Boroondara Ukulele Festival (BUF) was born of Margaret Crichton’s desire to bring something to an area of Melbourne where, for some years, she has been running a number of community music groups. Back when plans were evolving for BUF, COVID wasn’t even a thing. Having experienced restrictions derail so many other face to face events since then, Margaret, who is a program coordinator for CMVic, has been making ‘contingency plan after contingency plan’ to ensure the show goes on.
If by the end of September, BUF is not able to go ahead ‘in real life’ then depending on the levels of regulations, Margaret and the CMVic team are ready, with a myriad of creative ways tucked up their sleeves to ensure its delivery, either entirely online, or as a hybrid event.
“We all need to be able to plan things, we need it for our personal wellbeing, we need to have something to look forward and aspire to… it’s a bit like having that recipe where you go, ooh I’d love to make it but I haven’t got quite those ingredients I’ll just substitute this, and it might not be the same but it will still be amazing.”
BUF will feature a range of workshop topics offered by a host of leaders from across Victoria. There will be banjo techniques for ukulele and banjolele by Julie Bradley from Gippsland, Dan McEoin, the man behind the Hills Ukulele Festival and current president of AUTLA will be teaching picking techniques, Bruce Watson will be doing what he’s calling “I’ve got rhythm, Uke got rhythm” and running a session of his surely world-famous-by now, Ukeoke. Oli Hinton and Dave Rackham will be running bass workshops.
As Margaret points out, “if you’ve got an instrument with four strings or even a guitar handy you’ll be able to have a go at the bass workshops, you won’t necessarily need to have a bass ukulele. And if BUF runs online, remember when you’re in a Zoom room no-one else can hear but the cat, you so you’ll be able to pick up a lot of techniques for when you can get your hands on a bass.”
Margaret will be offering a beginners workshop where there will be ukuleles and some basses to borrow for anyone coming along who has never played before. “If people come along to my workshop knowing nothing, they’ll be able to play something by the end of it, and if they know a little bit, they’ll leave knowing how to play a little bit more”.
Nicki Johnson and Craig Barrie will be leading a song writing workshop for ukulele, and the day will end with Tom Jackson leading a Q&A session to answer any uke-related questions to wrap things up.
What Margaret wants more than anything is for people to come to BUF and have a really good time, to learn new skills and make new connections.
“Should we all still be in lockdown, connection is what we’ll need. If we can bring some brightness into people’s days – even if they can’t be in the room with us literally, we’ll bring them into our rooms.”
BUF is a testimony to Margaret’s longstanding love for the humble ukulele which began back when she was a child. “When I was about 10, I wanted a guitar but we couldn’t afford one so I had to save up. In the meantime I got a ukulele and played that for a little while. Then, eight or nine years ago, when ukulele really took off, I decided to get another one and predictably it was purple…” The CMVic queen of all things purple and a staunch devotee of stringed instruments from ukes to harps, Margaret still loves the uke’s accessibility for people of all ages and all levels of ability. “It doesn’t really matter what age you are, you can pick it up and instantly play a song.”
Community Music Victoria will host BUF on September 24-25 in partnership with AUTLA and Pat’s Music. For all of the info click here and watch the CMVic socials for booking details, coming soon!
Written by Deb Carveth, CMVic Online Editor,with Margaret Crichton, CMVic Program Coordinator
Feature photo: Bennettswood Ukulele Groups and Singalong and Stringalong (BUGSS) at Hawthorn Market, supplied
Trying to plan a state-wide music camp at this moment in time is a bit like juggling with jelly. Unless, like CMVic’s Nicki Johnson, Craig Barrie and Oli Hinton, you had already been dreaming of ways to bring people together across time and space, even pre-pandemic.
“We had a brainstorm with Oli – back when we were volunteers at CMVic – to imagine the evolution of CMVic’s annual Music Camp. It was almost like Oli had some kind of vision of the future,” laughs Nicki. “Some kind of oracular vision, I don’t know what he was thinking but there was this provocation… How could we develop Music Camp?” Then, of course, 2020 brought on a year of lockdowns. Some additional State Government COVID-recovery funding led to Craig being employed as the Digital Coordinator. At the end of 2020 Nicki became CMVic’s Program Coordinator, a new role with a focus on state-wide programs linked to CMVic’s Growing Community Music project. “When the new year began, everybody felt filled with optimism, it was like ‘ta-daaaa, we’re back!’ and so when plans began for this year’s music camp, it seemed there was all this potential because we were out of lockdown and everything was going to be normal and straightforward.”
But Nicki’s thoughts kept returning to a term that Craig had coined back in that meeting with Oli about future music camps being run as ‘a community of communities’ which, after all, is exactly what we are. “I guess that term had just sat like a little sleeping seed in the background of my mind.”
Nicki was keen to implement learnings and experience gleaned from Grantville Online into plans for this year’s camp. “I wanted to use what we’d learned from Grantville 2020 which was such a great vibe. Over the past year, everyone has become more familiar with the technology and I started to wonder whether we might use that as a way to connect with other places we were wanting to share musical ideas and experiences with.”
Nicki began imagining how it might look like if everyone could all be together the way they really wanted to be, making music and feeling it resonate and pump through their bodies while using the skills they’d developed to enable them to share this and see what other people were doing elsewhere in other areas and in other ways.
These thoughts bubbled away for a long time. After much brainstorming and many meetings, the plan for a day-long ‘Musicfest’ finally emerged and took shape. “Really, it’s a crazy ambitious thing to try! Musicfest is effectively 3 music camps simultaneously rolling out in one day!”
On August 28, CMVic will be facilitating three face-to-face teaching hubs based in Ballan, Emerald and Mildura. Workshops with local leaders will take place across the day for music makers of all experience levels. The day will open with an Acknowledgement of Country and a song performed by Maylene Slater-Burns, First Nations singer-songwriter and Deputy Chairperson of Songlines Aboriginal Music Corporation, and proud Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri, Yuin, Worimi, Ngunnawal, Gugu Djungan, Nywaigi, Gangalidda and Garawa woman; there will also be Zoom workshops from Kavisha Mazzella, Jen Hawley, Catherine Threlfall, Dan Maceoin, Alison McGann, Win Moser, and Will Viran. At the end of the day, everyone will join up for a celebratory concert, MC’d by ‘community music legends’ Lyndal Chambers and Brian ‘Strat’ Strating!
