MiCN Conference Brisbane (September 2010)
This article originally appeared in Music Forum (Vol 17 No 2, Autumn 2011) under the heading "Brains Trust for Community Leaders"
Early on a Saturday morning, the day before the MCA National Assembly, delegates for the Brisbane Music in Communities Conference gathered in the foyer of the Queensland Conservatorium along with a hundred or so two-and-a-half foot sugar plum fairies, ballerinas from a local school, providing a delightful if slightly surreal start to our conference.
Our group would make its dance with words. We were schoolteachers, leaders of brass bands, choirs, community and youth orchestras and other ensembles, representatives from ABODA and KMEIA. Typically for people in community music, most had not met before. To remind us of what binds us, we started with some actual music from the Redhill and Brookfield Community Choir.
Australia has a world first. The Sound Links research project has given us an invaluable tool for analysing the strengths and growth potential of community music groups. Hearing about it from researcher Dr Brydie-Leigh Bartleet was a great start for the day. Sound Links was a partnership between Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre and MCA. Check it out here!
Sound Links emphasises the importance of well-considered mutually beneficial partnerships in supporting the long-term viability of community music organizations. This theme of partnerships was to dominate discussions throughout the day.
If you want to see impressive lateral thinking in organising partnerships, go no further than the famous Beverley McAlister, convener of the Dandenong Ranges Music Council, DRMC (a winner of the 2008 MiC Awards). Which music organisation would think to pull in funding from the Country Fire Authority, the Shire of Yarra Ranges’ Environmental Education Division, Parks Victoria, the Upper Yarra Community Forest Project and Worawa Aboriginal College, as did DRMC’s ‘Fire Cycle Project’?
Bev’s close friend and colleague, Ray Yates (principal, Monbulk Primary School), gave a stirring presentation on how Monbulk Primary worked around the Building the Education Revolution (BER) school building scheme to deliver a beautiful, architect- designed, functional school and community arts centre.
In Canberra, Dr Susan West of Music Education Program at ANU showed the possibilities for university partnerships with community music organisations. There is advantage in avoiding the well-worn paths of arts funding.
The DRMC is an exemplary organisation that has found a way to build the musical life of an entire community. Another of this rare breed is Canberra’s aptly named Music for Everyone (2009 MiC Award winner). There is probably no more important principle in community music development than open and easy access to music making. Music for Everyone embodies this theme of accessibility and combines it with professional quality tuition and experiences. It is a great success story. Artistic Director Vivienne Winther says they have so filled the Ainslie Arts Centre, they pack programs into all hours and literally use broom closets for lessons where necessary. Inefficiency is not an option. Reconciliation of the objectives of accessibility and quality is achieved in interesting ways in the Redhill and Brookfield Community Choir). It is unauditioned but leader Rhonda Davidson-Irwin has strategies to enable excellence: for instance, innovative rehearsal timetables can enable those with less experience to rehearse more while those with full schedules have multiple rehearsal options.
A choir with a quite different agenda is the ‘Mixed Beans’ multicultural choir, led by John Rodriques and Cath Mundy. The choir is a social springboard for people isolated by lack of English skills and serves to help develop those English skills. Members bring songs and stories from their culture to incorporate in performance and inspiration is drawn from the backgrounds of each individual. The choir members shared stories and inspired us all with the joy of their performance.
Local councils can offer a wide range of support for community music organizations including funding, venues, publicity and more. However, this support is often offered performance by performance. Michelle Leonard, musical director, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus and director of the Moorambilla festival (a 2008 MiC Award winner) spoke of how to build long term partnerships with local councils by engaging with community strategic plans and candid direct lobbying to key decision makers.