A study led by researchers from Griffith University has found that symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be improved with regular singing.
Over 70 patients participated in the study run through Queensland Conservatorium of Music, which incorporated singing, warm ups, vocal cord and breathing exercises, to learn more about ‘how song could help battle the disease’, improving mobility and the overall quality of life.
It didn’t matter how well participants in the study could carry a tune, they simply had to commit to singing one hour each week for six months.
All of the patients involved in the trial reported an increase in self confidence and well being from taking part. Tremors associated with the disease were also reduced in some singers.
The outcomes and findings reaffirm, once again, the broad range of benefits to the individual in belonging to a community singing group or choir.
Can music actually make us smarter? Research suggests that from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, when auditory function is forming, babies begin their musical development. Their early adaptive exposure to sounds, including those familiar sounds of parents’ voices, enhance extraordinary processing skills.
Neuroscience teaches us that a child’s brain is plastic. By this, we mean it is malleable and has the ability to change. The first year of life, more than any other year, will see the most rapid change in brain size and function as all the sensory receptors activate. Intriguingly, neuro-imaging shows that music alone turns on large sectors of a child’s brain, opening crucial neural pathways that will become the highways and byways for every piece of information the process.
We’d all love to think our children will grow up intelligent, blissfully free from academic struggle. Truth is, the learning journey is speckled with challenges, and each child will have a unique intelligence and learner disposition. One thing we know is that parental involvement in cognitive stimulation from the earliest years will help form solid foundations that underpin a more successful schooling journey.
So, what can parents do to prepare young learners for school?
Sing like no one’s listening
Singing nursery rhymes to your child, however old fashioned you may think it is, will get them off to a flying start. Children become particularly responsive because reciprocal communication occurs as they begin to mimic you – pre-empting certain sounds, tones or words that they recognise. Using pitch and rhythm in the rhymes and lullabies we introduce to our children will begin to create neural stimulation that develops the brain’s auditory cortex, transforming their ability to communicate.
Bang on those pots and pans
While it may fray the nerves, banging on the pots and pans is a fantastic way to improve spatial reasoning. With background music blaring, children first develop the coordination required to hit the metallic targets, and as their sensory cortex develops, they begin to keep in time. Research shows that spatial reasoning, along with a sense of beat and rhythm (which invariably includes an aural and tactile sense of measure and counting) will enhance mathematical abilities.
Join a children’s music group
Early childhood music-based playgroups offer a unique learning context for children. The songs and activities employ beat patterns, movement, repeated chorus lines and echo singing to engage with young participants. The cerebellum at the base of our brains is responsible for movement and balance, and interestingly, is where emotional reactions to music form. Universally, early childhood educators use rhyme and song to teach children how language is constructed, and with good reason. Movement, foot tapping and dancing to a beat are also good ways of developing the brain’s motor cortex.
The ‘Mozart Effect’
There is a popular hypothesis that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. The “Mozart Effect” refers primarily to a landmark study in 1993, where participants listening to Mozart’s music (rather than to relaxation music or silence) achieved higher spatial-temporal results. Importantly, spatial-temporal reasoning is crucially active when children are performing science and maths tasks. Listening to music in any capacity induces endorphin production in the brain, causing improvement in mood and creative problem solving.
Learn an instrument
Many parents wonder when a child should start learning their first musical instrument. Importantly, instrumental tuition is not about producing the next Mozart or Delta Goodrem. Music lessons, for even the briefest of periods, are enjoyable and establish a life-long skill. It has also been noted that musicians’ brains develop a thickened pre-frontal cortex – their brains are actually bigger. And this is the area of the brain most crucially involved in memory. One thing researchers and music educators endorse is the amazing impact it has on the development of executive functions such as working memory, attention span and cognition.
Many schools are putting research into practice, and Queensland is leading the way with music taught in 87% of schools. Immersion music programs, where all students learn an instrument for a one-year minimum, have become commonplace. The results speak for themselves.