For anyone unable to make it along to a hub, Musicfest Online provides an opportunity for anyone, anywhere across the state and beyond to tune in and bring the experience of being at camp directly into their music-making community.
Nicki’s vision is for singers and players across the state to gather in pods, community halls, homes and verandahs, anywhere large enough for people to congregate around a screen and get a party of their own going on. All that’s required is for restrictions to permit this and for access to a screen and speakers large enough to allow everyone in the room to see and hear what’s happening in the hubs.
Feedback from participants of Grantville Online showed that Zoom fatigue was a common factor after a day spent on screens and this has been taken into consideration in the planning of Musicfest. “When you have that as a secondary aspect to having all the people in the room, there’s no way you can be as exhausted because your focus is really on the people there with you. Depending on the level of restrictions, that might be just your family or it could be your choir or instrumental group and hopefully it might include people who have never been to music camp before and who get this lovely gentle introduction.”
Pressroom Philanthropy is backing the event with generous printing support and advice.“It’s really lovely because we are hoping that this will help us to reach the next ring of contacts outside of the people who already know us.” Mildura Rural City Council is also champing at the bit to create a memorable inaugural event. In considering the unpredictability of life in ’21 and being on the border with NSW, Nicki is mindful that Mildura might be precariously placed for a face-to-face program. “I really want the community to have this amazing collaborative experience with us and I’m also frightened that NSW could derail us at any moment. I had a meeting with the Mildura team last week and they are so full of energy and galvanised to do something fantastic and a little bit different. They’re even thinking of maybe having their venue on one of the paddle boats which would be so amazing although I’m not sure how it’ll work with the technology!”
Musicfest is a testimony to the innovation of everything to have emerged from last year, presented as a big, exciting, collective experiment. Way up on Nicki’s agenda, and something very much on her mind, is her wish that leaders don’t feel alone. “To a large extent I feel that we’ve been replicating each other’s efforts. Everyone is at home making a cappella videos for their groups to give everyone support during this time of separation and that’s been really draining and depleting and I really wanted a way that we could share a bit more, or at least look at ways of collaborating where the burden is a bit more distributed. Musicfest is one way of doing that but I’m also trying to think of other ways we can help each other out, using the technology and massaging it into doing things it wasn’t necessarily designed to do.”
Tickets for the Ballan, Emerald and Mildura hubs and Musicfest Online are on sale now. Nicki’s hope is that people will come along, join in the musical fun, and feedback to CMVic how it made them feel, so CMVic can learn more about running events that aim to bring together the music communities across the state.
Of course, the organisers are ready for if restrictions mean a last minute change of plans. One thing CMVic is piloting is how to make participatory music events scalable depending on restrictions. “There are so many fallback stages for singers and music makers according to what the restrictions are. For Musicfest, the beautiful plan B will be to run it all online the way we did with Grantville Online last year, and the other end of the extreme is everyone together in a room – just people and no extra technology! Musicfest gives us room to slide backwards and forwards along that scale and adjust to whatever suits the restrictions at that time. Hopefully we will always find ways to make the most of whatever situation we find ourselves in!”
Written by Deb Carveth with Nicki Johnson, and Craig Barrie for Community Music Victoria
For information and bookings to Musicfest, click here!
A common mindset when approaching musical participation, especially working collaboratively, is that you need to reach a certain skill set before you can perform. However performance can have many advantages beyond other people enjoying your music.
Community Music Victoria is driven by the belief that every person should have access to the benefits of making music regardless of skill set. Making music can help improve our state of mind and stimulates the brain. Performing in a group provides opportunities to socialise and build friendships, and can also build up our team-based skills.
From personal experience as someone who plays the ukulele, performance is exponentially more enjoyable if it’s in a group. It gives the feeling that you are part of something more and that you’re contributing to something meaningful. It’s as though you are helping create a masterpiece in an auditory art form.
From a medicinal standpoint music can provide clear benefits. In treating depressive illnesses, four out of five trials involving music therapy were shown to be effective, this can be correlated to the brain’s reward centre. When a person is singing or playing music it triggers the reward system in the same way it does for things such as eating chocolate. This indicates that participation in musical activities can improve your mood. Additionally, researchers theorise that music making can stimulate the cerebral cortex which manages higher functions such as memory, correlation and processing of information. By stimulating the cerebral cortex it is essentially providing a warm-up for that area of the brain which allows it to process information more effectively.
Medically speaking, it is evident that there are advantages to playing music, especially in terms of mental health and cognitive function.
Although solo music playing can be constructive, singing and playing music in a group provides all the same health benefits whilst also introducing a social aspect. Making music in a group allows for social interaction and collective catharsis. We can express emotion through music as a group and certain song choices can provoke certain emotions. It also provides a sense of belonging for those included as they are part of a collective, and share experiences with their musical comrades. Friendships can also be built and strengthened through communal music, as everyone is participating in the same thing and building skills and confidence together.
Expanding on this, collective music making can build teamwork and communication skills through working collaboratively with others and learning how to have discussions with fellow group members.
Overall there are many reasons to participate in communal music making. Group music can improve mood and provide a cognitive warm-up, both of which have clear benefits to wellbeing. There is also a strong social aspect involved when playing music with others, and there is a sense of belonging and feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.
As someone learning the ukulele I can personally verify that playing music definitely has its benefits, but when participating in a music group it is far more rewarding. The atmosphere itself is much more lighthearted and warm. There is opportunity for conversation or constructive feedback and you get to appreciate others abilities as well as the group’s as a whole. When you compare this to solo practise or performance you miss all the laughter and joy that comes from collaboration.
Music is often a key component that relates to many cultures and allows people to be immersed in their culture. The engagement in our own culture is important, as we gain a sense of inclusion within our cultural community. Through music people can gain a stronger understanding of their identity and culture, and the identities and cultures of others. For example in Indigenous Australian culture the stories of creation are told through songs and music, and sacred music performed in ceremonies are a crucial aspect of indigenous culture. In terms of my own culture my father is British, and always enjoys when I play popular British songs on the ukulele. This illustrates how we can connect with our culture and share parts of our culture through music.
