‘Playing music with people from other cultures is more than just communication, it’s an act of love’ believes Brian Strating, leader of mens’ singing group, Homebrew Verandah Music and Brunswick Old Time String Orchestra. (BOTSO)
Strat and his partner, Lyndal Chambers, have played music with community musicians in many different countries, something that’s proven a highly effective way to experience the culture of those musicians and forge firm and lasting friendships.
BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music operate on a non-virtuosic model of inclusivity, creating a space that’s free of judgement that allows those within it the freedom to experiment with their skills. Tunes are taught aurally, improvisation is welcome and mistakes are embraced. In order for this to work effectively, listening to those around you is paramount, and knowing when to start and when to stop, is also key.
When you think about it, the same skills and values are directly transferable to our lives and how we live. They have the potential to positively impact the equilibrium of society and influence a harmonious co-existence between people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs based on mutual respect, acceptance and understanding. After all, knowing when to be quiet can be as important as knowing what to say.
It is these same values that Strat and members of his groups will be carrying in their hearts and their heads to the Palestine Choral Festival in August. The group have been invited to participate in the festival by The Choir of London, and will be travelling as part of The Open House Ensemble, a musical and visual arts collaboration between Homebrew Verandah Music, BOTSO and Motherworks.
The aim of the festival is ‘to bring together Palestinian and International Choirs to celebrate the world in song’ and the opportunity will provide the Open House Ensemble a chance to experience the lives and culture of the many communities in Palestine using music and visual art to introduce themselves and engage.
The trip will enable them to experience this country away from the fog of the media lens, and will be made in the spirit of peace and free of any political or religious agenda. Travelling under the banner ‘Musicians not Munitions’ the group will work to plant seeds of collaboration and further communication, using music to develop and broaden connectivity. They will then share their experience through music and visual arts in recordings, performance, exhibition and workshops, here in Melbourne and Victoria.
“This is about inclusion and a celebration of Palestinian culture. The Choir of London and the Palestinian Choral Festival are about bringing cultures together and that is how we came to be invited… it’s about participating without fear of making mistakes and without judgement.”
The invitation from the London Choir came via a young English fiddle player called Alice Howick who played with BOTSO while working as part of the MSO’s outreach program in Broadmeadows. Inspired by her work with young kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, she returned to the UK to start teacher training where she is also involved with planning the program for the London Choir’s Palestine Choral Festival.
“Alice clearly loved the model of BOTSO. She’s a classically trained violinist and was gaining inspiration from learning tunes by ear, having to learn tunes aurally and also the philosophy of not being fearful of making mistakes, of embracing the mistakes and the process of learning in an environment that is non-judgemental.”
After returning to the UK, Alice got in touch with Strat, having had ‘a crazy idea’… It had occurred to her that what was needed as part of the festival was something along the lines of BOTSO and Homebrew Verandah Music: the representation of a community music model which celebrates inclusion and participation above all else, and the creation of a safe and fearless space in which to make music.
It’s been a slow burn, and the decision to go to Palestine wasn’t one that Strat and the group rushed into making. There have been many conversations with many different people, gradually unfolding to the point where the Open House Ensemble are now preparing to pack their bags and head off to Palestine at the end of July.
“We are taking the community music model of inclusion in which to explore your music making and we’ll be doing that collaboratively with Palestinian musicians and community music groups, and it’s such an exciting prospect.”
An incredible essence of music making is how what you feel in your heart is expressed through the sounds you create. This energy is capable of transcending differences in opinions, backgrounds, cultures and language. This is not ephemeral. It seeds the potential for mutual respect and understanding between yourself and those with whom you sing or play. In this way, it should be able to take you everywhere.
Strat and the Open House Ensemble are extremely aware of the political tension and the sensitivity of the region and are keen not to alienate anyone, either by their decision to visit or while they are there. The emphasis of the trip is cross cultural connection and collaboration.
“We are taking peace, love and healing with us. It’s a philosophy we are taking to play through our music… we’ll hold this in our hearts and it’s moulding the repertoire. Carrying this intention with us, we’ll be peddling peace through community connectedness, through the celebration of culture and the sharing of culture through the act of collaborative music making.”