Psychologists from a Californian University conducted research on pre-school aged children, and proved that those who had weekly keyboard lessons improved their spatial-temporal skills 34% more than those who didn’t. The benefits did not stop there. Children developed fine motor skills, reading, auditory recognition, resilience, and increased their memory capacity. All of these benefits of instrumental tuition bode well for the classroom journey ahead.
Chelsea Harry is an Academic Researcher and Music Educator, University of the Sunshine Coast. Currently completing a Masters in Research with USC, Chelsea is a professional Musician and Classroom Educator of 20 years experience. Her research follows the journey of 6-8 year olds and the impact of instrumental music tuition on the brain and executive functions.
Chelsea also works as a conductor, cellist, pianist, music educator, musical director, primary classroom teacher and mum!
Dinosaurs couldn’t sing. Perhaps their demise had nothing to do with earth impacting asteroids or the frustration of tiny arms after all and was instead triggered by their physical inability to sing. Now, I’m no scientist but…
Findings from a report published last year suggest the Jurassic age was filled with awkward silences punctuated only by squawks, leaf munching and worse. Without the option to experience the joy of shared breathing patterns, matched heartbeats or the release of life affirming endorphins catalysed by singing together, life in the days of the dinosaurs must have been bleak. Imagine having no way to celebrate the break of a new day or the setting of an evening sun. Imagine a world without song.
The oldest, complete example of a found fossilised syrinx belonged to a species of ancient bird related to the ducks and geese of today called Vegavis iaai, which lived during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic Era between 66-69 million years ago.
The specimen was dug up on Vega Island in Antartica by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute, led by Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas. Twenty five years later, upon subsequent re-examination in 2013, Clarke and her team discovered the fossilised bird was found to contain a complete syrinx, the avian equivalent of a human larynx or ‘voice box’.
The team spent the next two years searching records of previous Jurassic finds to establish whether earlier examples of a syrinx existed. Their research came to nothing, with all other examples of fossilised syrinxes occurring in species of birds that evolved long after the extinction of land-based dinosaurs.
This discovery was important as it offered insight into the Jurassic soundscape: Without a syrinx, those poor old land lubbin’ dinosaurs would have been incapable of song:
“To speculate wildly, we might have closed-mouth booms more similar to crocodilians in large-bodied dinosaurs like T. rex…..said Clarke.”
If you’re thinking okay, enough about dinosaurs already, what does all this have to do with community music? Well, for the sake of this blog, what’s relevant was a subsequent observation of Clarke and her team:
“…the evolution of vocal behaviour can provide insights into other anatomical features… such as the development of bigger brains.”
Aha, now this is more like it! Jumping from the Jurassic age into the 21st century, a study led by Dr Vanessa Sluming from the University of Liverpool and published in 2002 of a British Symphony Orchestra found that musicians exhibited larger volumes of grey matter in Broca’s area, the part of our brains responsible for language and verbal working memory, and this volume varied depending on how many years they’d been playing their instrument.
“Although this area declines with age, orchestral players kept more of their brain cells than non-players, as they aged.” Dr Vanessa Sluming
Furthermore, it’s well documented that singing and learning songs builds neurological pathways, and also boosts levels of acetylcholine in the brain, an organic chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter sending messages through the brain and playing a highly important role in memory retention.
In committing new material to memory and then drawing on that in the context of our singing and music making, we improve our capacity to recall and remember.
Valuable for all this and more, community music making provides the opportunity to simply celebrate being alive. We should all keep learning and singing new songs and playing new tunes, recalling favourites from the archives along the way and our long term mental health and well-being will reap the rewards. And we should all be grateful not to have been born a dinosaur.
