Tag Archives: singing

In celebration of Singing from Country

by Jackie Kerin Storytelling Australia Victoria

Now and again an opportunity comes along that speaks to the heart.

In January 2014, I met Terry White at the Turramurra Folk Music Camp. I was there in my capacity as a storyteller, having been invited to run some workshops.

Most likely I was on a riff about the role storytellers might play in connecting folks to Australian landscape and the places they called ‘home’. I carry this niggling idea that it’s actually really important to take some responsibility for the patch of earth that we walk, and this requires a little ‘land literacy’.

It seems that Terry had me spotted as a kindred spirit, and by the end of the weekend, I had been woven into his vision of bringing scientists, traditional land custodians and songwriters together, the purpose being: to create new songs to celebrate old wisdom and knowledge about Country, the kind of songs that can be arranged for community and children’s choirs to sing, celebrate and learn about land.

What followed was over two years of meetings where partnerships were developed, grant applications wrestled and the idea was given a name, ‘Singing from Country’.

The big vision of  ‘Singing from Country’ is to divide Victoria into about seven bioregions and commission songs that explore these. However we thought it best to start with a pilot project with four songwriters and focusing on the Central Victorian Goldfields area.  The pilot was launched as a ‘festival within a festival’ at the Maldon Folk Festival this year. This experience proved invaluable – giving the committee a chance to navigate the difficulties and cheer when things go to plan.

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Uncle Rick Nelson conducts a smoking ceremony as part of the Welcome to Country at Maldon (photo: Bruce Watson)
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Rebecca Phillips                                                                              Terry White

At Maldon we opened the process to the public with a day of presentations from local naturalists, Geoff Park, Andrew Skeoch, and Rebecca Phillips who spoke about the Dja Dja Wurrung language reclamation project and the protocols around use of this language. Uncle Rick Nelson performed a Welcome to Country ceremony, and a group of children from The Meeting Place (Nalderun) sang the Loddon River Song, led by Kerrie Patmore.

In the evening the four selected songwriters ‘unveiled’ the work they had created in response to the commission to write two new songs each.

After so much thinking and dreaming and so many, many meetings, I was deeply moved by the concert, the vulnerability of the writers who were revealing (in some cases) works in progress, and songs never before aired in public.  I was brought to tears by how deeply and respectfully they had explored the concept. Local a cappella choir, ‘The Chat-Warblers’ led by Jane Thompson rose to their feet and sang at the top of their lungs, exemplifying the power of singing about place.

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Jane Thompson leading members of the Chat Warblers in song (photo: Deb Carveth)
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The four project songwriters, clockwise from left: Eva Popov, Carl Pannuzzo, (Alvin Briggs) Kavisha Mazzella, Neil Murray (photos: Deb Carveth)

Spring in Victoria has been fabulously wet and the rain has brought the country alive. Swathes of wildflowers have burst through the ground and the birds are singing out loud, building nests and raising chicks. Carl Panuzzo’s song evoking the dance one does when walking through the bush in spring elicited cheers of recognition from the audience.  For me the wonder of Terry White’s vision is the willingness of people to come together, share what they know and add to the body of song that will teach and connect people to place, strengthening a sense of responsibility.

I feel gratitude to the four songwriters who committed to the ‘Singing from Country’ pilot, Neil Murray, Kavisha Mazzella, Eva Popov and Carl Panuzzo.  I give thanks to the artists who demonstrated their belief in us and assisted our grant application with letters of support, and thanks too, to project manager David Juriansz, for pulling the threads together.

The ‘Singing from Country’ pilot is led by Community Music Victoria in collaboration with VACL (Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages) and Connecting Country, and has received grant funding from the Regional Arts Fund.

I’m looking forward to the next phase of the project as a member of the steering group, and hanging out in the meeting rooms at Ross House with Bruce Watson (chair), James Rigby, Oli Hinton, Paul Paton and of course, Terry.

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Images of wild Spring flowers around Maldon (photos: Jackie Kerin)

Jackie Kerin is an author of children’s books and storyteller working in the oral tradition. She is the current president of Storytelling Australia Victoria.

