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11 July 2007

Choir Man


COLIN SLATER: I don't think there was anything like this kind of approach in Australia when I was trying to develop Sing Australia. I think most choirs, even little country choirs, were auditioned, and so there wasn't this broad encouragement of singing.

I think that any form of singing in Australia is elitist in a lot of ways. Mainly because of this audition process and the fact that you have to be really good... and by the way I'm very supportive of that kind of singing. I mean that was my background. If you're going to sing opera you have to sing it really well and you have to be in tune and etc., etc.. And there's some wonderful more professionally orientated choirs. I'm totally supportive of those.

But there's got to be room for the rest of people. To feel that singing is a natural expression. And so I came about developing a concept where you would make singing very accessible and friendly and inclusive, and inviting, encouraging, happy so that not only through becoming involved in singing people could friendship and support .. encourage them to feel really good about themselves.

Well, Sing Australia began in an unusual way in many respects. I was on a Churchill Fellowship in Italy, studying in a beautiful little village called Asolo, north of Venice, with one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, Tito Gobbi. But I wasn't sure that that was really what I wanted to do.

So, while I was thinking about this during this fantastic workshop I came up with an idea that seemed to fit me very well that was to come back to Australia and find a way of encouraging people to sing; teach them Australian songs, teach them a whole lot of songs. Most Australians really do not know many songs!

It started by me working with some rugby guys at Royals Rugby Club. And it was the perfect way to start it. To get blokes to sing - it is very hard - and they think they can't sing but I get them to go something like...DAY-OH... DAY-AY-AY-OH... DAYLIGHT COME AND ME WANNA GO HOME... and so you ask the blokes to sing that and it's as if it's like not a song! It's like some tribal sort of chant and they will do that.
So, we just started to advertise in towns that I was going to run a workshop and encourage people to sing. If you like singing, come to the workshop, don't worry about anything and let's see what we can do.

An opportunity came up to go across to Griffith to sing at a wine festival. And a lady over there said "I like what you're having! Can we have a workshop here?" and I said I'll come over there in the next few weeks. I got over there and only 5 people turned up to that workshop. Next time I went back there was 30 or 40 people in the choir, and that choir now has a membership of about 60, 70 people.
Built into encouraging everybody to sing is tolerance, and understanding and support and friendship, all those terrific things. So, with the overseas singing that we've done, we have become a kind of ambassadors of song.
We've been to Turkey twice now, to include singing at Gallipoli, the ceremonies at Gallipoli. They've been really powerful experiences for our members. Last year we took 100 singers to that for the 90th anniversary. That was very significant and wonderful. They love the way we sing their anthem. We put a lot of time in to making sure our pronunciations are about right, and they are very proud that we do that. We go and sing in their schools, and teach them some songs and things like that.

So it was really wonderful to take the fulfilment of the idea back to where it was first conceived, there seems to be quite a meaning in that.

And we're going to try and build a permanent relationship between Sing Australia and the people of Asolo, and the township of Asolo. To the point where, my understanding is that the Mayor of that town is now going to give us a reception in the town hall, which is fantastic.

Sing Australia has meant an enormous amount to me. As a young person I was always searching. Music was important to me. And I was always searching for an avenue for that music to be expressed.

But in my heart of hearts, the thing that I loved most was my contact with people. Really , right down to face to face contact with people and I felt that through Sing Australia my music can be something that's uplifting for people.
It's such a joy. The greatest joy I have is to see people enjoying themselves. And just being themselves. And feeling they can just be themselves. Because through that, they become more confident, and they can become more effective in their home life and in their work and all sorts of things.

So personally, music has always been very emotional to me. To talk about Sing Australia, and to talk about Tito Gobbi I find extremely emotional. Because it's involved a lot of hard work and commitment and there's been a lot of trials and tribulations along the way because nothing is ever straightforward. But it has just been an amazing expression of myself. I feel that I've come up with an idea that actually is me and I call it Sing Australia. I get a bit chokey on sort of stuff.