Overall there are many reasons to participate in communal music making. Group music can improve mood and provide a cognitive warm-up, both of which have clear benefits to wellbeing. There is also a strong social aspect involved when singing and playing music with others. Friendships and skills develop, and there is a sense of belonging and feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.
Scarlet Lee is a year 10 student and a keen ukulele player who joined the CMVic team for work experience in April and May
It was participating in an online music session for pre-schoolers which turned around Brian ‘Strat’ Strating and Lyndal Chambers’ thinking about playing and delivering instrumental music online.
“We were invited, us and our grandchildren, to participate in a family session for Drummond Street by Amanda Testro, and it was really interesting. We learned a lot being participants in that group. The fun thing was seeing all the little screens of people doing the same thing or people doing the actions to a song in their own remote locations. We all started off together and then slowly the kids began rambling around the lounge room, you know it’s kind of really interesting and fun to see everyone doing the same thing in different places and we learnt from that experience that things with actions work much better than trying to play music.”
There’s no getting away from it, the communal aspect of instrumental music making online can be dissatisfying for a number of reasons: you don’t have your external speakers cranked up; you don’t own external speakers, your own instrument sounds way louder than what’s coming into your room so there’s no hope of playing along with the facilitator because you’re struggling to actually hear the music itself. And then there’s the unavoidable reality that in real life sessions, everybody’s bits go together to create a tune and while one person on their own might fumble and stumble over their part or lose the beat, it is everybody playing together in real time that makes everything work and is beautiful.
So how can we make the most of collective instrumental music-making opportunities during these times of physical distancing? After all, they’re a great vehicle for checking in and hearing how everyone’s doing.
As highly experienced community music facilitators and musicians, this quandary is something Lyndal and Strat have spent many hours contemplating and experimenting with since COVID put an end to most of their other commitments – and income – overnight.
“As a practitioner delivering music online, you need to think about ‘how do I make it work, what’s the reason for doing community music online, and then if you decide to do it, how do I make it successful? Because, you know, if somebody really wants to learn a tune, they can sit in front of a video on YouTube, they can learn the tune slowly and repeat it as many times as they like.” But this isn’t fun, nor is it what brings it to life. We get together in groups because we want to be with other people.”
Playing with the pre-schoolers led Lyndal to realise how dancing and responding to action songs works well online because it doesn’t matter if you’re hearing the tunes with lag, you can still do the actions. “At one point, Amanda said ‘go on kids go into the kitchen find your pots and pans’ and they all ran off eagerly to go and get their pots and wooden spoons, and so I ran off and got this big pan and wooden spoon! And when I went to play along, my pans were soooo loud, I couldn’t hear a thing from the computer! We learnt that not only can you not play in real time, you can’t even hear what’s going on unless you have some decent external speakers set up on your computer.”
What both Lyndal and Strat enjoyed most was the social aspect of participating in something in this way. “Our grandkids, all three of them – and one is only 18 months old – are in Blackwood and we are in Inverloch, and we are all watching Amanda’s show and we can all see each other!”
So the main purpose of all being online together is to maintain that social connection which we all need and seek out, and music is still that common thread.
“In our physical groups, music-making is a vehicle for us getting together and we can all play together which is just not possible with the technology that we have. At least not without phenomenal expertise and state of the art equipment. The reality we’re stuck with is we’re not going to be able to play real time music together in virtually any online context anytime soon because there’s such huge variability in everyone’s situation. There are barriers such as internet speeds, internet cabling. And some people don’t have a good, functioning computer with a good camera and good audio, some people don’t have internet at all, and some people are too old to wrestle with technology.”
The takeaway from their experience of online participatory music making has shown Lyndal and Strat the importance of identifying a clear purpose at the start of the online session, articulating this as a group and agreeing on an expectation of what everyone is trying to achieve together. “It’s the same as those values we use when we are face to face.”
Lyndal and Strat were recently invited by Aaron Silver to do a Virtual Bush Dance for the Turramurra community. “When we started trying to work out how to do it, we figured that we needed to actually get up and moving ourselves to get other people off their bums, so we did a practise, and videoed ourselves calling the dance and playing the music simultaneously, and it was hilarious.
“The bush dance worked really well but it took a lot of preparation. We had a dry run with around ten people before the session and discussed which settings were needed on Zoom, what settings people should change, and all the technical stuff. Even this was an opportunity for fun and reconnection, we were all laughing and talking to each other, so the social thing was happening even then. This small group of testers were able to say whether or not they could hear if Lyndal danced away from the computer, or when they stood away from their own computer.”
“When it came down to the actual event we were dancing and moving around at the same time as everyone else, we could still see the concert view on our computer and there was everybody dancing in their living rooms. Mark Jackson took a video of himself and Jane with us in the background on the telly and it was so hilarious, so funny!”
As part of Grantville Online (CMVic Music Camp 2020), Strat and Lyndal will be re-visiting this approach and facilitating a Virtual Street Band Parade! The tune is available and can be downloaded ahead of camp so that anyone preparing to play in the virtual street band will be familiar with it. Lyndal and Strat would like more than anything for this workshop to be about letting go, healing and having fun.
“We want it to be a lively thing, a joyful experience! We want it to be ridiculous, a coming-together and dressing up; a fooling around opportunity, a joyful, love-filled safe place!”
“We’ve recorded a multi-track tune ourselves so that there are lots of parts. On the day, we’ll press ‘play’ and everyone will be able to hear the pre-recorded piece of street band music which they’ve also been learning and it will have the counting, and everybody can play along on mute, or sing, or dance or even just mime! And they won’t just be playing on their own, they will actually be playing and singing along to a full band sound in their lounge room, bedroom or study or wherever they might be, or even outside on the veranda! Our aim is to light up the screen with participation.”
In considering the transitioning of their leadership skills into the virtual space, Lyndal is reflective about the challenges of maintaining diversity and inclusion.
