Rehearsal day, and I’m hanging out for it. I can’t believe this! I’m no singer yet I’m looking forward to singing.
It’s been a tough week. John and I have had heavy colds and John had an appointment with a skin specialist for day surgery. The surgery was successful, but he’s been left with a dressing stuck to his hair and a sore head.
My appointment with Centrelink to explain my earnings, yet again, has left me frustrated and angry. I’ve spent an hour standing and sitting in queues. Somehow, I don’t think they encourage recipients of aged pensions to work.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, yesterday was the day our almost brand new National Broadband Network connection crashed. Again. There’s an ongoing fault, thanks to the ancient copper line that connects our house to the fibre-to-node at the end of the street.
I’m over not having the internet because it meant I could not post a blog. No way to communicate with people I’m working with. No stories flying backwards and forwards. But then I remember, some days are like that, even in Timbucktoo, as my family says. We quote from a favourite book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Voirst. And, I suppose, some weeks are also like that.
But now it’s Tuesday, and a pleasant relief. It’s rehearsal day for the Spirit of the Streets Choir. The SOSC employed me to lead a narrative research project and I’m collecting stories from the members of the choir. Attending rehearsals is part of my job description.
I’ve arranged to meet Julia at midday. Hers is another amazing story. I’ve heard some of it when she introduced a song at a gig. Her journey has been painful, which is why I’ve offered some support while she writes. So many of the stories I’m recording are sad, but on rehearsal day, an outsider couldn’t tell.
We sit in a corner of the large, echoing hall. Already, two volunteers have arrived. They talk softly as they set out plates of home-made fare and put cups and coffee, tea and milk, on the counter by the urn, which has not yet begun to boil.
Two people drift into the hall and the volunteers smile and greet each by name and offer tea and coffee. Others follow. Soon, from my vantage point I can see little groups grow. The gathering seems somehow organic, as if it is meant to be. The group splits and pairs form, a bright kaleidoscope. Soon ten or twelve people sit at tables or lean against the wall in earnest conversation, friends reconnecting. Two people laugh. Someone wipes away a tear.
Julia is engrossed in her writing. She pauses, chews the end of her pen, and writes again, energetically. She’s not concerned with what’s happening around us. Occasionally she pauses long enough to tell me something about what she has written.
As more people arrive and the noise ramps up, she abandons her task, tired from the emotional effort, and ready for a break. I’m happy to have another draft story ready for typing.
Later I will stand next to her when we sing. Her beautiful, powerful voice will make excellent cover for my attempts at following the rest of the Choir.
The hall fills rapidly now. People meet and greet. There are hugs, some kisses, hearty shoulder slaps. A newcomer receives a warm reception. Bob arrives in a maxi-taxi. The driver guides his wheel-chair onto the verandah. Several people with carers are among the last to arrive.
Bass-player Devo and percussionist Sally set up their instruments. Musical Director Bernard Carney and Eleanor Carney arrive. Stevo, the Roadie, finishes setting up the equipment.
There were seventy people here last week. About the same today. There’s colour, movement and noise until Bernard stands in front of the gathering, guitar in hand. The Choir warms up under his direction and scrutiny.
‘That’s my favourite part of the Choir,’ someone told me earlier this week. ‘I love the exercises on rehearsal day.
It’s time to relax tense neck and shoulder muscles, stretch and warm up vocal cords. Simple old-fashioned songs follow. We sing rounds, all part of the process. Today a young woman steps into the centre of the circle and dances slowly at first. A young man follows her and they dance together. Others join them. A few people clap. No one minds. This choir is open to expressions of whatever emotions arise.
The serious business of rehearsal for upcoming gigs begins. We sing. Bernard explains, repeats phrases, encourages.
Here are some reasons why I enjoy rehearsal day
- I can sing. No one here cares about my voice.
- I love the colour, movement, people.
- There’s plenty of reputable research that shows singing, especially with others, is good for everyone. Singing releases the hug-hormone, oxytocin. It reduces stress. I am not immune from these effects.
- The Spirit of the Streets Choir is inclusive of everyone, regardless of ability or disability, gender, race or age. Grey-haired and arthritic, I belong.
- Perhaps I’ve been underemployed, not creatively involved for too long. That has changed now I’m again employed.
The choir rehearses every Tuesday afternoon in St Alban’s Church Hall, Beaufort Street, Highgate. Everyone is welcome.
If you are looking for a special treat, the Spirit of the Streets Choir will perform at the Mandurah Proms 2016 at 3.00 pm on Sunday 18 September. More information here.