It is only a short song. In fact it was just the chorus that started it all.
Perhaps I should start from where it all began. Polly, my wife, has always loved listening to ‘a capella’ so for several years we would go to the Selby Folk Club’s annual a capella concert in Upwey. Then about 5 years ago, after the concert, I made the irrational decision to join Sweet Sassafras, one of our local choirs. Irrational because I’d not sung since my youth, and never in a concert. A few weeks after that our choir director announced that we would be learning Light by Light by Liz Frencham and singing it along with VoKallista, another local choir, at the Belgrave Lantern Festival and if we wanted to get started on the song, go to VoKallista on Wednesday evening.
I went along to VoKallista, got an amazingly warm welcome from Libby Price and met Barb McFarlane whose name was vaguely familiar. I knew by the end of the session that I needed to join VoKallista as well as being in Sweet Sassafras. It took a while to get Polly along, for the usual reasons. “I’m not musical, I can’t sing.” etc. Within three months they were among her best friends, almost like family, and she had done a short solo recitative on stage at Daylesford during the Choirs Concert.
Then one day Barb Mcfarlane told me that she was on the Victoria Sings Steering Group at Community Music Victoria. I’d never heard of CMVic let alone the Steering Group. She said that the group consisted only of women and needed a male to give it a bit of balance and I was that male. That’s how I got involved. I decided to go to Treetops to find out what a CMVic camp was all about. Polly said I was on a high for weeks afterwards.
So, we’ve just got home from our third CMVic Singing Camp, met up once again with the loveliest bunch of people on the planet, are both inspired from the workshops, from the interactions, the singing, talking and the warmth. Our lives have changed into totally new directions over the last four years with new confidences, new friends and new adventures.
And it all started from that one little song.
Thank you Liz Frencham for Light by Light. And thank you Barb Mcfarlane, for getting me into CMVic, and thanks to all of you wonderful CMVic people.
-Stuart ‘Fuzzy’ Ashburner
Postscript: It is as relevant to me now in 2019 as it was when I wrote this in January of 2014. Wild horses wouldn’t keep Polly and me away from the CMVic Singing Camp!**
**The 2019 CMVic Singing Camp at Amberley runs from October 18-20. It is a weekend of peer exchange for Singing Leaders of all experience levels, new, aspiring or experienced, and anyone who loves to sing! For information and bookings, click here.
‘Playing music with people from other cultures is more than just communication, it’s an act of love’ believes Brian Strating, leader of mens’ singing group, Homebrew Verandah Music and Brunswick Old Time String Orchestra. (BOTSO)
Strat and his partner, Lyndal Chambers, have played music with community musicians in many different countries, something that’s proven a highly effective way to experience the culture of those musicians and forge firm and lasting friendships.
BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music operate on a non-virtuosic model of inclusivity, creating a space that’s free of judgement that allows those within it the freedom to experiment with their skills. Tunes are taught aurally, improvisation is welcome and mistakes are embraced. In order for this to work effectively, listening to those around you is paramount, and knowing when to start and when to stop, is also key.
When you think about it, the same skills and values are directly transferable to our lives and how we live. They have the potential to positively impact the equilibrium of society and influence a harmonious co-existence between people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs based on mutual respect, acceptance and understanding. After all, knowing when to be quiet can be as important as knowing what to say.
It is these same values that Strat and members of his groups will be carrying in their hearts and their heads to the Palestine Choral Festival in August. The group have been invited to participate in the festival by The Choir of London, and will be travelling as part of The Open House Ensemble, a musical and visual arts collaboration between Homebrew Verandah Music, BOTSO and Motherworks.
The aim of the festival is ‘to bring together Palestinian and International Choirs to celebrate the world in song’ and the opportunity will provide the Open House Ensemble a chance to experience the lives and culture of the many communities in Palestine using music and visual art to introduce themselves and engage.
The trip will enable them to experience this country away from the fog of the media lens, and will be made in the spirit of peace and free of any political or religious agenda. Travelling under the banner ‘Musicians not Munitions’ the group will work to plant seeds of collaboration and further communication, using music to develop and broaden connectivity. They will then share their experience through music and visual arts in recordings, performance, exhibition and workshops, here in Melbourne and Victoria.
“This is about inclusion and a celebration of Palestinian culture. The Choir of London and the Palestinian Choral Festival are about bringing cultures together and that is how we came to be invited… it’s about participating without fear of making mistakes and without judgement.”
The invitation from the London Choir came via a young English fiddle player called Alice Howick who played with BOTSO while working as part of the MSO’s outreach program in Broadmeadows. Inspired by her work with young kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, she returned to the UK to start teacher training where she is also involved with planning the program for the London Choir’s Palestine Choral Festival.
“Alice clearly loved the model of BOTSO. She’s a classically trained violinist and was gaining inspiration from learning tunes by ear, having to learn tunes aurally and also the philosophy of not being fearful of making mistakes, of embracing the mistakes and the process of learning in an environment that is non-judgemental.”
After returning to the UK, Alice got in touch with Strat, having had ‘a crazy idea’… It had occurred to her that what was needed as part of the festival was something along the lines of BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music: the representation of a community music model which celebrates inclusion and participation above all else, and the creation of a safe and fearless space in which to make music.
It’s been a slow burn, and the decision to go to Palestine wasn’t one that Strat and the group rushed into making. There have been many conversations with many different people, gradually unfolding to the point where the Open House Ensemble are now preparing to pack their bags and head off to Palestine at the end of July.
“We are taking the community music model of inclusion in which to explore your music making and we’ll be doing that collaboratively with Palestinian musicians and community music groups, and it’s such an exciting prospect.”