If the ongoing issues surrounding climate change and the proposed Adani Coal mine leave you wanting to blow your top we’ve unearthed a way to help channel that frustration and anger into inspiration and joy. Let us begin. Pop a coin into your cerebral jukebox and select the tune to the chorus of the Abba song Fernando substituting the words penned by Bjorn, Agnetha and co with the following:
There’s more carbon in the air each night We’ve got to fight Adani Causing climate change for you and me It’s planet’ry Adani And we know that we must never lose The stage is set We’ll occupy your office suite Until you’re beat Adani…
Great isn’t it? Spirits depressed and deflated by overwhelming environmental concerns are momentarily lifted and buoyed with the added bonus that the familiar tune makes it an easy song to pick up and join in with in no time: empower yourself and others by engaging in a spot of choral activism and sing out against climate change. And there’s plenty more material where that came from, including for traditional folkies ‘Stop Adani Stop the mine’ to the tune of Oh my darling Clementine, guaranteed to stick firmly in ears everywhere:
Stop Adani, Stop Adani, Stop Adaaaani, Stop the mine Shouldn’t aughta poison water It’s an order – Stop the Mine
Clever and simple, these songs are addictive and accessible and are the work of two radically minded musician/activists from Queensland and NSW, Jenny Fitzgibbon and Paul Spencer, who have together created Carbon Canaries, an online song resource ‘enabling people everywhere to sing out for climate action with songs that ‘poke fun at fossils & fuelish humans, celebrate renewables of all genders and make choirs spring up at an action or staffroom near you.’
To date, Carbon Canaries have parodied and posted the tunes of 35 well-known songs re-writing the lyrics to reflect, as Paul writes, ‘the human experience of the social change movement and of living in a world that’s so beautiful, so alarming and so inspiring all at the same time.’
Jenny is motivated by the desire to offer protesters and climate campaigners a source of ‘joy and energy’ and to enable people everywhere.
The Carbon Canaries’ website provides all the tools group facilitators could wish for to get singing for positive change. Song sheets and tunes are available to download as well as backing tracks and videos of Carbon Canaries’ songs and climate inspired parodies of songs by other activists, such as the superb Specials-inspired ‘A Message to you Turnbull‘ by Melbourne’s Glorious Rabble led by Stephen Taberner and accompanied by the Horns of Justice, (below). In the spirit of solidarity, Carbon Canaries resources don’t cost the earth, in fact they are all available absolutely free, although visitors to the site are invited to support their great work by donation.
“Diversity and inclusion must be about understanding your identity and the identities of all people. Only then can we be courageous enough to steer away from like-mindedness through assimilating people’s differences (melting pot) and towards like-mindedness through honoring those differences (mosaic). To do this, initiatives designed for “cultural competency” aren’t enough. Diversity and inclusion requires diverse and non-diverse leaders to work together to create a culture that embraces diversity of thought and deploys the required best practices, development tools, and resources to maximize talent engagement, advancement, workplace performance, and overall satisfaction.” Glenn Llopis; Forbes.com
An exciting new training program focussed on Diversity and Inclusion in Singing Leadership was rolled out in Melbourne this year to kick against the concept of the cultural melting pot, replacing that sticky, outdated cauldron with shared knowledge, experience and insights that recognise and celebrate the difference we each bring to a situation as individuals in our own right, and to develop community singing leadership so that more programs supporting disadvantage and community building can be established across Victoria and beyond.
Singing for Inclusion (SINC) is the outcome of an inaugural collaboration between Community Music Victoria and Creativity Australia. The two organisations joined forces to train and refresh new and existing community Singing Leaders in how to create genuinely nurturing, safe environments for singing group participants that are inclusive and open to everyone, irrespective of their physical and mental needs or cultural background.
SINC is anti-assimilation and pro positive acknowledgement of visible and invisible difference. The program was conceived to encourage leaders to reflect and consider their perceptions and understandings of the depth and breadth of the meaning of diversity and how to be properly inclusive, a word Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator for CMVic and the SINC Program Manager, believes ‘people use very freely and don’t always consider the full implications of what they are offering.’
Community Music Victoria has successfully trained and mentored hundreds of Singing Group Leaders across the state through its Victoria Sings program for over a decade. Its focus has consistently been creating a ‘free and fearless space’ in which participants feel safe to be open with themselves and each other. Through its partnership with CA, CMVic was able to share this experience and knowledge and combine it with observations and learning derived from CA’s With One Voice program.
