Singing for peace and harmony

Tapestry June 2014
Tapestry, Maleny

We were 200-strong and asked to sing Salaam (Peace will come upon us), written in both Hebrew and Arabic. Singers from 10 community choirs had been taking part in the annual Sunshine Coast Choral Festival, this year held at the Kawana Community Centre. All choirs had been sent the dots for the two songs we were to sing together, and everyone was assumed to have done much work on the finale, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Conductor Kim Kirkman (right), who also directed three choirs, said after our second run-through at morning rehearsal: “Some of you need the music! So either watch me, or read the music.”
The day began with a combined choir rehearsal, bending to the will of directors, some wanting us to “feel the music” (as in a song about Nelson Mandela and the aforementioned Salaam), while Kim Kirkman wanted precision, pitch and breath support for the high (and low) notes in the Hallelujah Chorus.
Doors opened at 1.30, the punters streamed in and pretty soon all 500 seats were taken. Each choir was introduced by celebrity MC Louise Kennedy, a much-experienced opera singer who briefly terrified judges in Australia’s Got Talent with her comedic take on the dark art of opera. The show got off to a terrific start with the Oriana junior choir, golden-voiced children of various ages who showed why the Oriana adult choir has become such a good group. As an audience stacked with singers, we yelled and hooted and applauded as loudly as possible for every group.
Just before interval, it was time for Louise Kennedy’s unique take on opera, turning the Queen of the Night Vengeance aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute into an hysterical, slapstick story about a menopausal chook. You had to be there.
The second half went by in a blur – our choir, Tapestry, was on last, so stage nerves were building. We had to quietly thread our way out of the auditorium while the choir before us was walking on stage. Then we gathered back stage for a pantomime warm-up, remembering all of our cues, what to do and not to do when the song is over. All the things we’ve been rehearsing every Tuesday for months. In the end it was all over in a heartbeat. We sang three short pieces – Mozart’s Ave Verum, Till There was You from The Music Man and that old ear worm of a tune, Java Jive. The audience clamoured, as they’d been doing all day. Our director made sure we all bowed at the right time and off we went, with just enough time to shed our gold brocade scarves, catch a breath then head back on stage for the massed choir performance.
That too went by in a blur, but I do remember the bliss on the face of Yvonne Coratorphin, who led Mosh Ben Ari’s song Salaam, as we all shared in that mysterious connection, perhaps thinking about the resurgent troubles in Iraq as the song reached its crescendo – Salaam (live performance by New World Rhythm).
Singing for joyful good health
While I’ve been appreciating music since Santa put a harmonica in my stocking when I was eight years old, I was well into my 50s before I joined a community choir. In the intervening years I eventually got over chronic stage fright and started performing, first in a jug band, then a bush band, then a band which played my own songs, then as a duo with my partner and as a solo singer/songwriter.
I thank Brian Martin for helping to transform the shy boy, who had to be quiet after school because father the baker was sleeping, into someone who is able to sing out loud. Brian Martin runs The Joy of Singing at Camp Creative, held in Bellingen in January (Brian and Imogen Wolf also run a winter camp there in July).
Brian’s approach is that everyone can sing and everyone should. After attending this class a few times, I have witnessed a few miraculous things. Many people seriously feel as if they want to sing, they should sing, but something has held them back, usually a bad experience at school, their aspirations crushed by unthinking, unfeeling idiots, sometimes known as mates or parents. Brian somehow manages to coax even the most fear-paralysed person, to voluntarily stand in the centre of the room surrounded by 39 other people who are all feeling the love. It is indeed a joy to hear this person finally sing out, alone, jumping over the fear barrier and joining the world of those who can’t get enough of the endorphins released by the joy of singing.
If only more blokes would join mixed choirs. A survey of 200 choirs by Communities Australia found that only 30% of mixed choir members are males. Tenors are hard to come by and many choir directors assign women to the tenor part. I’ve always been a tenor, but as a self-taught guitarist and singer-songwriter I’d have to say that stage nerves and a lack of practice and technique did not always produce a pretty sound. Now, after seven years of singing with a choir, I understand so much more about breathing, body awareness, communicating with an audience and blending my voice with others.
The teacher at our primary school who doubled as music mistress had a none-too subtle method of hand-picking a choir. Everyone in the class would stand in rows and start singing. She would then walk along the front of each row with her head inclined, listening, listening. People would be plucked from the group and made them go outside and run around the oval until the lesson was over. As I recall, there were many so plucked, their dreams of being another Elvis nipped in the bud. I was never thus plucked, although I did try singing tunelessly, in a bid to join my mates running around the oval. Teacher would whack me behind the knee with a long ruler and say, “Sing properly! I know you can.”
A natural musical ear is a gift, I know that now. You get it from your parents, grandparents, or some distant relative who used to be an opera singer or played the trombone in a jazz band. One ought not to waste such a gift. If you have such an ear, and a good sense of pitch and rhythm, you can be an asset to a community choir.
You will make new friends, learn a lot about music and about yourself. I prescribe singing as a way of improving your quality of life and mental health: take daily with a glass of water.
Friday on My Mind is published by Bob & Laurel Wilson Consulting Pty Ltd. See our privacy policy and disclaimer at www.bobwords.com.au