“Thinking about the values, this idea of ‘from one to many’ is not my ideal for community music making, I think that’s a real stumbling block for me. In a real-life situation, there may be a nominal leader or a leadership team, and you’re allowing everybody’s voice to contribute ideas to the circle and they feel invested. When you have an online platform there’s one person is sitting in front of the computer directing the actions and everyone’s speakers are on mute, its completely the antithesis of the kind of ideal for me of a democratic community music group…”
Strat agrees, “I think it’s impossible in the online setting, so yeah that’s a great challenge, and the other thing is the thinking that if your normal session goes for an hour, have an hour online. You absolutely cannot! With the bush dance, we would usually go through something like that twelve times, whereas online we went through it just three. The elements that are most important are dancing and movement and linking up and having a great time.”
“Enabling people to do their own dressing up and their own dancing allows them to participate as much or as little as they can, or want to or feel able to, while still contributing. And if we can record it, which I know is possible, there will be this amazing collage of everyone doing their own thing in their own way and interpreting it somehow in a way that’s personal to them.”
“And, because you’ll be muted if you have always wanted to play the trumpet in a street band but don’t actually play the trumpet – now’s the time! If you’ve got a trumpet, pick it up and be able to play without any bum notes, straight off the bat! This one of the advantages of the virtual street band; anything goes. There are no limits!”
“Oh my gosh” says Lyndal, “The No Limits Street Band…
Music is known to provoke the senses, give pleasure and sometimes move people to tears. Surely this has little to do with mathematical models which are so frequently associated with cold and rational logic. So what can maths tell us about this powerful phenomenon closely connected to the emotions? Can mathematics help us measure what’s sublime or ineffable about a piece of music?
Music evokes strong emotions such as frisson (goose bumps), awe and laughter – and has been found to use the same reward pathways as food, drugs and sex to induce pleasure. A shiver down one’s spine or an uncontrollable guffaw when listening to music is most often a case of the music defying your expectations. Expectations can be defined in two ways: schematic – knowing how a genre of music is supposed to go – or veridical – knowing how a particular piece of music unfolds.
On one end of the spectrum, a performance or a piece of music that does just what you’d expect runs the risk of becoming banal. On the other end, music like that of PDQ Bach – which uses tongue-in-cheek egregious violations of known expectations – makes many people laugh.
PDQ Bach: The Short-tempered Clavier: Minuet in C. EC, Author provided735 KB (download)
The craving that comes from musical anticipation and the euphoria that follows the reward have both been found to be linked to dopamine release. As a result, performers and composers alike play with listeners’ expectations, often going to great lengths to carefully choreograph their expectations, and then sometimes breaking them, to provoke and heighten emotional responses.
Playing with expectations
In tonal music, which is almost all of the music that we hear and can be thought of as being based on a scale, the note sequence sets up expectations, then suspends, fulfils, or violates them. For a simple example, sing the first three phrases of “Happy Birthday” and stop at the end of the penultimate phrase.
Anticipation for the resolution to this musical cliffhanger creates a palpable knot in the gut. This hollow feeling can be further intensified by delaying the final phrase. The release is evident when the final phrase is heard and ends happily on the most stable tone.
Two things are at work here in this miniature example: tonality and time. Tonality provides a framework through which expectations are formed – and the play on time, the delaying of expectations, uses the framework to create a musical cliffhanger and titillate the senses.
Where maths comes in
Expectations can be modelled mathematically and time can be measured – so the shaping of both expectations and time can be described in numbers. Over the years, in my research lab, we have developed models and computer algorithms for quantifying tonal properties and expressive parameters in music. Many of the tonal analysis algorithms are based on what is known as a “spiral array model”.
The spiral array can be plotted in 3D to allow us to visualise the dynamic evolution of musical keys and spot when the notes and their timing combine to do something interesting to tug at our emotions.
As music is heard, the notes can be mapped to the model, duly weighted and summarised as points inside it. Movements in the space inside the model allow listeners to see deviations from expected tonal behaviour.
Just as pitches that sound close one to another are spatially near each other; the converse is true: pitches that sound far from one another are spatially far apart. Feelings of tension translate to quantifiably big distances – notes mapping to widely dispersed points or pulling far away from an established centre of gravity.
Composers actively vary the tension over time to generate interest and captivate the listener’s attention. The shaping of tension over time also helps create meaningful long-term structure. It is notoriously hard for computer algorithms to generate music with long-term structure. But the MorpheuS system, developed by music researcher Dorien Herremans, circumvents this problem to generate music with a pre-set narrative structure by using a tension model based on the spiral array. Listen to this version of JS Bach’s “Minuet in D”:
MorpheuS-Bach: A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena: Minuet in D. EC, Author provided582 KB (download)
It follows the tension profile, rhythms, and repetition patterns of the original piece from A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach:
JS Bach: A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Minuet in D. EC, Author provided605 KB (download)
The notes of the generated piece also conjures up similar degrees of tension to the original music. For example, discordant sounds follows the same patterns of discord in Bach’s original piece.
Not only do notes themselves create tension, a performer can delay resolutions to heighten suspense. Judicious use of timing is one of the most potent expressive devices for eliciting emotional responses. The right amount of delay can sweeten the anticipation – but take too much time and the performer risks losing the listener.
In music with a beat, the musical pulse forms a baseline grid on which to measure timing deviations – prolongations and reductions of the time unit. In extreme cases, these warpings of musical time produce tipping points, the feeling of being poised at the brink of an abstract hill in an imaginary roller coaster.
We can use maths to present this graphically. When a piece of music is performed precisely as written, it is displayed as a flat line in these graphs. But music is almost never played exactly as written. Performers often exercise significant creative license; as a result, anomalous peaks signal the evocation of musical tipping points.
By elongating specific notes – or words or syllables – the performer draws the listener’s ears to details that might have been missed or glossed over. Because the listener often knows what’s coming, the delay prolongs expectation – creating drama and exaggerating emotional cues.
Mathematics is the language through which scientists understand the nature of the universe. However, the extent to which numbers can explain the ephemeral experience of music has yet to be fully explored. Why does music move us? How do its variegated structures translate to musical expectations? How do performers and composers exploit these expectations to craft profound and moving musical experiences? Our mathematical forays into these questions are but the tip of the ice berg.
“You put something like this out there and you just hope that it might contribute to improving the situation” says Sarah Mandie, songwriter and creative director of That Girl, a song and dance-based community focussed project run in conjunction with Community Music Victoria to empower women and girls, encourage them to stand up against gender-based violence, stereotyping and inequality and say ‘stop’.
