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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Communications Coordinator, Community Music Victoria