From singing alongside acrobats, community and acceptance, to improvement in mental health symptoms, Niall and Jenni chat about the empowerment that comes from ‘finding their voice’ in Voices of Frankston.
What drew you to being part of a choir?
NIALL: A friend told me about Voices of Frankston. He said, ‘It might be good for you’. I felt really good at the first rehearsal. People told me I had a good voice, they worked out I was a bass and we all had lunch after.
I’ve had times where I haven’t been well and have still gone along. It was still better than not going. I push through it and say, ‘Maybe I don’t feel that great, but I can go and be a part of it’.
JENNI: I love to sing!!! But singing as a group is even more awesome. It is great when we learn parts (I’m a Soprano), and even though we are really singing four different songs at once, it sounds beautiful with the different harmonies!
The difference between singing by myself and singing in a choir is we work as a team to learn the songs. At Voices of Frankston there is no judgement if someone sings a ‘wrong’ note or word. We might have a giggle if it was funny, then we go back and help each other to get it right.
What has the choir meant for your mental health?
NIALL: It’s made me more positive. I was a very quiet person with a lot of social anxiety growing up. I didn’t have a lot of confidence and the choir’s given me a voice. I talk a lot more; I can let go and I can enjoy myself.
I grew up with OCD, severe anxiety and depression. It’s helped me with anxiety to be part of something in the choir, to be included and not judged too harshly. People at the choir accept you as you are.
The singers and singing enhances me. Therapeutic is the word. It’s not rocket science, just something you do for yourself and gain a lot.
JENNI: Singing has played a big role in my healing and recovery for many years, mainly because when I sing my voices pretty much go away.
It’s also very relaxing and gives me peace.
Singing with people who may have similar issues is fantastic. It means when I’m having a bad day, just turning up at choir is enough to help me feel more on top of things. Even if I don’t have the energy to sing at the start of practice, by the end I’m always feeling better and singing!
I find singing in the choir also gives me lots more confidence in myself as a person too. Even if I’m not at choir, if I’m having a bad day my mum always encourages me to sing because she knows how much it helps!
How important is the feeling of family and inclusivity in the choir?
NIALL: Very important, because I’ve lived with mental health issues since 1981 and that hasn’t always been easy for me.
The choir is a good community because you’re all doing a like-minded thing which is singing. We have our different parts: altos, tenors, basses, sopranos, and we join as one.
After rehearsal we have lunch and talk about anything. It doesn’t have to be about singing, it can be about your life or what’s going on. And if you have any problems you can talk with someone in the choir.
JENNI: Voices of Frankston is truly a family. We support each other in learning the songs. Occasionally, like any family, there are disagreements, but very rarely, and they don’t last.
There is definitely a feeling of inclusivity, as we all come from different backgrounds and walks of life. But when we sing none of that matters. Some of us find life a bit harder at times because a lot of us have struggles with complex mental health issues, physical disabilities, or life itself is just a challenge. But we really do support each other like sisters and brothers, or like friends too.
What is the biggest gift or strength the choir has given you?
NIALL: At the ripe old age of 51 I’m expanding my horizons. It’s made me have a go at more things. I used to be quite reticent and apprehensive about things because of the anxiety. But I’m happier to give things a go now and the choir has had a hand in that.
I think singing has broken down a lot of the mental health symptoms as well. I used to have difficult thoughts about people thinking negatively of me, and paranoia with the schizophrenia. I still get a bit of that sometimes, but I don’t dwell on it now.
You forget about your struggles in life when you sing. You let yourself go.
JENNI: Confidence. Initially the confidence to sing with the group, then as we started performing my confidence grew, and now I do solos!
But that was just the start.
The increase in confidence has seeped into other areas of my life. For example, my confidence to be a Peer Ambassador for SANE Australia and talking in front of groups of people. But the true gift of confidence lies within me.
I now have self-confidence. I am surer of myself, and I now have the confidence to know that whatever I face I will be able to meet the challenge and succeed.
What has been the highlight of being in Voices of Frankston?
NIALL: Many years ago, my highlight was singing at the Melbourne Town Hall with Jenni, because I’d never sung in front of an audience like that before. We were part of a big production. There were people who sang solo, operatic singers, different acts and choirs. It just felt special.
JENNI: For me the highlight in performance was singing at a Rotary Conference alongside acrobats and accomplished soloists. I love to perform as it gives me more confidence in not only singing, but it spreads to other parts of my life.
When I began with Voices of Frankston I was quite apprehensive about performing and solos, but now I love the challenge!
However, the day-to-day highlights come from the joy of simply singing my heart out. I look forward to every Wednesday morning simply because I get to sing with my friends!