“The very special thing about this choir is that it’s inclusive of everybody,” says Jonathon Welch about the iconic Choir of Hard Knocks.
“It gives them an opportunity to make a contribution to the world through their singing; we empower people through the arts to be more of themselves and to be more in their own lives.”
The choir, which began in Melbourne for people experiencing disadvantage, is Fed Square’s Choir in Residence and opens their weekly rehearsals in Deakin Edge to the public.
Today we go behind the scenes of one of their rehearsals to introduce two of the choir’s members and to showcase an original song by the group as they celebrate their 10th year.
Before I joined the choir I was a computer geek, working way too many hours and performing with my husband in a rock ‘n roll and jazz group. One day I fell down and had a massive brain aneurism – the right side of my body was paralysed, one of my vocal chords was totally paralysed.
I can’t work anymore; I can’t do anything with mathematics or numbers, that’s all been knocked out. Learning to walk again was the trippiest experience, and I couldn’t speak when I woke up.
When I found the choir, it gave me a chance to continue with my music, even though I only officially have five notes and they’re all of the boy ones *laughs*. I was terrified at first, but this atmosphere is terrific for me – everyone accepts everyone and accepts their limitations and works with what we’ve got.
I would’ve hated to be the person standing next to me in the first few weeks. They were very patient with me. I was scared of the sound that was coming out of my mouth, it was horrible. I couldn’t control it. As I worked harder, I managed to get it to connect a bit better. I’ve learnt to concentrate on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
The choir has helped with my confidence and my whole demeanor. It’s helped with everything. Everything. I don’t know how life would’ve been if I hadn’t found the choir. It would have been different – in a way this could’ve been one of the best things that could have happened to me.
I’m an original member of the Choir of Hard Knocks. I was volunteering at a soup kitchen at Fitzroy and two members came looking for new members. That’s how it started for me. I just joined to sing, I used to do a lot of busking and open mic nights before that.
I was on the street, sleeping rough. I didn’t have a good goal or a good time. The choir’s made a big difference in my life – there’s people who are here now, I’m not alone any more. It’s pretty much a family.
I’m always nervous when I perform. It doesn’t get any easier, I only feel better after I’ve done it.
People describe my voice like a little bit of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, I like their music. I’m not much of a musician but I’m good with words.
I’m bringing out a third poetry book soon to coincide with our national tour. I’ve been writing for most of my adult life and Margaret from the choir organized my first book, and Suzanne’s helped with the second and the third. It’s about my view on everything. The first book is called A Joker’s Right of Reply and the second is A Generation of Poets. It takes me years to put them together. My third is being typed up at the moment.
The choir has given me a lot of recognition, friendship and family.
I take each day as it comes.
Come and enjoy the Choir of Hard Knock’s rehearsals every Monday at Fed Square at Deakin Edge, from 10am until 2:30pm.