Two years after its launch in 2017, That Girl has brought together girls and women from the Indian and Bhutanese communities of Wodonga; culturally diverse groups of primary schoolgirls in Boroondara; and secondary school-age girls from Healesville High School and the Healesville Indigenous Community Association in the Yarra Ranges.
A day of song, dance and dialogue was also held at the Immigration Museum for the Prevention of Violence Against Women: Voices of Shakti was presented by Community Music Victoria, Sarah Mandie and Dr. Priya Srinivasan (ADI Deakin). Drawing on Indian cultural themes of the Goddess to educate, inspire, mobilise and create understanding between people of diverse backgrounds and genders, the program included That Girl song and dance workshops with Sarah and choreographer, Marshie Perera Rajakumar. That Girl has been mentioned in Parliament too.
“I really just wanted to make a powerful, impactful song and music video that showed diversity of origin and ethnicity and locations around Victoria to show violence against women is something which can affect anyone and everyone and that girls everywhere have faced these issues. The process then opened up. Getting involved with different communities, I couldn’t have foreseen what was going to come out of it.”
The idea of the project was to get girls and women to come together in a way which was fun, engaging, and using the opportunity to learn the That Girl song and dance as a platform for discussions and talk about how they feel as girls and women around issues of respect, and anything else pertinent to them and their personal experiences.
What transpired depended on the community. In Wodonga a connection was clearly made between the local health centre and the women who might need to access it at some point, which was a really positive outcome, as were the connections the participants built through supporting each other. “The women realised that it was okay to talk about this and that it’s really good if they talk about it together as women in their cultural community so that they understand each other. Tricia Hazeleger from Gateway Health in Wodonga was really progressive and saw the value of using a music video dance project to deliver a message.” It was this phase of the project, where Sarah worked in partnership with Tricia and the staff at Gateway Health, which led to the project being mentioned in Federal Parliament by the former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, AO.
For That Girl Boroondara, there was a different focus and the girls didn’t come into the situation in the same way. There the workshop focussed more on what it felt like to be a girl, considering questions such as ‘do we feel respected?’; ‘how can we feel more empowered?’. A lot of the discussion was around gender stereotypes.
That Girl Boroondara became a real cultural festival which included both Indian and contemporary hip-hop style dances. Mothers of some of the girls became involved too, initially as volunteers but then going on to become part of the discussion groups which was a good representation of the community. In that sense the experience was uplifting for the girls involved, and Sarah was also touched by this development:
“The commitment of people who became involved along the way as creative or organisational volunteers and became so positively committed to the message of That Girl, sticking with the project until completion was really great. One of these people was Marshie who choreographed the dance for both That Girl Boroondara and Voices of Shakti. Marshie’s commitment to That Girl was because of the aims of the project and its message. The message is the thing that people identified with and committed to.”
In the Yarra Ranges where the girls who took part were older, some slightly more complex issues emerged, not all of which there was time to talk about. The therapeutic angle wasn’t something Sarah had necessarily anticipated when she embarked on the workshops, and she believes a need exists for further kind of That Girl styled programs in this area because of the many levels on which music and arts projects work. Working together with Wurundjeri elder, Aunty Joy Murphy, a verse of the That Girl song was translated and sung in Woiwurrung, the ‘nulu’ language of Healesville and the Wurundjeri people as part of That Girl Yarra Ranges. For Sarah, this was particularly rewarding and something she’d love to do again, taking the project into different communities and translating the song into different languages.
Each That Girl workshop was similar but tailored appropriately to the ages of the girls taking part: “I had grade four and fives in Camberwell and that’s a really different crowd to year seven. Then there’s the socio-economical and various other aspects of each group to consider, and the culture of the location, so that was interesting. Once you get to high school it’s harder to get people to want to dance and let go in front of their peers, so the method was a little bit challenging for them but very rewarding as well. The feedback was that it brought them together as friends in the year level, so again, it was good for their connections.”
Common to both school groups was a desire to be ‘the same’; for everyone to be treated as equals irrespective of their gender. Girls want the freedom to be whatever they want to be, based on who they are.
To close each of the project’s three stages, a film was produced showing the process and the journey of That Girl within the community. All three films are highly moving, goose-bump inducing testimonies to Sarah’s vision. “I just think, wow! Look at all the girls and women that were involved in this and putting their hearts and souls into this dancing and dressing up, and it doesn’t end there! They’re in a video now and they can watch it again and again…”
There was significant council support for the project each time the films were shown with people ‘blown away’ at each of the three screenings. “The principal of Healesville High commissioned a huge poster of the project for the school hall; the principal of Camberwell Primary cried when she first watched That Girl Boroondara; the Wodonga phase of the project was acclaimed in parliament and the film of That Girl Yarra Ranges was shown at the Memo Cinema in Healesville with the Mayor in attendance who welcomed the involvement and knowledge sharing of the Indigenous community. Each of the films are online and people keep watching them.”
As the project went along the priority became about getting as many people involved and participating as possible. As Sarah says, this takes time and then there’s life and unexpected things happen. “It did get hard at times to keep the momentum up when I had other personal challenges going on, so I’m very proud and happy that we kept this project afloat! Now it’s all about preparing for the launch and getting it out there.”
The film launch will showcase and promote one final, overarching musical artistic video combining footage from That Girl Wodonga,That Girl BoroondaraandThat Girl Yarra Ranges. The film, which is just over three minutes long, can be used in a multitude of settings and makes an excellent educational tool within community networks, schools and the health sector: “People can watch it and then if they want to learn the dance and the song, they can, it has all those elements to it. It’s a great resource because it makes you feel things and think things which can then be spoken about.”
Sarah’s ‘ridiculously super excited’ about this. As a conglomeration of the entire project the film will be shown and celebrated on a cinema screen at the Victorian Trades Hall in Melbourne on December 7 during the United Nations’ 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. A choir made up of individuals and community singing groups are invited to sing in a flash mob style to celebrate the success of the project and anyone is welcome to come along and get involved in the launch.
“I’m hoping that people will come together to sing the That Girl song for the first time. A few groups have learned it so far and are really loving it. We’ll have a workshop rehearsal just before the performance on the night for anyone new to the song in need of a run-through. It’ll be an opportunity for people to sing and dance and to see the end product and feel proud of being part of it or moved to share it with people. What That Girl needs next is support from the community to share, share, share, to get the message out there to offer strength to the people who need it.”
