15 September 2022

Bittersweet Symphony

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Shelley Jones leading the choir.

It’s a warm, spring afternoon. Gradually, nervous harmonies give way to a strong, co-ordinated chorus. There’s so much more to this song, and this group, than the music.

Now several weeks in, the Finding Your Voice – Women’s Community Choir at Junction’s Hackham Community Centre is building rhythm.

The initiative comprises 28 women aged between 20 and 70. The group, which meets every Friday, includes participants from a range of cultures and backgrounds.

However, it’s their individual stories and experiences of family and domestic violence which brings them together.

“From the first week where it was very quiet, to now, it’s quite amazing to hear women go from whispering to singingly loudly and really proudly,” Hackham Community Centre Team Leader Tammy Elvin said.

“We have one woman who comes all the way from the other side of town. She’s hardly spoken at all but on Friday she got up and sang a traditional song from her home country in her own language. We all had goosebumps.”

Led by local artist, performer and self-care facilitator Shelley Jones, the group is focussing on sharing stories, learning songs, and understanding how to use their voice.

“Finding your voice is a metaphor for finding yourself."

“There’s a really collaborative approach to choosing the songs – music that means something to the women,” Shelley said.

Tammy adds: “When Shelley wasn’t there one week a couple of women stood up and led the group. They were nervous at first, but they did such a terrific job.”

Finding Your Voice has been made possible through a grant from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Local Drug Action Team. With a strong focus on early intervention and prevention, Tammy said the program was about the individual but also, the broader community.

“Research tells us women who have experienced dv are more likely to engage in risky behaviour like drugs and alcohol,” she said.

“We developed the program, so it is focussed on building capacity and relationships not just for the women attending but their children, extended family, and the whole community. It’s not just about managing risk but unlocking opportunity. There is so much potential here among this group and within these people.

“More than anything we’re seeing women recognising their own strengths and resilience and feeling more confident to face their challenges and fears."

“The vision for this choir is for it to be sustainable – community owned and supported. It’s a platform for these women to continue to grow and evolve. It’s clear they will also carry messaging around domestic violence and abuse and creating awareness about the issue wherever they sing.”

The short-term goal, however, is a concert on Sunday, November 27 at the Old Noarlunga Institute Hall from 1-3pm.

“The concert will be a wonderful celebration,” Tammy said. “It’s a bit of a journey and the songs will very much tell the stories from ‘this is where we’ve been’ to ‘this is where we are’.”

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