Tag Archives: singing group

The Journey From The Song, by Stuart Ashburner

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.

That song, Light by Light, started a new journey in our lives.

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.

Stuart (left) at Treetops, back in 2014

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!**

Stuart and friends at the 2017 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. 

Sharing Jewish Songs at the Community Music Victoria Music Camp

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.




Out of the Ash – A Bushfire Song

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.

Kerry Clarke, Sue Johnson & Suzanne Coburn at the CD launch
Kerry Clarke, Sue Johnson & Suzanne Coburn at the CD launch

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’