For the launch, Sarah has partnered with Impact for Women, an organisation run by ‘an amazingly committed woman’ called Kathy Kaplan. Impact exists to make a difference to women and children fleeing extreme violence at home. All money raised by the launch of the That Girl film will go to paying for any children needing to be looked after in safe, professional care whilst their primary caregiver is attending court due to family, domestic and relationship abuse.
Sarah was inspired to write and produce That Girl because of acts and crimes against women featuring repeatedly in the news from across the world, and then looking at her own two girls and thinking, what am I going to do? “They’ve now been part of something game changing and meaningful, something powerful. I want girls everywhere to watch the film and go ‘yeah!’ and I want boys and men to see it too and keep talking about this because it’s important. Above all, I want people to sing the song, watch the film and share it, I want That Girl to go viral and I want it to be valuable and used widely to raise awareness and bring about positive change.”
That Girl is for every girl. Join the film launch at the Victorian Trades Hall on Saturday 7 December.
This paper is a comprehensive review of the reasons why music could and should be used for improving the speech and language skills of children with mild to severe hearing impairments with cochlear implants and/or hearing aids, and contains a series of ten guidelines by Torppa and Huotilainen for the use of music with children of different ages and varying backgrounds for parents, caregivers, educators and therapists.
These recommendations can be found in section 3 of the paper, sub-titled How to use music to enhance speech and language skills of hearing-impaired children. Emphasis is placed on the value of using singing as your main instrument, especially with a young child, and the benefit of supporting the musical hobbies of teenagers with hearing impairments. The recommendations are made on the basis of the intervention studies and correlational studies described in the article, and on the basis of the traditional auditory rehabilitation, music therapy methodologies, and speech and language therapy methods.
“…the current evidence seems enough to urge speech therapists, music therapists, music teachers, parents, and children and adolescents with hearing impairments and/or cochlear implants to start using music for enhancing speech and language skills. For this reason, we give our recommendations on how to use music for language skill enhancement in this group.” – Rita Torppa and Minna Huotilaienen
Mark Jackson knew he was doing something right when a member from one of his nine Ukestras informed him that she was ‘too busy seeing friends’ to come and play.
“My number one ticket holder said, “Sorry I can’t come to Uke today, I’m playing cards with my new friends, you don’t know what you’ve done with the ukulele, it’s been fantastic.”
Helping people to make music, building community and sustainability are three significant keystones in the lives and business model of Mark and his partner, Jane Jelbart. The pair work together as ‘The Sum of Parts’, teaching Ukulele, running participatory groups, holding ‘Ukestras’ and developing and encouraging sustainable leadership using their very own, finely honed ‘Ukestra Method’1.
They do this so well that for the past nine years it has been their primary source of income and they have now written two books packed with insights about their work: The Ukestration Manual, about ‘creating music making communities with the Ukulele and the Ukestra Method’, and The Business of being a Community Musician‘ for people who want to make a living or run a small business as a community musician.’
A chief value underpinning what they do is the conviction that being active in our community is good for us and that a decline in the uptake and participation in socially focussed, group-activities such as sport, church or clubs is mirrored by a decline in the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the people within the community.
“Community is really good for us and I think It’s really good for the planet as well if we’re together. It’s almost like making music together was the first way that we came together, and which wasn’t about fighting or reproducing.”
Once you get a community music group up and running, there’s the question of how to sustain it and offer support and mentorship to emerging new leaders.
Being such an accessible and appealing little instrument, new people are drawn into the sphere of the ukulele all the time, which is fortunate when sustainability is so integral to making a living as a community musician. “You’ve got to constantly be introducing people into this environment and that’s what’s so fantastic about the ukulele. It’s an instrument that you can play really complex things on, but you don’t have to” says Mark.
“What you need is a system of teaching and leadership that is effective and sustainable. If we just relied on the people we started out working with nine years ago, we wouldn’t have a business, we wouldn’t be connecting people up. If it was all stale, then people wouldn’t be benefiting from our values or philosophies and we wouldn’t be meeting our goals.”
Ukestras were born of Mark’s desire to find a successful business model to sustain his community musicianship and the vision emerged when he sat down to write a business plan. Weighing up what he wanted against what he didn’t want, he was encouraged to consolidate his skills in a way which would permit him to combine his previous work experience, his passions and his skills into a single, profitable stream. Ukestras were go.
“I wanted to visit Melbourne regularly, and I wanted to go to the beach everyday. Going to the beach everyday meant I didn’t want to tour. I realised if I wanted to have a life living in my community as a musician, then my options were really quite limited, and to date making a living as a community musician has often been a struggle, but I don’t feel like we struggle, I feel like we do pretty well. I’m able to fulfil my purposes, and enable other people to fulfil theirs.”
Mark began his first Ukestra after moving back to Newcastle NSW following 12 years living in Bendigo. The inaugural Ukestra was inspired by the work of various Victorian community musicians and the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective. It was backed financially by a small business grant obtained through the NEIS program being run by the Australian Government back in 2009. At that point in time, there were no other community ukulele groups running in Newcastle, and Mark’s Ukestra flourished.
Three years and a whole lot of uking later, Jane and Mark entered a business partnership, and since 2013 have travelled nationally and internationally to promote and share their teaching model, earning enough from their work to support them both. They currently run no less than 9 Ukestras each week, and two community choirs.
There are illustrations throughout The Business of Being a Community Musician which detail clearly the idea that to add value to your role and your income as a community musician in a sustainable way, it’s important to price your time honestly and be clear that the point of delivery is only the tip of the iceberg. Mark is passionate about this need to be realistic:
“Don’t be ashamed of charging for what you do as a community musician and for doing this good work, and work it all out in a systematic manner. The key thing that people need to understand is admin takes a bloody long time. Work out how you should charge for it and how it should be valued.”
An anonymous quote in the opening pages of the book is forgiving about this:
“The value you give us is far more than the few $ we give to you. Please don’t underestimate your value to the community or agonise over taking a modest bit of filthy lucre from us. Uke on!”