 

Every story deserves a picture

Winton sunset
Winton sunset by Laurel Wilson

Other people at the Winton caravan park were trying to get the same sunset photo of a horse in a paddock. I took a few with my Iphone but none were as good as the one taken by Laurel Wilson. Our mate Giulio Saggin, photo editor for ABC online, wrote and asked if he could include it in the audience submitted photos section of the website. Flattering as that may be, news organisations who offer this kind of “exposure” do not pay their contributors. Our local paper the Sunshine Coast Daily publishes a reader’s picture Monday to Saturday. Same deal, you get the byline and the thrill of seeing your work in print, but sorry, no cash.

As we noted in an earlier column, there are 31 million mobile phones in Australia and all have cameras, some rivalling the most expensive digital cameras. If you are first on the scene at an accident or newsworthy event, your Iphone photo will be on page 3 tomorrow or even in today’s online edition. You may or may not get paid.

News photography is not the life-time career it once was and the smart snappers figured that out years ago, drifting off into photo-journalism, free-lancing, specialisation and book publishing. The aforementioned Giulio Saggin is one such entrepreneurial snapper. His evocative book So I Did captures black and white images of everyone who gave him a lift on a hitch-hiking trip around Australia in 1998. Giulio has done a few other things since then. His current gig as photo editor for ABC, is a classic case of a job that did not exist 10 years ago.
Back in 1995 I was among a small contingent of journalists flown to Mt Isa, Darwin and eventually, to Borroloola in the Northern Territory and next day to the McArthur River mine, which was due to be officially opened by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. I remember this well, as it was my first ever taste of the top end (it took 12 hours to get there by commercial airliner, private jets and a bus).

The miners put on an NT barbie with buffalo, kangaroo, crocodile and barramundi and they opened the wet canteen for the regulation couple of hours. There I met an unusual character, a fiercely independent free-lance photographer who clocked up huge mileages every year taking assignment-specific and what the trade calls “stock” photos around the top end. He was constantly on the road, this bloke, saving news media outlets the hideous expense of sending photographers from Sydney or Melbourne on an outback assignment.
Who knows what this enterprising fellow is doing now, but clearly his business model will have changed. Recent developments suggest that all news organisations, Fairfax in particular, plan to lay off full-time photographers and rely more on agencies and the few determined free-lancers still in the game. There is just too much competition and the agencies that pay have all but given up the fight to chase people republishing material in blogs and on Facebook without permission or attribution.
The BBC reported in March this year that Getty Images, the world’s largest photo agency, would release up to 35 million photos free to use. This move, said to be an effort to combat piracy, infuriated professionals who have been submitting their work to Getty for years.
Photography journalist Daniela Bowker told the BBC News website her Twitter feed lit up as angry photographers vented their feelings.
“They feel very strongly about that because photographers don’t work for free and they don’t work for exposure.”
“But at the same time, the genie is out of the bottle. There are so many images that are being shared and liked and tweeted and clicked on.”
Getty will continue to charge “commercial users” like news outlets, televisions stations and advertisers, to use images. But some images may never be used commercially and the photographers who took them will never get paid.
Maleny photographer Steve Swayne has taken some stunning pictures of the outback on his lengthy tours. He says it is now too difficult to make a living taking photographs.
“About two years ago the image agency I use (Getty Images) radically changed their royalty policies and now the income that used to be up to $700 for a photo for use in advertising has diminished to a few dollars per image.

