Tag Archives: singing

Euroa’s Voracious Appetite for the Return of Vocal Nosh

It’s never been hard to get excited about a Vocal Nosh, what’s not to love about informal harmony singing, hearty soup and crusty bread? For the folks of Euroa, the agonising wait for the return of this well-loved event is about to end this weekend, after more than two years in hiatus.

“We had our last Nosh in March 2020 and then it all came tumbling down” laughs Di Mackrell, who shares the facilitation of Euroa Vocal Nosh with Margie Chowanetz and Chris Day.

“The people of Euroa have been asking for it to return so we picked a date in November thinking that by then we’d be heading into the warmer weather and the number of bugs going around would be less.”

“It’s such a good thing to do and the joy that you can see on people’s faces that says ‘okay we’re doing this again’ is wonderful to see.”

-Di Mackrell

When we speak it is already November and Di is reporting sightings of snow on the mountains and is considering lighting the fire. There also appears to be a generous amount of germs going around and Di continues to feel highly responsible for the health and wellbeing of her singers.

“If you organise something and people become ill through attending, you will definitely feel a sense of responsibility, even though it is up to the individuals whether or not they wish to come along, and I do not wish to risk anyone’s health even though people are really wanting this singing as a group experience.”

In addition to her involvement with Euroa Vocal Nosh, Di runs the Strathbogie Singers and is very aware how much getting back to singing this year has meant to people, some of whom travel over an hour each way for the experience. “It’s such a good thing to do and the joy that you can see on people’s faces that says ‘okay we’re doing this again’ is wonderful to see.”

Interestingly, Di has observed that while some of her Strathbogie Singers enjoy Vocal Nosh, for others the inclusive style for which Noshes are so loved can feel intimidating. “Some feel wary of the openness of it and of learning songs aurally. At Nosh we mostly don’t hand out the words or music and I personally think that is really good for our brains, but some of my singers like to have that piece of paper in front of them with the words and the dots, whereas for other folks the dots are scary!” 

When Di experienced her first Vocal Nosh, the love and connection she felt for this informal way of singing together with others was instantaneous “I just loved it.” 

“Fay White, who pioneered the concept of the Vocal Nosh, taught Chris Day at Euroa High School back in the 70’s. By 2001, Chris was working as a music teacher in Euroa together with Linda Browne. Fay invited both Chris and Linda along to a singing leadership training session which was how Euroa Vocal Nosh started off. I just went along to see what it was all about and never had any intention or idea that I was going to lead music because I really wasn’t confident, it’s CMVic that has given me the confidence to do it.” Di laughs as she reflects back on this for a moment. 

Later again, when Linda left town, Chris felt that leading Vocal Nosh was too much to do on her own and by then, Di was not prepared to let it all go and decided that if it was a case of use it or lose it, she should invest in some leadership training and get stuck in, herself. Di hasn’t looked back and neither has the singing community of Euroa.

The celebrated return of Euroa Vocal Nosh also marks the approach of its 21st birthday. As the group moves towards this milestone, Di, Chris and Margie have been putting out feelers to see if anyone can be encouraged to be taken under their wings and trained to lead the Nosh. As Di says, “I know it’s a big thing cos I wasn’t confident to start with either.” 

Something Di particularly loves about Euroa Vocal Nosh is the uniqueness of each session. “You get this group of people who have never sung together before. Thinking back across the past 21 years, I think there has only been once or twice where we’ve not had somebody come along who has never been before, and you wouldn’t think it could keep happening but it does and the beauty of this is it doesn’t matter. Within a few minutes you’ve still got all these amazing harmonies, which is what makes a Nosh so exciting.”

Returning for the first Nosh in over two years has allowed for some changes to be made. Di, Chris and Margie have decided to move the session from its original Sunday evening time slot and turn it into an afternoon activity instead. The email has gone out to everyone with any prior involvement with Euroa Vocal Nosh and the fliers are up: On Sunday November 27th, the Nosh will be back, baby!

For many people, it can’t come back quickly enough. “The Nosh aspect gives people time to socialise and connect. When I think of my Strathbogie Singers, my ukulele group or our Nosh singers, we are an eclectic bunch, but for some people coming together to sing and make music is the bright spot in their week. It’s powerful, it is more than the music,” says Di, “it is just so important.”

Euroa Vocal Nosh returns this Sunday, November 27, 2022, from 2:30-4:30pm. One-to-One Wellness Centre, 121 Binney Street, Euroa. Expect  2 hours of harmony singing and socialising! The cost is  $15 which will include Viv’s sumptuous afternoon tea (children free). Covid safe guidelines and rules apply.

Written by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria, with Di Mackrell; thank you Di!

All Directions Choir Summons Songs and Stories from the Deep

All Directions Community Choir has written 5 original songs from scratch as part of an original composition project called Songs and Stories from the Deep, facilitated by choir director, Cath Rutten. 

