› Amberley Awakening by Matthew Phillips03/Dec/2018
They say that music can rejuvenate the soul, and that was what I was hoping for on Saturday 10th November as I arrived in leafy Amberley on a beautiful sunny morning. I had been struggling with my own emotional demons the day before so I was hoping to find my centre; my support again. Perhaps music could reorganise my brain’s foggy neural connections again into something clearer?
After the standard check-ins for new arrivals (most people had stayed over from the Friday welcome event the previous evening), all attendees gathered in the Banksia Room for an acknowledgement to country, welcomes, warm ups and an innovative “Body Percussion” musical game led by Jane York and Nicki Johnson. It was a great way to meet some new people and to experience the unnerving sensation of speaking a simple repeated chant while engaging our bodies in a series of percussive movements. Think of the frustration you get trying to pat the top of your head while rubbing your belly, and you get the idea. It was fun, fast and quite furious! Well done Jane and Nicki for waking us up and energising us all into a frenzy!
After morning tea, we divided into three groups based on our chosen segment and I stayed in the Banksia Room to meet the “Voices of Peace” a vibrant Assyrian singing group who taught us a few songs based on stories and poetic verse from their beautiful ancient culture. Sarah Mandie facilitated this session with help from Salam Dankha who sings in Voices of Peace. It was a privilege to hear Salam and other choir members provide personal experiences about how their words and rhythms led to the creation of new songs. Despite personal hardship, isolation and in some cases social exclusion, the community networks created by the Assyrian women have been an invaluable support mechanism for them, and the Voices of Peace Project has clearly added an extra layer to this community by giving them the means to express their ideas, history and poetry through the medium of music. The session ended with an impromptu Assyrian dance lesson in a large circle with the Assyrian women teaching us their familiar tongue-cry “lel-lel-lel-lel-lel” sound. As someone with classical vocal experience, these guys really know how to use their diaphragms well to support their sound!!!
After a lunch break, which was a great way to network and meet some new attendees (I sat down to lunch with some new Assyrian choir friends!), I chose another break out session in the Banksia Room. This time, it was Laura Brearley facilitating her “Come to the River” session, (see below) with the support of Nicki Johnson and the unexpected input from a new attendee for the day – a respected musician and pillar within the Maori community, Arnold Tihema. The session was intensely powerful, and encouraged participants to understand and more deeply respect the songs and cultures of first nation people, culminating in a trip to the nearby river (Birrarung) to actually listen and sing to Country. There were tears, tingles and the quiet, respectful acknowledgement of a beautiful experience shared.
The next afternoon session was back with the full group and the amazingly talented Jessie Vintila taught us to sing an original Massed Song called “Every Dollar” about the importance of fair trade purchases for consumers. It was fun, informative, challenging and very engaging. Wait for some amazing video footage from this event!
Following a delicious roast dinner evening meal, Emily Hayes facilitated the launch of the evening Soul Party, which had an Aretha Franklin musical theme. There were amazing solos as well as ensemble pieces to be heard. We again had the chance to listen to the amazing voice of Arnold Tihema. Gee, can that man sing with all of his heart and soul!!!! Musical instruments were played and impromptu jam sessions entailed around the soul theme. It was a chance for everyone to unwind, have a drink, collaborate and close off an amazing day. We all felt uplifted, invigorated, inspired and loved.
Once again, the Amberley music event had delivered – no majorly exceeded – my expectations. I once again felt good about the world because my sense of local community, through music, had weaved its magic!
Matthew Phillips is the Treasurer of Community Music Victoria and a regular and highly valued member of the Volunteer Office team.