Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong…

I love to hear a choir. I love to see the faces of real people devoting themselves to a piece of music. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the human race when I see them cooperating like that.
Paul McCartney

Last week I witnessed a wonderful event.
My 12-year-old daughter, Anna has been in her school choir for a few years now, and was fortunate enough to be picked to sing at the Sydney Opera House as part of Sydney’s week long choral festival, showcasing students from New South Wales public schools.

The Australian Girls, National Boys & Gondwana Indigenous Childrens Choirs perform in a Qantas TV ad.

When the kids that formed the full choir came together last week for the performance, it was pure magic from the first moment. The sight of the concert hall filled with 700 children, and the sound of their voices filling the air around us, was quite extraordinary, as too were the other musical offerings of the night, with everything from big bands, wind and string orchestras on offer.
There’s no doubt that without singing – the sound of the human voice in all its varied glory – the world would be a poorer place; but why exactly do we sing? After all, we are the only land-based animal that indulges in the activity – apart from the odd singing dog that is!
Birds sing, of course, gibbons (apparently) sing, and the rest of the world’s singers – whales, dolphins, sea-lions and seals, are marine mammals. Research suggests that it’s a predator thing – singing is a sound that could attract enemies, so only those animals able to get away quickly – birds and the tree-based gibbons for instance – or those that have very few predators, such as the water-based singers, and humans, indulge in what might otherwise be the somewhat dangerous practice of  letting predators know your location.

Photo by RhiannonDaire on Flickr.

Who would have thought that the simple act of opening our mouths and allowing sound to come out, could be so fraught with meaning?
When you think about it, it is a rather extraordinary thing that the mechanism of using our lungs as an air supply, our larynx as a reed, and our head or chest as an amplifier, and the tongue as the mechanism for articulation, can produce everything from opera to rap.
Nobody knows exactly why humans started singing, or even when.

Conjecture has it that the voice was the first instrument, long before instruments were invented and that perhaps it was used as a way for a voice to carry much longer distances.
It’s also possible that a tribal society used singing for each individual to be recognised by their sound, since all of us have a unique ‘voiceprint’ in the same way we have a unique finger print.

One of the extraordinary things about singing is that despite many peoples’ protestations that they can’t sing, anybody can actually learn to sing – it’s simply bad luck that many of us are wounded when we are children by well-meaning or even badly-meaning adults telling us we can’t sing in tune.
Not surprisingly, in fact, not that many small children can sing in tune because like taste buds, the voice box is not fully developed until we are at least teenagers, and so those early judgments that have possibly cruelled many a budding singing career are based on a false assumption.
For years I thought I couldn’t sing – and was told by my father on numerous occasions that was the case. Not that many years ago I decided I wanted to find out if it was true that I really couldn’t sing – so I got brave and joined a choir! Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m the next Big Thing, or Any Thing at all, but I loved it and it allowed me to discover that as long as I am singing along with people, yes, I can definitely sing.
I felt wonderful after a singing session, and so I wasn’t surprised, researching this piece, to find out that a survey of students participating in choral singing found numerous health benefits – improved mood, stress reduction, not to mention the social benefits of being included in community group.
Apparently just listening to choral singing relaxes the mind, reduces stress and positively influences the immune system, according to a multinational collaboration to study the connection between singing and health which was established in 2009, called Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing (AIRS).
Even better still, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a choir, in the shower or in the car – so open up your pipes, rusty or not and sing out loud. It can only do you good!

Quote of the week:
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
Ella Fitzgerald

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Hair today, gone tomorrow…

Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices. – Shana Alexander




The Princess turned 12 the other day. “Mum,” she said. “My life is just going too fast.”

I laughed. “You should see it from my end.”

She looked so depressed I tried very hard to be sympathetic: “Never mind,” I said.

“You’re not even a teenager yet. Twelve this year and 13 next, that’s how the numbers go.”