All Directions Community Choir sits within the Boroondara Community Outreach Program (BCO), a mental health ministry run by the Kew Uniting Church to support people with either disability or mental health challenges, or who are experiencing social isolation. The project received funding from Boroondara City Council through the grants program and the Rotary Club of Balwyn and was run by Cath as a series of workshops using water as a metaphor for living, with the group ‘writing from the heart about their experiences of life; the struggles as well as their sense of joy and adventure’.

“We began playing around with words and emotions as a group and there seemed to be a lot of congruence between the way we describe our feelings and water. We spoke of tears, and drowning or being lifted up and held by the waves of emotion, waves of joy, a congruence between the descriptive words of water and the descriptive words for emotion.”

Cath is a musician who loves working at the intersection of arts and health. In addition to running a singing studio at home, she also teaches inclusive singing practice, and has run a number of community projects including 52 Flash Mobs in 52 Weeks to promote the benefits of arts participation to the community. 

“My belief is that we are inherently artistic and musical as humans and for it to be professionalised so that we think we can’t do it unless we’re fantastic is detrimental to us as people.”

Members of the choir were interested in writing songs that talked about their lived experiences but also about the experience of being human. “All too often members from this community feel categorised by whatever challenges they face and really a lot of the challenges will be very familiar. Many people are facing challenges around secure housing, family and home to a lesser or greater extent, there are so many universal stories in there.”

The group met weekly for six sessions to continue writing and drawing on all of the water metaphors and included non-choir members of the BCO community. The process was encouraged along with inspirational visuals of water, and then Cath took the poems and turned their ideas into songs. Cath describes it as a wonderful journey to have shared. 

Artwork by Leah Ferguson and Belinda Wickens


“Being in a room and playing with lots of people and using words as part of that play, there’s just so much that comes out of it. In a way when you’ve got lots of creative people together, the work seems to do itself, it’s fantastic.”

Cath created the music and worked out the song arrangements so that the material used by the writing group could be learned by the choir. Everything was going swimmingly and according to plan. The choir began learning their songs at the end of 2019 with the view to recording the tracks for wider distribution in early 2020. But of course, like most things from that poor ill-fated year, it all had to stop and be mothballed. Cath says, “during COVID like so many other choirs we went online but a lot of the community did not feel comfortable in that space and numbers dropped to around 10 or 12. At the start, before everyone grew tired, I would sometimes ring people and have a sing on the phone with them as a way to remain connected and to check in and we kept going but with a skeleton crew.”

It took a while once lockdown lifted for All Directions Community Choir to regain its collective confidence about being out and about and to find momentum once more. At the beginning of 2022, the choir began working with a wonderful producer, Cameron Mackenzie, and Songs and Stories from the Deep was finally back on track. “Cameron came into the church and worked with the choir in the space and made the recordings over five or six weeks. It was a really lovely, enjoyable process.”

The CD launch of ‘Songs and Stories from the Deep recently took place, in mid-October. “It was wonderful, we all had such a lovely time with a beautiful big crowd and Boroondara Councillor, Nick Stavrou, came and opened it for us; it was such a warm, loving event.” In keeping with the community spirit of the song writing project, the beautiful promotional artwork accompanying the project was contributed by Cath’s daughter, Leah Ferguson, and the graphic design was done by Belinda Wickens.

Cath crackles with conviction and sparkles as she speaks of the community in which she works and her fondness for the project and the people it has involved, as well as for those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen:

“Natalie who is a Reverend of Kew Uniting Church and the Coordinator of BCO does an enormous amount of work. She organises food relief and there are volunteers to come in and cook for people who can’t cook for themselves so that there are freezers full of food, and she does a lot of work for people behind the scenes. The program offers Tai Chi, and as well as the choir, a ukulele group runs on Tuesday mornings; there’s a band that meets and rehearses too and because Natalie’s really committed to finding skilled professionals to work with the choir and the band, there is always a need for funding. I’d love to plug the fact that the songs are for sale as a CD on bandcamp, it’s not very much and people can look up Boroondara Community Outreach if they would like to make a donation, which will go towards the activities that Natalie runs.” 

Something Cath notices repeatedly through her work is how quickly the health benefits of making music together occur and how obvious the effects are:

“It happens as soon as you start, being in a space together with people and singing or making music, our physical and mental health improves immediately and our beautiful souls respond!”

Songs from the Songs and Stories from the Deep are available on bandcamp, and while it is possible to enjoy them without purchase, all money raised from sales of the digital album will go to support the fantastic work done by BCO: 

Click here for a link to the songs: https://alldirectionscommunitychoir.bandcamp.com/album/songs-and-stories-from-the-deep
Click here for more information about BCO https://www.bcokew.org/

Written by Deb Carveth, Copy Editor for Community Music Victoria, in collaboration with Cath Rutten; thank you Cath!