“The proliferation of good DSLR cameras means that millions of people have the gear and are willing to sell their photos for a few dollars due to the flattery angle as much as anything. Lots of agencies now scour the internet to find suitable photos and then they approach the photographer to use the original full sized image.”
Some former newspaper journalists I keep in touch with occasionally get ticked off with the whole business to the point where they vocalise on Facebook. The most recent kerfuffle was when Tennis Australia opened up opportunities for “volunteers” to take photographs during the two-week Australian Open. A special Facebook page was set up “Tennis Australia – pay your photographers” which attracted 967 “likes.” Tennis Australia (no doubt horrified by the Facebook outrage), issued a statement which described their initiative as more of a way of encouraging an army of young photographers to gain high level experience and that (of course) TA would continue to employ professional photographers.
Dr Sabrina Caldwell,  thinks professional photographers are in the same position as someone reapplying for their own job.
“They have to show that they can create better things than others. They need an edge not just over others, but over who they once were.”

Tandem Surfers – photo by Jon Toogood

I took my brother-in-law Jon to Kings Beach Caloundra when he was over here from Canadia. We were watching a couple doing a tandem surfing exhibition for a television crew. While Jon got a couple of great photos with a telephoto lens, what interested us was the film crew’s remote-controlled helicopter camera. Anyone can buy one of these helicopters for as little as $160 (you also need one of those tiny sports cameras and attach it to the chopper). Of course you can pay thousands for sophisticated models which come with 20 megapixel cameras. Whatever the level, it is demonstrably cheaper and easier to take aerial photos and video using a remote-controlled drone than it is to commission a professional aerial photographer.

As for the privacy issues…well, that’s a topic for another Friday

 

 