 

 

 

Ready, willin’ and able: generosity and solidarity are key components of Williamstown singing group

Leaving Melbourne via the Westgate Bridge on a Wednesday evening, clouds of steam cluster and dissipate into the darkening sky. It’s fair to assume these plumes are output from the factories and refineries dotting the coast like pins in a board from Port Melbourne to Geelong. It’s also possible that part of the component entering the atmosphere is a heady mix of CO2 and endorphins being exhaled by the Willin Wimmin of Williamstown, having their weekly sing.

10583998_1446634612280983_6251822852438359669_nWillin Wimmin past and present were reunited last month to celebrate 25 years as a community choir giving voice to women, and spreading the joy of singing and community to audiences in the west and beyond. By their reckoning, this amounts to roughly 1000 rehearsals, more than 200 performances, over 300 songs and 250 women who have been involved since the inception of the singing group.

Worthy of a knees up, by anyone’s standard. The room was filled with friends, partners and family, everyone brought their own dinner, there was support with sound and lighting from their mates at the Newport Community Choir: it was a community event in every sense of the word.

The group sprung from the John Bolton Theatre School which was based in Williamstown, back in 1991. John employed Bronwen Barton as his music teacher who, with John’s partner and a few friends started singing together. The seeds for Willin Wimmin were sown and interest quickly caught on among the community. The singers were not only Willin Wimmin, they were feisty women with a will and the current members continue to embrace this identity: They set out as sisters doing it for themselves, collaborating as a cooperative and proudly eschewing the committee way of doing things until more recently.

The increasing requirements of funding bodies and venues requiring insurance over the years created a gradual push to become incorporated and adopt a more formal arrangement. Willin Wimmin eventually (reluctantly) bowed to the external pressure, formed a management committee and became incorporated last year.

Back at the start, Bronwen was a great vocal coach whose philosophy that anyone can sing set the value of inclusivity which has underpinned the group ever since. There have never been auditions and the women make it clear that no singing experience or knowledge of music is necessary. A good sense of humour, the will to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity and a shared belief in supporting, and welcoming one another is what counts. Willin Wimmin sing with heart and choose their material from an eclectic selection of genres including world, folk, choral and contemporary.

Julie Merritt has sung with Willin Wimmin for 18 of its 25 years, joining when the youngest of her three children was around 12 months old. The social side of belonging to the group drew her in; she felt a sense of belonging and like she’d found her tribe.

A strong social justice theme runs throughout the choir, and Willin Wimmin have sung on demonstrations and rallies, at sport, art, health and women’s issues events. They’ve trodden the boards at a variety of venues, too: Deakin Edge Theatre, Melbourne Recital Centre, the NGV as well as Fairlea Women’s Prison and Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, to name but a few.

Willin Wimmin have been helped along their journey by the commitment from their leaders:

“We have been fortunate with our directors – they have each been fabulous, feisty, fearless, sometimes fearsome.  Each of them brought unique gifts and talents with warmth, patience and fun.  Without them, there is no Willin Wimmin.”

Bronwen Barton took the helm for the first ten years, followed by Jo Lange, Dan Scollay, Jennifer Lund, and since 2014, the group has been lead by Steph Payne. Collaborations with other choirs have enhanced their song filled journey, too. Willin Wimmin teamed up with Mark Seymour and the Victorian Trade Union Choir to sing in Dust, a musical by Donna Jackson about the devastating impact of asbestos. They were also joined by the VTUC and Newport Community Choir to sing excerpts of Dust when Donna’s book ‘Art & Social Change: Dust, a Case Study’ was recently launched.

Keeping Community and Women’s issues in their hearts and at the forefront of their philosophy, Willin Wimmin have sung at Reconciliation demos; the National Women in Construction awards and at the Victorian apology to women forced to give their babies up for adoption, where they sung for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers (ARMS). The list doesn’t end there.

Willin Wimmin were also way ahead of the current media frenzy that has gained such rapid momentum around women’s football, and sang at the Women’s AFL grand final before women’s footy was officially deemed cool.

“We have, very importantly, also just sung for each other, in times of sadness, joy, longing, celebration and always with love.”

The wimmin are willin in more ways than one and are happy to offer inspiration and support to everyone who comes into their orbit, irrespective of how long they choose to stay on and sing with them.