Feature image: Detail of the artwork for Songs and Stories from the Deep, created by Leah Ferguson and Belinda Wickens

Mothers Use the Benefits of Song to Promote Infant Development

A program led by Professor Shannon de l’Etoile from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music aims to help at-risk mothers engage with their babies through singing, to support and promote development of emotional and self-regulation in the infants.

Professor Shannon de l’Etoile knows the impact of a mother’s lullaby.

Early in her career, de l’Etoile witnessed that when disadvantaged mothers were encouraged to sing to their babies, the positive responses they received were amazing. She quickly realised that music was a powerful way to help mothers learn to connect with their infants and to build a relationship with their new child.

This realisation led to de l’Etoile beginning her extensive research into a practice called infant-directed singing, which helps babies learn to regulate their emotions, and allows them to later navigate socialisation, school, and the professional world:

If a mother can sing in a way that captures the infant’s attention, it can help them tap into those brain structures that they need to develop for self-regulation,” said de l’Etoile, a board-certified music therapist and associate dean of graduate studies at the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

Yet, while singing to infants is something most mothers do naturally—without even realising the benefits—for those in difficult circumstances, infant-directed singing may not be as instinctive, de l’Etoile observed. She has noticed that mothers impacted by depression, domestic violence, or substance exposure may need encouragement and guidance to provide this unique form of caregiving. Read the full article by Megan Ondrizek.

Source: University of Miami

Feature Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Speech or Song? Identifying How the Brain Perceives Music

New research explores the different ways in which the brain distinguishes between music and speech.

Source: Cognitive Neuroscience Society Press Release

Most neuroscientists who study music have something in common: they play a musical instrument, in many cases from a young age. Their drive to understand how the brain perceives and is shaped by music springs from a deep love of music.

This passion has translated to a wealth of discoveries about music in the brain, including recent work that identifies the ways in which the brain distinguishes between music and speech. 

“Over the past two decades, many excellent studies have shown similar mechanisms between speech and music across many levels,” says Andrew Chang of New York University, a lifelong violinist.

“However, a fundamental question, often overlooked, is what makes the brain treat music and speech signals differently, and why do humans need two distinct auditory signals.”

New work, enabled in part by computational advances, is pointing toward differences in pitch and rhythm as key factors that enable people starting in infancy to distinguish speech from music, as well as how the predictive capabilities of the brain underlie both speech and music perception. 

Exploring acoustical perception in infants

From a young age, cognitive neuroscientist Christina Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden of University of Toronto, Mississauga, has been singing and playing the cello, which have helped to shape her research career.

“I remember sitting in the middle of the cello section and we were playing some particularly beautiful music – one where the whole cello section had the melody,” she says, “and I remember having this emotional response and wondering ‘how is it possible that I can have such a strong emotional response from the vibrations of my strings traveling to my ear? That seems wild!’” 

That experience started der Nederlanden on a long journey of wanting to understand how the brain processes music and speech in early development. Specifically, she and colleagues are investigating whether babies, who are learning about communicative sounds through experience, even know the difference between speech and song. 

“These are seemingly simple questions that actually have a lot of theoretical importance for how we learn to communicate,” she says.

“We know that from age 4, children can and readily do explicitly differentiate between music and language. Although that seems pretty obvious there has been little to no data asking children to make these sorts of distinctions.” 

At a recent Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) meeting, der Nederlanden presented on new data collected right before and during the COVID-19 pandemic about the acoustic features that shape music and language during development. In one experiment, 4-month-old infants heard speech and song, both in a sing-songy infant-directed manner and in a monotone speaking voice, while recording electrical brain activity with electroencephalogram (EEG). 

“This work novelly suggests that infants are better at tracking infant-directed utterances when they’re spoken compared to sung, and this is different from what we see in adults who are better at neural tracking sung compared to spoken utterances,” she says.

They also found that pitch and rhythm each affected brain activity for speech compared to song, for example, finding that exaggerated pitch was related to better neural tracking of infant-directed speech – identifying the lack of “pitch stability” as an important acoustic feature for guiding attention in babies. 

While the exaggerated, unstable pitch contours of infant-directed speech, has been well-established as a feature infants love, this new research shows it also helps to signal whether someone is hearing speech or song.

Pitch stability is a feature, der Nederlanden says, that “might signal to a listener ‘oh this sounds like someone singing,’” and the lack of pitch stability can conversely signal to infants that they are hearing speech rather than playing with sounds in song.

In an online experiment, der Nederlanden and colleagues asked kids and adults to qualitatively describe how music and language are different. “This gave me a rich dataset that tells me a lot about how people think music and language differ acoustically and also in terms of how the functional roles of music and language differ in our everyday lives,” she explains.

“For the acoustic differences, kids and adults described features like tempo, pitch, rhythm as important features for differentiating speech and song.”

In future work, der Nederlanden hopes to move toward more naturalistic settings, including using mobile EEG to test music and language processing outside of the lab.

“I think the girl sitting in the orchestra pit, geeking out about music and emotion, would be pretty excited to find out that she’s still asking questions about music and finding results that could have answered her questions from over 20 years ago!”

