“It’s like a second family.”
Every week, Francesca Natalia joins forces with singers of all ages and backgrounds to fill a Mirrabooka community house with music.
She is part of With One Voice Mirrabooka, an all-inclusive choir which does far more than bring people together to sing.
The choir is helping overcome social isolation and foster relationships in the heart of one of Western Australia’s most diverse areas.
Ms Natalia was born in Indonesia and has lived in Perth for about 12 years.
“It’s not hard to find a friend, but a good friend is hard to find,” she said.
“[The choir] brings me joy, it’s good for my sanity … and we help each other in times of need.”
‘You don’t have to know English to be here’
Sudbury Community House manages the choir as part of the Social Inclusion Mirrabooka network — a group of organisations including the local council, health service and high school.
“In one of the meetings, we were talking about social isolation and loneliness, mental health issues, and one of the strategies that came out of that was the choir,” Sudbury Community House chief executive Virginia Aden said.
Ms Aden was tasked with applying for seed funding from charity Creativity Australia.
In 2019, Mirrabooka joined the ranks of more than 20 ‘With One Voice’ choirs around the country.
“I think singing and music is a universal language — you don’t have to know English to be here,” Ms Aden said.
“And that’s what we do, when we invite everyone — all faiths, all cultures, all religions, all ages, all abilities.”
From Hollywood to Mirrabooka
Mirrabooka’s fledgling community choir caught the eye of Martin Meader.
Mr Meader co-wrote and co-produced ‘Paradise Road’, a 1997 Hollywood film starring Glenn Close and Cate Blanchett, which told the story of prisoners of war singing to survive their time in captivity.
Ever since, his life has revolved around choirs.
“After [Paradise Road] someone rang me up and said ‘we heard you’re starting a choir’, I said ‘no, no’,” Mr Meader said.
“Somebody else rang up and said the same thing.
“Finally, someone rang up and said ‘would you like to start a choir?’ And I thought ‘well, that’s a calling’.”
Mr Meader’s projects have gone on to include 1,000-people strong choirs for the Perth International Arts Festival, travelling to the United States to establish a choir in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and running numerous choirs around Perth.
He is also the musical director at With One Voice Mirrabooka.
“A lot of people think they can’t sing, they’re told by their teachers and their friends and their family they can’t sing, which is rubbish,” he said.
Bonds beyond the songs
After rehearsal, choir members share a meal together.
It’s all hands on deck in the kitchen to serve up supper, with noodles, samosas, falafel and more awaiting hungry singers.
“They love my spring rolls, they always say I’m the spring roll queen,” retiree Florence Ong said.
“There’s some Burmese people, people from Peru — I’m from Singapore, and we cook Malaysian-Chinese food.
“It’s the food that really makes us mingle among everyone.”
Over dinner, the choir also works on a ‘wish list’ to help each other beyond the walls of the community house.
Last year, that even meant helping a member find work after they lost their job amid COVID-19 pressures.
“Anybody who comes along to the choir, if they’ve got something going on in their life they need a bit of assistance with, there’s generally somebody within the group who can help them with that,” coordinator Barry O’Sullivan said.
‘Everyone’s really accepting’
Honey Forbes, 12, is the choir’s youngest member and has been part of the group for about one year.
“At first when I was there, it was like ‘argh, what do I do, I don’t know anyone’,” she said.
“So I was kind of clinging to mum.
“But everyone’s really accepting and now I feel like I’m part of the group.”
Pauline Richards said the choir opened doors to a new group of friends.
“The people here are lovely,” she said.
“Give it a try … I know it’s hard to start off, but you start with the first step — you’ve got to leave your house.”
Needs unmet at the front line
Working on the front line of local services at Sudbury Community House day to day, Ms Aden said she could see more was required to support the diverse community.
“You look at the mental health issues and you think about what we are funded for and what we can and cannot do — there are lots of gaps,” she said.
But the doors of the Mirrabooka choir are open to everyone — and they welcome every new face.
“People who have never sung before are coming in here and when we’re all together, that’s what brings harmony,” Ms Aden said.
“It’s like anything in life, isn’t it?
“Collectively, you’re stronger.”
Source: Thanks msn.com