An incredible essence of music making is how what you feel in your heart is expressed through the sounds you create. This energy is capable of transcending differences in opinions, backgrounds, cultures and language. This is not ephemeral. It seeds the potential for mutual respect and understanding between yourself and those with whom you sing or play. In this way, it should be able to take you everywhere.
Strat and the Open House Ensemble are extremely aware of the political tension and the sensitivity of the region and are keen not to alienate anyone, either by their decision to visit or while they are there. The emphasis of the trip is cross cultural connection and collaboration.
“We are taking peace, love and healing with us. It’s a philosophy we are taking to play through our music… we’ll hold this in our hearts and it’s moulding the repertoire. Carrying this intention with us, we’ll be peddling peace through community connectedness, through the celebration of culture and the sharing of culture through the act of collaborative music making.”
I recently attended the 2016 CMVic Music Camp at Grantville Lodge. I had never attended a CMVic event before and was somewhat trepidatious. I do not play a musical instrument myself, but I do sing in a choir, and I love singing, so was keen to take part in the singing workshops during the weekend in particular.
On the Sunday morning I took part in the Sharing Jewish Songs Workshop. From the minute our facilitator Sarah started talking to us about Jewish and Yiddish Music, about how (according to the strict Jewish faith) women are not really supposed to sing the songs we were about to learn, and about how we were about to make a song together consisting of only “ay di-di dies” I think we were all hooked. Sarah herself had the most beautiful singing voice, and encouraged us to “put the cry in our voice” in the way that she had been. It worked, we sounded good!
Within what seemed only a few minutes we had all engaged in a very emotional moment together, singing what sounded like a heart-breaking song that lifted all of our souls.
I know that may sound extreme, but that is how it felt at the time. We must have done something right, as Sarah herself had to wipe away a tear and told us we sounded beautiful when we had finished.
Sarah then went on to teach us two other Jewish songs, this time with lyrics, which she explained to us from a Jewish perspective, with an enjoyable sprinkling of humour thrown in. Again, the group very quickly seemed to be able to pick up the nuances and tunes of the songs, and before we knew it we were all singing in a circle, with our eyes shut, and “putting the cry in our voice” in a way we never knew we had in us. This was aided by Sarah’s youngest daughter who had joined us (who I’d had fun learning to play the marimba with the day before), adding the little harmony lines to accompany the songs. We then learned those too.
I enjoyed my whole weekend at Grantville, but this workshop was the one I didn’t want to end. I don’t think I was alone. I had a sneaky suspicion beforehand that I was going to love this workshop, but I had no idea how much.
I have just returned to England where I live and am now thinking about looking into if there is a local Jewish singing group in my area. I never saw that coming. I think Community Music Victoria’s weekend hit the mark in ways I never expected.
By Sarah Jackson
Listen to a recording of the beautiful song Adio Querida from Sarah’s session, here.
In February 2009 our region was thrown into chaos by the dreadful bushfires that decimated the district and stole away our friends and family, homes and more. Our group, the Whittlesea Township Choir, were all affected, as were all local people.
Every time the choir met to sing, the time was dominated by talk of the fires and everyone’s experiences and sad tales. I can’t remember who’s idea it was but a suggestion emerged to write about this overwhelming event in a song.
After our fulfilling experience writing our first original song, “Whittlesea Town”, in 2008 with Sue Johnson, we felt we could initiate our own project and write a song around our experience in the February 2009 Bushfires.
We put together a Grant Application to Creative Victoria, then Arts Victoria (which we thought was very good) and submitted it. It involved a plan of how the process would be structured and the costs involved.
We didn’t get the grant.
Not to be deterred, some funds appeared from elsewhere.
A local Community group had some Bushfire project funding unspent (from DPCD) and offered it to the Neighbourhood House where we were based. The manager of the Neighbourhood House suggested our Song Writing Project to the committee and they agreed to use it to fund the venture.
Our renewed plan was much more modest and involved a lot of volunteer input from the choir and in particular the choir leader. We asked Sue Johnson if she would work with us again on composing the song.
All of the choir members contributed ideas in the form of poems, stories, and spoken reminiscences and these were developed into poem form by a professional author, the wonderful Sally Rippin. Out of the Ash had been born, amidst lots of tears and camaraderie.
Our musician, Sue Johnson, then set the lyrics to music and the drafting and feedback process got underway. After many re-drafts the song was finished in June 2010.
We approached our local council, the City of Whittlesea, for a small grant to record and publish the song on a CD. Thanks to our Mayor at the time, Mary Lalios, we received the funds needed.
Then began the work to practise and hone the song to the best of our ability, with no further professional help. It was challenging and at times it all seemed too hard, but the group pushed on and put in a major effort.
The next step was to get Sue Johnson back to manage the recording process.
We chose the local Uniting Church Hall as our recording venue, as it had good acoustics and was free. They were a most generous host.
Recording the song was a wonderful experience, with extraordinary guidance provided by Sue and her wonderful sound technician Haydn Buxton. They made us sound amazing.
We took the opportunity to also record our first original song, Whittlesea Town and one of our favourites, Shosholoza. By the end of May 2012 we had the recording mastered and ready to fly!
Three years later, after many delays and frustrations, the actual CD was finally produced in September 2015.
It is with great pride we offer this song to the world – ‘Out of the Ash‘. It’s a very emotive song, with a blend of tears and hope. We hope it helps people in coming to terms with that terrible time.
By Kerry Clarke Whittlesea Township Choir
*To hear the song ‘Out of the Ash’ click here, and select ‘view as a slideshow’