More feature: Bendigo voices lift off

THE wings of a Hells Angel are normally associated with a biker’s bicep, but after this week they officially belong to the Forever Young choir: a melding of pop culture, laugh lines, old souls and new songs... like the beautiful ballad Fix You by Coldplay.Chris Martin’s band has given the world the anthems of a generation.But in the Girton Grammar School hall this week, the band’s signature track couldn’t have been further from Gen Y’s IPods.Here, about 40 locals, aged from their early 60s to their late 80s, gathered for the first Forever Young choir practice.Here, they clutched fresh music folders in faded hands, singing: “When you lose something you can’t replace “When you love someone, but it goes to waste“Could it be worse?”A lady two seats down from me paused and I heard her sigh in knowing agreement to the lyrics.And I realised, here in this hall, this song is wasted on the youth.The morning’s practice was the culmination of years of dreaming by choir director Laura Dusseljee, for it was eight years ago she saw the Young @ Heart choir perform in Melbourne.The US choir is made up of an outstanding, everyday group of seniors, singing famous songs of life, death and longing. Rock, pop and punk. Songs that perhaps take on new meaning when sung by those who’ve lived a little.For Laura, it was a powerful, memorable experience she seeks to recreate in Bendigo.“It made me laugh and cry at the same time and I wanted to do that in Bendigo,” she said.“I want this to build connections, with the older people, with young people and with myself.”Laura is also Head of Junior School Music at Girton, and as such has enlisted her students, and the school’s support, to help bring this community project to life.Girton students will provide the music, and the seniors will bring their voices, but Laura strongly credits the City of Greater Bendigo council for providing a community grant to make the project possible.Late last year, Laura visited most senior citizens groups in the city, plus retirement residential villages and other choirs, mustering up support and members for Forever Young.She had no idea how many would answer her call to be a part of something bold, but almost every plastic chair put out in anticipation for the seniors’ arrival was filled this week.At first, I sat between Marta Birrell and Linda Dewhurst.When I suggested swapping seats with Linda, so she could sit next to her fellow singer, her relief was palpable.“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” she whispered.“Marta and I have been sitting next to each other for 16 years in the front row of the U3A choir.“We’re inseparable.“We don’t need to sit together I suppose, but it’s good to feel at home. It might be a sign we’re getting older, I don’t know.”The friends may have been stepping out of their comfort zone, but they were doing it together.The lady to my right, Pam Towers, was here alone, here to meet new people.Pam lost her Charlton home, and most of her belongings, in the January floods.After 63 years in Charlton, she has moved to Kangaroo Flat’s Living Well village.“I lost everything but what the flood waters didn’t reach,” said Pam, placing her hand on her hip to indicate the water line.Her home was built from asbestos cement sheeting, so was condemned.“I can’t go back,” she said.“I’d been in Charlton for 63 years until now.“There’s no way I’m going back. I’m not putting up with that river any more.“I’ve been on the river all my life and Mother Nature’s put me out.”For Pam, coming along to this first choir practice was a way to take her mind off the flood, and meet new people in her new community.“I love singing and I wanted to join in and get to know people in Bendigo,” she said.“I haven’t let things get on top of me; I’ve got lots of fighting experience.”Pam said included in her losses was her collection of clippings from the Bendigo Advertiser.“I lost all my clippings from competitions I’d won, I lost them all. I threw out so many things, I threw out all my clothes and I’m out to start a new life.”Pam said she could now start that life with a new clipping: this photograph of herself at choir practice.After Coldplay, the group moved on from what Laura described as “the sublime to the ridiculous”. Rehab.The humour in singing Amy Winehouse’s ode to the shot glass was not lost on the senior singers.The biggest smile perhaps came from 88-year-old Lesley Holschier, of St Laurence Court.“I’ve been singing with U3A for a while, but let me tell you, this getting into rock is something different,” she laughed.“We’re 40 years before rock ‘n’ roll, we sing those old songs.“My kids used to have it pelting through the house but mind you, I did ignore it. I was busy.“I suppose it was a bit of prejudice because it was different. Maybe I’m catching up?”Laura eased the choir into things gently, but she didn’t tip toe around the repertoire.“I can promise you one thing, you will not like all of the music, especially the punk song I Wanna be Sedated,” she warned.But judging by the laughter, the banter and camaraderie in the room, she didn’t scare anyone off.Certainly the wider community is already embracing the choir.For example, Floods Bus Service is sponsoring the group by ferrying members to and from practice and parents of Girton students are on hand to help.Plus, Jools for Jim has sponsored the choir uniform: T-shirts emblazoned with those devilish wings and that full heart.All of this hard work and heartfelt fun will culminate with an evening performance at The Capital on October 5, during Senior’s Week.With feature numbers such as the Rolling Stone’s I Can’t get no Satisfaction, John Farnham’s Burn for You and Kiss’s I Was Made for Loving You, it will be a ride….And one the Bendigo Advertiser is privileged to be a part of.Keep reading for updates and stories on the choir’s progress.So, where to after Rehab?After a well-earned cup of tea it was on to the choir’s namesake track, Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.“May your hands always be busyMay your feet always be swiftMay you have a strongfoundationWhen the winds of changes shiftMay your heart always be joyfulAnd may your song always besungMay you stay forever youngMay you stay forever young.”- Bendigo seniors are invited to join the Forever Young choir. Interested people are welcome to attend choir practice, to be held each Thursday from 9.15am in the Girton Grammar School hall. The choir is especially in need of more male members.

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