Sarah Mandie together with Jane Coker from CMVic and Ross Maher from Creativity Australia ran a community consultation process to devise the framework and content of the SINC training program which was then run as a series of free one day workshops. Sarah Mandie explains:
“We put out a survey to people working in key areas of diversity and followed this with a consulting workshop to review the results and finalise and identify what people would want and need out of a course like this. Key people in given areas such as disability and mental health all gave similar feedback and the main thing to emerge was this: If you are going to run a course about people with different abilities, then these people need to be involved in the program somehow, which was always our intention.”
The course content was a mixture of singing leadership skills, diversity awareness, discussion with people with lived experience of mental and physical disability and sessions on how to run your group. SINC also addressed awareness of best practice in how to include all these components with the central and focal point remaining what is needed to be inclusive. As Sarah says, “are we as singing leaders really doing that or are we just talking about it…?”
Experienced singing leaders and key people involved in community arts practice around Melbourne were invited to come and present or facilitate a session, and this element of peer exchange as a substantial component of the course proved highly effective in giving people an opportunity to speak with passion, and to continue their own personal learning through listening to each other’s different viewpoints and things to be mindful of:
“Recognition of everyone’s experiences, needs and skills and bringing everyone together in a course like this actually maximises everyone’s learning… I would say for me as an experience it totally helped shape my understanding of these areas and this nature of facilitation allows everyone to contribute to something so that even in a training course about leadership, everyone, including even the facilitators, is learning. That’s the environment: the environment and the culture.”
A brilliant result of the course has been a wonderfully supportive network of leaders who are working with diverse singing groups and choirs and we hope this network will continue to grow and help each other.
“A clear message to emerge from the SINC training course is as a Singing Leader, you don’t know who’s in the room before you get there and you don’t know what’s going on in their head, and you don’t know how different they are to you or how they are feeling… AND YOU CAN NEVER ASSUME!”
“Jane Coker did an exercise to demonstrate this by getting people to share their favourite musical artist , and it was highly effective at showing how different everyone is about something you can’t see, and it was a good example of how there is always something about somebody you don’t know.”
Resources from the SINC training program will be available online in due course. Watch this space!
One hundred years ago, Australians voted not once but twice against conscription, on October 28th 1916 and again on 20 December 1917 in referendums called by the Prime minister, Billy Hughes. The referendums bitterly divided the nation, with pro-conscription and anti-conscription campaigners spreading their messages in speeches, songs, huge public meetings, articles, and rallies.
An ardent advocate for peace at this time was a young woman named Adela Pankhurst. Adela was banished to Australia by her mother, the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who as a supporter of Britain’s role in WW1 was vehemently and unforgivingly opposed to the views of her daughter.
Dispatched on a one-way ticket down under, Adela continued her work as an activist and leader in the anti-conscription movement. As 1917 drew to a close, she was arrested following a women’s anti-war march in Melbourne and sent to Pentridge Prison in Coburg. On the evening of January 7, 1918, a group of Adela’s supporters met together outside of the women’s prison to serenade her over the walls.
According to newspaper reports from the time, the group ‘from 40 to 60 persons, understood to be Socialists, and a majority of them women’ sang together in a bid to raise Adela’s spirits and to pledge their solidarity and support. Singing Solidarity for Ever, The Red Flag and We’ll keep Australia Free, “salvos of cheers repeated again and again and the whole gathering at a given signal joined in a coo-ee…” By the time the police arrived, the mob had grown to around 300.
To commemorate the centenary of this event, singers and community musicians will again take their voices and music to the street in January as part of Serenading Adela, a street opera written to tell the story of the widespread campaign for peace so under-represented in commemorations of the period, with specific focus on the moving story of the singing mob who serenaded Adela that night.
On January 7, 2018, a one off performance of Serenading Adela will begin with a musical march through Coburg, culminating in a mass sing and performance outside Pentridge Prison: a musical echo and re-enactment of a moment in time as well as a testament to the life, courage and inspiring legacy of Adela, anti-war activism and the anti-conscription movement in Australia.
