What sort of state are you living in?

Consider Victoria. Victorians have a reputation for togetherness, doing things together. Having teams. Crowding into football stadiums. Drinking coffee. Breathing.

Making music.

They have a state-wide music organisation that helps people get together in their towns and neighbourhoods to sing or play music. The sorts of music they love. All welcome. It has FIVE HUNDRED such groups listed on its website. Unless you live in Victoria, we don’t think you have such an organisation. 

Wouldn’t it be a good thing?!

Music in Australia invited Community Music Victoria (CMVic) to tell us what it is all about.

First off, we are a small not-for-profit organisation based in Melbourne, and we’re all about encouraging and supporting active participatory music making – for everyone whatever their background or musical skills. We know from a wealth of research and experience that music making with others, whether singing or playing an instrument, is a fabulous way of building social connections and enhancing wellbeing, especially in communities that might not otherwise meet together frequently.

So what do we do to help bring this about?

Music and singing groups: The bedrock of community music is the existence of groups in local communities which are open and inviting for people to join, and which are easy to find. CMVic has some 500 such groups listed on our website, and we try to connect people up with groups in their local area. We also like to keep track of regions where there are fewer groups, and then target our energies to encourage the setting up of new ones in those areas.

Leaders: So how do groups start and how are they inclusive? The key to this is to have people out there who love to start and run groups! But leading a group can be intimidating initially, and requires practice and skill for the best experience for participants. CMVic has been in the business of developing leaders and music leadership skills for the last two decades and more. We run workshops where active leaders share their skills with potential new leaders; we develop written resources and notes to support leaders; we run online workshops on things like music software and technology; we have events where leaders share suitable songs and music; and we hook up new leaders who want to start a group with experienced ones who provide mentoring and support. All of our main past activities are listed on our website here.

What about reluctant participants? Every year we run at least two events aimed at people who don’t really think they could ever get involved in singing or music making. These mini-festivals include workshops run by leaders steeped in the inclusive and accessible values of CMVic that enable all skill levels to participate together, and often provide one-on-one Buddies-for-Beginners sessions for those who just can’t think how to get started. During 2020 and 2021 these events have been run online because of Covid lockdown restrictions, and it’s fascinating how many new faces we’ve seen on those Zoom screens! Many have said this is because they feel less exposed initially with their singing and instrument playing when they’re on a Zoom screen, but once started there’s no holding back with group playing.

Partnerships and Projects: As the peak body for community music in Victoria, we love to work with other organisations who want to use participatory music making as a platform for their own mission. Our website lists and provides details on some twenty projects over the last few years, all of which received funding from a wide variety of granting bodies, and the majority of which involved partnerships with other like minded organisations. CMVic brings a clear set of values to a project, together with project and financial management experience, and an extensive range of promotional channels as the project develops. We welcome ideas from individuals or organisations that relate to community music, and are delighted to work with them to develop these into viable projects, either as a full partner or to provide auspice from an incorporated association with DGR status.

SHOUT! No, you don’t have to, but CMVic does every month! Shout! is the name of our monthly eNewsletter that we send around to the many thousands on our growing mailing lists. We receive a great many items on news, workshops, and events from organisations and individuals who align themselves with community music and our values. These are all collected and classified and many people out there have come to rely on them. We actively update our Event page with listings from everyone who sends us relevant information, and this is all searchable online.

Advocacy: Whenever possible we endeavour to advocate for community music, including to state government, local government, philanthropic organisations, local community organisations, and any organisations whose mission includes wellbeing and social connectedness. We constantly look for research, articles and examples that demonstrate just how much value can be gained from active music making, and many of these are written up in our Blog – a full list of all 142 of these can be found here. And it’s astonishing the breadth and depth of impact that we’ve found across the world.

Where does our support come from? We currently have a core team of six part-time ‘Coordinators’ who together provide 1.2 FTE of paid support time. Funding for this comes in the form of a multi-year grant from Creative Victoria, one-off project grants, membership fees and donations. But equally important is the wonderful support we receive from volunteers who are passionate about community music with the fun and sense of wellbeing that comes from it. Volunteers contribute in many ways: sitting on various steering groups which advise on future activities; contributing to the running of events; helping us keep track of office administration, including the many email queries we receive, and maintaining our contact database; etc. And, of course, our paying members are hugely welcome, and they receive generous discounts on sales and events, as well as access to materials unavailable to non-members.

Regions and Networks: Some of our big plans at the moment involve reaching out to regions in Victoria that have little community music activity at present, but for which we have evidence of demand. A common feature of regions which have sustained activity is the existence of ongoing ‘networks’ – essentially community music activists who keep in regular touch through either physical or online meetings, where there is a continuous stream of new ideas responsive to local need, sharing of skills and repertoire, and mutual support during challenging periods such as Covid lockdowns. Our approach over this next phase of CMVic’s activity is to help establish more such networks in these other regions, and support them with the various skills and resources available through our Melbourne-based office and centre.Contact us: If there is anything that readers would like to follow up with, then please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can do this through the website or just by emailing us at info@cmvic.org.au. You can also look at membership options by going here: https://cmvic.org.au/membership

Oliver Hinton is CEO of Community Music Victoria

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