Tag Archives: Jane Coker

Songs & Chants for Planet Earth: A Compilation of Songs by Jane Coker

“The outpouring of freedom songs went to the core of the struggle and expressed, as nothing else was able, the hope, belief, desire, passion, dreams, and anguish of the conflict.” Mary King speaking of the power of song during the US Civil Rights movement.

I put this selection of songs and chants for climate justice together with the specific aim of helping us all to find stuff that was simple and catchy enough to use outdoors at protests. I wrote a few and gathered a few from other people but this is only the beginning of my collection and there’s loads of other great stuff out there. The problem is finding stuff that is really short and easy to learn, yet effective. (Kavisha Mazzella’s Mother Earth song is a perfect example of all these things).

As yet –  to my knowledge – there isn’t a central place where this specific type of song and chant are gathered but the Extinction Rebellion Choir is a good model and has some good resources available on Facebook. Closer to home, Climate Choir Melbourne is also creating a great collection of resources, available here.

People are writing and sharing new songs and chants all the time. Singing together gives us enormous sense of our shared humanity, makes us feel strong and positive, allows us to express our emotions in these desperate times and communicates in a non-threatening way to people observing and participating in  our protests.

Jeannie Marsh, Jane York, Emily Hayes and others have been bringing singing to this week’s Extinction Rebellion protests in Melbourne. I humbly thank them for making this huge contribution to the campaign. Those of us who have the skills to enable people to sing together – now is our moment to make a huge difference to the face of the campaigns and the strength of the movements.  Act now!

Janes Pics 2Janes Songs 1

For recordings of these songs and chants, click below! Feel free to use any of mine as long as your protest is non-violent.

Sing out Strong!

Jane Coker
jane.coker@bigpond.com
October 2019

*Photo of the Spring Rebellion in Melbourne, courtesy of Hilary Walker

 

 

Music and Mayhem in Mirboo North

Twice a week Mayhem breaks out in the life of Gippsland based Singing Leader, Jane Coker. This has nothing to do with escaped chooks or lost car keys, Mayhem is a music and drama group, organised by Scope and facilitated by Jane, for adults from day centres in Traralgon, Wonthaggi, and Warragul. Everyone comes together at the Grainstore, a beautiful old wooden building in Mirboo North, to sing and dance and meet other people. It’s about therapy, fun and having a good time together. It’s about making a racket and making a mess. And it’s awesome.

The group are extremely wide ranging in their abilities, some people are really high functioning, others communicate with the blink of an eye and Jane runs the group by herself. Five or six carers come along and take care of the physical needs of participants, assisting them with morning tea at the start of each session and with lunch at the end, as well as helping them to take part in the activities.

The group was established by Jane’s mate, Kate Jackson, who recognised a need in the area for this type of group and was doing all she could to enable people to have a creative experience. When the time came for her to hand over to somebody else, she approached Jane who had no previous experience of leading a group of people with such diverse abilities.

“Kate was getting people singing, she was getting people dancing, she was doing a bit of drama. I looked at it and thought, well, I reckon I’ve done enough of this in my life, I think I can probably have a go at that and I’ll treat it as a training course because everything I’ve ever learnt around Community Arts Development in my life has been learnt on the job.”

Jane decided to train herself, try leading Mayhem for a year and see if she liked it driven by her guiding principle: To find a way to enable everyone in this group to participate in some way in what’s going on. The next question then, was how? How to do this with such a mixed group?

To begin with, Jane took a lot of guidance from the carers. While it’s obvious to see when some people are participating, with others this is more difficult particularly if you don’t recognise the significance of the sentiment they’re relaying with their eyes or from their movements or the sounds that they make.  For one or two of the participants, it is hard for anyone to decipher whether they’re benefitting from taking part or not and for them Jane believes Mayhem has to exist as a sensory experience in as much as they’re having something happen as opposed to having nothing happen around them and this, perhaps,  is as participatory as it can be.

Jane approaches leading Mayhem as she does all her other groups. People are people.

