Community choirs both lift the spirit and forge bonds, as conductor Bridget a'Beckett explains of her choir, Footscray Sings, ahead of a big combined concert
The joy to be had from singing your heart out is infectious, cathartic and healing all at once. That’s something soprano and entrepreneur Tania de Jong – who launched Creativity Australia – understands. Her non-profit organisation is dedicated to bringing about social and economical change. The 13 choirs of its With One Voice programme are a testament to this.
Bridget a’Beckett is the conductor of the Footscray Sings choir, who rehearse every Thursday evening at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. Joining requires a tax-deductable donation, and no experience is necessary. At the moment they're 25 members strong, but hope to reach 60 by the end of the year.
Having grown up around music, a’Beckett found that in adulthood she started craving that sense of community that playing or singing together can bring. “I was doing my own music for years and I ended up not enjoying that process,” she says. “I wasn’t getting the joy out of it and I felt that there was a competition for work. So I pulled back from everything and shifted my focus. I realised how much community was a drawcard for me.”
As a’Beckett points out, Footscray is home to people of every background, and opportunity. “We have some people that are unemployed and on pensions and some that are in very good positions. I love seeing these unlikely friendships blossom and the confidence that it gives both parties.”
It’s obvious a’Beckett has a great fondness for the choir members, and each has their own story; from Michelle, who is recovering from an acquired brain injury and finds the choir helps with her memory and language skills; to Ros, full of energy and always ready to welcome newcomers; and Neil, who claps to his own rhythm. They support and help each other out, and the rehearsal Time Out attends is filled with lots of laughter, spontaneous tap-dancing, and supper. The choir sang at a’Beckett’s own wedding last year – something she’s very proud of, and nominates as one of her favourite With One Voice moments.
Footscray Sings’ ongoing project is ‘Sing Your Story’, a celebration of Footscray’s diversity. “It’s about building our profile and trying to build our numbers so the choir replicates the diversity of Footscray,” a’Beckett explains. “What’s lovely is that it’s so open and friendly; the perfect place for a real mix of cultures to create that sense of belonging.”
There will be a Sing Your Story concert in November, but in the meantime, all of Victoria's 12 With One Voice choirs, from Ashburton to Frankston, will combine in September for the annual With One BIG Voice concert – that’s 300 voices singing in unison, along with the Sydney Sings choir.