About five years ago, Julie recalls an influx of women to the group, aged around 40. Each and every one of them found their voice through the supportive environment before moving on to form off shoot groups or find other, more challenging ways of nurturing their singing souls.

Julie doesn’t pause as she emphatically describes this as ‘brilliant’, seeing it as a natural part of what Willin Wimmin exists to allow; an integral component of its entity and a tangible example of the generosity required for a happy, cohesive community spirit. She acknowledges that seeing people move on is bittersweet “like a parent waving a child goodbye”, but that it is more wonderful to enable people to literally find their voice.

Many members have a story of ‘finding their voice’ thanks to Willin Wimmin.

Confidence, courage and strength are uncovered through singing and performing within a group of supportive, welcoming women, week in, week out. Julie offers herself as a prime example and has felt her confidence grow gradually “not just enough to sing in small groups, but to be back-up conductor, speechmaker, even president of the committee.” This has extended beyond the context of Willin Wimmin and into other areas of her life, proving once again, how impacting and profound the values and benefits of community musicking can be on the lives and well being of its participants.

So congratulations to Willin Wimmin on 25 years of singing together, supporting each other and creating opportunities for community cohesion and connection in lucky old Williamstown. There’s no sign of the sun setting in the west, anytime soon.

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members of Willin Wimmin celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary back in August

Written by Deb Carveth with Julie Merritt, President of Willin Wimmin.

If you’d like to join Willin Wimmin, they meet on Wednesday evenings at 7.30-9.30pm during term time, and further information is available here.

Jamming beats books: How music making with toddlers can enhance their development

The next time you sit down to read to a toddler, consider popping that ole book back to its place on the shelf for a while*, and playing some homemade music together instead. Over time, the long term effect of your action might just make the world a better place to be. Research from the University of Queensland conducted over two years on more than 3000 young children showed that making music with toddlers could have even more of a positive impact on their development, than sharing a story. And lets face it, banging on pots and pans is loud and fun for everyone (especially the neighbours, who will love you).

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Findings from the study, ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’ (2013–2015) indicate that early involvement in music participation has the capacity to improve numeracy, increase attention and assist with the development of prosocial behaviour and skills which, being the opposite of anti-social skills, are therefore beneficial to the good of society as a whole.

Professor Margaret Barrett, head of University of Queensland’s School of Music and a key leader in the study funded by the Australian Research Council, claims that “Children who experienced more frequent parent-child music activity at two to three years showed stronger vocabulary and numeracy skills, more prosocial skills and stronger abilities to regulate their own attention and emotion at four to five years old….The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children.”

Read the full article ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books’ published on the Medical Xpress website here

*But be sure to come back to the book later on. Balance in all things, and all that…

Article by Deb Carveth based on information found in ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books.’ Published by Medical Xpress. September 2015

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.

 

 

 

The Changing Tune of Choral Singing in Germany

This article was first published in Sing Out: the Journal of the Australian National Choral Association (Vol.32, No.2, 2015). It is reproduced here with kind permission of ANCA(1)

Picture1Figure 1: The Nogat Singers, Berlin (Neukölln). Photo (c) The Nogat Singers, 2014.

I arrived at Rathaus Tiergarten, a local town hall of Berlin on a sunny spring afternoon in May, just in time for a celebration. Assorted stalls, abuzz with colour and activity, promoted organisations that support people with disabilities and their carers. On the town hall steps a rock band called Handiclapped was setting up shop as a carload of nervous and excited singers arrived. They were members of the Nogat-Singers (Figure 1), a neighbourhood choir from the Neukölln suburb of Berlin who were star performers for an event to promote, celebrate and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. Their performance was a vibrant and colourful mix of popular German folk songs and Schlager (there is no equivalent to the Schlager phenomenon in the English speaking world, but think Eurovision or Germany’s answer to American country and western music!). Having joined their dress rehearsal earlier in the week, I was impressed by the choir’s energy and its commitment to fostering a sense of community.

