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.
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Hold the front page

Knowing how newspapers work on the inside, and sometimes wishing that I didn’t, it is a fair bet that all newspapers had two versions of Page One ready to run after the second State of Origin. It’s a hell of a tight deadline, with commercial television stringing it out so they can catch the morning audiences in the UK and stack the broadcast with as many ads as possible. The game didn’t start until 8.15, so it would have been tight going for rugby league writers to file their finished match reports.
Mind you, they are all seasoned pros who file rugby league reports under these sorts of conditions every week from February to September. They write to a formula so it isn’t high art, but they can come up with a pithy summary like this one, in Thursday’s Sunshine Coast Daily: “High shots, late hits, forearms and facials figured in almost every tackle as each side tried to gain a physical edge,” wrote Wayne Heming. Nice, although I can imagine my Canadian friends puzzling over “facials”. I can imagine Media Watch having a jolly time panning The Courier Mail’s consecutive front page splashes this week – on Wednesday (a maroon wrap around with just one word “Believe.”) On Thursday, Page One morphed into a breezy tribute to the Sunshine State, saying that the Blues (that’s New South Wales if you come from somewhere else), might have won their first State of Origin series in nine years, but Queenslanders are winners because we have better weather, better food and better lifestyle (than where?). Who knows what they would have done had something truly newsworthy occurred overnight, prompting a late Page One makeover. (Military junta takes control in New Zealand – Abbot repeals Howard’s gun laws).
The Courier-Mail’s first State of Origin game day edition was printed arse-about, with sport on the front page and news on the back. I was curious, as I don’t think I’d ever seen it done, so I turned to what would have been page three and there was the infamous picture of Kate Middleton, accidently showing a fair bit of leg, along with a non-story about the photographer having a pang of conscience and (almost) not selling the paparazzi shot of the year.
Crikey, what tosh, as my mate Lyn says. For another dollar fifty, we could have a coffee in the UpFront Club and read The Range News for nothing. At least then I can find out why Council is digging holes in my street and whether our hinterland bus service will last another year. Now that’s worth Page One around here.

Mining the Keating Reserves

We discovered a bottomless pit of Australian political history while mining data for this week’s Friday on My Mind. I searched “Paul Keating opens McArthur River Mine” because I could not remember the year it happened. What I found was a Federal Government archive of all speeches made by Australian prime ministers. I asked my trusty ideologue and research assistant Little Brother to plough this fallow field. He remarked: “Mate, that’ll be like pushing a barrow load of bricks along the Canning Stock Route.”
Paul Keating flew in the RAAF VIP jet to a tiny private airstrip at McArthur River, one of the early fly-in fly-out operations, to officiate at the mine opening in September 1995. He was welcomed by the then owners, Mt Isa Mines and a Japanese consortium (Nippon, Mitsui and Marubeni). Keating was asked to open the McArthur River zinc mine because the Commonwealth had made it possible, buying Bauhinia Downs cattle station and giving it to the Gurdanji people as part of a compensation package that included mining jobs.
The Feds also spent $6 million diverting the road around the Borroloola Aboriginal Community “to make this a much more pleasant project for them”. Zinc concentrate from McArthur River is transported by road to the company’s Bing Bong loading facility where it is loaded onto barges and transported to ships in the Gulf of Carpentaria. When I attended the opening, scribbling away in my notebook, promises were made about ensuring the trucks making the 100 km road trip would have their loads of zinc/lead concentrate covered and fully secured.
These days McArthur River mine is owned by international mining giant Glencore which like all such companies focuses on maximising volume and keeping production costs down.
Paul Keating’s 1995 speech made much of Australia’s then still powerful commercial relationship with Japan and made comparisons between the egalitarianism which existed in both countries. (Comments in parenthesis are by Little Brother)
“I would say to our colleagues in Japan, I hope they understand that when they deal with an Australian business, and I’m sure they do, that it is real and it will be here in five years or 10 years or 15 years (right so far, Paul) and that when you do business with Australia, you don’t wake up in the morning, some morning, to find a general in charge of the country, that it is the solid democracy, that our word matters (semi-colon) that you can litigate your interests here in our courts and like you (comma) we are a democracy and also like you we don’t have a two-tiered society. We used to have the remnants of our failed upper class, they have disappeared (oh yeah?), thankfully, into obscurity.”
Little Brother sighs: “That bloke could talk under wet cement.”
No doubt the articulate, quick-thinking Keating would have ad libbed his way through the prepared text. I do recall he did not tarry long at McArthur River, jetting off to another in a series of ribbon snippings to promote One Nation, (not to be confused with the right wing political party launched by Pauline Hanson in 1997). Keating’s One Nation was a programme of infrastructure works carried out from 1991 to 1996, including the single gauge rail from Brisbane to Perth via Melbourne and the Brisbane Airport international terminal.
I’d like to thank Paul for unwittingly providing me with fodder for Deadly Diary, all these years later, and for unwittingly participating in my song Paul Who, which satirises the (male) cult of personality. You have to say he was one of our more colourful PMs. Political life in Australia must indeed be dreary when brief TV interviews with Keating, Malcolm Fraser and even John Howard seem vital and perspicacious by comparison with the present lot.



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