Fixing your PC with a hairdryer

“I look at clouds from both sides now” Joni Mitchell

The thing about my generation is we expect things to last for years, if not decades. My 12-year-old laptop, for example, has recently gone to a good home for a parcel of bunyas (more about that later). The new laptop, meanwhile, bosses me about, telling me to back up data in the cloud, wherever that is. The why of that appears to be based on the need to keep a retrievable copy of all your irreplaceable photos, videos, and music in the likely event your cheap new laptop, tablet or PC blows a fuse. Most of the computer-savvy people I know buy a portable hard drive from the Post Office and back up their own data. Then they will spend countless hours tweaking, customising, and nursing their computers along into the old age they were never designed to have. The wastemakers have been at this game for a long time, and the constantly evolving world of computers and consumer goods has delivered a highly profitable new generation of planned obsolescence.
So no surprise to learn I’m patiently waiting for the next Fixit Café (a fortnightly community effort in our village), to yet again repair our ancient lawn mower. This time it needs a perished fuel line replaced (I paid $3 for the part). Last time a Fixit Cafe volunteer replaced the mower’s broken starter cord ($4 for a length of cord). The time before that the front wheels fell off. I took the mower to a repair shop. The bloke looked at me like I was an impractical folk musician with long fingernails. “Mate,’ he said. “It’s not worth fixing.” I looked up petrol mowers on Google and decided I didn’t need to pay $700 to mow a garage-sized piece of lawn every three weeks or so. I tied the front wheels on with fencing wire and carried on regardless. It reminded me of the time I took the then new-ish mower in for a service in Brisbane. The mechanic looked in the oil reservoir then looked at me as if I had just played the first two bars of Duelling Banjos: “Mate, there’s no oil in here! It’s a wonder it was working at all.”
Dear old mower, with your fist-sized rust holes, wired-up wheels and blue smoke. I’m sure the friendly folk at the Fixit Café will do the right thing by you.
The Fixit Café is a concept started in Amsterdam, with the primary aim of making things last longer and sending less garbage to landfill. We go along to the Community Centre every second Thursday with our broken stuff, pay $5 and wait for a volunteer to fix it.
Around the same time as the mower cord broke, I was having this weird problem with my desktop computer. The bloody thing is only six years old! Most mornings it would not power up (although the green power light on the back was flashing). I found the solution on an HP support site.
The best way to fix this problem, they said, was to get a hair dryer and blow warm air into the power vent for a few minutes. (It may not work for you, but it worked for me). The only issue was when She Who Reads Newspapers wanted to use the hairdryer.
Eventually I accepted that I would have to replace the desktop with something more reliable. The local computer shop had a new laptop for $849. My first laptop (the one mentioned at the outset), cost $3360 in 2002. The $849 version has 8GB of RAM, a 2GB video card, 750GB of hard drive storage, card readers and other stuff that no-one understands except Geek Boys (and girls).
IT equipment and accessories are now very cheap, but don’t expect anything to last. They are being assembled at warp speed in offshore sweatshops by poor people earning $1 an hour. The young guy in the computer shop told me that while laptops are getting cheaper all the time, they don’t last. He seemed genuinely amazed that my old laptop was still working (on Windows XP). The battery died, so I kept it plugged in all the time. The keyboard was also dead so I used a $20 USB keyboard. The fan no longer worked so I bought one of those USB fan bases for $20 and no longer got the message that the cooling system had failed and to shut down the machine and return it to the authorised dealer. Whatever.
So I bought the $849 laptop, stapled the receipt to the 12-month warranty and retired the old desktop PC to the music studio (it just needed a new power supply unit). Then I decided to let go of the XP laptop, which happily coincided with a local LETS (Local Energy Transfer System) market. LETS is a local, not-for-profit community enterprise that records transactions of members exchanging goods and services by using LETS Credits (known as ‘bunyas’ in The Village). So the 2002 laptop went to a good home for 50 bunyas, which I plan to “spend” by employing a young person to mow my lawns (using the old mower, soon to be resurrected by the Fixit Café).
This will give me time to confront the daunting nature of Windows 7 (“at least you didn’t get Windows 8”) I hear you say. Times have moved on since Windows 98 and XP. Computer users are encouraged to trust people they don’t know who live who knows where to store all of their confidential files, contact lists, photos, videos, audio files and so on in anonymous data banks located, well, somewhere.
Many of us do this already without realising. Like on Facebook, where we post photos, videos, audio clips and inane or inflammatory comments that are stored off-site for what may end up being a very long time. Far too many of us have our confidential banking details stored in the cloud. If the recent hacking of Ebay was not a warning sign I don’t know what is.
Like it or not, we are all enslaved to this brilliantly flawed technology – its makers rolling out new versions and updates so fast it makes planned obsolescence seem obsolete. I’ll bet that when the late Vance Packard wrote The Waste Makers in 1960 he was probably not thinking it would still be around 54 years later – in paperback and ebook!
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Housing in the new millenium

 

Palm St farmhouse (2)My old mate Kev the Carpenter was apt to say, “If a house was meant to be moved, it would have wheels.” That witticism from decades gone by came back with a rush when I found a note in the letter box from house movers informing us that the original farm house in our street would be moved off the land at midnight. I walked down to the end of our street and sure enough, half the house was perched on the back of a semi-trailer, ready to roll, with the other half on a trailer, still on the land where it had sat for many years, but also ready to go. The owner of the land, who has donated the house to a worthy cause, is developing a small, sustainable estate. We did not get up at midnight to see the house off, but our fond wishes to whoever lives there in the future (once they put the two halves together again).