‘If my main aim is full participation and I’ve got to fathom out how to get somebody to participate where it’s not obvious and it’s not easy, the only way to go about facilitating that is (a) To collect as much information about each person as I can, and I engage the carers to make sure they are part of the whole process, and (b) to actually engage with that person as much as I possibly can and try to find out how I can have a relationship with them. It might just be the tiniest thing like a finger uncurling when I touch their hand but if that happens repeatedly, that’s feedback and that’s me developing a relationship with that person.’

Over the course of the past four years, Jane has learnt a lot about the subtlety of changes in the facial expressions of  participants: ‘I’ve really learnt to to recognise the sounds and the subtle little changes in their faces and their eyes….I’d never had that experience before and it has been amazing.’

Jane begins and ends each session with the same song. To begin with she thought everyone would grow really bored of this, but the opposite has happened, and they love it. And the more they do it, the more they know it. For some of them, it has taken four years to develop the confidence to sing that song and Jane recognises this as something working with Mayhem has taught her: there is so much to be said for repetition of material.

Using the same song also acts as an effective signal to everyone that the class has begun, and that it has ended so that even if they don’t really know what’s going on, people have a sense that something is in process and that they are a part of it.

Music played on the PA gets the Mayhem mob dancing and taking it in turn to pick the tunes which vary from ABBA to YMCA, to Pink and everything in between, reflecting the range in their ages.  While the dancing is taking place, anyone in a wheelchair is helped to move by Jane and the carers: ‘It’s dancing in the broadest sense with some people dancing in their minds.’

‘One guy’s into really heavy aggressive rap, and I draw the line there as the material isn’t suitable to impose on other people and politically I can’t play it myself, but he participates fully in other ways, and I talk to him about why I don’t play his stuff and I think he gets it!’

Singing through the microphone proves popular, offering a lot of fun and visibly increased confidence to the singers. Jane says ‘I never thought I’d think that was a good thing to do but I do! Because it’s what they see on the TV and it enables them to do something that they recognise and they have a LOT of fun doing it… And while they’re doing that, everyone else is dancing and using really nice bright coloured pom poms and stuff to dance with, twirling around, there’s a lot of colour and everyone’s doing their own thing, and it is, well, mayhem!!’

jane
Jane in dress-up mode at CMVic’s 2016 Music Camp

Jane uses a big pile of percussion and dressing up clothes with Mayhem. Because there’s no funding for this, she spends spare time scouring op shops for anything they can use in the group. For anyone who can’t physically grip a shaker or move their hands, Jane has made velcro variations and modified instruments which can be strapped onto an arm, enabling that person to make music and she’s always on the look-out for instruments that can be adapted. Soft stuff comes in handy too, as there are a lot of participants who throw things.

“If I can find a soft ball with a bell inside it, that’s perfect because it can be used as an instrument but when it’s thrown, it doesn’t decapitate anybody…”

Call and response features heavily in Mayhem, techniques learnt by Jane through voice-work training workshops. “I make sounds  to the group, they make sounds back at me, and it’s a beautiful thing because people who are non-verbal do still use their voices a lot  and will do that when invited to do so. So they’ll make sounds and we can make them back, and in this way they are participating fully.

There is a basic sign language called Key Word Sign used by the carers to indicate food, going to the toilet, etc, and Jane feels this is a skill which should be developed and taught more widely: ‘If I was able to go on some sort of course to learn Key Word Sign, or the appropriate sign language to use with people which is used across the board in those kind of facilities, that would really add to my skills.’

A forum was held at the recent CMVic Singing Camp between singing leaders working with marginalised sectors including disability.  Jane found being a part of this conversation invaluable because it reinforced her belief that the best way to develop confidence and strength in your own ability is to network with other people who are doing the same kind of thing:

‘Have a phone conversation with somebody, go to their group, see what they’re doing and participate. If you can apprentice yourself to somebody else who is doing it, that would be amazing, but this is a little bit unlikely, given that we are so few and far between. It might work better in the city…’*

Now into her fifth year working with Mayhem, Jane reflects on how it has become easier as time has gone on. “I’d say the training course took two and a half years of me leading the group once a week, and since then I’ve led it twice a week. And now I feel confident in doing what I go there to do. It’s about the fun, the relationships and the positive attitude…

“I love the fact that I’ve proved to myself that the principle of as much inclusion as possible, in the moment that you’re in is the one that works best.”