Identifying the predictive code of music

Guilhem Marion of Ecole Normale Supérieure has two passions that drive his research: music and computer science. He has combined those interests to create novel computational models of music that are helping researchers understand how the brain perceives music through “predictive coding,” similar to how people predict patterns in language.

“Predictive coding theory explains how the brain tries to predict the next note while listening to music, which is exactly what computational models of music do for generating new music,” he explains. Marion is using those models to better understand how culture affects music perception, by pulling in knowledge based on individual environments and knowledge. 

In new work conducted with Giovanni Di Liberto and colleagues, Marion recorded EEG activity of 21 professional musicians who were listening to or imagining in their minds four Bach choral pieces. In one study, they were able to identify the amount of surprise for each note, using a computational model based on a large database of Western music. This surprise was a “cultural marker of music processing,” Marion says, showing how closely the notes were predicted based on a person’s native musical environment. 

“Our study showed for the first time the average EEG response to imagined musical notes and showed that they were correlated with the musical surprise computed using a statistical model of music,” Marion says. “This work has broad implications in music cognition but more generally in cognitive neuroscience, as they will enlighten the way the human brain learns new language or other structures that will later shape its perception of the world.”

“These findings are the basis for the potential applications in clinical and child development domains, such as whether music can be used as an alternative form of verbal communication for individuals with aphasia, and how music facilitates infants learning speech.” -Andrew Chang

Chang says that such computational-based work is enabling a new type of music cognition study that balances good experimental control with ecological validity, something challenging for the complexity involved in music and speech sounds. “You often either make the sounds unnatural if everything is well controlled for your experimental purpose or preserve their natural properties of speech or music, but it then becomes difficult to fairly compare the sounds between experimental conditions,” he explains. “Marion and Di Liberto’s groundbreaking approach enables researchers to investigate, and even isolate, the neural activities while listening to a continuous natural speech or music recording.

Chang, who has been playing violin since he was 8-years old, is excited to see the progress that has been made in music cognition studies just in the last decade. “When I started my PhD in 2013, only a few labs in the world were focusing on music,” he says. “But now there are many excellent junior and even well-established senior researchers from other fields, such as speech, around the globe starting to get involved or even devoted to music cognitive neuroscience research.”

Understanding the relationship between music and language “can help us explore the fundamental questions of human cognition, such as why humans need music and speech, and how humans communicate and interact with each other via these forms,” Chang says. “Also, these findings are the basis for the potential applications in clinical and child development domains, such as whether music can be used as an alternative form of verbal communication for individuals with aphasia, and how music facilitates infants learning speech.”

Author: Lisa M.P. Munoz
Source: Cognitive Neuroscience Society Press Release
Contact: Lisa M.P. Munoz – Cognitive Neuroscience Society Public Information Officer, Cognitive Neuroscience Society
cns.publicaffairs[@]gmail.com

Reproduced on the CMVic Blog with kind permission from Lisa M.P. Munoz
Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

Original research: The results were presented at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. The symposium “From Acoustics to Music or Speech: Their (Dis)Similar Perceptual Mechanisms” took place at 1:30pmPT on Tuesday, April 26, as part of the CNS 2022 annual meeting from April 23-26, 2022.

CNS is committed to the development of mind and brain research aimed at investigating the psychological, computational, and neuroscientific bases of cognition. Since its founding in 1994, the Society has been dedicated to bringing its 2,000 members worldwide the latest research to facilitate public, professional, and scientific discourse.

Committing to the Committee Model: How being Incorporated Sustains the Yarra Valley Singers

I’m totally supportive of the idea of committees of management, or whatever structures support the purpose of the singing group.”

These are the words of Belinda Gillam Derry, Musical Director of Yarra Valley Singers (YVS), a community choir established and singing together since 1988. When Belinda stepped into this role, back in 1996, Yarra Valley Singers was a unit of the Dandenong Ranges Music Council (DRMC) who at that time took care of what Belinda refers to as ‘all the official stuff’.

“The YVS committee looked after the things required by the group in its day to day running. They had a treasurer who collected fees but then passed them on to the treasurer of the DRMC, they had a president and a music librarian; members of the committee worked to ensure that the group were covered for everything they needed to do performances which back then were mainly small, local gigs.”

In the early 2000s, the committee decided to incorporate the group in its own right. 

Part of the reason for this was geographic; the DRMC is based in Upwey and the Yarra Valley Singers are in Lilydale but the members were increasingly not from the Dandenong Ranges, they were coming from the Yarra Valley and further and further out. “The Yarra Valley Singers started doing their own performances so there was increasingly cash from the office box and logistics like taking it down to deposit in Upwey or at the bank were beginning to become an issue”. 

At that point the committee had to become an official committee of management in an incorporated association and the group became Yarra Valley Singers Incorporated. They appointed a president and vice president, a secretary and treasurer as well as general committee members, basically adopting the DRMC model.  Belinda felt this support sustained her both musically and personally from the start, something she continued to benefit from even when she stepped away from the choir for a few years due to ill health.