Founded by disability support organisation Lebenshilfe Berlin, the Nogat-Singers rehearses weekly in a local supported accommodation service, and most members live with intellectual disabilities. The choir receives funding from a social inclusion project grant of the European Union for its close neighbourhood ties. This made sense to me – a choir that sings with neighbours in its little patch of Berlin while at the same time fostering social inclusion for people with disabilities. Here was a great example of community music-making in action (or musicking as Christopher Small (1998) describes) and an ideal starting point for my study of choral singing in Germany.

The Nogat Singers is just one of a vast number of choirs singing regularly across Germany. They range from church choirs, to community choirs (defined loosely as amateur or non-professional choirs that perform publically) who perform in local pubs or municipal halls, through to professional choirs employing full-time salaried singers (there are eight at last count, from smaller chamber choirs to large radio choirs). My time in Germany in 2014 as a fellow of the Australian German Association and the Goethe-Institut allowed me to visit many and to explore the rich practice of choral singing in Germany today. Inspired, I returned with ideas for our choral movement in Australia. In this article I set out just a few impressions from my trip.

Support for the Arts and amateur music making in Germany has a long history. I once heard a passing comment about the three historic features of German village life: a shooting club (Schützenverein) for community defence; a fire brigade (Feuerwehr) for community safety; and a choir (Gesangverein or Liedertafel) or brass band (Kapelle) for community wellbeing! In 1871, 38 territories and free cities united under a common German federation. Most brought with them their own opera houses, concert halls and musical ensembles that had serviced the historic royal courts. Churches too played a crucial role in preserving musical traditions; in smaller communities church musicians were often school music teachers and community choir leaders too. One contemporary example of this long-held tradition is the St Thomas Boys Choir (Thomanerchor Leipzig) – perhaps the most famous boys’ choir worldwide – that celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2012 (Wydra, 2015).

Germany’s historical experiences with music – both negative and positive – have shaped its contemporary community singing culture. The atrocities committed by Germans during the period of National-Socialist (Nazi) government from 1933 to 1945 overshadow German attitudes toward music, singing and cultural practices. The Nazi government’s approach to music education, known as Musische Erziehung, manipulated music to suit its own agenda (Kertz-Welzel, 2008; 2013). This period defines to this day the parameters of “acceptable” music making. As Germans distanced themselves from the Nazi period after 1945, therapeutic uses of music were restricted to clinical settings rather than practiced out in the community. This was particularly the case in former West Germany and came at the expense of practices and initiatives that supported community wellbeing. Key scholars at the time supported this position. Theodor Adorno, in a series of speeches and public discussions between 1959-69, argued that after the manipulation of the Nazi period, music could not and should never be used to pursue goals of healing or social transformation (Kertz-Welzel, 2005). Adorno argued instead for the pursuit of musical excellence and individuality and against collective, community-minded music by amateur music-makers with transformative goals. Rather than teaching and enjoying singing with explicit goals such as community wellbeing in mind, music in West Germany was increasingly seen as an activity for its elite musicians, professionals, and with learning focussed on musical excellence. In the former East Germany, community singing was more widespread with its community wellbeing benefits recognised, but it frequently also served a propaganda purpose for that government. Opinions across reunified Germany in recent decades have shifted. Music education scholars are once again discussing the place of community music and the potential extra-musical benefits of music in schools, including for community wellbeing (Kertz-Welzel, 2008; 2013).

Yet the emphasis on the aesthetics of music across post-war Germany (East and West) preserved and nurtured a vital and historic cultural asset. Culture and the creative arts remain highly valued and comparatively well funded within German society and by all levels of government (McCaughey, 2005). A 2007 federal government report reinforces this view, arguing: “Culture is not simply ornamental; it is the foundation of our society and the platform upon which it grows. The role of politics is to safeguard and strengthen culture[i]” (Deutscher Bundestag). A total of EUR11.2 billion was spent in 2011 to support Germany’s cultural activities, including EUR8 billion from its federal, state and municipal governments, with the remainder from its Christian churches[ii] and private funding. Germany’s 16 States (Länder) together contributed more than one third of this total (EUR3.4 billion). The Länder retain powers in educational and cultural matters and a large say in preserving Germany’s many cultural identities.

Musical life in Germany today is “noted for its diversity, high quality and geographic density – keywords that continue as ever to define Germany‘s special reputation as a land of music” (German Music Information Centre, 2011, p. ix).

