In just one year, Pub Choir has revolutionised the community music scene in Brisbane and beyond, bursting forth in a blast of fresh energy and zest and attracting hundreds of singers to its informal fortnightly singing sessions. The success of Pub Choir can be attributed to a combination of zeitgeist mixed with a twist of right time right place all shaken up with a direct, no frills attitude to music making. That and the fact it’s in a pub…
The ingeniously simple idea for Pub Choir was dreamt up in a conversation between co-founders Astrid Jorgensen and Megan Bartholomew. The women who met at uni, share the belief that everyone can sing and that music belongs to everybody. In talking, they realised that whilst music was their livelihood, they were no longer singing for fun and so, in March last year, Meg called a pub.
Astrid and Meg then recruited guitarist Waveney Yasso, whose job is to keep everyone singing in time and in tune. The Pub Choir dream team came into being and with support from a photographer and videographers to capture the magic, they were set to prove to the world it could sing.
“The hope was that if we put it in a friendly setting then people would come and remember that music is fun with friends. We should all be making music an everyday experience, and if we’re doing it more often and in casual ways then it becomes less ‘scary’.”
Astrid and the team put a single post on Facebook before the first session stating, ‘No Commitment, No Auditions, No Sheet Music, NO WORRIES!’ They smashed their hopes for 30 people that first night when 70 rocked up, and every event from then on has sold out. As Astrid says, “It’s been pretty crazy!”
The Bearded Lady in Brisbane trusted the vision, provided a space and supported the idea of Pub Choir at a time when it wasn’t a ‘thing’. The event soon outgrew the capacity of the room there, but its walls play a significant part in the success and history of the choir’s first year, something Astrid is very thankful for.
So does alcohol play a significant role in the success and phenomenon of Pub Choir? Even though it’s available, Astrid attributes the sense of anonymity that goes with being in a pub along with lots of other people, as the reason new singers feel disinhibited enough to relax and have a go. And once they start singing, the release of endorphins and the sense of connection can work their magic and do the rest.
There is no place for judgement at Pub Choir, it’s all about enjoying yourself and singing to have a good time. Astrid chooses well known songs, something she finds makes life easier for everyone:
“For each upcoming session I try to pick something in a different style to the last so as not to be too repetitive; something very well known so that the melody doesn’t have to be taught too much, and; songs that are achievable in 90 minutes. I also am constrained by whether or not I can obtain the relevant licenses. Occasionally publishers will say no, so I try to have a few options up my sleeve.”
To teach the song, Astrid, who is qualified in choral conducting and voice, divides the group into three sections, taking them through line by line and within 90 minutes everyone is revelling in the buzz of singing in three part harmony.
There has been such an amazing outpouring of support for Pub Choir from the online community, that Astrid and the team are now in the process of booking dates for a tour. The idea is to travel around the country later in the year and share the experience of Pub Choir more widely in its original format. Astrid likes to combine elements of comedy into all aspects of her work including Pub Choir in the belief that if people are having a laugh they will relax and sing better, and she’s keen to share this out on the road too.
“Everyone is saying the same thing: We could really use this in our community, this looks so much fun.”
Pub Choir has received hundreds of emails from people across the country who are keen to use the same model, and asking if they can start up their own Pub Choir. This includes requests for Pub Choir’s budgeting, licensing, event planning, and even web content creation – some of which Astrid admits makes her feel a little uncomfortable.
Whilst the level of interest from other singing leaders keen to borrow and learn from the model of Pub Choir is flattering, Astrid feels this has to be done in conjunction with a good dose of self-assessment and points out that the Pub Choir model might not translate and work as well for everyone. She explains:
“I like being at the pub and I like joking around and I’m definitely more into casual community music making than something more ‘high brow’, but I think people may try to copy and paste something that might not necessarily fit their skill set as an educator, or even their personality. I mean, consider 500 drunk people who you don’t know,” laughs Astrid, “it won’t suit everyone, so play to your strengths and find what you are passionate about!”