The book stands as an encouraging testimony to the success Mark and Jane enjoy which has enabled them to support two full time incomes doing what they love most. It encourages other community music leaders to consider their own Unique Selling Point, work out what they are offering and then find a way to market this, with advice around how much to realistically charge and how to set your teaching rate. It’s packed with practical advice too about databases, staffing and how to keep in touch with your community using platforms such as Mailchimp, website and social media.
Mark sees The Ukestration Manual as essential pre-reading to The Business of Community Musicianship, and feels it has a broader appeal based on the detail it goes into around what constitutes good leadership skills and good teaching skills. These skills hinge around the values required to create a successful ‘third place’ in the community,2 a place which facilitates accepting and non-judgemental social interaction.
“I suppose I have an evangelical goal with The Ukestration Manual too and that’s based on a sometimes less than generous view of the ukulele community, which can be stuck on nostalgia and be less about progressing people’s musicianship…there’s a lot of latest hits and greatest memories …”
Using Mark and Jane’s tips on effective community leadership and taking a professional approach to guiding a Ukestra, the potential musical cul-de-sacs of nostalgia can be instead harnessed to explore the delights of the broader musical world, and all its glorious repertoire is your oyster to open up and explore including, sneakily, the occasional bit of musical theory.
Each of the books is immediately accessible because it’s written from the heart and is compiled from first hand experiences shared in a genuine way. The Ukestration Manual is analytical and descriptive about what Jane and Mark have done through their work as The Sum of Parts and yet the message isn’t really about the journey of Jane and Mark, it’s about encouraging the reader to harness and own their potential, as James Hill states in the introduction:
“This book isn’t a memoir, it’s a manual. It’s not about “look what we did” but rather “look what you can do”.”
Article by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria with Mark Jackson
1: Ukestra Method: ‘Teaching people to play ukulele in a social environment so it combines the structured learning of the teacher-led learning with a fun social vibe.’
2: Third Place: Where home and work are considered the first two places, a third place is somewhere which offers people an opportunity to congregate and connect.
The Ukestration Manual and The Business of Being a Community Musician are now available as e-books from the CMVic online store. $29 each ($23 to members of CMVic) or $49 for the two books. ($39 to members)
When Annie Fletcher and her family moved back from WA to Melbourne, Hurstbridge seemed a nice spot at the end of the train line. It wasn’t until they’d been living there a few months that Annie realised the rich arts community they’d been fortunate to move into.
Keen to get into more hand-drumming, Annie decided to hook into the local scene, in particular the regular jamming sessions at St Andrew’s market, which at that time had a weekly drum circle. This lead to a conversation with the local neighbourhood house about starting a beginners group and, fourteen years later as Drum Connection, the beat goes on.
“I wasn’t a particularly experienced drummer at that time but, because I’d been a teacher for many years, I used my teaching skills to work out what I wanted to teach and how and it just grew from there. My intrinsic love of rhythm had also been honed over many years with my passion and tertiary study in Dance.”
Numbers were low to start with, but running the group gave Annie an opportunity to assimilate into the community, “it helped me find my place and it was just so rewarding”.
Participation in the new group continued to grow with spots of natural fluctuation, but the community music experience continued as a weekly dose of positive good fun.
“I always say there are no mistakes in the drumming, there are just variations on a theme and a bit of jamming is fine. People like that and if they struggle with a particular rhythm, they can just play the first beat of each bar or the main beats of the rhythm and when the finishing call comes, they can whack the drum again and finish with the group, so it’s accessible to all.”
Annie has found that some drummers just keep coming back while others take time out and return after an extended break. Consequently, a consistent core has developed with several drummers having earned themselves a Drum Connection ‘10 Year badge’!
“Over the years we’ve built up a community which is really very special and the group always welcomes and nurtures whoever walks through that door.”
Drum Connnection participants vary widely in age, ranging from a few older school-aged kids through to seniors. Everyone jollies each other along, learning, nurturing and playing as a collective group. Annie runs two long sessions, one on Thursday evenings and one on Friday afternoons. Within these sessions, levels 1, 2 and 3 are covered in particular time slots, which allows specific groups to learn layers of the shared rhythms at a complexity appropriate to them.
Drummers are offered an opportunity to perform at community events and when this occurs all of the different drum voices are combined within a structure for the whole rhythm, so that the entire group can play as one ensemble.
Annie also likes to introduce a singing element into her workshops, when simple parts of traditional songs can be taught to accompany an appropriate rhythm. Annie saves this ‘surprise’ until around week 3 by which time anyone new has settled in. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘oh you’ll never get me singing but of course, in time, they all sing!”
Occasionally, people will express concern that they lack enough rhythm to join in, and some people certainly find drumming a bit trickier than they expect to, but Annie has found that when she can assist them to relax, the drumming falls into place more easily. A number of drummers come to Drum Connection as part of a personal recovery process. For people who have suffered some sort of trauma, loss, bereavement, separation, anxiety or illness it can be of assistance when they are at a transition phase in their lives. “Often people will say to me afterwards, “that was just the best thing”.
“Some people find they can actually switch off from the big thing in their life because they are concentrating so hard on drumming, others find they can go into this quite meditative state and those people might have one or two rhythms you can see really working for that person and they totally zone out.”
Annie believes it’s unnecessary to highlight the healing or meditative aspects of drumming for discussion in the context of these community classes, preferring to consider these positive outcomes as an added bonus of the experience of participation and rhythms in a shared music-making context:
“People will discover this for themselves, it doesn’t have to be labelled… it can still be having this effect for many people whilst other people are just enjoying the music or the social aspect. Drumming can be different things to different people and we don’t necessarily need to put a label on any of those.”
Kids have joined in with Drum Connection workshops over the years, usually accompanying a parent although not always: “Anyone over the age of around 10 is welcome. I have occasionally had someone as young as 7 and although it’s an adult class there’s no problem them joining in if it works for them. It can be a nice thing for a parent and child to do.”
This month Annie is starting a series of drumming workshops in Hurstbridge specifically for kids, to gauge interest and uptake. “There are some good music programs in the local primary schools but for any kids who can’t get in or are too young, it could offer a good transition… I’ll give it a go and see!”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with Annie Fletcher
If you would like any more information about these classes or single workshops for specific groups, contact Annie: Mob: 0407 102 578; Email: email@example.com; fb: Drum Connection Aus
You never know where life as a Singing Leader will take you next. Several years ago now, The Lucky Wonders, an indie folk pop band from Byron Bay, toured Germany. In need of a break after a few gruelling years in the music industry, Jessie Vintila and her partner Emma Royle took off for a drive through Spain and France, and found themselves in St Jean Pied de Port, a small French town at the foot of the Pyrenees.