There were at last count 133 publicly funded symphony and chamber orchestras, 83 music theatres, nearly 500 regular music festivals, and thousands of amateur, semi-professional choruses, orchestras and ensembles (GMIC, 2011, ix). It is not surprising then that community music making is the largest civic movement within Germany (Reimers, 2012, p.1).

Choral singing today is an opportunity for many to partake in some of the musical delights and masterpieces of Germany’s rich choral music history. A leading scholar of German choral singing (Brusniak, 2003, p.69) suggests choral music and a vast and diverse tapestry of choirs are essential and integrated parts of its public and private musical life. There are nearly 59,100 associated choirs and choral organisations in Germany, including about 29,900 secular and 37,200 religious organisations. These choirs engage nearly 2.3 million singers regularly (Reimers, 2012, p.2). There is a large audience base for choral concerts too. A 2004 study estimated about 60 million people attend some 300,000 choral concerts annually in Germany (reported in Reimers, 2012, p.1). These formal choral activities do not include the multitude of established and ad hoc choral groups and public singing that is an increasing feature at large gatherings – the 2014 World Cup football tournament comes to mind!

I was interested to find out who spoke for choral music in Germany. At first sight, the coordination and advocacy of choral music across Germany evoked images of Franz Kafka’s writings: a confusing landscape of overlapping organisations, funding bodies and responsibilities all claiming to represent and advocate for the interests of choral music. Yet when viewed through Germany’s unique historical lens this overlap, it seems to me, provides safety in plurality (Vielfältigkeit). It avoids a single, central point of control for a mass movement and all the negative consequences this represents in many German minds.

Germany therefore sings with two voices when it comes to choral singing. Two peak bodies represent choral singing nationally: the Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Chorverbänder e.V. (BDC) and the Deutscher Chorverband e.V. (DCV). Together they include and advocate for the vast majority of German choirs. The DCV is the world’s largest choral association and represents the vast majority of Germany’s non-religious choral associations (including over 30 state-based and regional associations). DCV designs and oversees a host of innovative programs and schemes for its member choirs and leaders, supported by a paid, full-time staff. It also publishes Chorzeit, Germany’s monthly national choral music magazine with 35,000 subscribers and on sale in newsagents across the country (DCV, 2014).

The BDC counts among its members Germany’s peak catholic (katholische) and protestant (evangelische) choral organisations, those representing youth music, and its 500 concert choirs. The Federal President of Germany bestows the Zelter Plakatte to choirs that reach 100 years of age – an important initiative administered by the BDC (2014).

In 2014, Germany’s choral music culture is in transition. When I talked about my research project to non-choral music enthusiasts (or better said, yet-to-be converted choral music enthusiasts), many pictured the all-male Liedertafel choir, Germany’s dominant historical choir model. Yet this traditional picture of “choir” is rapidly changing. A 2012 New Zealand film/TV documentary about folk singing in Germany, Sound of Heimat – Deutschland Singt (http://www.soundofheimat.de/), helped to raise awareness about the diverse types of music out there. The sheer variety of musical styles and the ability of singers to seek out choirs according to their musical tastes and less limited by their location have fundamentally changed Germany’s choral community. Children’s, youth and women’s choirs are growing while the more traditional choral organisations (such as the Liedertafel) are in decline. Mixed choirs have grown in popularity and now outnumber male choirs (Arit, 2014) and there has been a boom in jazz and pop genre choirs (AlumniPortal Deutschland 2014; Tip Magazin, 2014). Singing-related talent competitions, television series and films, as popular in Germany as in Australia, have contributed to this popularity.

Picture2Figure 2: Die Rheintöchter, lesbian comedy choir, Cologne. Photo (c) Magdalena Hutter, 2013.

I took particular interest in community choirs with members who may have experienced social exclusion at some point in their lives. I observed many choirs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) communities (Figure 2 for example), choirs for people with disabilities, church-based choirs supporting new migrants to Germany and choirs for people experiencing homelessness. I led a rehearsal of Hard Chor ELLA (Figure 3), an innovative school-based community choir based in Pankow, a suburb of the former East Berlin. I was also fortunate to observe Berlin’s two professional choirs in rehearsal (RIAS Kammerchor and Rundfunkchor Berlin) and the Rundfunkchor in performance. You can find a full list of choirs, interviews and more detailed case studies in my report.

