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Choir proves it’s more than meets the eye

Some members, carers and staff of the Transformers choir. Photo by Mardi Lumsden
IT MAY BE the Queensland version of Melbourne’s Choir of Hard Knocks, but there is something unique about the Transformers choir.

A Reclink project, Transformers started in January and aims to create a community for those experiencing disadvantage who have a passion for music.

Lifeline Community Care Queensland assists Reclink with the group.

Lifeline social inclusion and community connection team member Brian Procopis said that people function best when they feel part of a community.

“Our intention was to use music as a vehicle to bring together people who are generally isolated and let music do its magic,” he said.

“We do sound pretty good but our major priority is to give music a chance to unleash its power.”

Rehearsals open with birthday wishes, thoughts for loved ones, and sharing how people are feeling. It is this kind of connection that makes everyone feel like they belong, even visiting journalists.

Ben Pennings, Reclink community development coordinator, is head honcho at Transformers and said the group is seeing results.

“I have never seen anything like the atmosphere that is created,” he said. “It has taken a while but sometimes the energy is palpable.

“I really enjoy seeing the friendships and people having positive outcomes.”

Mr Pennings said the majority of the choir members have a disability or disadvantage and about 25 per cent are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

He praised the numerous volunteers, including Shan Bauer who takes care of catering through donations and assistance from fellow shop owners at Emporium, an upmarket retail complex in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

Choir members have to be referred by a support agency to join. One singer, Jo, was referred by many of her supporters who knew of her passion for singing and her powerful voice.

“Whilst I’m not able to work in a full-time job, I can work for my pension doing something I can do, which is sing,” she said.

Jo said it is not just the choir members who get transformed.

“We transform the audience. They walk away thinking that somehow everything is going to be OK.”

Jazz singer Monica spent two and a half years at risk of being homeless.

“I always feel very close to some of the people here. I feel very grateful that I haven’t done it as hard as they have,” she said. “I go away feeling satisfied that I have mixed and sung with lovely people and we have shared things that may not be so lovely.”

Singer Darl said her health has improved since joining.

“It has been amazing. I think it has really kept me out of hospital,” she said. “It has given meaning back to my life and has taken away the very depressed thinking that I used to have because now I feel like I belong.”

Music graduate and art student Jude stopped singing all together after being harassed whilst busking.

“It has been really beneficial for me. I’ve started writing songs again and making music,” she said. “Everybody here cares about everybody else so much. I just feel better about myself when I have left here.”

Singer Michael enjoys the camaraderie of the group. “For some reason I don’t get nervous in performance. You are in a group so you feel safe,” he said. “It is a good group and the food is great.”

Conductor Yani said she loved the growth that happens to the singers. “I love hearing people go from saying they couldn’t sing to feeling confident.

“I feel honoured and blessed to be in this group.”

For more information contact Ben Pennings

Transformers are performing in the Queen Street Mall, Brisbane CBD, at 11am and noon on Sunday 20 December, 2009. 

Photo : Some members, carers and staff of the Transformers choir. Photo by Mardi Lumsden