by Dannielle Abbou-takka
On Monday, 14 July A Chorus of Women joined an exceptional and diverse group of women to perform at VOICE, presented by Women in Action.
VOICE was touted as an evening to celebrate the singing, poetry and drama performances of Canberra’s women. That it was—and some.
Snuggled under the dimmed lights of Smith’s Alternative Bookshop, one woman after another took to the stage, alone and in groups. Each shone brightly and had something personal, special and enduring to share – no matter their vehicle for expression.
Performers included Petra Lindsey, Alison and Suze Proctor, Ruth O’Brien and Clare Lawlor, Jacky Sutton of UN Women, Hazel Hall and the School of Music Poets and A Chorus of Women.
The performances were markedly different but all gave voice to the strength and bravery of women. Themes of love and loss, family and friendship, difficulty and determination, loss and remembrance, trauma and violence were all covered from a uniquely female perspective.
A Chorus of Women wrapped the evening. Before taking to the stage, in an expression of community and solidarity, they stood amongst the audience to sing Lament. The song enveloped the room and all those within it.
Composer Glenda Cloughley then addressed the audience to explain Lament and how it served as a catalyst for A Chorus of Women and the music they continue to compose and perform today.
photo by Dannielle Abbou-takka
First sung in Parliament House in 2003 in a powerful and moving statement about Australia’s pending involvement in the Iraq war, the song expresses common humanity with the women and people of Iraq, and grief and despair for the deaths that would ensue. Written into Hansard, the song is now an indelible part of Australian history that serves to remind us that here in Australia, we can have a voice. Sometimes we just need a little spunk to be heard.
Chorus then sang I am Ethos, an anthem for Canberra and Chorus’s centenary gift to the city. “Though I do not speak to you in words I speak to you in other ways”.
photo by Tobias Hayashi
This line recalled some of the performances from earlier in the evening. In particular, when Alison Proctor of the Canberra band, The Cashews, was joined on stage by her sister Suze. Suze has cerebral palsy and severe intellectual impairment meaning she cannot speak words. But her humanity and spirit speak volumes.
The final performance from Chorus was A Recipe for Peace. Lyrics were provided to the audience who gladly joined in for the refrain:
May you never be hungry
May you never be thirsty
I wish you health and a happy home
My companion, may peace be with you.
Janet Salisbury introducing 'A Recipe for Peace'
photo by Dannielle Abbou-takka
Speaking of the universal practice of breaking bread, A Recipe for Peace reminds us how, at our core, we all have the same simple needs and desires and that we are really not so different from one another.
Through the songs selected and the manner in which they were performed, Chorus provided a fitting end to an extraordinary evening.
VOICE demonstrated that the voices of women are beautiful, truthful and undeniably reasonable. Where the position of women is often painted as fragile and emotional, the performances showed that this is anything but the case.
The way in which Canberra’s women united to express themselves at VOICE – through music poetry and drama – has no doubt left a subtle but lasting imprint in the minds of all who attended.