“I think in these days when lots of people don’t attend church, that in a way these sorts of groups have taken over. ‘Community’ is definitely the word I would use to describe Yarra Valley Singers, which I know exists within so many other singing groups too. Sometimes it feels there’s a bit of a divide between formal choirs and less formal singing groups but the one thing that I think definitely unites groups is this sense of community that comes about through singing together. The Yarra Valley Singers sits very comfortably under the Australian National Choral Association model and I think we very much fit under the ethos of Community Music Victoria too with regards to how inclusive we are, and how much we look after each other between rehearsals.”

Belinda is highly tuned in to the roles filled by each committee member. “Just knowing that they are doing them means I don’t need to think about those things and can concentrate fully on being the Musical Director, although I will always jump in and help when it’s needed”. 

The Yarra Valley Singers’ committee actively seeks to promote sustainability by training up new people to take over different roles and comprises volunteers from within the choir which, with around 60 members currently (100+ pre-Covid) is still a big pool of people to draw from. “If we feel that people have some expertise which they feel a bit shy about sharing, or which they perhaps don’t even realise, we tap them on the shoulder and ask if they would like to come on the committee. We try to be as inclusive as possible, for example we now have two people who identify as living with disabilities on the committee of management. Having people with a broad range of perspectives and experiences is really important.” 

When Covid struck, the lights went out for many choirs and the return to singing proved an extremely fraught and frustrating period for many individual leaders who felt significant responsibility about exposing their singers to risk, coupled with further stress arising from a distinct lack of clear government directives about how best to proceed. 

For Belinda and the Yarra Valley Singers, this stress was immediately reduced because it was shared, and because of the collective decision-making capacity of the committee.

As Belinda says, “We actively seek out different viewpoints, so within the committee we have people who continue to feel risk averse, and we also have people with expertise in interpreting the advice provided by the DHHS. We have a COVIDSafe plan which includes social distancing, maximising ventilation and singing in 25-minute blocks, with air purifiers cranked up to maximum in between.  And now all rehearsals are offered on Zoom as well as in person so everyone can stay connected with the rehearsals however they feel comfortable. “

The committee has decided to maintain a hybrid model of delivery indefinitely. “Being an older group we have always had people who are sick or who have been unable to travel due to bad weather in the Yarra Valley or the Dandenongs. Doing it this way, every person can attend live, either in person or on Zoom and we also record the rehearsals which are available for two weeks afterwards for people to catch up.”

Belinda acknowledges the significant amount of extra work this incurs, both for herself and for everyone else, and how this agility wouldn’t have been as feasible without support from a huge group of people. 

“Setting up choir has changed radically since Covid. It’s no longer a case of just putting out the chairs, there’s all the tech to set up, we’ve got people opening windows and doors, we’ve got people checking everyone in and it takes half an hour.” 

Up until Covid struck, the Yarra Valley Singers committee conducted annual member surveys to determine the reasons why people came to choir, what they wanted to gain from the experience, and basic demographic information such as age and any barriers to participation people may have been experiencing. Belinda and the committee then worked to address as many barriers as they could, so they knew as they went into the first lockdown, that people came to choir for social reasons as much as musical reasons. 

“Even though we are a choir, the social aspect scores equally as highly as the artistic aspect and that has been the case over a number of years, so we knew it was really important to keep people socially connected in lockdown because for many of them, choir was the only thing they did socially. That’s why we worked so hard to get online rehearsals  up so quickly.”

The committee also committed to keeping everyone employed by the choir on the payroll throughout lockdown, something Belinda acknowledges was ‘just so amazing’. 

“Admittedly, being a group that’s been going for some time there were some financial reserves in the bank but they said ‘okay, we can’t do performances, we can’t do rehearsals at the moment but we would like to keep paying you what you would get if you were coming to rehearsals. Which then gave me the confidence to say,”Well, you know what? I have never done a rehearsal online before in my life, but I’m willing to give it a crack.”

Belinda believes that for committees to operate at maximum efficiency, it is important for members not to feel tethered to their role, but to remain fluid. “They all have job descriptions but these are reviewed annually and they adapt and change.  For example, we didn’t need an IT manager prior to Covid!” 

This versatility extends to the way the singers, well, sing!  “Last year we did a wedding between lockdowns. It was outdoors and for the first time ever we sang along to a backing track. It was a surprise for the bride set up by her father. We couldn’t set up the keyboard, we couldn’t do a rehearsal at the venue or anything. It was all really unusual for us as we used to always have live accompaniment, but because we did it and it was so successful, we realised, ‘Well hey, this might work for us as we come out of lockdown’! ”

The committee was so convinced by this approach that the choir cancelled all indoor performances for the rest of the year (given they were pretty sure they wouldn’t happen anyway), applied for a grant and purchased backing tracks and battery-operated outdoor speakers. They learnt all of the parts via Zoom, and when lockdown finally lifted in November last year, Yarra Valley Singers had only two in person rehearsals and then seven performances in just four weeks because they were, as Belinda describes, ‘all ready to do it!’. 