Picture3Figure 3: Hard Chor ELLA, Berlin (Pankow). Spring Concert. Photo (c) Inés Weinmann, 2013.

Ideas for Australia’s Choral Movement
I believe Australia can enhance its choral music movement by strengthening its supporting institutions and drawing upon innovations and ideas from Germany. I offer ideas for policy-makers, committees, and musical and administrative leaders who work with community choirs particularly. My report aims to complement recent reviews of other aspects of music in Australia including state and national music education reviews. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Create a vocational pathway with appropriate professional development and recognition for community choral leaders
  • Establish a national community choir awards scheme, including a “long service” citation for choirs that reach a certain age (similar to Germany’s Zelter Plakatte)
  • Appoint a high profile patron to promote and advance choral music within communities
  • Lighten the reporting load for committees and choral music staff by negotiating an agreement with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) for a single annual fee that covers all choir arrangement and performance rights across a pre-approved list of songs (similar to an agreement reached between DCV and Germany’s APRA equivalent: http://www.deutscher-chorverband.de/leistungen/gema/)
  • Create an accreditation program in early childhood education (similar to Germany’s Die Carusos: die-carusos.de/) where choir leaders “teach the teachers” to ensure young children receive high quality and pedagogically sound singing experiences from an early age
  • Establish a national professional choir that includes within its mandate significant outreach work to choirs and communities of all ages.

To achieve these things we would need to first properly resource our expert national organisations already doing such great work in the area – the Australian National Choral Association (ANCA) and Music Australia – along with state-based institutions such as Community Music Victoria. Let’s start this conversation and draw upon lessons and ideas from countries such as Germany to give us a head start.

Choral music in Germany, a celebrated and treasured cultural asset, is gradually changing its tune to include people of all abilities and backgrounds and in a way that improves community wellbeing and cohesion. My time there provided refreshing ideas, valuable lessons and ongoing inspiration for my practice as a choral leader and researcher in Australia. Above all, it was a reminder to celebrate both the act and the art of choral music making and the joy it brings to communities here and in Germany.

(1): My thanks to Dr Alex Crooke for his insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Article by Ben Leske

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Ben Leske is a Melbourne-based choral conductor, community music facilitator, and PhD candidate in the National Music Therapy Research Unit in the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (The University of Melbourne). Ben’s thesis explores choral singing and social inclusion for young people. From 2009-2014, Ben was Music Director of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Youth Chorus (now shOUT Youth Chorus).

Ben is passionate about all things German and was awarded the Australian German Association and Goethe-Institut Fellowship to explore choral singing in Germany in 2014.

You can read Ben’s full report at: http://www.aga.org.au/fellowship/past-winners/.

You can contact Ben by email: benleskemusic@gmail.com or benleskemusic.com

References cited in this article

Arit, Alexander. (2014, 1 July). Graphical statistical reference of number of choirs by type (historical) – 1951-2005. Unpublished data provided to author.

BDC (Bundesvereinigung Deutscher Chorverbände e.V.). Die Zelter-Plakette. Retrieved from http://www.chorverbaende.de/de/zelter-plakette.html

Brusniak, Friedhelm. (Ed.). (2003). Chor – Visionen in Musik. Essener Thesen zum Chorsingen im 21. Jahrhundert..Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutscher Chorverbänder.

DCV (Deutscher Chorverband e.V.). (2014). Chorzeit: Mediadaten: Anzeigenspreizliste 3/14. Retrieved from http://www.deutscher-chorverband.de/fileadmin/media/downloads/neue_chorzeit/Chorzeit_Mediadaten.pdf

Deutscher Bundestag. (2007). Schlussbericht der Enquete-Kommission: „Kultur in Deutschland“. (16/7000), author’s translation.

German Music Information Centre (GMIC). (2011). Musical Life in Germany: Structure, Facts and Figures: German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat).

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. (2005). The pied piper of Hamelin: Adorno on music education. Research studies in music education (25), 1-12.

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. (2008). A matter of comparative music education? Community music in Germany. International Journal of Community Music, 1(3), 401-409.