Community choirs, individual singers and instrumentalists everywhere are invited to join the mass choir or street band and be a part of Serenading Adela. Participation is free, anyone is welcome and no prior singing experience is needed. (See end of article for registration info.)
The project is an outcome of the work of the Brunswick Coburg Anti-Conscription Centenary, formed in the Northern suburbs a couple of years ago to record, remember and commemorate the successful anti-conscription campaigns of WW1.
“We’re writing this to tell the story of Adela, in solidarity with Adela but also to encourage people in these times to use singing as a form of protest…choral activism, just as they did 100 years ago.”
With funding from Creative Victoria a small team have been organising and planning January’s event, including Community Music Activist Jeannie Marsh who is the artistic director, Brunswick based Nancy Atkin, Emily Hayes, Dave Evans, and singer/actor Lisa-Marie Parker (playing Adela).
In writing for Adela, Jeannie has read articles written by women who were vehement in their opposition to conscription and the Great War, and has also spent a swathe of time acquainting herself further with the character of Adela Pankhurst, scouring antique books and researching to give a depth to the musical portrayal of her character:
“She was a fearless ball of energy and apparently a riveting public speaker who drew people to her. There are records of 30,000 people turning up to peace rallies held on the banks of the Yarra… Adela was brought up in this radical family but then expelled by Emmeline from the suffragette family for being too radical. On moving to Melbourne, Adela was taken under the wing of Vida Goldstein and embraced by her pacifist tribe. This street opera is dedicated to singing the story of Adela’s life, and the story of these activists, and keeping it alive.”
Last year as a prelude to the street opera, Community Choir leader and composer, Stephen Taberner, wrote a hauntingly beautiful choral song called ‘Ghosts don’t Lie’. The song was inspired by two workshops held in 2016 for local people in Brunswick and Coburg to share memories of the way wars and conscription have impacted and reverberated through the lives and course of their families and its lasting effects.
Ghosts Don’t lie is comprised of four verses each telling a different story. The song was premiered at the Boite Singers Festival in January 2017 where it was hailed as beautiful and moving work, and will now form a component of Serenading Adela.
Rehearsals for the main choir will start at 3pm on Sunday 3rd September led by Jeannie Marsh, and Brunswick Rogues choir leader Emily Hayes or, for anyone pressed for time there’s the option of waiting until December and joining as a member of the ‘Unruly Mob’. The Victorian Trade Union Choir are already committed to the project, as well as the fifty people who formed the Serenading Adela Choir to sing Ghosts Don’t Lie.
In Serenading Adela the past will be palpable and spines will tingle as words and recollections of one hundred years previous are sung into the ether of Brunswick and Coburg by community music activists in celebration of the legacy of Adela Pankhurst and her comrades, and with ongoing hope for peace in the world.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Jeannie Marsh.
TAKE PART in Serenading Adela by making a (free) booking here
For information about rehearsals for Serenading Adela, click here
Click here for Ghosts don’t lie: resources to help learn the song written by Stephen Taberner.
The ‘mighty’ Murtoa Stick Shed stands majestically against the open skies of the Wimmera, built in 1941 as a solution for grain storage during the World War II wheat glut, when exports were restricted. The shed was originally one of three, built using logs of rainforest mountain ash and of those three is the only one still standing, saved by the people in the local town of Murtoa who recognised the cultural significance and uniqueness of the building.
“When you get inside the shed you get an extraordinary feeling about it that’s hard to explain, says Judith Welsh, chair of the committee of management for the Murtoa Stick Shed, “It is five Olympic swimming pools long, over three storeys high and contains 560 poles or ‘sticks’ and is known as the Cathedral of the Wimmera because of its cathedral like quality.”
In 2016, after many years of lobbying with support from Heritage Victoria, the Stick Shed was finally handed back to the community and Judith is optimistic this will put Murtoa firmly on the map in more ways than one:
“We’re in the middle of the Wimmera and what we would call the Silo Trail. The Stick Shed is significant not only as a tourist attraction for Murtoa but for all of the nearby small towns too; if you come to one, you come to all.”