“Thirteen!” She positively bounced upright. “That’s right. Everybody has that big party when they turn 13 – you know, it’s like turning 18 or 21, but there’s a special name for it.”

“There is?” Plenty of things sprung to mind – the start of the highway to hell, the teenage tunnel, the flouncing years, but not anything specifically connected to 13.

“That Bar Mitzvah thing,” she said.

Right. My no-religion daughter wants the religious ceremony Jewish boys have when they turn 13 for her party next year.

Notwithstanding that living in the Byron Shire has enabled her to study an eclectic mix of Bahai, Buddhism and even Catholicism during her school years, turning male and Jewish, not to mention learning the Torah, seems a tall order.

But it did start me thinking about rituals connected with age, and of course, as well as the Bar Mitzvah, there is the Bat Mitzvah for Jewish girls when they turn 12.

Both of them are a rite of passage – the recognition that instead of just studying the Torah, the young adolescents are now capable of understanding it.

Catholics of course, have their confirmation, but what do we, those of us who have put conventional religions aside, have to celebrate the arrival of the teenage years?

Somehow the English ritual of going from Brownies to Girl Guides and leaping over a giant mushroom with Akela and Brown Owl on each side of you doesn’t seem to quite cut the mustard.

It made me think about the 12th birthday too. What were we doing as a mother and daughter, to mark it as somehow special? What could we do?

I suddenly remembered my 12th birthday, and that my mother had taken me to her hairdresser for the very first time.

I remembered the smell of the salon, the pleasure of getting my hair washed – that I even had my nails polished. It might not have the deepest religious significance I thought, but at least I could introduce her to one of the true lasting joys of womanhood – the regular visit to the hairdresser.

As American comedian Fran Lebowitz once observed: You’re only as good as your last haircut.

And thus it came to pass, that Anna, once nicknamed Voldemort for the torturous sleeping regime she inflicted upon her parents, sat up in the highest of chairs, and received the benediction of Richard, my hairdresser.

Baptized in the basin, trimmed, very lightly, a side fringe artfully created, and her locks blow-dried to golden curly perfection, an 11-year-old girl went in and a gorgeous young woman came out.

It was a wild success. Even for a Leo the mirror admiration became obsessive. She tossed, and flicked, and twirled and gazed at the new perfection of her. The next day the hair was even better, which fortuitously coincided with her sleepover party. She was in seventh hair heaven.

But then came the fall. The first hairwash and the next day there were anguished tears. “It doesn’t look the same,” she wailed. “I want it back just like it was when it was cut.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry with her. I felt for her. We receive a beautiful moment, but it passes, all too quickly. Our highs are followed by lows. And life passes, all too quickly.

But marking occasions, creating rituals, acknowledging the importance of our lives is vital to our sense of self-worth, and to our ability to reflect on where we are and how we’re travelling on the journey of life.

The idea of a Bar Mitzvah, or even a Bat Mitzvah, has set me thinking about a 13-year-old party, what it could be, and how it can be made meaningful beyond the inevitable pizza, popcorn, tween-dvd sleepover – or even haircut, if that’s possible.

“Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.” – Anonymous

Check out my Midweek Mediation on http://thehoopla.com.au/ in the Wellbeing section…

“One moon lights a thousand forevers.” Meng Chiao

It’s not easy learning language is it?

I remember once my then five-year-old daughter listening to me talk to another parent about when school was due to break up for the summer holidays. When we got into the car, Anna burst into tears.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked her.

“I don’t want school to be all broken up,” she wailed.  “I like my school.”

I thought I’d got to an age where – at least with words – my stock in trade after all, there was not too much I didn’t understand, but a few days ago I finally discovered the meaning to something which has been mystifying me for years.

As an amateur follower of astrology I’d often noticed the phrase: the moon void of course. For years I’d wondered why all the astrologers said ‘of course’ – completely misreading and misunderstanding the phrase to mean: the moon void, of course. I thought it was odd that they should all say this – did the moon being void mean something so blindingly obvious that we should all automatically understand it?