“That again was the committee who were prepared to pivot completely, apply for grants and just go for it.  Incidentally, that’s another benefit of being an incorporated association; ie being able to apply for grants without needing to be auspiced by another body.  Having a formal structure can give funding bodies more confidence that you will be responsible with their grant money.  In our case, Yarra Ranges Council was extremely supportive with regards to grants to keep us going during lockdowns.”

For anyone wondering whether the move to become an incorporated group and elect a committee is worthwhile for their own group, Belinda believes that an important consideration is the question of ownership:

“It depends on who feels they have ownership of the group and who, ultimately, will step up to make sure it continues. Is ownership centred around the leader or is it centred around the people in the group? I don’t think it is a bad way to be one way or the other, because you don’t necessarily set something up thinking that it’s going to go on forever, and some groups are meant to have their time and then not continue, which is part of their charm.  When I was sick, the choir continued for four years with a different musical director.  This wouldn’t have happened if they were relying on me to do everything, but it was possible because of the structure at the time.”

Belinda’s final piece of advice is that the structure of the organising support should always fit the goals of the group.

“Having an incorporated group and a committee of management and things like that won’t be appropriate for smaller singing groups whose goal is to get together and sing for Christmas, for example. They might be better served by just having someone to collect fees, put out the chairs for rehearsal and check everyone’s vaccination certificates.  But for groups which want to continue operating and develop artistically, it’s great if the organisational load can be spread amongst others so the Musical Director can concentrate more on the musical aspects.”

By Deb Carveth, online editor for CMVic in collaboration with Belinda Gillam Derry

For information on how to join Yarra Valley Singers, click here

Featured image: Yarra Valley Singers singing at Montrose Market in November 2021, supplied by Belinda Gillam Derry

Singing in the Brain


Summary: Researchers have identified a population of neurons in the auditory cortex that responds to singing, but not any other type of music.

For the first time, MIT neuroscientists have identified a population of neurons in the human brain that lights up when we hear singing, but not other types of music.

These neurons, found in the auditory cortex, appear to respond to the specific combination of voice and music, but not to either regular speech or instrumental music. Exactly what they are doing is unknown and will require more work to uncover, the researchers say.

“The work provides evidence for relatively fine-grained segregation of function within the auditory cortex, in a way that aligns with an intuitive distinction within music,” says Sam Norman-Haignere, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“There’s one population of neurons that responds to singing, and then very nearby is another population of neurons that responds broadly to lots of music.”

Norman-Haignere

The work builds on a 2015 study in which the same research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify a population of neurons in the brain’s auditory cortex that responds specifically to music. In the new work, the researchers used recordings of electrical activity taken at the surface of the brain, which gave them much more precise information than fMRI.

“There’s one population of neurons that responds to singing, and then very nearby is another population of neurons that responds broadly to lots of music. At the scale of fMRI, they’re so close that you can’t disentangle them, but with intracranial recordings, we get additional resolution, and that’s what we believe allowed us to pick them apart,” says Norman-Haignere.

Read the full article by Anne Trafton, here

**A big thank you to Kass Mulvany for sharing this with us all!
Featured image by Rhendi Rukmana via unsplash.com

For the first time, MIT neuroscientists have identified a population of neurons in the human brain that light up when you hear singing, but not other types of music. Credit: MIT

Making Music, Chocolate for the Soul

By Scarlet Lee

A common mindset when approaching musical participation, especially working collaboratively, is that you need to reach a certain skill set before you can perform. However performance can have many advantages beyond other people enjoying your music.

Community Music Victoria is driven by the belief that every person should have access to the benefits of making music regardless of skill set. Making music can help improve our state of mind and stimulates the brain. Performing in a group provides opportunities to socialise and build friendships, and can also build up our team-based skills.

From personal experience as someone who plays the ukulele, performance is exponentially more enjoyable if it’s in a group. It gives the feeling that you are part of something more and that you’re contributing to something meaningful. It’s as though you are helping create a masterpiece in an auditory art form.

From a medicinal standpoint music can provide clear benefits. In treating depressive illnesses, four out of five trials involving music therapy were shown to be effective, this can be correlated to the brain’s reward centre. When a person is singing or playing music it triggers the reward system in the same way it does for things such as eating chocolate. This indicates that participation in musical activities can improve your mood. Additionally, researchers theorise that music making can stimulate the cerebral cortex which manages higher functions such as memory, correlation and processing of information. By stimulating the cerebral cortex it is essentially providing a warm-up for that area of the brain which allows it to process information more effectively.

Medically speaking, it is evident that there are advantages to playing music, especially in terms of mental health and cognitive function.