In October this year, Murtoa will host its annual festival, ‘The Big Weekend’ and for the first time the committee of management and the town will have operation of the Stick Shed.
To reflect the ambience and the glory of the building, Judith and the management committee are now working to build an event which will bring voices into the shed for the first time to sing, celebrate and enjoy the building and to give back to the community the experience of a concert, open to everyone and hopefully involving local choirs from Horsham, Stawell and surrounding areas.
“We want an event that anyone can join in on but that gives local choirs the singers from the Wimmera an opportunity to perform as part of a massed choir, as well.”
What Judith needs now is to find enough voices to supplement the number of local singers and help fill this great space, built to hold 100,000 tonnes of wheat.
To do this, a proposed workshop component is planned to encourage participation from singers of all abilities to come and be part of the event. Judith and the committee areseeking expressions of interest from any local singing facilitators happy to volunteer their time to run a workshop session and help bring life to their vision of a massed sing in the Stick Shed.
An invitation is also extended to any other choirs and singing groups willing to make the journey to Murtoa on Saturday October 7th, to sing alongside the local community groups and join in this unique and exceptional experience.
As a singer with the Melbourne Women’s Choir as well as numerous other choirs, Judith knows first-hand that singing is a fabulous thing to do:
“It’s uplifting for the person singing and it’s uplifting for the person hearing it and we want to be able to do something for the people in these communities and to tell the story of the shed. “
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Judith Welsh from the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management
**If you are a singing leader who can help Judith with the workshop, or who would like to involve your own singing group or choir in the event as part of ‘The Big Weekend’, please contact the Murtoa Stick Shed Committee of Management via email at email@example.com or call 03 5385 2422
Back in April, an invitation was sent to community choirs to unite and sing up at a ‘pioneering choral event’ called You’re the Voice, an element of the 2017 Queensland Music Festival dedicated to highlighting the persistent problem of domestic violence across Australia and building awareness in a bid to ‘turn the tide’ and support positive change.
The project, directed by Dr Jonathan Welch, has received high profile support* from singers including Archie Roach, Kate Ceberano, and Katie Noonan, who is also the festival’s artistic director.
On July 29, 2500 community singers participating in You’re the Voice will congregate in Brisbane, joined by other community choirs and singing groups from around the country via live stream and social media, to deliver their powerful message, singing John Farnham’s song of the same name.
Closer to home and in response to news of the project, Vivienne Colegrove, a singer songwriter from the community music network here in Victoria got in touch, offering to share a song she had written about domestic violence with any other community singing groups and choirs wishing to address the issue, also:
Hi CMVic folk, following on from your post on FB re Katie Noonan’s call for choirs to sing out against domestic violence, I have a song that I am happy for choirs to use if they wish (just to acknowledge me as the composer obviously!) Here is a (strictly rehearsal-only quality) mp3 recording and pdf score for choir facilitators – please feel free to pass on to anyone who may wish to use it. Free to a good home! Warm regards – Vivienne Colegrove
‘White Ribbon Anthem’ byVivienne Colegrove
It’s time to sing out it’s time to speak out
It’s time to shout out we’re making change
We stand together we stand united
It’s time to sing out we’re making change
No more silence about the violence No more looking the other way Join our chorus Sing together Sing as one voice we’re making change
Safe for women safe for children
Safe for men of any age
Safe for my mother safe for my brother
Safe for each other let’s turn the page
Make it change now we’re making change now
Change is what we say and do
Let’s make change now let’s do change right now
Change is me and change is you
(chorus) x 2
Vivienne says “I was inspired to write this song because I feel excited about the power of singing together as a community to bring about the positive changes we want in our world. Music, and especially singing, is such an inspiring, unifying way to invite transformation and change. I have a vision of hundreds, thousands of voices lifted together in song as a heartfelt invitation to create a safe world together for us all.”