Kertz-Welzel, Alexandra. (2013). Internationalizing and localizing: Shaping community music in Germany. International Journal of Community Music, 6(3), 263-272. doi: 10.1386/ijcm.6.3.263_1

Luehrs-Kaiser, Kai. (2013, 22 February). Chor@Berlin Festival im Radialsystem. Tip Berlin. Retrieved from http://www.tip-berlin.de/kultur-und-freizeit/chor-berlin-festival-im-radialsystem

Masso, Alex. (2013). Community Choirs in Australia. Music In Communities Network (Music Council of Australia).

McCaughey, Claire. (2005). Comparisons of Arts Funding in Selected Countries: Preliminary Findings: Canada Council for the Arts.

Reimers, Astrid. (2012). Laienmusizieren: Deutsches Musikinformationszentrum.

Small, Christopher. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Wydra, Kristina (2014). ‘Wherever people sing, you can happily settle…’ – Germans are flocking to join choirs. Alumniportal Deutschland. Retrieved from http://www.alumniportal-deutschland.org/en/germany/culture/article/choirs.html

 Other useful reading

English language

  • Higgins, Lee. (2012). Community Music: In Theory and In Practice: Oxford University Press.
  • German Music Information Centre. (2011). Musical Life in Germany: Structure, Facts and Figures: German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat). Retrieved from http://www.miz.org/musicl-life-in-germany/
  • Bartleet, Bridie-Lee, Dunbar-Hall, P., Letts, R., & Schippers, H. (2009). Sound links: Community music in Australia. Brisbane: Griffith University.

German language

 [i] Original German text: Kultur ist kein Ornament. Sie ist das Fundament, auf dem unsere Gesellschaft steht und auf das sie baut. Es ist Aufgabe der Politik, dieses zu sichern und zu stärken

[ii] An important note that Germans pay an extra income tax to the church according to the denomination into which they were baptised. The Federal Government collects these taxes to fund church activities.

A conversation about leading singers with ASD

This post is not written from a professional perspective. It is the shared experiences of Liz, a mother who is also a singing leader, who has a son with ASD and who was generous enough to share her observations and knowledge.

Autism spectrum disorder,  (ASD) is the term used to describe a group of disorders in brain development that includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder (also known as atypical autism).  The word ‘spectrum’ is used to reflect the range and varying degrees in the severity levels of symptoms found in individuals with ASD. These typically present as difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviours, to varying degrees. Autism is the most commonly occurring form of ASD.

Any group of people coming together for an activity will comprise a glorious melting pot of personalities, stories, challenges and needs, many of which are neither visible nor immediately apparent at first glance.

Many of the tips and strategies outlined below are unlikely to be entirely new to many experienced leaders,  but it’s always good to be reminded of them.

Liz feels “we don’t need to ‘specialise’ or become experts to lead a positive singing experience for someone with ASD.” To varying degrees with autism, sensitivities are more magnified and social behaviour that is unconsciously expected in our society does not come naturally.

One of the great things that I have learnt from my experience with my son is to look more closely at each individual’s perspective and story, rather than the more collective, often unquestioned, expectations of our society.”

However, there are many practical approaches you can easily incorporate into your practice as a music group leader that will help increase the pleasure of participation for a person with ASD, and put everyone at ease within the group, too.

For Liz, whose son has high functioning Asperger’s, the initial challenge in encouraging him to sing was to find a group open to all ages that welcomed the two of them at a time of the day suitable for them both. This pursuit led to Liz hearing about Community Music Victoria and attending a Gippsland Singers Network weekend at Wilson’s Prom. It was there she was first introduced to the fully inclusive concept of Vocal Nosh. It felt a perfect fit for both Liz and her son. That weekend, as always, the Vocal Nosh model was open, it was relaxed and there were no rules to be followed or broken. This created an immediate sense of ease, and if Liz’s son didn’t want to sing a particular song then he could opt out, and join back in for the next one.

“It’s awesome to be able to provide an activity that reduces the anxiety of restriction that is common with the experience of living on the spectrum.

My son enjoys a Vocal Nosh because he doesn’t have to stand anywhere in particular, he is singing with me and I’m having fun and is relaxed and so he reflects this.”