An unexpected challenge faced by Pub Choir is the number of costs involved in running such a simple idea. Each singer pays $10 cash on the door and pretty much every cent of that goes back into licensing to pay for arranging and then filming the song. “Sometimes it’s thousands of dollars.”
This was an area they didn’t anticipate but their popularity and strong online presence thrives as a result of the high quality film clips they post, and their recent clip of the Cranberries song ‘Zombie’ sung and posted as a tribute to Dolores O’Riordan was shared by the band and went viral, a real high point for Astrid and everyone involved.
Pub Choir will be celebrating its first birthday in March with a party to end all parties at the Triffid in Brisbane, a venue with capacity for over 700 singers. It’s a beautiful old aircraft hangar which is a brilliantly apt place to celebrate a singing group that has taken off so fast. Go, go Pub Choir: the sky’s the limit.
Written by Deb Carveth for Community Music Victoria with Astrid Jorgensen from Pub Choir
Featured image by Jacob Morrison, supplied by Pub Choir
**Interest in Pub Choir has come from each of the capital cities and beyond and the team hope to have visited them all by the end of the year, returning in between times to sing with their Brisbane crowd. If there are any pub landlords or venue managers reading this in Victoria who are open to the idea of hosting Pub Choir, hop onto their website and express your interest now!
Word of mouth plays a big part in recruiting singers to the Euroa Vocal Nosh,* an informal community singing group run regularly for almost seventeen years and counting. That and the fear of missing out…
One evening last year, a couple were driving past Strathbogie church where one of the Nosh leaders, Di Mackrell was holding a session of the Strathbogie singers. Seeing a significant number of parked cars along the roadside, the couple pulled up to find out what was going on and were invited in by one of the choir members, whom they happened to know. In the funny fateful way life sometimes has, this pique of curiosity brought them straight into a setting where one of them would later find unexpected closure.
Having been told by a teacher to “mime not sing” at the age of just five, this woman’s confidence in her ability had remained squashed flat for her entire life. Once they stepped into the Strathbogies’ session, it wasn’t long before Di had them joining in with the singing.
“You should have seen her face at the end of that choir session, it was just beaming. Then I had this little thought that maybe Vocal Nosh might be something they’d be interested in and I dropped a program into their mail box – they came to the next session and were just blown away by it – and they’ve lived in Euroa longer than I have…”
Like most singing leaders, Di encounters singers who have lost confidence because of cruel or thoughtless comments made in the past ‘all the time’. Being able to turn this around is heart-warming for everyone.
“It just makes me think YEEEEEESSS! That’s what it’s all about!!!”
Di Mackrell is a little bit biased about the transformative power of Euroa Vocal Nosh with good reason and actually, this is where the story starts.
At the final 2017 session of Euroa Vocal Nosh, there were 26 singers in the room which prompted Di to celebrate and reflect on the magic of this phenomenon which has been a regular fixture on the community music calendar there, for sixteen years.
The group was established in 2001, but Di didn’t take a central role until one of the original leaders had to move away and a second leader felt it was too much continue running alone.
“I didn’t think that I could ever lead a group but I thought, well, I don’t want it to stop either!”
Di then attended a series of CMVic leadership training days during the early 2000s, which she says were ‘just amazing.’ For repertoire, the group uses the CMVic Songbooks and lots of recordings from the older training days, as well as songs shared more recently too:
“We came back from Amberley (CMVic Singing Camp) with lots of things, I’ve always got my recorder on the lookout for things that would work.”
The Nosh leaders continue to teach songs aurally, something Di values the challenge of:
“It’s a head stretch and it’s good for you! The ability to keep things in our memories is one we are using less and less. We only occasionally hand out song sheets but sometimes I’ll write the words on a piece of card which we put in the middle of the circle. If we hand out pieces of paper, noses tend to get stuck in them, so if we can avoid doing this, we do.”
Di attributes the ongoing appeal of Vocal Nosh to the philosophy, ‘if it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter’. It’s a free and fearless space and people can carry this positive attitude out of the door to transfer into other aspects of their lives.