Although solo music playing can be constructive, singing and playing music in a group provides all the same health benefits whilst also introducing a social aspect. Making music in a group allows for social interaction and collective catharsis. We can express emotion through music as a group and certain song choices can provoke certain emotions. It also provides a sense of belonging for those included as they are part of a collective, and share experiences with their musical comrades. Friendships can also be built and strengthened through communal music, as everyone is participating in the same thing and building skills and confidence together.

Expanding on this, collective music making can build teamwork and communication skills through working collaboratively with others and learning how to have discussions with fellow group members.

Overall there are many reasons to participate in communal music making. Group music can improve mood and provide a cognitive warm-up, both of which have clear benefits to wellbeing. There is also a strong social aspect involved when playing music with others, and there is a sense of belonging and feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.

As someone learning the ukulele I can personally verify that playing music definitely has its benefits, but when participating in a music group it is far more rewarding. The atmosphere itself is much more lighthearted and warm. There is opportunity for conversation or constructive feedback and you get to appreciate others abilities as well as the group’s as a whole. When you compare this to solo practise or performance you miss all the laughter and joy that comes from collaboration.

There is a strong social aspect involved when playing music with others, and there is a great sense of belonging and feeling that you are contributing to something greater than yourself…

Music is often a key component that relates to many cultures and allows people to be immersed in their culture. The engagement in our own culture is important, as we gain a sense of inclusion within our cultural community. Through music people can gain a stronger understanding of their identity and culture, and the identities and cultures of others. For example in Indigenous Australian culture the stories of creation are told through songs and music, and sacred music performed in ceremonies are a crucial aspect of indigenous culture. In terms of my own culture my father is British, and always enjoys when I play popular British songs on the ukulele. This illustrates how we can connect with our culture and share parts of our culture through music.

Scarlet with her ukulele

Overall there are many reasons to participate in communal music making. Group music can improve mood and provide a cognitive warm-up, both of which have clear benefits to wellbeing. There is also a strong social aspect involved when singing and playing music with others. Friendships and skills develop, and there is a sense of belonging and feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.

Scarlet Lee is a year 10 student and a keen ukulele player who joined the CMVic team for work experience in April and May

Photo supplied

Music Helps Spoken Language Development For Children With Impaired Hearing

A new study from the University of Helsinki has found that music, in particular singing, is beneficial to the brain of children with hearing impairment, and the development of their spoken language.

Ritva Torppa, a university Lecturer of Logopedics and Speech Therapist, and Professor Minna Huotilainen have published their findings together with those made by other researchers in a comprehensive paper called “Why and how music can be used to rehabilitate and develop speech and language skills in hearing-impaired children” published by Hearing Research.

This paper is a comprehensive review of the reasons why music could and should be used for improving the speech and language skills of children with mild to severe hearing impairments with cochlear implants and/or hearing aids, and contains a series of ten guidelines by Torppa and Huotilainen for the use of music with children of different ages and varying backgrounds for parents, caregivers, educators and therapists.

These recommendations can be found in section 3 of the paper, sub-titled How to use music to enhance speech and language skills of hearing-impaired children. Emphasis is placed on the value of using singing as your main instrument, especially with a young child, and the benefit of supporting the musical hobbies of teenagers with hearing impairments. The recommendations are made on the basis of the intervention studies and correlational studies described in the article, and on the basis of the traditional auditory rehabilitation, music therapy methodologies, and speech and language therapy methods.

“…the current evidence seems enough to urge speech therapists, music therapists, music teachers, parents, and children and adolescents with hearing impairments and/or cochlear implants to start using music for enhancing speech and language skills. For this reason, we give our recommendations on how to use music for language skill enhancement in this group.” – Rita Torppa and Minna Huotilaienen

Read the full article here: Hearing Research. doi:10.1016/j.heares.2019.06.003

Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria
Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Community Music: finding your place, finding your voice

It started with a milestone birthday and an unexpected, life-changing gift: a three-day singing workshop at the Body Voice Centre in Footscray.

This was not something I had ever asked for. Frankly, it was terrifying. Not only singing, but also improvisation and “exploring extended voice.” All that… in front of people… without the comfort of a loud, late-night karaoke backing track, or friends who had checked their dignity at the bar earlier in the evening.

When I look back on this three-day journey from awkwardness to awakening, two moments resonate. Firstly, a bell-strike of wisdom from the teacher, Linda Wise: “Find you place and you will find your voice.” At the time I took this to be a call to first listen to the sonic space – i.e. to tune into your emotional and physical surroundings – before beginning to improvise. I thought, “That’s all well and good, but I was scared to sing anything at all. What if I was out of pitch? What if the sound was ugly or uninteresting or ruined others’ enjoyment of the exercise?…”

As an acutely perceptive and experienced teacher, Linda could see these thoughts causing me to take what she called a “panic breath” – constricting my throat – just as I was about to sing. She could see how my fear of judgment was robbing me of my voice. Linda’s solution was partly physiological – having a colleague press gently down on my larynx while I sang until I could feel how to stop pushing against his fingers. It was also subtly psychological – replacing my fear of being judged with a curious mindset, open to learning and expressing whatever it is that my unique voice can do. This was my first step toward finding my voice.

