Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.Lao Tzu
‘Mothersong’ – The story of our choir
These 3-part songs were written for the choir ‘MOTHERSONG’, which is a small unaccompanied community choir in Perth, Western Australia.
Mothersong was established in 2001, to offer mothers with babies and young children the chance to sing with others in a child-friendly environment. In our choir the women could sing with adults, make friends, and extend their musical abilities, and most importantly, teach their children by example; letting them see that grown-ups, too, can get huge pleasure from learning. Our children saw us learning new songs; striving, sometimes failing, laughing and trying again! They played at our feet while we sang, and going to choir became part of their young lives.
Over the course of two decades, the chaos has subsided, the babies have grown up, and a few more little ones have joined us. Now we are a group of old friends, with years of joyful singing and good company behind us, and no intention of stopping!
In the early days, Mothersong collected songs from our members, friends and families, which I arranged for our tiny group to sing easily. Because we have always had a number of singers who spoke languages other than English, we quickly began to accumulate songs from overseas. We sing short songs in nearly twenty languages, and love the challenge of learning new words, and new styles of music. In all the years that we have been singing, we have never had a piano in the room, and all the a capella songs you will find here have been taught and learned successfully by ear.
When Mothersong began, interesting three-part harmony arrangements were hard to find, (remember: most families were just getting their very first at-home computer at that time) and we had no money to spend anyway!
Writing and arranging songs was the easy answer to the problem, and having our own music made us feel special. The singers encouraged me, and allowed me to experiment on them, and gradually we built up a collection of unique songs that are fairly easy, but also very tuneful, and a little different to the standard song choices for unaccompanied choirs.
My Story …
In 1964, the year that I was born, an album called ‘Bach’s Greatest Hits’ was released. It was the music of the ‘Well Tempered Clavier’, vocalised in a cool swing style, by a group of superb session singers from Paris, who called themselves the Swingle Singers. Just eight voices, quietly supported by a double-bass and drums; it was a unique new product- a type of singing that had barely been explored before, and it was very slick. When I first heard one of those tracks by chance on the television, at about 15 years of age, I was hooked for life on pure vocal harmony! I was electrified by the clarity, the tonal perfection, the perfect coordination and the unique and indispensable timbre of each contributing voice.
…and so, unaccompanied song: “a capella” (Italian for ‘in the style of the Chapel’), became a focus of joy and interest in my life as a choral singer. There is no better way to connect with the singers around you than to sing without instrumental backing!
I had a background in classical piano, but I was a dreadful sight-reader! I was never comfortable with a ‘contraption’ between me and the music that I made. It is my belief that singing is so immediately gratifying, and such an ancient form of personal expression that few people can resist the pleasure of shared song. The purest satisfaction comes when you do it well, entirely without the help of an instrument! It is a little bit harder, but MUCH more satisfying.
The seeds of songwriting…
Even in primary school I was aware that I loved the sound of singing, and that I absolutely loved to sing myself.
However, singing in a very big group of singers did not move my heart quite so strongly – what I really wanted was to hear and feel my own voice present in the music that I was part of. At high-school I had my first experience of singing with a tiny group of six music students, and those moments when we raised our voices together were some of the best of my school days!
After high school I took every chance available to watch live jazz, and to sing jazz. I learned all the jazz standards, and played music with friends whenever the chance arose. I taught myself guitar, and by the time I was about 20 I was beginning to write songs.
Wherever you go, music connects you with people…
At 21 I left Australia and lived in London and Germany for several years. In Cologne I joined a funk band as a lead singer, and later a small gospel choir.
Back in Australia I sang cool Pop, Jazz and Blues in café bands, sacred music in a larger choir and even worked as a backing singer in a marvellous disco band. I always knew that I wanted to direct a small a capella group one day, and starting the group Mothersong, in Perth, Western Australia, and singing every week with those good women has underpinned, harmonised and energised these last two decades for me!
Music for everybody…
It would be wonderful if one or two of these songs might be taken and used successfully by other choirs, elsewhere in Australia and the World. I love the thought that the harmonies, melodies and lyrics might make other singers feel as joyful and light-hearted as we do when we sing them, and that they may even be passed on to other singers to be sung, again and again. If your choir uses one of my songs and enjoys it, please let me know!