“We’ve stuck to the model started by Fay White;* meeting on a Sunday evening at 6pm, singing for an hour then eating together before finishing with another group sing. We’ve had people say to us, ‘oh Sunday night, I don’t want to go out on a Sunday night, I’ve got to get ready for work or whatever, but we decided well, you can’t please everyone so we tried to make people see that actually it doesn’t make you tired, and that singing will energise you for the start of the week.”
Di shares the load of running the Nosh with two other leaders, Chris Day and Margie Chowanetz. The group runs on the goodwill of the three women and their shared passion for inspiring others to discover and share their love of singing. Each singer pays $15 which covers the cost of a generous caterer and the local venue. To make it more sustainable for themselves they have reduced pressure on their time by cutting the number of sessions held each year from nine to five, meeting every second month from March to November.
“Of course, people said oh no, we want it more often but we felt if we gave it up altogether, that would be no good at all!”
“People travel from all over the place, Wangaratta, Murchison, Kyabram and even Melbourne, so it’s interesting cos there is a bit of a network and we all stay in touch via email. A couple of weeks before we meet, Chris, Margie and I meet up for a coffee to plan things then I’ll send out an email and that helps people’s memories.”
New people pop in all the time and there’s only been one session Di can recall when there hasn’t been a fresh face in the room. It doesn’t matter if you miss a session, three, four or even more. Everyone can be guaranteed of a heartfelt greeting upon their return, no matter how long the period of their absence. Di finds it ‘magic’ to take a roomful of people who have never sung together before and within ten minutes, have all these beautiful harmonies and connections happening.
“After 16 years, we’re all still really keen…there’s something very special about Vocal Nosh, you’re gathering people who do not wish to commit to a regular group or who aren’t confident to join a more formal group and well, it’s great fun and it’s just an amazing phenomenon!”
** Euroa Vocal Nosh follows the model developed by Community Music Activist, Fay White back in 1999. Read about the story, the values and the evolution of Vocal Nosh in Fay’s words, here
Featured image of Euroa Flour Mill taken from www.visitvictoria.com
To join Euroa Vocal Nosh, or to find a singing group near you, click here.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria in collaboration with Di Mackrell.
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.
Read the original article in full, here.
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!
Read the original article here.
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.
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria
Music improves brain power – in some performers
Do musicians have bigger brains?
Boost your memory and your brain by singing
And further reading on dinosaurs…
Fossil evidence of the avian vocal organ from the Mesozoic https://www.nature.com/articles/nature19852.epdf?referrer_access_token=N4n-vV1ZFQa_2ZrBCVDDqNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0POdDZwZ05Pa-IKumwU5iqFPqb9J0RCiSbNodY9t6fsIlllkLV3NV3ydjAEF95r56mcI_GYrpf2Qnn5rc1s0gl6sKaUASwdqhDR20W53nuCUV_E8jqkJBnLnuEms1KFl1PFBulm
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.
Source: singing out for climate action
Tune in to the next CMVic blog post to read how the Carbon Canaries’ work is being used in Victoria by the Melbourne based Climate Choir in their singing for social change.
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria
“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.
Through its very essence, diversity is not restricted and defies definition. Ultimately, it’s about never taking anything or anyone for granted.
“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!
- Further reading: Diversity and Inclusion: Why we shouldn’t be indifferent to difference.
The SINC program was made possible with funding from the Ian Potter Foundation and the RE Ross Trust.
Written by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria with Sarah Mandie, Diversity Coordinator for Community Music Victoria
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.”
As a beautiful and evocative space laden with heritage, the shape and materials used in its construction make the Stick Shed a perfect venue: “A massive forest of trees with a soaring overhead, vaulted canopy produces subdued natural lighting, and gives the impression of a huge empty natural space, with considerable religious overtones…. It is both HUGE and peacefully QUIET, with wonderful acoustics.”
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 are seeking 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03 5385 2422