Would I come to
Nambucca Heads with Carol and Catherine in January while Carol ran a
course in Creative Writing or would I stay home alone through the baking
days? Clearly Camp Creative would be a fest for vegetarian sandal wearers
studying Zen or High Wire Monocycling for Beginners. I would stay home
accompanying the air conditioner and avoid the crowds of macrobiotic
And one was there,
a stripling on a small and weedy beast
When a splendid
prospectus came by mail I had just a peek . . . and I kept returning to
the same page.
Now, I used to
believe that Dreams were the "Royal Road to the Unconscious" but
I had come to the view that it was Music that was the true road and the
Singing Voice could at times have a direct line to the Soul with its
surprise of feelings.
In '93 1 had joined
with forty men in the Central Coast Barbershop Chorus and slowly my voice
had been able to sing notes in tune with others. After four years I was
still a leaner one who needed a surer singer close by.
and exciting, was there. What if I went on this singing course for Savvy
Singers without letting on. Perhaps I could come back as a really
strong singer (and, sotto voce, amaze everyone!).
The course was a five-day one for
average singers who would be taught how to sing off the page. Wow!
Frank Partridge VC
People were pegging
tents on the school oval, campervan drivers were looking for the shadiest
level spot. Classrooms were converted into dorms. Hundreds of people were
wandering around with maps finding where the thirty-seven courses were to
be held. The new High School had opened its gates to the students and the
great gymnasium became the men's dorm at night.
begetter" of all this, Bill Lockley, wandered about giving help
wherever he was needed but letting things take their course. Erik Erikson
wrote that in Old Age we have two choices; Generativity versus Despair and
I take Generativity to mean a generous creativity connecting you to
others. Twelve years before, the retired Lockley had plumped for
Generativity in a big way and set up courses for kids and adults within a
framework of concerts and get-togethers. This was Camp Creative number
There'll be some
changes made today
I put away the
kaftan and straw hat and adopted North Coast Uniform of baseball cap,
sunnies, polo shirt worn outside, baggy board shorts and sandals. With my
water bottle and nonchalant air I approached the classroom for Savvy
Singers. At least I'd be attending a course where not too much would
be expected unlike the elite Choral Kings who, under the direction
of Isabel Atcheson of the much toured and recorded Isabella A Capella
would be presenting a Full Liturgical Work in a Public Concert.
But the courses for
the timid had collapsed. I was now in the elite Choral Kings and
presented with a 72 page score Antonio Vivaldi, Gloria, for
solo voices, mixed chorus in four parts and orchestra.
Wait Till the
Sun Shines, Nellie where are you now? At least Vivaldi had got it
right with four parts. Perhaps he was an ancient Barbershopper singing
lead with off-duty gondolieri by a leaning striped pole as the waters of
the Grand Canal softly lapped the stones. But had I arrived at the Palace
of The Inquisition?
Maestro Laudamus Te
played through the accompaniment at scalding speed. As I began to know
more about her I realised that she was in direct line of succession from
the Red Priest himself. Leaving a North Coast farm she had been educated
at the famed Mercy Convent in Grafton but having her music practice
lessons from the Reverend Mother of the large Mercy Orphanage. Here the
hundred boys and girls all sang in the Orphanage choir. Perhaps Isabel's
passion for Choral work began then. I discovered that nothing is known of
Antonio as a Barbershopper but he had written much of his music for the
orphan girls very well cared for in an Orphanage in Venice. It seemed that
somehow Vivaldi's flame had been passed on directly to this very room
filled with 48 singers and the Maestro and her Assistant Musical Director
Let's Face the
Music and Dance
elaborate tuning up by pitch pipe the singers were brought into tune
merely by a ping of a note on the piano. This was new to me but of course
there was accompaniment to keep these singers in pitch whereas Barbershop
heroes have to do it all by themselves.
singers were into water bottles to keep the voice moist. They did
visualisations to relax their minds and bodies. Brian Martin conducted
intricate body percussion exercises with six groups all with different
clapping and body slapping rhythms working against each other for a great
effect. I began to feel very humble about rhythm and to have a greater
sense of rhythm within my own body. Composers like Vivaldi would be
wonderful dancers. They write moments and milliseconds down on paper
giving us the plan of a living clock of rhythm. In Barbershop the rhythm
is not a great worry it's mostly steady you come in on the first
beat of the bar. Here's Vivaldi bringing us in on the second beat, start
counting, try and get the beat into your thick skull. Try to count I
lose it every time.
Each day I go home
exhausted. It isn't the heat. It's the mind trying to take it all in
the pitch of the black dot on the page, how long to sing on that black
dot, listen, see, take it in to learn it, watch Isabel, tune in to the
other parts. Is all this too much to ask?
