15 May 2023

Bridge to Sing's music that gives you a morning, golden and true

| John Thistleton
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woman with guitar

Bridge to Sing Choir musical director Clare Jones uses music to give people the confidence to join a big group of other people and build their confidence to sing out loud. Photo: John Thistleton.

A musician who discovered the wonders of music therapy when she was in her teens in Wagga Wagga, Clare Jones never followed through on her interest until she came to Goulburn.

In her new home town, getting to know the staff at the Crescent School, which supports students with intellectual disabilities, Clare played the piano for a singalong. This quickly turned into a weekly music group for each of the classes, which led to a music therapist visiting and talking to Clare.

“I was really inspired at that point to return to study and do music therapy,” she said, reflecting on the importance of music for the students’ creative self-expression and wellbeing.

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Studying online the University of Melbourne’s Master of Music Therapy, she covered the psychology underlining music therapy, counselling and music techniques.

“We had to learn about the different client groups we might be working with – some in the disability sector, in autism, aged care, and the neonatal unit with premature babies,” Clare said.

She attended the university for practical lessons and completed hands-on training in Goulburn, Sydney, the Southern Highlands and Canberra, where she worked in a dementia unit.

“The power of music to stimulate memories for someone with dementia is really quite an amazing thing to watch,” she said, recalling a client.

“The woman was in advanced stages of dementia and outwardly didn’t give any appearance of being aware of what was happening around her.

“But there was a time when we played the right music for her, where she started to talk and reminisce, and after the song finished, she kept talking and reminiscing for a couple of minutes.”

At the Crescent School as a registered music therapist, Clare was seeing students who had been involved in music discontinue singing when they left year 12.

With the help of money from the Country Arts Support program, the Bridge to Sing Choir was formed as a stepping stone for people to build their confidence. Then Mulwaree Council took it on as a project to ensure it continued and Clare became its musical director.

“The aims now are to provide an opportunity for people to come together in a really joyful and supportive community space and make music together, to feel well and express themselves musically and build community connections,” Clare said.

While the outbreak of COVID-19 restricted the choir to Zoom sessions, strong friendships held the group together through punishing months of isolation that threatened those with underlying health challenges.

Clare recounts the excitement when restrictions were lifted on choirs performing together.

“There were people in the room that were moved to tears to be back together and singing again,” she said.

Bridge to Sing now has 20 to 25 members. Some join by Zoom from Crookwell, Griffith and Queensland, learning movement, Auslan Signbank and trying their hand on percussion instruments.

“There is always a spare guitar and ukulele if people want to try,” Clare said.

From teenagers to seniors in their 70s, choristers are learning teamwork, developing their communication and social skills, overcoming anxiety and enjoying the health benefits of breathing deeply, stretching the body and stimulating memory.

“The deep breathing sends oxygen around your body and into your brain and it can lower your blood pressure and all sorts of things,” Clare said.

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Clare and volunteer musicians who join in see the choir’s confidence grow.

“We give everyone an opportunity to perform a solo,” she said. “Some people really love to sing their solo, but for others it is leading some movement in the group and that kind of thing.

“When we did our performance in November last year, everybody had an opportunity to have a song of their choice and they would be the centre stage.”

Among their favourite songs are John Lennon’s Imagine and the soundtrack from Babe, If I Had Words.

If I had words

To make a day for you

I’d sing you one morning

Golden and true

“You can change your mood really profoundly by putting on the right song to listen to,” said Clare, who has collaborated with occupational and speech therapists.

The choir has moved to the Hume Conservatorium and Clare hopes this will bring more opportunities for performances and open rehearsals when family and community members can come along and sing.

Her choristers may even join the community choir, or take up lessons and help spread the joy of music.

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