Tag Archives: Jeannie Marsh

Serenading Adela: Community street opera celebrates choral activism & the Australian anti-conscription movement

One hundred years ago, Australians voted not once but twice against conscription, on October 28th 1916 and again on 20 December 2017 in referendums called by the Prime minister, Billy Hughes. The referendums bitterly divided the nation, with pro-conscription and anti-conscription campaigners spreading their messages in speeches, songs, huge public meetings, articles, and rallies.

An ardent advocate for peace at this time was a young woman named Adela Pankhurst. Adela was banished to Australia by her mother, the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who as a supporter of Britain’s role in WW1 was vehemently and unforgivingly opposed to the views of her daughter.

Dispatched on a one-way ticket down under, Adela continued her work as an activist and leader in the anti-conscription movement. As 1917 drew to a close, she was arrested following a women’s anti-war march in Melbourne and sent to Pentridge Prison in Coburg.  On the evening of January 7, 1918, a group of Adela’s supporters met together outside of the women’s prison to serenade her over the walls.

According to newspaper reports from the time, the group ‘from 40 to 60 persons, understood to be Socialists, and a majority of them women’ sang together in a bid to raise Adela’s spirits and to pledge their solidarity and support. Singing Solidarity for Ever, The Red Flag and We’ll keep Australia Free,  “salvos of cheers repeated again and again and the whole gathering at a given signal joined in a coo-ee…” By the time the police arrived, the mob had grown to around 300.

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Source: Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary

To commemorate the centenary of this event, singers and community musicians will again take their voices and music to the street in January as part of Serenading Adela, a street opera written to tell the story of the widespread campaign for peace so under-represented in commemorations of the period,  with specific focus on the moving story of the singing mob who serenaded Adela that night.

On January 72018,  a one off performance of Serenading Adela will begin with a musical march through Coburg, culminating in a mass sing and performance outside Pentridge Prison: a musical echo and re-enactment of a moment in time as well as a testament to the life, courage and inspiring legacy of Adela, anti-war activism and the anti-conscription movement in Australia.

unnamed-1Community choirs, individual singers and instrumentalists everywhere are invited to join the mass choir or street band and be a part of Serenading Adela. Participation is free, anyone is welcome and no prior singing experience is needed. (See end of article for registration info.)

The project is an outcome of the work of the Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary, formed in the Northern suburbs a couple of years ago to record, remember and commemorate the successful anti-conscription campaigns of WW1.

“We’re writing this to tell the story of Adela, in solidarity with Adela but also to encourage people in these times to use singing as a form of protest…choral activism, just as they did 100 years ago.”

With funding from Creative Victoria a small team have been organising and planning January’s event, including Community Music Activist Jeannie Marsh who is the artistic director, Brunswick based Nancy Atkin, Emily Hayes, Dave Evans, and singer/actor Lisa-Marie Parker (playing Adela).

In writing for Adela, Jeannie has read articles written by women who were vehement in their opposition to conscription and the Great War, and has also spent a swathe of time acquainting herself further with the character of Adela Pankhurst, scouring antique books and researching to give a depth to the musical portrayal of her character:

“She was a fearless ball of energy and apparently a riveting public speaker who drew people to her. There are records of 30,000 people turning up to peace rallies held on the banks of the Yarra… Adela was brought up in this radical family but then expelled by Emmeline from the suffragette family for being too radical. On moving to Melbourne, Adela was taken under the wing of Vida Goldstein and embraced by her pacifist tribe. This street opera is dedicated to singing the story of Adela’s life, and the story of these activists, and keeping it alive.”

Last year as a prelude to the street opera, Community Choir leader and composer, Stephen Taberner, wrote a hauntingly beautiful choral song called ‘Ghosts don’t Lie’. The song was inspired by two workshops held in 2016 for local people in Brunswick and Coburg to share memories of the way wars and conscription have impacted and reverberated through the lives and course of their families and its lasting effects.

Ghosts Don’t lie is comprised of four verses each telling a different story. The song was premiered at the Boite Singers Festival in January 2017 where it was hailed as beautiful and moving work, and will now form a component of Serenading Adela.

Rehearsals for the main choir will start at 3pm on Sunday 3rd September led by Jeannie Marsh, and Brunswick Rogues choir leader Emily Hayes or, for anyone pressed for time there’s the option of waiting until December and joining as a member of the ‘Unruly Mob’. The Victorian Trade Union Choir are already committed to the project, as well as the fifty people who formed the Serenading Adela Choir to sing Ghosts Don’t Lie.

In Serenading Adela the past will be palpable and spines will tingle as words and recollections of one hundred years previous are sung into the ether of Brunswick and Coburg by community music activists in celebration of the legacy of Adela Pankhurst and her comrades, and with ongoing hope for peace in the world.

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

  • TAKE PART in Serenading Adela by making a (free) booking here 
  • For information about rehearsals for Serenading Adela, click here
  • Click here for Ghosts don’t lie: resources to help learn the song written by Stephen Taberner.

 

 

 

 

 

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.