Barbershop Chords Ring
Isabel shows us the
chords moving, how Vivaldi is raising the chords, building up tension and
then resolving into peace. "This is the crunch chord." I
could taste the chords. One note would change and there would follow a
flavour so rare, a perfume in the chord and in the next chord a new magic.
This was just like good Barbershop singing this was getting to the
And Isabel was
heaping out praise. Like our Barbershop Musical Director she was positive
about effort there was no time spent on searching out who might be
singing a wrong note. Which was just as well for me.
In survival mode
after the shock of not being in a beginner's group I had sussed out who of
the ten basses was most likely to be able to make sense of 72 pages of
music. I was soon seated beside Richard and Alan who were skilled singers
and who were tolerant souls. Like a boy on a bicycle I grabbed hold of the
side of a truck and prepared to go over the mountain pass ahead.
We were seated as
we learned. Isabel threatened to tread on any foot that was not flat on
the floor. Our trunks were to be kept upright so our breathing from the
diaphragm would be unhindered. What a great idea for our chorus to adopt
as at our weekly practice we often stand on risers for ninety minutes. A
number of our keenest singers are in their seventies and we have enough
members with two artificial knees to make up a quartet known as "The
Each afternoon a
swim at Shelly Beach helped mental recovery and so I had enough energy to
go to THE BASH, the one big Camp Creative event where traditionally the
bravest campers let their hair down and perform their own original little
acts for everyone.
Carry On Camping
It was crowded and
hot in the Hall. I'd left my glasses, curses, but I could make out the
performers fairly well. First up was a Shakespearean ham, gesticulating
and dissolving the walls of Harfleur with his spittle when my eyes
focussed I saw clearly Charlie Hawtrey who, of course retired to the North
Coast years ago. A fulsome soprano creamily delivered Bali Hai
and Hattie Jacques, for it was she who graciously acknowledged roses flung
onto the stage. A comedian told a tale called My Dog Named Sex and
when he leered at the audience yes it was it was Sid James. Just
what you'd expect of Sid.
Perhaps the most
talented camper was the thin fussy man, the chap who'd thrown red roses at
Hattie and who'd been shouting "Bravo!" and
"Magnificent!". He was upset, very huffy about the off colour
nature of the earlier performer. He asked if anyone in the audience would
give him five or six musical notes to start him off. A chap sang a little
tune and with a haughty air the pianist began to play, improvising
brilliantly on this theme from Smith or Jones. I thought only Beethoven or
Mozart was allowed to be able to create an instant concerto with wonderful
harmony and bravura passages. Then I realised that seated at the keyboard
was none other than Kenneth Williams who can do anything at all.
I spent a lot of
money buying raffle tickets from that bright young woman in the sweater. I
think her name was Barbara Windsor. I kept going back for more.
If you haven't got
a penny a ha'penny will do
There were no
stringed instruments to be found on the North Coast. It being the middle
of summer they had all gone on holidays.
Isabel went to
work. She found two teenagers, one with a sax and one with a trumpet. An
organist was located. Brian Martin pressed a button and his keyboard
became a harpsichord. Then a double bass arrived, followed by a drummer
from a rock band and a rock guitarist with a 1000-watt amplifier! The
Chorus was in terror of that amplifier.
On the inside of
the music looking out
At last the
performance before a large crowd in the Catholic Church at Nambucca. There
are twelve stations on the line from Gloria in Excelsis Deo to Cum
Santo Spiritu. I do not want to fall off the train but when Isabel
re-arranges the Choir on the altar steps and Richard and Alan are moved to
the other side I feel I am about to go. Somehow I sidle and ingratiate
around to connect with my friends' timing and pitch. Our Maestro has tamed
the rock musos with a baton not a whip. At rehearsal the choir was
thrilled with the accuracy and beauty of the two soloists.
With Vivaldi's Wake
Up and Listen to Me! beginning and its wonderful attack of rhythmical
hiccups we are away. Soon I am in the music it is within me in a way
that has never happened before. I am a chord that keeps changing.
At the end, with
the audience standing, I see tears on Carol's face while Catherine who
loves only Spice Girls looks lost. I know that Vivaldi has lived again
through us and it is a triumph.
After the Ball is
In the city I found
a CD of Gloria and bought my own copy of the score. I listen to the
music and think of the experience I had. Back at Barbershop practice I
think I am a bit better at looking at a score especially in counting
and I think my ear for harmony has improved. I have more confidence.
Next year will we
go to Camp Creative? I hope so. To learn from such a teacher, be part of
the group and to, once again, have the chance of being just inside the
music looking out.
(Isabella A Capella
is recorded by Larrikin. Camp
Creative's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)