Raising your Voice in Song by Steve Bell
During the 2017 instalment of Queensland Music Festival, the You’re the Voice project culminated in a mass choral performance of that iconic Australian anthem at South Bank Piazza, encouraging Australians to come together in song to take a stand against the scourge of domestic violence.
In excess of 2,500 choralists – led by Choral Director Dr Jonathan Welch AM and featuring the voice of John Farnham himself, as well as other stars including Queensland Music Festival Artistic Director Katie Noonan and Kate Ceberano – joined forces in a display that transcended its obvious artistic triumph and became something much more, a galvanising display of empathy, unity and solidarity.
Now that same team is reuniting to bring the Help is on its Way initiative to the 2019 Queensland Music Festival, enlisting legendary Australian artist Glenn Shorrock to help foster a national dialogue around mental health, raising awareness of available services and encouraging help-seeking behaviours, particularly for our men and boys.
“You’re the Voice really did open a dialogue,” explains Festival Producer Pip Boyce. “It resonated at the time with the media because the issues were newsworthy, but it was certainly an impactful activity too for many of the participants, who found themselves in a community and surrounded by people who validated their experience and allowed them to explore other options and in many cases talk about it for the first time."
“There’s a lot of research talking about the neuroscience of singing and the benefits of singing together in a group: your hearts start beating as one, it raises your endorphin levels and it just makes you feel good."
“But also by being in that environment people make connections and friendships and develop a support network for each other which eases that sense of social isolation, something that can so often trigger mental health issues.”
Dr Welch – who will once again be front and centre conducting the mass choir at Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre – is no stranger to the inherent benefits of such communal experiences, having helped found the world-famous The Choir Of Hard Knocks in Melbourne back in 2006.
“I was involved with the You’re the Voice project in 2017 which was an amazing initiative and quite ground-breaking in many ways in Australia,” he reflects.
“This new project came out of conversations with Katie off the back of You’re the Voice, we were talking about the success of that project and John Farnham coming to be involved, and I thought the song itself captured everyone’s imagination because it was so well-known and iconic.
“So Help is on its Way was a natural next choice because it’s again an iconic Australian song and Glenn Shorrock is from Little River Band who were an iconic group, so following that model it just seemed natural for this project to support and further using music as a way of highlighting how being able to talk about these issues is very important to mental health.
“That conversation about men’s mental health is very important in Australia and something that I felt very strongly about. I think the statistics about male suicide in Australia for men aged between 15 and 45 – and especially in Queensland with all of the hardships facing farmers like drought and isolation – is something that we need to take very, very seriously.
“Music, for me, has always been the way I’ve made sense of the world, and I feel that projects like Help is on its Way can bring people together and let them feel that they have some sense of connection and support and community through the simple act of singing together.”
Help is on its Way adds an extra altruistic component in that Glenn Shorrock and his band will also be conducting a tour of outback Queensland, with each performance culminating in a choral rendition of the titular song featuring local voices.
Queensland artist Emma Dean – who spearheads Brisbane community choir Cheep Trill and arranged You’re the Voice and Help is on its Way for the project – can’t wait to get out amongst the regional communities.
“The healing qualities of just getting together and singing in harmony is actually profound,” she explains. “The deeper I go into investigating the stories of the people in my choir and why they’ve reached this point in their life, the more I discover that we are just longing to find a place of belonging.
“I feel like men – in general, but especially in those country towns – are taught that it’s not manly to talk about your feelings, and I think this song particularly speaks to those men: the lyrics really resonate.
“And getting them to join a choir and breaking down that idea that being in a choir has certain connotations about masculinity, when in reality it’s just about having fun and forging connections and tapping into the joy of music.”
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