, huge amounts of gratitude and our very best wishes go to three very special people. To Jane Coker who is changing hats after doing an outstanding job as CMVic’s Victoria Sings coordinator for the past fourteen years; to Aaron Silver who is moving out of Melbourne and swapping his role of Engaging Younger People for Teaching younger people; and to Heather McLaughlin, long time CMVic board member, community music champion and marimba queen, who is moving interstate. Our love to you all!
This is the final blog post for 2015. Thank you, lovely people, for reading and commenting on the the past twelve months’ posts and please continue to share your stories and experiences of music making in your communities with us next year, you know we love to hear them.
Wishing you all much music making and merriment as well as good health and happiness for 2016. See you on the other side!
Deb Carveth, Online editor for Community Music Victoria.
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!
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…
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.
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’
Over the next ten months or so, Men’s Sheds across Victoria will reverberate with the sounds of sawing, chiselling, hammering, probably some whistling, possibly some cussing and – ultimately – with the rich warm sounds of a brand new marimba, built in-house. Well, shed…as part of Community Music Victoria’s 4m project, in conjunction with the Victorian Men’s Shed Association.
The 4m project ( short for making music, making marimbas) is facilitated by South Gippsland based musicians and educators, Dave Paxton and Ian Chambers. Dave and Ian are working to establish five new music groups in five different areas of Victoria with local men who will collaborate on the building and playing of marimbas. Those marimbas will then be available to the wider communities in which they’ve been built and connections will be encouraged between the marimba building group and local schools, neighbourhood learning centres, and community groups.
The marimbas can be shared and made available for festivals, gatherings, wherever they can be played and enjoyed, while the building skills, knowledge and know-how can be passed on and perpetuated as a lasting legacy of the project.
In true CMVic style, it is hoped the construction process will be catalytic in uniting and engaging people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in all of the stages from construction to completion, and beyond, and both Ian and Dave are keen to share the passion they feel for the instrument with new audiences who may not yet have explored their ability or desire to make music.
Ian has been using marimbas as a teaching tool for the past ten years and finds that everyone just gravitates to them. “Other instruments can be quite daunting to some people and marimbas offer a chance for them to participate in music making at their own level.” Dave agrees that the physicality of marimbas is intoxicating and “just grabs you, particularly the resonance and the accessibility.”
The 4m project is certainly in safe hands. Ian was born into a musical family where everyone played. For the past twenty years he has taught music in and around Gippsland with a stint in the Northern Territory for three years and plays in a band with his wife.
Dave worked as an itinerant gigging muso throughout his 20s, becoming a wooden boat builder in his 30s and now mashes up the two strands through community music making. Dave had a musical epiphany through his involvement with a singing group led by Jane Coker. Whilst he’d been playing music in the community for years it hadn’t been music making simply for the joy of it in such an egalitarian way and without an agenda.
One aspect of the 4m project which might be challenging is how to get a group of older men together to build and play an instrument if they have no background or experience of music making?
Easy, says Dave: “The technicality and tinkering aspect of marimba construction will hook in the older guys at the men’s shed and once they’ve built them they’ll have to play them and once they do that they’ll be hooked.” Ian and Dave will be on hand to guide them through the process of learning a tune or two, and, as Ian says “it’s about the material you offer especially if you accompany other instruments. There are great easy bass lines that older blokes would recognize straight away.”
While this will be a real buzz, for Dave and Ian it’s just one of the many potential, positive outcomes of the 4m project.
“Men who attend their local men’s shed are seeking company, they are keen to reach out and find a community and resonance, they are already looking to engage with others. One of the best aspects of the 4m project has to be the opportunity for people to connect from different generations who probably wouldn’t have done so otherwise and the chance to develop networks of marimba players and to meet new people with an interest in marimbas.”
In talking to Ian and Dave as background for this article, the final question asked was ‘If you were stranded on a desert island where wood was to be found in abundance, which would you build first, a marimba or a boat?’ Independently of each other, they both answered a marimba boat; what a team! A perfect working partnership, it would appear. Dave did go on to explain that boat building is hard work, that it’s a very long, intense and protracted process and that actually, he’d probably build a marimba first so that he could play it to relax after a day’s work, sweating over the boat.
Massive thanks to Ian Chambers and Dave Paxton for being so generous with their time in providing this background to the men behind the men’s shed project. And also to Australian Unity, for awarding CMVic the grant that has made the whole 4m project possible. For further information, contact email@example.com
Communications Coordinator, Community Music Victoria
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! (firstname.lastname@example.org) We’ll share any songs we receive on the CMVic blog, and see what unfolds.
**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.
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.