Turns out, St Jean Pied de Port is a common starting place for people walking a spectacular stretch of the Camino Francés, the most famous of all the Pilgrimage routes across the mountains, and on this particular day the atmosphere of the town captivated them both in a powerful and life changing way.
“We saw all these people in hiking gear with walking poles and there was a kind of magical hush over the town. There and then we got the bug for the Camino. Emma has been a keen hiker all her life and she was determined we would walk this track as soon as possible.”
But with return flights booked and paid for it was time to head home to Australia leaving the two women unclear about how they could justify an imminent trip back to Europe. “Being musicians it’s not that easy to travel across the world”, Jessie laughs. Their quest was something to ponder, something requiring time and creative thinking but the vision and the place persisted to play in their thoughts.
On a walk out one evening, an idea and a solution to the situation popped clearly into Jessie’s head…and after all that thinking it turned out, rather ironically, to be a bit of a no-brainer.
Jessie was fortunate to be born into a singing family. As a multi-instrumentalist for most of her life she has also been a passionate choir leader since she was 18: “I can’t get enough of it, I’m an absolute harmony addict, I love having people all around me singing harmonies all the time.” Emma, who is also a musician, is an ardent fan of walking.
The freshly hatched plan combined all these skills and, most importantly at that point in time, gave Jessie and Emma a legitimate reason to head back to the Camino together to explore the idea of setting up their potential new venture: A Singing tour of the Camino for other people to do.
“If we could go over there and set up this project, we could do it!”
Within a few months of their original visit, Jessie and Emma went back to Spain and walked all 800 blister-busting kilometres of the Camino. They decided to focus on the final 200km stretch which they decided would be the ideal distance for singing walkers to cover on a twelve day tour. A significant amount of their time on that first trip was spent researching places to stay away from the traditional and crowded boarding houses or ‘albergues’ typical of the region, and immersing themselves in the culture and lifestyle of the area.
“We found all these special little stops run by families to stay in along the track and pieced together an itinerary which, by the time we’d finished, was gorgeous. A lot of the self-organisational skills we’d honed from being in a band came into use… I only had about 12 words of Spanish but I managed to book 12 rooms for the following year for people who didn’t even exist yet…”
Jessie acknowledges that a huge part of being able to take the plunge and do this was the trusting, welcoming nature and enabling culture of the Spanish people. And it worked.
With Jessie’s vision and Emma’s pragmatism, the women established ‘Sing the Camino’ and, in 2014, took their first group of 9 singers on a 12 day, gospel singing tour through Spain from Ponferrada to Santiago. They were living their dream. The following year they took two groups of 16 people each.
Each of the groups who have Sung the Camino with Jessie and Emma has its own unique character. Some of the singers will know each other and have booked in as a group. Others arrive as individuals on adventures of their own. The tour is inclusive to singers of all levels and experience and non-singing partners often come along too, though they rarely remain non-singers for long.
“Singers of all abilities are welcome… we have found that in a supportive environment, with the right help, everyone is able to experience the joy of singing.”
There will be people who want to flash mob along the track every single day, or put on a performance for the town they arrive in at the end of a day, whilst other groups are not open to these capers at all, and that’s fine too.
As Jessie says, the singers who go out on a limb always have an entertaining story to tell at dinner that night, about how they made the man in the cheese shop cry, or how the man in the fish shop is a fantastic singer and he went and brought in his brother and they sang a song together. Beautiful spontaneous things can happen, but none of them are planned. Which is as it should be.
One of Jessie’s favourite aspects of these trips are the nights when local guest musicians come and sing for them all, and Jessie and Emma have spent a long time building relationships with these people:
“We’ve had the good fortune to discover some really amazing genres of music we didn’t even know existed… like Tuna which I knew nothing about. One evening staying in a little apartment in the town square in Ponferrada, I was already in bed in my pyjamas and almost asleep when I heard this wonderful music come floating up. I hurried to change into my clothes as quickly as I could and ran down to find the musicians as they were packing up. I had to chase these guys – again with my very limited Spanish – and in a garbled way ask them if they’d come and sing for our group on Thursday. They said yes, and have been coming along ever since wearing their traditional capes and singing sonorous harmonies with lots of string instruments of various kinds, accordions percussion and tambourines, sometimes they even have bag pipes, they’re a cheeky bunch.”
Singing the Camino is like a roaming Vocal Nosh. Whilst everyone does the day’s walk at their own pace, they all come together again for a big feast in the evening and an hour’s singing to re-energise, re-connect, and round off the day.
“We always do some Spanish and Galician songs” (Galician being a language of Spain which is more like Portuguese). “We’ll sing in Galician because this is the region of Spain where we spend most time on the tour and the people there proudly identify as Galician, speaking Spanish mostly because they’ve been made to. Generally, we make sure we’re singing whatever people have the energy to do at the end of a day’s walk.”
Jessie enjoys the challenge of meeting a fresh new group of singers, assessing what they’ll respond well to and selecting the right material and repertoire she feels will work best for them all. For this, she draws on her experience of leading singing groups in all sorts of community settings over the years including groups for people with disabilities, kids’ groups, and a rehab choir. “It’s a nice challenge to feel you can rise to.”
“We change the repertoire every time depending on whether the group is an amazing choral group which can nail four part harmonies, or whether they’re there simply because their friends came and then we might want to sing some Carole King or some Abba songs. I keep a printer handy so we can bring in new material if that’s what we want.”
Self care is also an important element of the tours for Jessie and Emma. They find that meditation is a fantastic way to retreat and restore their energy levels. “It goes an incredibly long way to keeping the battery fully charged and we feel a lot less exhausted at the end.”
A significant number of their past singers have been asking if they can all Sing the Camino Portuguese and so Jessie and Emma have done the research and are embarking on this next, in an exciting new phase of their venture. After all, there’s a lot of world to walk out there, and a lot of songs to be sung.