Over a period of six weeks, 25 strangers came together each Monday evening at the Leongatha Memorial Hall to learn 12 songs from a body of works crafted by Mama Kin Spender from their ARIA-nominated album, Golden Magnetic These new choristers challenged themselves and created mellifluous magic as part of the Sound of Your Town initiative.
Each of the newly recruited singers was a rough instrument in the hands of South Gippsland professional musician and choir master Jenny Taylor as she built up their confidence in no time.
For several of the recruits, they were aware of Mama Kin (Danielle Caruana) as the wife of roots and jam musician John Butler. For most, this was the first time to listen to her rousing lyrics, let alone stand on stage and perform blues and roots songs alongside this transcendent artists.
The Sound of Your Town is Regional Arts Victoria’s (RAV) initiative, supported by the South Gipps-land Shire Council, to create a local choir, known as the ‘Six Week Singers’, through the guidance of Jenny, choir master Virginia Bott, Mama Kin and her bandmate Tommy ‘Dingo’ Spender.
This project was put together by the artists and Arts Officer Mary Sullivan in under two months from audition, choir selection and rehearsals, before culminating in a sold-out show at the Leongatha Memorial Hall on Friday October 28.
Even the South Gippsland Shire Mayor Mohya Davies and husband John dived in to be part of the group, despite a lack of previous choir experience.
In essence, The Sound of Your Town is a gift by the award-winning artists to communities around Australia who share that, “What we do is conjure tiny acts of hope; tiny acts of generosity, which is mind-blowingly magical.” Mama Kin shares that, “They get to be witness to a community making a leap for themselves.”
Trust is one of the program’s most palpable outcomes. From an online audition process, to willingly requesting that not all applicants be experienced, to facilitating a space where all ages and genders co-exist: the singers would only step onto the stage for the first time just two nights before the live show.
Jenny shared that the selection process was second to none. Some singers were selected on their ability, but others because they could benefit from the uplifting nature of the project, which was the perfect recipe for improving members’ wellbeing. “Mama Kin’s lyrics are fluid, sensitive and much more intricate than they appear. She stands tall and plays tom drums along-side Dingo on guitar. Two days before the show, I hand over the choir to Virginia, who completes their trio for the project, and I’ll step into the choir among them as a singer too.”
On the Friday night, moments before going on stage, the choir formed a circle together. With Dingo’s guitar strumming, golden robes shimmering, tears and emotions worn plainly for all to see and feel, they linked arms, closed the circle and began to sing in honour of the travelling artists that had assisted them, but above all for that piece of themselves that had come alive.
A sense of healing and deep-hearted connection to community have been by far the most echoed response by the Six Week Singers when discussing the project.
One participant shared, “I am generally a glass half-full person, but I was in a funk after working in palliative care through Covid. Singing is better than any anti-depressant. I am on a high. I’ve got to sing now!”
Another explained, “Singing takes me back and forth, it’s rhythmic, it’s my medicine,” and “Singing transcends anxiety. It’s a transporting experience.”
The late British neurologist and author Oliver Sacks has detailed the powerful benefits of music, “Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation ... and there is, finally, a deep and mysterious paradox here for while such music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time.”
The Sound of Your Town not only delivered on its promise of making a leap together, but brought a sense of hope and freedom to an entire audience. In Leongatha on that rainy Friday night, as Mama Kin and Dingo stood on chairs in the middle of the audience, they invited us all to be adventurous and surrender to the healing magic of our own voices.
The Six Week Singers are a wonderful outcome of the Regional Arts Victoria (RAV) initiative, The Sound of Your Town, that was supported by Mama Kin Spender and the South Gippsland Shire Council.
Gippslandia - Issue No. 25
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