Editor’s note: Due to space limitation a shorter version of this article appears in the printed edition of Otway Life Almanac 2018 and we now have the pleasure in posting the full article and more photos – article written by Louise Brown
“Introducing OMM Rock Choir and the Songs of Freedom Concert”
Ray Charles once said that “music is about the only thing left that people don’t fight over”
In March 2012, Louise Brown and a small team of friend’s including Lisa Jarvis and Jane Gorman, put together a community music concert featuring the many talents of local residents…OMM Rock Choir was born. This first ever performance occurred at the Deans Marsh Festival on a tiered stage set up on a bare playing field in the Marsh. It involved a 130-strong choir of novice participants as well as an orchestra made up of 40 (closet) musicians and percussionists. It was enjoyed by a delighted audience of more than 1,000 seated on straw bales in the open air. This is all in a rural hamlet of South Western Victoria, population a little over 400…
Six years later, OMM Rock Choir is still with us, continuing to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together to sing and make music. To date, hundreds of adults and children have joined OMM and performed on stage to sing and add their voices to the Choir and percussion group. Performing artists include children from the Deans Marsh, Birregurra, Forrest and Beeac Primary Schools, as well as talented residents from 9 regional towns across Colac Otway and Surf Coast Shire. OMM’s focus has not only been to sing but also to give a voice to minority groups from within the region and integrate them into the broader community through a series of workshops and live performance. Music has finally become an accepted part of culture in this part of the world (just like football and cricket) and with the ever-evolving OMM Choir, its participants have realized that they have an opportunity to come together and use their combined voices for the greater good.
As some of you may be well aware, OMM Rock Choir and the local community has been busy over the last two years raising funds to stage an event which aims to bring greater awareness of the plight of newly arrived migrants and people seeking asylum. Aptly titled the ‘Songs of Freedom Concert’, it will involve 200 local participants culminating in a large-scale music and drumming performance at the Deans Marsh Festival on 25th Mar 2018 (Cultural Diversity Week). This project is a local initiative where the community will have the opportunity to use their voice to promote harmony, acceptance and support for those in need. It will also provide a platform for our community and newly arrived refugees to the region to establish connections and come together and sing for a cause.
With the current political upheavals as well as the unprecedented numbers of displaced people in the world today, we feel that we as a Community Choir must open our eyes to the needs of the world in compassion and solidarity. We cannot believe in a new humanity unless we begin with ourselves… at home and in our community, our region. Tired of waiting for our elected leaders to find the moral courage to make the right decisions, it is now time to use our combined voices to take a stand for those people who are being mistreated in our name. Let us try to turn the eyes of the world onto the activities of the Australian government on Manus Island and Nauru in the hope that they will be forced to release the refugees to New Zealand who have offered them refuge from our brutality. Better still, let us change our cruel policies of indefinite detention and treat these long suffering people as we would hope to be treated ourselves.
It is a known fact that the people trapped on Nauru and Manus Island are still enduring endless suffering, fear and trauma. The ‘Songs of Freedom’ project is not about politics or parties. It is not about which cause is better or more important or deserving. This is about standing for what is right. There is currently a humanitarian crisis happening on our watch which must be addressed and brought to light. Our government has a hideous policy of keeping people in offshore detention for unbelievable lengths of time. This is an ongoing tragedy and a gross injustice to people who have done no wrong. This ongoing saga will surely go down in history as another shameful act committed by the Australian Government alongside other dark chapters incl. the stolen generation. For too long our elected leaders have been hiding behind a veil of secrecy (that we have allowed them to impose on it)… they are relying on people not to speak out. Together with the community, OMM Rock Choir has decided to stand up to this brutal practice and make some noise!
Locally, we wish to bridge the widening cultural gap that exists in our towns and to celebrate our diversity and the common thread we all share as a people. Globally, this is all about coming together and taking a stand for those who have no voice!
It is a way of expressing our thoughts and feelings on important issues and trying to do something about it. It also aims to use the collective ‘voice’ we have as a people to take a stand against the inhumane treatment currently being handed out by our elected officials. Using music as its tool, this project aims to harness the energy and thoughts of our community and present them through carefully selected music to express that which cannot remain silent.
OMM’s success lies in people’s willingness to step out of their comfort zones. Its focus is not just how well one can sing but has increasingly become how well we can combine our strengths and express ourselves better as a community. It is a very powerful thing to see the faces and hear the voices of real people in a choir. It inspires and gives courage and hope to all who witness the performance. Over the years, OMM Rock Choir participants have learned to not only sing with ‘one voice’ and in harmony but also to sing from the heart. This is an extraordinary feat given that most OMM performers had never performed in front of an audience before 2012. The upcoming ‘Songs of Freedom’ Concert on March 25th promises to be another very entertaining and enjoyable showcase of local talent except this time it will also deliver a clear heartfelt message directly from the people to the people. It’s not rocket science! If we choose to remain silent, then the injustices committed in our name will continue… join forces and it will be brought to light and hopefully create change.
So far $8500 has been raised to towards staging ‘Songs of Freedom’, with a target of $11,500 needed for essential staging and audio requirements. Local groups already pledging involvement include Winchelsea Refugee Support Group, Running with Zithers, Birregurra Arts Group, Diversitat Colac, Birregurra Community Group, Deans Marsh Cottage, Deans Marsh Cricket Club and Primary School, Aireys Inlet RAR. Anglesea Community Rock Choir as well as participants from Lorne, Forrest, Barwon Downs, Deans Marsh, Birregurra, Pennyroyal, Murroon, Bambra, Winchelsea, Aireys Inlet, Colac, Torquay and Geelong, to name a few. Rehearsals are set to commence in mid January 2018. Drumming workshops and choir sessions will be offered at various venues in Colac/Otway and Surf coast Shires. Opportunities are also available for musicians, wardrobe/set designers and dancers. Further information will be made available through local papers and posters by early January.
“Songs of Freedom’ is not just a community choir performance but a concert which will deliver a strong message about what we think as a community and how we feel about issues which concern all of us. Currently sponsorship and involvement is being sought to help bring this idea to its full fruition… an idea in which music will be used to do what words have not, and that is to bring about change which will hopefully one day make us proud.
“Be dreamers who believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers.” Pope Francis