 Article by Deb Carveth with Jane Coker

 If you have any percussion instruments, shakers, bells, or things which are fun to play that you would like to give Jane and Mayhem, let us know!

RESOURCES:

If you would like to get in touch and speak with Jane about her work with Mayhem, she can be contacted on jane.coker@bigpond.com

*Music Action is a closed Facebook group run by Melissa Murphy for people facilitating all abilities music groups for adolescents and adults. It’s an ideal forum to share ideas, news and conversation.

From Northcote to the Netherlands: How a CMVic skills day started an unexpected voyage into the world of Dutch pop

You never know what you’ll take away from the experience of attending a CMVic event. A banana peel desting to languish longtime in the seam of your bag, maybe. A head filled with fresh material and exciting inspiration; the buzz of being surrounded by your tribe and an empty water bottle, definitely. And for one Melbourne based singing leader who attended a CMVic Skills Day in Northcote last year, a chance meeting unexpectedly led to a whole new chapter of cultural and linguistic discovery and personal learning.

Twelve months ago, Jeannie Marsh, an experienced Melbourne based singing leader, was feeling the need to learn new songs, see what people were up to generally, and meet up with like minded souls. So she booked herself into a CMVic Singing Leaders’ Skills Day at Jika Jika in Northcote, a one-day Spring workshop, run by Jane Coker and Margaret Crichton.

Anne Marije Bussink, a young Dutch woman active in the Dutch community had also booked in, keen to see if she could gain enough skills to get a singing group or community choir happening at the Dutch Club in Carnegie. Anne Marije had noticed that people at the Club had an interest in singing songs together and thought a choir could be a really great way to tap into people’s interests across the generations. Jeannie recalls Anne Marije introducing herself along the lines of: ‘I’m not a musician, I’m here to learn the skills to teach the songs myself….  I love to sing, don’t know anything about leading a choir but I’ll give it a go….’

Thinking this was an amazing act and totally heroic, Jeannie approached Anne Marije at morning tea, confessing, ‘I don’t speak Dutch, I have no Dutch heritage but I do run choirs.’

Leading multi cultural choirs is something Jeannie is experienced in and loves to do, whether or not she speaks the language:

“It really interests me and giving people the opportunity to sing in their language is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to do for people.”

As well as working with the Iranian Women’s Choir through the Boite last year, Jeannie was involved with Canto Coro, a choir based in the Greek and Chilean communities for eleven years. Jeannie became totally immersed in learning the background, history and struggles of Latin America and her involvement with these communities through running the choir:

‘It was a seminal moment of my life across every level, a total highlight so much so that it became a major part of what I do… I was intoxicated, meeting all these amazing people and learning about their stories, as many of them had come here as exiles from their own land and just how much singing in their own language and singing their own music which had been banned in their land, (because it was used as a rallying cry in the times of the generals in Greece and Pinochet in Chile and singing national songs literally put you in the firing line.) meant to them.’

This experience opened Jeannie’s eyes to the people around her here in Melbourne and the power of the music and words to bring communities together and bearing witness to extraordinary things that had happened in people’s pasts. It also reiterated to her the need to form joyful, welcoming communities where people can just come and be with others who have either shared similar things or are empathetic towards them and prepared to fight for social justice.

Teaming up with Anne Marije and the ‘Dutchies’, was a step Jeannie felt able to take, in spite of not speaking any Dutch and because Dutch people speak such excellent English, Jeannie is able to conduct each session in English. If that sounds easy, Jeannie’s applied herself to teaching all of the songs in Dutch, seeking helpers who could translate the lyrics to give herself an understanding of context, emphasis, etc. beforehand. Otherwise, she says, “it’s just sounds.”

