Community music returns

Members of the Dandenong Ranges Big Band at their rehearsal on Thursday 4 March.

By Taylah Eastwell

The Dandenong Ranges Music Council (DRMC) is excited to welcome back community music after the Covid-19 pandemic put a pause on group rehearsals and performances.

Now settled into its all new, fully-equipped location at Upwey High School’s Community Music Education Hub, the DRMC has made its official return to community music over the past few weeks.

DRMC founding member and current board member Bev McAlister described the new building as “gorgeous”. The room is complete with a large group rehearsal space, a meeting room, a kitchen area and lesson rooms upstairs.

“We are now all in this brand new building and as of last week the orchastras and the big band and young string band players are all starting to come back,” she said.

Ms McAlister said the musicians are extremely happy to be back doing what they love.

“I think they are desperate to get back into it to be honest. I think because there was that special rule for wind players and singers that you were just not allowed to do it because of the breath issues with Covid that they are just really enjoying being able to finally start back again,” she said.

One local music group using the DRMC rehearsal rooms is the Dandenong Ranges Orchestra, who have been playing music in the Dandenongs for over 35 years.

Anne Elizabeth, oboe player in the Dandenong Ranges Orchestra, said Covid-19 restrictions hit just one week before the musicians were meant to perform at the opening ceremony of their new music centre.

“It has been such a long time since that day and it is an absolute joy to be able to play together again. You miss the comradeship and support, that is the best thing about playing music in a group. The added bonus is finally being able to play in this wonderful new centre,” Ms Elizabeth said.

Now in its 42nd year of community music, the DRMC is entirely “driven by the community”, with the music council helping to facilitate the musical visions of budding local musicians.

“We never know what we are going to be doing because we are driven by the community. The community tells us how they want to make music, whether they want to be in an orchestra or a band or a choir, and we help to set up those groups,” Ms McAlister said.

“We have a new group starting who want to start a gypsy orchestra, which involves people playing different instruments to play what is known as world music. It is very entertaining,” she said.

Over the 42 years, the DRMC have set up many groups to allow locals to express themselves musically, including the Yarra Valley Singers, Sweet Sassafras, and Singularity.

The group have also engaged in projects linking music with healing, with the help of professionals, to deal with widespread community issues.

“We have done quite a bit of bushfire recovery and education using music and do a lot of projects driven by community health outcomes. We are very involved with music therapists in the hills so we can use music making and songwriting to bring people together to talk about things,” Ms McAlister said.

“Some people find counselling very formal but the amazing thing about music therapists and songwriting is people don’t see they are being counselled, they are just talking about their experience and they are astounded when it turns into a song expressing those feelings,” she said.

The DRMC have a broad range of community groups on offer who rehearse weekly, including young string players, the Dandenong Ranges Big Band, the Dandenong Ranges Hot Jazz Orchestra, the Happy Wanderers singing group, the World Music Interest Group and many more.

For more information or to volunteer, call the DRMC on 0424 910 242 or check out the website: