Tag Archives: Vocal Nosh

‘Come and Sing’ in Stawell

“At 7pm on a night in the dead of winter, there’s often nobody but me in the room.  As people come in they’ll say ‘ah there’s only three of us tonight’, then a fourth person turns up and there’s five… By 7:20pm, there’ll usually be eight of us and I’ll joke with them all – but it’s true – that I made this group, because I want to sing, and even if nobody else ever turned up, I’d still stand there and sing!”

It’s been twenty years since community singing leader, Dianne Stewart, made the move to Stawell in the shimmering Wimmera region of Victoria. Dianne relocated from Bendigo, via the Northern Territory: “I did my Grade 6 AMEB in Alice Springs at a time when they’d never had anybody do a voice exam there before, which was interesting. I come from the City of Bendigo which has this huge musical and choral culture, and I moved to Stawell where there was a two-act musical performance once a year which then disappeared. The state musical theatre wasn’t my background and it wasn’t my thing, but it was the only thing that was sitting in town that I could access, and I wanted to sing!”

Dianne approached Stawell Performing Arts Company (SPACi) and asked them about the possibility of creating a singing group or choir in the town. “They said if you put something to it, we can put something together so I spent the next year doing research and connected with CMVic back when Fay White was doing the Vocal Nosh stuff. Fay came to the Grampians to do some work around bushfire recovery and I went to a workshop she was running and I got some lovely feedback from people.”

Receiving the encouragement to ‘just start it and step out’ made Dianne feel a Stawell-based singing group of her own was possible if she adopted the Vocal Nosh model and set it up as a singing circle. Which is exactly what she did.

“I put the proposal to SPACi, told them this was what I wanted to do, how it would run and why it would work really well for them.” Dianne then started the Come and Sing  group and it’s been running ever since.”

“I’d never led a group before, never been a singing leader at all. I’d been a singer in a choir and a voice student, but I’d never run a group, it was all very new to me. I don’t play the piano and I didn’t feel I could do the kind of things I’d been involved with in the past because my choir leader and singing leaders had all played the piano and had been the accompanist as well, but I couldn’t do that… “

Attendance to Come and Sing is very relaxed with no expectation for singers to attend every week. “It’s come as you like; come each week, or just when you can – pay as you go, and there’s only a very small payment each week because it allows access to more people. I’ve done a lot of work with SPACi around people’s capacity to pay. We’ll probably have between 8 and 15, sometimes 16 or 17 people through the door. The ages range from a couple of senior high school students (and their dads come as well) all the way through to people in their 80s.”

Dianne finds the geography of the Western District of Victoria can make connecting up with other leaders and attending events something of a challenge: “Trying to build and connect with anything past Ballarat is more difficult because of the distance.  I see what Community Music Victoria is doing and a lot of the time the workshops are not accessible for me because of the distances involved.”

To stay up to date with professional development and for support in her singing leadership, Dianne seeks out resources and ‘stuff’ she can access online and in her own time at weekends. Despite the tyranny of distance, Dianne’s a member of several organisations including CMVic and the Singing Teachers Association, and these connections to the larger network give her the incentive to work at creating and making more of the community in which she lives.

“It brings me great joy. It’s the connection with other people and the community.”

“We always tell people come and see what we do, try it out, if we are your tribe, if we are your thing then you’ll continue to come, and if we’re not, then that’s ok too. The group is called Come and Sing because it’s for anybody at all who walks through the door who just wants to sing.”

Because Come and Sing sits within SPACi, for some people trying out for shows is a way to build skills and try bigger things. Being part of Come and Sing’s weekly sessions builds their capacity to prepare for the auditions which are a requirement of taking part in a rehearsed show. “They can choose to do that, or not. Quite a lot of our Come and Sing singers aren’t interested in doing that, but others are.”

“SPACi also runs a junior program which is very much a musical theatre program, and the kids who grow out of that tend to come and sing in the group, but being in the country, those kids usually move on and leave the community. “We don’t tend to get that 20 to 30 age group because they’ve moved elsewhere or gone to university and we work with that. I think we attract the people who are interested and we attract the people who want to do what we want to do!”

Dianne is happy to share the role of leader and enjoys encouraging anyone keen to have a go. “I always say if anybody comes along with better skills than me I’d be really happy to sit down and participate or if somebody else would like to step up and lead, I’ll be very happy to learn from them.”

“…As a leader, at the end of the day it’s good to keep reminding yourself that what you’re providing wouldn’t be there if you weren’t.”

By Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, with big thanks to Dianne Stewart.

Come and Sing meet on Wednesday evenings, 7-8:30pm; 52 Wakeham Street, Stawell, Victoria, Australia. For info, contact Dianne Stewart: 0427850278

Euroa loves singing for its supper: Di Mackrell and the enduring appeal of Vocal Nosh

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!”

Vocal Nosh
Di Mackrell, Margie Chowanetz, Nosh guest Jane Coker, and Chris Day. The cake was to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Euroa Vocal Nosh.

 

** 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.