Vivienne’s words echo those of Katie Noonan who, when speaking of the potentially transformative power of You’re the Voicesaid, “We can sing together for those whose voices have been silenced by fear… I believe that art and music have the power for significant change and that musicians and art have a responsibility to respond to, and reflect on, our society and the things we can do to create change.”
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with massive thanks to Vivienne Colegrove.
Download the lyrics to White Ribbon here & the mp3 of White Ribbon here
*Archie Roach, Troy Cassar-Daley, Montaigne, Katie Noonan, Kate Ceberano and Isaiah have collaborated to re-record ‘You’re the Voice’ as a charity single to raise funds to support young people who are victims of domestic violence. To purchase the single, click here. (All proceeds will be donated to DVConnect.)
‘The great thing about events that get people together is the fact that they get people together!’ says Betty McLaughlin, Gippsland based community music activist and founder of the Gippsland Singers Weekend at Wilson’s Prom. It was reading about the success of the 2016 gathering in October last year which inspired this conversation with Betty as encouragement to anyone out there looking to consolidate a sustainable, regional network of community music makers and wondering how to go about it.
So step this way into the CMVic time machine and buckle up because we’re going back to 2008, when community singing leader Betty McLaughlin was the regional catalyst for Gippsland region as part of Community Music Victoria’s Victoria Sings program.
One of the final things Betty did during this particularly active phase of her involvement with the program was to arrange a Singing Leaders gathering for all Gippsland based leaders at Wilsons Prom. Working together with Jane Coker and Fay White, Betty planned a gathering with a deep inbuilt purpose at its heart: to seed something ongoing between local community singing leaders and participants.
The event was open to anyone interested in making singing happen in their community.
Incorporated into the program was a Sunday session especially designed to create a more formally recognised network of singing leaders in Gippsland. And so what began as a roomful of individuals brought together by their shared values and vision ended as the newly galvanised Gippsland Singers Network, established to encourage and promote Community Singing in the Gippsland Region through mutual support, skill and repertoire sharing. Betty believes hundreds of singers and leaders are now active under the umbrella of the GSN, which she describes laughingly as a ‘loose affiliation’.
Twelve months after that first weekend, the group reconvened, again dedicating an entire weekend to singing and networking together at the Prom with support from Community Music Victoria, and this pattern has continued successfully over the past eight years, galvanising into a regular annual event in the music making calendar.
The Wilson’s Prom weekend has remained a primary focus of the Gippsland Singers Network, with a fresh committee formed each year to organise the event. Occasional one day workshops are held within Gippsland, as well as a couple of Big Sings to raise the funds required to keep the GSN alive and to allow the event at the prom to be supported by money other than that raised through attendance.
Looking back, Betty considers the following factors contributed to the ease with which the Gippsland Singers Network took off:
Support: It wasn’t only Community Music Victoria who offered support to the GSN in its fledgling form. The Gippsland Acoustic Music Club has been a massive support to the GSN too. Barb Brabets who at that time was president of the GAMC was part of the formation of the GSN back during that first weekend on the prom and brought her experience of involvement with a community organisation formed back in 1982 to encourage acoustic music making in the Gippsland Region.
Find your tribe: It was having a catalyst role with CMVic that encouraged Betty to go and find out who and where people were singing. As she says, having this title and association ‘gave me the credibility to go and knock on doors and introduce myself to people like Jenny Candy who leads groups in the Eastern area of Gippsland’. Betty’s reputation spread further through attending the GAMC’s annual a cappella festival in August where Lyndal Chambers introduced her to everyone as the CMVic Catalyst for that region, putting a face to the name and placing Betty firmly on the community music map as somebody to contact. Anyone contacting the CMVic office wanting to start a singing group in the Gippsland region would also get a call from Betty who reflects fondly “It was a wonderful role, it was a to-die-for role.”
Hold an event “It keeps it alive and people have such a good time there together.” The great thing about events that get people together is the fact that one, they get people together! And two, it gives you a focus.
