Since July last year, I’ve been working part-time on a narrative research project for the Spirit of the Streets Choir in Perth. The work continues, but finally we can see the end. The project involved collecting personal stories about the role the Choir plays in the lives of its members, and the production of a book to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Choir.
This project is an attempt to capture the elements which make mixed choirs so valuable in lives troubled by marginalisation caused by many different factors. Earlier research on the benefits of singing for vulnerable people was completed in the form of a literature search by Curtin University.
At the first meeting of the book management committee, I was given a book, a model. With the title, Recovery Stories: a celebration of lived experience, recovery and hope, it was produced by the Western Australian Association for Mental Health. The blurb states it is a collection of true stories (in 42 pages) told by the participants of their 2016 Recovery Stories Project. This book is available for sale as a coffee table book and as a printable ebook
The management committee asked me to facilitate some writing groups and then gather some stories. Publish them. End of story.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘what could be hard about that?’
Being an old hand at working within, and with, small organisations, I sketched out and distributed an action plan. Tasks, personnel, dates went across the top as well as lists of actions to be completed. It covered everything from start to launch and distribution. Step by step, the project would unfold, beginning with decision-making about the scope and size of the book and the number of stories we would aim for. Twenty would be wonderful, the committee said.
But we didn’t count on the Spirit of the Streets Choir and the project took longer than planned. That amazing bunch of people, their board and the book committee waxed enthusiastic about the narrative research project. That’s about a hundred people. The project became known as ‘The Book’. Everyone was interested. They all wanted their book to be the best ever. My responsibility: to make it happen.
We ran six writing groups for people who wanted to write their own stories. Then another six sessions. Skilled volunteers agreed to help people write. I interviewed people in coffee shops and in the hall where we meet for rehearsals. And in a car. I met wonderful men and women whose lives had been full of hardship and angst. We laughed. And sang. Always, the singing at rehearsals and gigs.
Volunteer photographers produced photos to illustrate the book. They sent them in batches. Sometimes thirty at a time. Once or twice, over seventy in a folder. At the same time, I mastered One Drive as a way to transmit photos, but my head often reeled.
I edited words, wrote and then rewrote. I edited photos. My family and friends supported the project throughout.
What is in the narrative research project book?
The manuscript plumped out with eighty stories from present and past members. Some people contributed songs and poetry. Audience members provided comments. Dr Christine Choo, also a historian, wrote a comprehensive history of the Choir from its early days.
Sometimes I lost control of the project, but hopefully not of my good-humour. We ran over time. The cover is being redesigned as I write. But production is under way at Stone’s Publishing. The launch date is set, and the program planned.
What a wonderful, wacky nine months of work. I’ve planned, coordinated, edited and moulded this book. Now it feels almost like a pregnancy because I’m so impatient to see the finished book.
Stay tuned for the cover reveal and announcement about the launch.