It wasn’t until I was talking to an astrologer friend of mine who mentioned to me on the phone that the moon was void of course, that a small glimmer of comprehension dawned.  I dashed to the computer and let google work its magic – and there it was!  The period of time when the moon is between signs it is considered to be ‘void of course’! Of course!  And hello, what a blinking idiot did I feel?

So what happens astrologically when the moon is void of course?

Basically it’s a time of quiet limbo – it doesn’t last long, usually a maximum of a few hours until the moon transits into the next sign.

It takes 27.5 days for the moon to orbit the earth, and as it does it interacts or makes aspects to various planets. The VOC (how professional does that sound) is like a nap-time for the moon before it starts on its path into the next sign. We can tend to feel a little out of sorts with a VOC moon, and astrologers recommend not initiating any major projects at those times.

It’s more about the three R’s – Reflection, Rest and Recuperation.

Living in the country I’ve become much more aware of the moon’s cycles than I ever used to be – even it it’s only to make sure there are batteries in the torch for the nights when the moon is new. I’ve noticed for instance, that often on a full moon the weather is good and that there is very little wind – why that is I have no idea, but perhaps its nature’s way of counter-balancing the alleged ‘loony’ aspects of the full moon!

Symbolically speaking in many cultures the moon is literally the dark to the sun’s light – the sun is symbolic of the fraternal (yang) aspect, and the moon to the maternal or yin influence. (Although contrary to our Western appropriations there are many other cultures that see the moon as a masculine force.)

The moon produces no light of her own, instead she relies upon the sun to reflect her image to us, which no doubt unconsciously colours our feeling about her as the softer, more passive, more underlying influence than the sun.

It’s impossible to imagine our world without the moon.

There’s the almost unimaginableto science of it – it has no atmosphere, so there is no wind or weather of any description; because there is no weather the footprints left by the Apollo astronauts will be visible for at least ten million years.  There’s the magic and mayhem of werewolves and ‘lunacy’ attached to the full moon, and there’s the creativity and romance of it – where would our romantic poets, or musician, or singers, or even romance itself be without it?

“I am tired, beloved, of chafing my heart against the want of you; of squeezing it into little ink drops, and posting it.  And I scald alone, here, under the fire of the great moon.”  So wrote the wonderful American poet Amy Lowell, whose brother, incidentally, was the astronomer Percival Lowell.

Where would we be without the moon – in the dark, permanently void – of course.

Quote of the week

 “When the Moon is void of course it’s a soulful phase where the energy and excitement of life distills on an inner level. This is the perfect time to allow for serenity, and the cool, beautiful insights that rise from a state of total ease. As Rumi said, ‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’” Astrologer and author Kim Falconer

More midweek meditations under wellbeing on http://thehoopla.com.au/ 

Wattle days are here again

And I love the great land where the Waratah grows. 
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.” Henry Lawson

Photo by Candida Baker

So the Olympics have come to a close, and those of us who’ve been sleep deprived for the past few weeks can eschew the sofa for our beds at last.

It was just before our Australian contingent began to leave for London in their droves, that I noticed the wattle – the green and yellow bloom which is the inspiration for our athletes’ outfits – was starting to bud.  It seemed a happy synchronicity.

I love it when the wattle flowers begin to appear in their cheerful, sweet-smelling profusion; for me the wattle heralds the beginning of the end of winter.

The green and the gold… the uniform of our London 2012 Olympic team.

The combination of a bout of nationalistic fervor coupled with the landscape’s physical representation of that fervor set me thinking – how did Australia choose wattle as its national emblem and why?

I remembered how moved I was when the-then Governor General Sir William Deane, picked sprigs of wattle from the gardens of Government house to toss into Switzerland’s Saxeten River gorge to commemorate the 14 Australians who had died there in the 1999 canyoning expedition that went so horribly wrong.

