28 February 2023

How a fun choir in Goulburn makes huge impact on well-being

| John Thistleton
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Ben Scott (left) with some of the Vocalocal choir at the Hume Conservatorium. The group is hitting its straps after losing momentum during COVID-19. Photo: John Thistleton.

They are a mix of musicians and everyday men and women who don’t rate their talent as individuals, but are confidently polishing a growing repertoire as a Goulburn community choir.

Revelling in being “the fun choir” they arrive at the Hume Conservatorium each Tuesday night from various backgrounds, age groups and music skills.

In her 80s, having belonged to three choirs at different stages and taught at Goulburn Teachers College and the Hume Con, Nina Dougall said: “I still love it, I just love choir work.”

Another choir member, Melissa Shoard, loves doing something so joyful with a community-focussed group. “I’ve seen the massive impact it has on people’s well-being,” she said.

Daniel Hopperus-Buma joined when he was 26, and was until last year the youngest member. “I’ve been with these people for seven years and they all became like family,” he said.

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Hearing an audition wasn’t required nor was the ability to read music needed, Margaret Kendall joined in 2015. Everyone was non-judgemental about one another’s singing ability. “I’ve made some wonderful friends,” she said, reflecting on trips with her choir friends to Hobart, Blackheath and Wollongong music festivals.

When he was younger Brian Hudson played the trumpet and guitar until work monopolised his time. Now retired, he says the choir gave him a chance to resume performing with the security and support of other members. “I really enjoy singing, it’s an easy way to reconnect with performing,” he said.

New to Goulburn Deb Gifford came looking for social connection and found the choir really welcoming. “I would never sing on my own, I’m happy being an alto and standing at the back,” Deb said. “Being in front of an audience that is enjoying what you’re doing, now that’s a rush.”

Vocalocal’s co-directors are Ben Scott and Jenny McCarthy.

“It’s a hodgepodge of all sorts of people, it doesn’t matter the level of skill you are at, everyone belongs to it,” Ben said. He now has the Vocalocal choir singing across a broad range from 18th century music to Cold Play, some accompanied by pianist Jenny McCarthy and some unaccompanied.

“Twelve months ago we could not do unaccompanied work, it was just outside their mindset,” Ben said. “We grow and we learn together, we do a little bit of musicianship. For example, tonight I have this music (sheet) and am asking what does ‘tutti’ mean? Well it means ‘together’.”

Ben Scott

Ben Scott plays multiple instruments and puts an emphasis on fun each Tuesday evening at choir practice. He is also working with a smaller choir of more skilled singers, where rehearsals are more intense. Photo: John Thistleton.

Ben hopes the choir can resume attending music festivals like the one in Hobart in July that brings choirs from all over Australia and abroad. At Christmas the choir combined with the Hume Conservatorium’s rock band and string quartets to have 60 people on stage.

It’s always available to support events in the wider Goulburn community.

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Semi-formally trained with lots of energy and enthusiasm, Ben is at The Con from 6:30 pm to 8 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday nights with choirs and is a music director for a church in Sydney (as well as having a busy professional life as a pharmacist). He has always been a musician and multi-instrumentalist while Jenny is a qualified music teacher. “Compared to her I’m a bit of a hack, but have taken formal studies in piano and have been singing in choirs since I was in Year 2,” Ben said.

“I have derived great amounts of joy and fun over the years from choirs. I used to sing in all the schools spectaculars, I did stuff at the Opera House, I have done Messiah, St Matthew’s Passion, the whole Faure’ Requiem. I have done a whole lot of stuff where just being there is in itself a reward.”

He now has plans for a Faure’ Requiem this year, a beautiful piece of music but not outside the realms of abilities of modest musicians. He would like to see his niece who is a flautist of modest ability, participate. The opportunity for her to come and sit in with other professional musicians and to be part of something that is greater than the sum of individual parts is just phenomenal, he said.

Ben’s reward from leading rehearsals and organising the choir is creating opportunities and experiences where people can say, ‘Man, I’ve done a Messiah, I have knocked off Faure’ Requiem, I have sung at Christmas carols, I have been to Hobart’.

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