Music on fire in the Wollumbin Caldera

A summer of music began when a drought fund raiser brought together four community choirs in the Brunswick Heads Public School Hall one Sunday afternoon in November for Sea Song. The choir that really had rhythm was the Raise the Roof Gospel Choir. The event raised over $1000 in donations and it felt good as an audience member to join in the final combined choir singing about bringing down the rain. Little did we know that NSW was destined for catastrophic fires and rain was as far away as the following February.

Eerie skies near Main Beach, Port Macquarie

Our weekend had already been filled with music. We had been invited to Newrybar to listen to the Tsinskaro Georgian Vocal Ensemble and participate in a Georgian Supra or supper. The four musicians making up the Ensemble are based in Melbourne and were influenced to learn Georgian Polyphonic method by a Georgian immigrant, Nino.

Tsinskaro Georgian Vocal Ensemble

Having heard Georgian polyphonic singing in a rather random way in Georgia we were very keen to participate. We were invited by long time school friend Helen and her partner Bruce. In a roundabout way, Helen’s daughter Melia went to school with the only female vocalist in the group, Gosia. Melia leads the Shire Choirs, pub choirs in the Lismore and Byron shires and which had sponsored Tsinskaro to come to the Caldera. We hadn’t seen Helen and family for many years so this was a wonderful opportunity to catch up.

Three long tables in a U shape were set up in the Newrybar Community Hall. Dips, flatbreads and salads were distributed to the centre of the tables for us all to share. Bruce manned the alcoholic drinks table. It was explained by Gosia that at every Georgian gathering a Tamada or toast master is given the honour of master of ceremonies. Every significant event of the night is toasted with a shot of something alcoholic. We knew about the Tamada from our recent visit to Georgia. Nico was pronounced Tamada and we were told we had to do whatever Nico told us.

Soon the music began and we lapped up the strange and haunting sound of Georgian polyphonic music. This is sometimes referred to as overtone singing or throat singing. From one pitch made by the voice, the overtones can be amplified by changing the shape of the mouth, larynx and pharynx. It allows the singer to create more than one pitch at the same time, almost like using the throat as a prism for the sound to emanate like a rainbow.

Toasts were drunk to the Ensemble and to the organisers of the Supra, which continued to pour forth from the makeshift kitchen in the hall. Tsinskaro had been workshopping with locals all weekend. The finale for the evening came with Ensemble singing with these workshop members. For us, it was magical. However, Bruce seen with flowing beard below, confided that he was way out of his comfort zone – an indication of how difficult it was to master polyphonic singing.

The musical theme continued into 2020, when we headed to Mullumbimby to hear Melbourne Ska Orchestra kick off their Good Days, Bad Days magical mystery tour at the Civic Memorial Hall.

We waited in the mosquito infested courtyard till the sun had well and truly set and the bats and raucous parrots had settled in the trees. The warm-up band was that – a bit warm – but at 9.15pm the hall had filled with a standing-room-only crowd ranging from under 1 to over 80 years. The band entered through the front door, their brass instuments on high, before sashaying onto the stage and wowing us with their magical music and setting the audience on fire with jumping, dancing and cheering.

It seemed music was one way to cope with the catastrophic summer we had experienced. I was a lapsed musician so it seemed fitting that at the end of this fiery summer I sign up to the Raise the Roof Gospel Choir which meets weekly at the Brunswick Heads Uniting Church Hall. Four different friends from completely different periods of my life were there and that’s what we did – Raise the Roof.

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