Back in March, Jeannie set aside time with Anne Marije and Margreta Kuijper, another Dutch woman, for a crash course in translation and pronunciation. This involved getting a rough idea of what a particular song was about, recording, listening and repeating the material slowly with rules of pronunciation emerging along the way and Jeannie taking notes.

Including Anne Marije and Margreta a core of about five people emerged giving time, energy, and vital support to get the Dutch Choir up and running. Resources were rustled up, dictionaries and websites were offered, even Skype sessions, it was obvious that Jeannie and Anne Marije had tapped into something people were receptive to and ready for. A trial run in June saw over 25 people turn out to sing at the Dutch Club Abel Tasman in Carnegie.

Biting the bullet, Jeannie booked the space for a further 10 sessions and committed to two community gigs at the club, which the Choir recently completed. Membership over the course of that period settled to a core of about 16; meeting on Saturday afternoons in the little heritage centre at the back of the club, surrounded by memorabilia of Dutch heritage from various periods, somewhere Jeannie describes as a very special place.

The Dutch have an incredibly rich and traditional culture not widely recognised internationally beyond iconic images of tulips and windmills. They love to sing and they love singing to a bit of Nederpop This love affair dates back to the 1940s and 50s with post war Cabaret style singing emerging with artists such as Wim Sonneveld. While Eurovision and Abba mania was rife across the globe in the 70s and 80s similar equally catchy material was being written in Holland but remained largely undiscovered: while Bjorn Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid were singing in English, in the Netherlands the songs were mostly written and sung in Dutch.

Now Jeannie and the Dutch Choir are doing their bit to give these pop songs a new lease of life, dusting them off, a tweak here and there in the arrangements and an airing to audiences in the Australian sunshine.

Het Dorp is a song from the 60s about nostalgia for the fast disappearing traditional village life which evokes tears when people sing it; as with all multi cultural choirs, the migration thing is complicated. Some choir members grew up here and are reclaiming their Dutch heritage; others who lived there for most of their lives and moved to Australia for family reasons may feel torn between two cultures and places to call home. Singing brings these emotions to the fore.

161108blog1One of the earliest songs Jeannie sang with the choir was a simple children’s song about a chicken and a rooster with beautiful feathers and beautiful colours. It was easy for Jeannie to understand, simple to teach, and not at all daunting to the singers, some of whom hadn’t sung since primary school who were all familiar with it. In terms of establishing a bond within the new group it turned out to be gold. Everyone was inspired to share stories and childhood memories, and connections were quickly established.

The love of Nederpop within the group has led to Jeannie finally mastering Sibelius, something she has been meaning to get to grips with for a while, and she now sits down to arrange tunes, on pretty much a weekly basis. Naar de Zee is one of these, a boppy catchy pop song from a few years ago about riding to the beach on bicycles and having a great time with your mates. Sinds een dag of Twee is another fun pop song from the 80s that everyone seems to know and love to sing along with. Jeannie particularly recommends Brandend Zand which she describes as a ‘big tune, very well known and great for choir.’

And it isn’t just Jeannie who’s developed new skills through leading the choir; two of the singers, Chris and Margreta, picked up their guitar and clarinet for the first time in years and now accompany the choir for some of Jeannie’s arrangements, performing at the last gig.

‘Margreta was playing in this beautiful tone as though she’d only played yesterday. We workshopped things together and they both loved that aspect of practising. It’s about people reclaiming their instrument and being open to stuff and it’s what happens with a new group like this: you have no idea what’s going to happen and you have to be open to it… and stay calm!’

Jeannie’s tips for other choir leaders who may be trepidatious about leading songs in a new language is simply not to be afraid. ‘You can work it out… don’t let the language be a barrier, it’s all possible and it’s a very interesting process. For everyone.’

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Jeannie Marsh. 

Jeannie will be presenting a workshop about her experience with the Dutch Choir on Sunday, as part of the 2016 CMVic Singing Camp, this weekend, November 11-13, and the Dutch Choir’s new session block begins this Saturday, November 11.