Choir of Unheard Voices
Margie Ward, musical director of the Choir of Unheard Voices in Mackay, reflects on what makes arts and health initiatives successful and the difference they make in people’s lives.
Music is the key – It gives us the voice, the courage, the confidence to be heard …
It gives us a place to belong …
The Choir of Unheard Voices brings a group of people experiencing mental illness together to experience singing as a choir and gives them the opportunity to sing out. The project came about through a collaboration between Community Mental Health and the Mental Illness Fellowship North Queensland. It began with a thought, a plan and a passion and was driven by finding a team leader in the mental health service who believed in the concept and made others believe. Health partners were keen to come on board because they were interested in how the arts could support the recovery journey.
The idea was to bring a concept like the Choir of Hard Knocks (featured on ABC television) to Mackay for people who experience severe and persistent mental illness. It began with a conversation that led to a collaboration of organisations and a grant application and now four years later the Choir is still going strong.
The choir provides social interaction, skill development, community inclusion and integration, self esteem and confidence building. It provides a safe space where you can ‘find your voice’ and sing from your heart. It provides a place and opportunities where you can come to sing for healing, sing for self and sing for others. It provides positive support in a positive environment where singing together brings friendship, acceptance, laughter and healing. The greatest elation comes with performance – to feel the energy of singing for others and to be immersed in applause gives such an uplifting feeling that each member wants to create and feel again.
The choir has performed at an international conference in Sydney, at Parliament House in Brisbane and at many community events and functions.
We have introduced song-writing into the choir and now have eight original songs which we would love to record on a DVD of the choir’s journey when we can find the funds. Our choir has also grown to include musicians – our members run classes to encourage others to try drumming and guitar.
The flow-on benefits for participants include more engagement with others and their communities, increased feelings of happiness and confidence, being able to think more positively about themselves and others and generally taking greater care of themselves.
My top three tips for people interested in arts and health initiatives are:
- Be prepared. Know what the particular requirements of the health sector are in terms of what they need to deliver to their clients. Make sure your project can help in the delivery of those identified needs. Have some clear benefits that you want your arts project to achieve and identify how those benefits can be measured.
- Get to know the people who engage with your client group (e.g. health providers, family members) and include them throughout the process.
- Be flexible in your approach and be able to think with an open mind about how you can tailor your arts project to the individual needs of the client group.
The Choir of Unheard Voices has demonstrated to me just how much can be achieved when arts and health practitioners work together to provide experiences that are at once uplifting and healing.
Margie Ward is a youth worker, counsellor and singer-songwriter who has recorded two albums of inspirational music. Margie is passionate about singing as a tool for recovery which led her to establish a women’s singing group, Singing for Wellness. Margie drew on these learnings and experiences when approached by Chris Sullivan, a team leader at Community Mental Health in Mackay, to collaborate on the Choir of Unheard Voices. Inspired by the journey of the choir, two years ago Margie became a Project Support Worker at the Mental Illness Fellowship North Queensland to work more with people experiencing mental illness and be part of their recovery journey.
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