The second moment was being heartily encouraged to join my local community choir (by the same person who had been pressing down on my larynx just a few hours earlier – CMVic stalwart and singer, improviser, performer extraordinaire John Howard). I knew nothing about group singing or harmony but was keen to try out my newfound instrument.

That summer my world was tipped upside down. My job was made redundant, I gave up on my calling as an academic, my marriage ended, I sold the family home and moved my things into an apartment of my own. Though I had found my voice I had now lost my place. I no longer knew who I was or how to find my way.

In this topsy-turvy state I arrived at Brunswick Rogues choir for Term 1. The friendliest welcome opened onto the most joyful 2 hours of singing, which immediately became the highlight of each week. I gained a new circle of friends and admission to the sublime world harmony singing. 40+ voices resonating together is felt so much more in the body than in the ears; and this provided much needed physical and emotional therapy as I gradually came to once again find my place.

This new place I now know as “community music”, and I take every opportunity to join CMVic camps, workshops and events. I now sing in many groups (from a Junkman’s choir to Madrigals and a band with the wonderful Nicki Johnson).

Group singing, along with the values of CMVic, have become part of who I am and how I find my way.

While I still have much to learn from the very practical wisdom shared by the CMVic elders, I know it is worth the journey, each time I experience the power of the circle in which we can each find our voice and find our place.

By Craig Barrie for Community Music Victoria

 

 

A tribute to Richard Gill by Heather McLaughlin

In recent days the media has been full of news of the sad loss of Richard Gill – conductor, teacher, composer, and powerful advocate for school and community music. Many will remember him as the somewhat eccentric man with a shock of white hair representing classical music on “Spicks and Specks”.

He passionately believed that every child deserves music, and that SINGING should be the basis of all music experience from an early age.

I have been personally fortunate to be a student, then a teaching colleague, and a friend of Richard Gill since the age of 15, when as a country girl I went to a NSW state music camp and played the violin under his baton in a full symphony orchestra.

At that stage I had never even seen a French horn, or an oboe, and the experience of sitting in the heart of 60 musicians playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, in a tent, in the rain, with flutes behind and violas to the side, was an early inspiration. “Cellos, can you SOB a little more?” said Richard Gill. I melted with adolescent musical emotion!

AYO-NMTMP-Richard-Gill-OAM

So many people have an anecdote about Richard Gill.

“He remembered my name when I ran into him, 35 years after I left school.”

“He got me to sing an improvised melody in Solfege over a ground bass in a workshop – and surprisingly, I could do it.”

“At music camp in 1967 he played the piano for an evening Barn Dance in the style of Chopin, then Buddy Holly, then Souza.”

“At a teacher workshop we did one round of saying our names, and he remembered all of the 40!”

“At a choral rehearsal, we sang a 4 part, 20 page Kyrie, and at the end he said ‘Tenors, your E at Bar 68 was a little flat.’ ”

At workshops and conferences for teachers, he made each of us feel that what we were doing was important. “You are the salt of the earth,” he said.

Kim Williams, a close friend of Richard Gill’s for over 5 decades, says: “Richard was a remarkable person – a true citizen of music, warm, generous, passionate, talented, kind, thoughtful and loyal. His legacy is rich and deep – I intend to ensure the essence of it is embraced on a continuing basis.”

Richard Kefford AM, the Chair of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra – which Gill co-founded in 2013, and which has been his deeply-felt passion in recent years – says: “Richard Gill will be remembered as a giant in Australian music, an iconic conductor, teacher and passionate campaigner for music education. His death is a massive loss to Australian music and to the countless colleagues, students, friends and audience members who loved him so much. . . We are truly moved by Richard’s request that the Richard Gill Memorial Fund be established. . .so that we may keep the flame of his remarkable legacy alight.”

Richard Gill was an outspoken promoter of music for every Australian, through music in schools and in the community, as well as in concert halls and opera houses.

He was a passionate supporter of music at every level, equally at home sitting on the floor with 3 year olds, leading a Flash Mob of 500 singers with “When I’m 64”, rehearsing a Mozart opera, or conducting a symphony orchestra in a concert hall.

His inspiration lives on in many of us as we work in music and spread the enthusiasm that he encouraged in many thousands of people of all ages.

Heather McLaughlin
October, 2018

Heather was a Community Music Victoria Board member for 9 years, at the end of a career of teaching music – in primary schools, to young children, and to people of all ages in community sessions. Her special passion has been home made marimbas (Jon Madin style) and in retirement on the NSW mid north coast she can’t resist volunteering  in primary schools and introducing older adults (aged 65-85) to music-making through U3A sessions.

Richard Gill’s TedEx talk on the importance of a child’s music education can be seen  here.

Image of Richard Gill sourced from Arts Review