Voices Harmonise

Words by Nora Bakalla, Benjamin Blackshaw and Brydie Gearin

With global migratory patterns leading to more and more migrants from diverse backgrounds living and working in economic hubs like Sydney, how do local communities foster a sense of inclusiveness to overcome issues related to ethnic diversity?

Every Monday night at the Bankstown Art Centre, the World Music Choir meets to sing songs from all corners of the world in many different languages. Chinese, Ukrainian and Italian-born residents of the local community are seen rehearsing songs from traditional Maori folk arrangements to Ukrainian ballads. These are just some of the many cultural practices shared by current members of the choir, which sees all members adding an element of cultural uniqueness with their songs and voices.

Linda Marr, the choir’s facilitator and director, explains what it means to be a part of the choir “The choir is a part of a vision for Bankstown Arts Centre to be accessible to people from different cultural backgrounds, and different age groups and different interests.”

Marr said gender or nationality is not an issue and that many people from the ages of twenty to eighty have been a part of this organisation. This choir is purely about a love for music with a global twist, increasing the diversification of Western Sydney through harmonies and shared cultural stories.

According to the 2016 Census, just 17.7% of people speak only English at home compared to other languages spoken like Arabic, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Urdu and Cantonese. These findings show that a large number of community members were born overseas or have parents who were born overseas and spoke a different language at home. Bankstown is one of the most culturally diverse communities in Sydney and a perfect location for a choir which addresses integration and cohesion for all.

Multi-ethnic immigrant neighbourhoods are a prominent feature of Sydney’s distinct urban geography, and the World Music Choir is a local example of a community organisation that aims to encourage a cohesive community identity and a shared belonging to place. Participants can bring new songs in for the choir to learn or Marr will bring along new material for the choir to learn and sing together. Marr explains it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language the song is written in as it’s all about how you learn to sing the song and adopt the pronunciation. She stresses the importance of learning from the members of the choir as it fosters a sense of intimacy for everyone involved and allows the group to correctly understand the pronunciation and learn in unison.

Marr describes the ability of music as a mechanism to share stories and songs from across the world, “I think singing songs in other languages does give people a personal experience of another culture that they may not get…you know because it’s different from seeing people wearing different clothes or whatever, if you’re actually singing something in Arabic or whatever and you get the you know and how beautiful that sounds, that gives you a really different perspective on culture”.

From learning the Dharug Aboriginal language to singing a Ukrainian song, the choir breaks the barriers of cultural segregation as they welcome anyone who wishes to participate.

Although the choir is small in numbers, the magnitude of importance it holds to patrons is significant and allows them to be free and open in singing in a language other than English and having others learn directly from their lived experiences. Marr believes Bankstown already has cultural awareness due to the diversity of the suburb but in creating a space for integration of anyone who wishes to sing, it gives the community a greater foundation to have acceptance.

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