“It is still winter at home,” he said during the ceremony. “But the golden wattles are coming into bloom. Just as these young men and women were in the flower of their youth. And when we are back in Australia we will remember how the flowers and perfume and the pollen of their, and our, homeland was carried down the river where they died to Lake Brienz in this beautiful country on the far side of the world. May they all rest with God.”

The push to make the wattle our national flower emblem was started by Victorian ornithologist Archibald Campbell who founded the Victorian Wattle Club in 1899.

A few years later he delivered a lecture entitled Wattle Time; or Yellow-haired September,putting forward the case for the wattle to be Australia’s National Flower.

By 1912 we had our first truly national Wattle day, and in the same year it was first introduced into Australia’s coat of arms by Royal Warrant.

Wattle, however, didn’t have a completely smooth run on its way to the top – there was another, and some might say, more splendid, more unusual, more perhaps uniquely Australian flower that many wanted to adopt as the floral emblem – the waratah.  Botanist and musuem curator R.T Baker wrote: “The expression, ‘the land of the Waratah’, applies to Australia and no other; it is Australia’s very own. In the Wattle, Australia has not a monopoly like the Waratah, for Africa has over one hundred native wattles, and it also occurs in American, East and West Indies and the Islands….”

But the wattle got a head start when South Africa looked as if it might commandeer the wattle for its own patriotic purposes, which was enough to send Australia into a flurry of wattle support, although even so, as late as 1913, both waratah and wattle flowers were used as decoration on the three golden trowels used to lay the foundation stone for the commencement column in the soon-to-be national capital of Canberra.

In the end of course, the wattle won, adorning our medals of honour, our stamps, our tea-towels and anything else we could think of along the way.

It even has its own personal day of celebration – while the waratah had to settle for being anointed the floral emblem for New South Wales.

Which is probably a good thing, because it’s hard to imagine sprigs of waratah being attached to lapels, or brims of hats, or gracing small spring bouquets. Hard too, to imagine these days anything other than the green and gold as a clarion call for nationalism. And curiously, of course, the Olympics are always held sometime between July and the beginning of September – exactly the time the wattle begins to bloom.

Wattle did you say?

National Wattle Day is the first day of spring – September 1. The day was originally conceived as a day to demonstrate patriotism for Australia by wearing a sprig of wattle, but over the years it’s come to be a day in which we celebrate our natural environment.

Acacia you didn’t hear me…

Wattles are Australia’s largest genus of flowering plants – of the 1380 species of Acacia in the world, Australia has close to a 1000, ranging from creepers to tall forest trees.  Australia without wattle is unimaginable – we would be left with a much drier, less colourful continent.

The symbolism of yellow

Was it something as simple as the bright yellow colour that attracted the attention of our early settlers? Yellow is the colour of the sun, which is associated with our third chakra, the solar plexus – the house of our courage and will power. Its positive attributes are joy and delight, sunshine, happiness and summer, but negatively it can mean illness, or cowardice – as in yellow-bellied. Perhaps it’s why yellow was chosen as the mediator between red and green – somewhere between danger and safe.

Quote of the week

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” Iris Murdoch

All that glitters is not gold…

Colin Firth and Judi Dench. Shakespeare in Love. 1998. Homepage photograph, Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth 1 in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

I’ve been thinking about gold, and the meaning of it quite a bit over the past week or so since the Olympics took over our lives.

For me, whenever I think of gold, I think of being 18 and scoring a job with the Oxford Playhouse Company in a season that included Edward Woodward, Leo McKern, and the wonderful Judi Dench.

During The Merchant of Venice I was elevated from floor sweeper and dogsbody to be the gold casket bearer while Bassanio gave his casket speech.

I was dressed in a fetching golden Elizabethan costume.

Every night, I would listen to Bassanio while every night he dismissed me:  Therefore, thou gaudy gold, hard food for Midas, I will none of thee…

Read my article at The Hoopla.