In the case of the GSN, a new committee forms each year during the last session of the weekend. This is a fantastic way to ensure that the ball keeps rolling and prevents over commitment and burn out from occurring.
Have structure: In keeping the last session of the weekend free to organise the following year’s team, the GSN ensures continuity, a handover and everyone’s clear about what needs to be done, by when and by whom.
A personal by-product of Betty’s involvement with the GSN was the inspiration to return to full-time music study which she did in 2012 having never previously considered herself ‘a musician’. Betty headed back to uni to study composition, a step that required her to reduce her organisational involvement with the GSN. Her great ground work and the collaborative model adopted by the network from the outset ensured its sustainability.
In Betty’s words, “the great thing about having to leave, was that it allowed the GSN to be taken on further and for more leadership to show up in that network.”
Article by Deb Carveth with Betty McLaughlin
Further reading/ references.
Sing Yarra Ranges: ‘Sing Yarra Ranges aims to be a network for singers and singing leaders based in the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley (Australia). The network is part of the “Up Hill, Down Dale” project which was funded by a grant from the Shire of Yarra Ranges. Sing Yarra Ranges is currently inviting people who “live, work and play” in the shire to join them in establishing the network. They would like to hear from all singers and singing leaders to find out what YOU think the region needs in order to make singing a valued part of cultural life in our community.’
CMVic North East: A FB space for people from North East Victoria and surrounds to share information and collaborate regarding community music making events and activities.
Gippsland Acoustic Music Club: The Gippsland Acoustic Music Club Inc aims to encourage acoustic music in the Gippsland region. We support the development of local musicians’ skills as well as providing concert opportunities.
I have been running two community choirs for fifteen years. I have found that over time in our groups, we have had singers with varying skills and experience, some coming in briefly, but most staying for decades and developing lasting friendships. ALL have improved their skills over time.
One gentleman with a glorious baritone voice could only sing a monotone note, no matter the key! I would arrange the other singers’ parts around this drone note, and over a period of ten years, his ear developed to match his really lovely voice.
This has been my experience with all voices – over time, we develop better ears/aural skills, and become capable of very complicated harmonies and rhythms. Especially as our breath control improves with practice.
Some singers, over time, have developed an interest in furthering their music theory and reading skills – these singers have all been musical beginners. I provide them with as much theory as they wish, but at no time do we lose sight of our shared goal – the joy of singing together.
When new singers come in, we often return to known and loved favourites, and all of the singers love helping new singers in learning their part by surrounding them with sound-support, friendship and laughter – the generosity of music!
Another technique for making new singers feel welcome, is to introduce entirely new material – everyone is a beginner!
I am a great believer in the equalising power of singing in other languages. When some of my singers know the language far better than me, it is an opportunity for us all to learn from our local expert.
We frequently practise experimenting with sound – if you don’t like the sounds you are making – change them! A safe, friendly environment where we can experiment – no pressure. I believe in the beauty of the harmonies we create by listening to ourselves and others while learning aurally. Despite this belief and the fact that most of my singers were musically illiterate, I have noticed great interest developing in the ‘dots’. All of my singers can now ‘follow’ the dots and do so to aid ageing memories!
However, despite these developing literacy skills, I do insist on ‘NO DOTS’ for performance – listening to each other produces the best sound.
Singing is community bonding in harmonious, creative activity.
Singing improves our immune system cytokines and lowers stress cortisol. This means, we feel happier, healthier and less stressed. It also improves our heart rate variability.
A number of qualitative and survey studies with diverse samples have shown that singers report a wide range of social, psychological, spiritual, and health benefits associated with singing, such as improved mood, enhanced quality of life, greater happiness, stress reduction, and emotional wellbeing.
Singing lifts your spirits, focuses concentration and breathing on creative activity, and reduces isolation. The evidence is overwhelming – SINGING IS GOOD FOR YOU. 😀
By Kass Mulvany. Kass is a community singing leader, retired performing-arts and science specialist teacher and community volunteer, who delights in playing and singing with others, the sharing of resources and the universal language of music and dance.