Full of inspiration, Liz returned home and decided to set up a singing group of her own, run along the lines of a Vocal Nosh and open to singers of all ages and abilities, with support from CMVic mentors and catalysts Margaret Crichton and Kass Mulvany.

As well as Liz’s son, a second young person with ASD joined the group. Liz found that having a relaxed approach was key, and also that it was essential not to take offence if somebody turned around and said ‘I don’t like that song’.

Emotion recognition needs to be learnt by a person with ASD. ASD causes difficulty in decoding nuances or facial expressions and the unspoken rules in life – of which there are so many – don’t apply to somebody with ASD in the same way. This can make others around them feel ill at ease if something is said in an overly blunt way, something which can be challenging in a group context.

Liz recommends ‘Don’t be offended by pickiness or bluntness. Keep an open mind and continue to learn about the human condition. Lead by example to the rest of the group by reacting to any bluntness directed your way with a relaxed attitude, and go with the flow.

For example, some people may find it uncomfortable if the unspoken gets said. A person might say they are bored or that a particular song is boring, causing other people to feel horrified that this sentiment was verbalised.  And then there’s that awkward silence that ensues…

Liz also recommends that singing leaders take particular care to be clear with their instructions and their signals when teaching a song.

“Sometimes these won’t be understood by a person with ASD, so explain first what your hand signals mean.”

Many people with ASD will find socialising an anxiety provoking activity because of the literalness with which they interpret situations and coding around them. A wink for example, doesn’t convey a double meaning or cheeky intent, it means ‘that person has something in their eye.’

This heightened sense of anxiety should always be considered and Liz also recommends that changes to a routine are best avoided or made slowly when considering the needs of someone with ASD. For this reason, it is important to say to everyone ‘you are so welcome here’ and emphasise the point that they can do whatever they need to, in order to be comfortable.

“I tell them, if you want to sit down, that’s fine..sit down and sing if it works.”

Once a person with ASD feels familiar with a setting and with other members of the group, everything is usually fine.

One conversation Liz always avoids is the one which starts, “this is so and so and they have autism… you just can’t do that.“  Instead, an exercise she feels may help leaders before a session, is to think up some positive ways to respond to some of the typical situations that may arise.

 “Let’s face it, life’s amazing and wonderful tapestry of personalities can bring challenges in facilitating any singing/music group, so this will not be a new strategy.”

Liz’s son gets a lot of comfort from music and a lot of fun too. Liz believes that getting autistic kids involved in music from an early age trains their brains to react to dopamine in a positive way, boosting their mood and sense of worth, as it does for us all. For adults with ASD who enjoy participatory music making, it can be particularly beneficial. Belonging to a singing group can help prevent any feelings of social isolation which may occur as the result of difficulty in easily maintaining stable social connections.

“If you meet the brain’s demands for dopamine with a healthy thing, then you don’t need to meet that demand with an unhealthy thing… Let’s get the whole world singing.”

Advice for group leaders working with people with ASD, based on Liz’s experience and observations:

  • Be clear with your directions
  • Be welcoming
  • Be sensitive to whether somebody has struggled to be present in the group on that day and whether they’re feeling uncomfortable or awkward
  • Tread carefully with body contact in warm ups or particular songs, depending on the person
  • Be prepared for bluntness and don’t be offended by it, and absorb it on behalf of the other group members
  • If you’re going to change something in the process or course of the group, explain those changes clearly and give advance warning that the changes will happen, where possible the week before. Send a message to the person it will affect most, ahead of time
  • Be aware that for some people with ASD, participation in your group may be their only experience of trying something social and you want it to be positive!
  • And finally, expect the unexpected.

For further information and to access advice about Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit AMAZE: www.amaze.org.au 

1: Australian Psychology Society: Understanding and managing Autism Spectrum Disorder

2: Autism Speaks: What is autism?

Article written by Deb Carveth with Liz  for Community Music Victoria

 

Singing calms baby longer than talking

Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa
Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa

In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to speech. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” explained Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s centre for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.” The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this “entrainment” is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. “Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability,” Peretz explained. “Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be “entrained”.

Read the full article from the University of Montreal website, here…