At least this house will be re-used and continue to give people shelter and succour for years to come. In our larger capital cities, developers think nothing of blithely knocking down a perfectly sound two-bedroom cottage on a large block to replace it with two or more, two-level concrete boxes, each of which will sell for more than the developer paid for the original property. This is called “infill” in the trade, and it is happening anywhere local Councils will allow subdivision of standard residential housing allotments. Not that we live in the past, here at the desk of Friday on My Mind, but we fondly remember when the great Australasian home owner’s dream meant an older, timber house on a quarter acre lot (or section, as they say in Aotearoa). There would usually be an ancient orchard, a half-falling-down garage, a laundry with a copper, two concrete tubs with a mangle and a long drop toilet out the back, covered in passionfruit and morning glory.
In 2014, your typical master-planned estate on the outskirts of capital cities now crams four properties into a quarter acre (1011 square metres) block. In the 20 or so years this trend has been evolving, some property owners have made a motza subdividing large suburban blocks and then parlaying their profits into a bigger, better home or one or more investment properties.
As we enter the second year of record low interest rates and rising prices, property investors are piling back into the market. A Roy Morgan Research survey found that the number of Australians with an investment property loan increased 37% to 1.31 million between March 2010 and 2014. The number of Australians with an owner-occupied home loan increased just 4% to 4.83 million over the same period.
A lot is said in the mainstream media about housing affordability and whether it is worse now than it ever was. It isn’t, according to the Housing Industry Association. But it will always be an issue for people who borrow 100% of the value of their new home, only to see interest rates start to rise.
This is a hot topic. Michael Janda’s ABC article “Home buyer beware: the illusion of affordability” generated 42 pages of online comments. Janda says the “bipolar commentary” about affordability is particularly confusing for first home buyers. He astutely notes that while aspiring home owners earned 2.5% to 4% in interest while saving for a deposit, the average home price rose 10% in just 12 months.
The Housing Industry Association (its members build houses), said yesterday that affordability was at its best in 12 years – cold comfort for those living under the 30/40 rule. If your mortgage (or rent), is costing you more than a third of your income, you will start to suffer housing stress. The situation is more dire for those on low incomes. The Australian Housing and Research Institute (AHURI) calls it the 30/40 rule, in which housing affordability stress is most acute for those earning in the bottom 40% of the income range and paying over 30% (sometimes up to 50%) of their income on rent or home re-payments. University academics Ernest Healy and Bob Birrell writing for The Conversation  say the 2011 Census revealed that a third of younger households were paying more than 30% of their household income on mortgage repayments.
In case you had been living in a cave on Great Barrier Island for the last few decades, negative gearing (introduced in 1985), allows property investors to run their rental home/s at a loss (two thirds of them do just that), claiming tax deductions for all manner of inputs. So little wonder the number of rental properties is growing. AHURI estimates that some 4.5 million people live in private rental accommodation (23% of households). These numbers are expected to grow as more young people abandon the notion of owning property.
AHURI researcher Judy Yates says affordability problems began 30 to 40 years ago when inflation switched the focus on housing from providing shelter security to providing wealth security. This structural change was exacerbated by changes in to capital gains tax in1986 which favoured owner-occupiers and CGT tax changes in 1999 favouring investors.
Healy and Birrell say the ranks of property investors have surged since changes to Self Managed Superannuation Fund (SMSF) rules in 2007. Regulators changed the rules to allow investors to borrow through their SMSFs to finance a property investment using negative gearing.
Whatever else happens, don’t expect the Federal Government to do anything meaningful about housing affordability. Too many potential votes would be lost.
On the other side of the Abbot-proof fence that separates the haves from the have-nots, embattled tycoon Nathan Tinkler is reportedly selling his sprawling ranch at Pullenvale in Brisbane’s western suburbs.
News.com.au reported that agents have fielded offers of $3 million for the mansion; well below what is wanted (the spread was bought for $5.2 million in 2007). Photos of this property on realestate.com.au suggest that prospective buyers will probably need to hire a couple of gardeners to maintain the 4ha of land, or at the very least, buy a reliable mower.
Down in the Village, someone has tacked a “mower wanted” sign on a noticeboard (“Will pay Bunyas”). Thinks: perhaps I can upgrade to the $99 electric mower I saw in a hardware store?

Next week: More about mowers, bunyas and things that don’t last.