Primarily known for her genre-defying, live-looping show and her masterful use of the kalimba, singer-songwriter Phia is also founder and artistic director of Melbourne Indie Voices, a new breed of community choir who perform her imaginative arrangements of current indie-pop songs.
I started my first choir while I was living in Berlin, Germany. I was giving some singing lessons to a fellow Australian, who told me during one of our lessons ‘What I really want is to join a choir, do you want to start one?’ If I had been living in Melbourne, I’m sure I would have said that I wouldn’t know how, I’m not trained as a choral teacher, I’ve never done it before and other self-effacing excuses. But as I was in Berlin, I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone. Why not?
She invited a couple of friends, and I brought a couple of friends, and we had our first rehearsal on a Tuesday night in the living room of my apartment in Kreuzberg. This choir became The Dienstag Choir, a nod to our German and Australian origins.
I discovered that I loved leading a choir. I loved choosing and arranging songs that inspired me, and introducing them to choir members. I loved the feeling of the sound being created by the group. As a solo artist I layered my voice using a loop pedal, but nothing beats the feeling of singing in harmony with others together in the same room. I also loved being able to elevate female songwriters through the song choice for the choir.
Upon deciding to move back to Melbourne I knew I wanted to continue with choir and the name popped into my head: Melbourne Indie Voices.
I set up a Facebook event for the first rehearsal, which was to happen in the front room of our house in Fitzroy. The next day I received a call from a journalist from the ABC asking if she could come and write an article and take some videos. I told her, ‘it’s only our first rehearsal, I don't know what we’ll sound like!’ But she said that was part of the story – an indie choir’s first rehearsal.
After the feature went up we were inundated with people wanting to join. From that first rehearsal in Fitzroy of 30 singers in my living room, we are now at 240 singers running over three nights a week in a converted warehouse in Collingwood. We have continued to shine a light on female songwriters through our repertoire and have further focused our lens on mainly Australian and specifically Melbourne-based songwriters. We are a made up of a majority women and pride ourselves on increasing female participation in the music scene.
There are so many benefits to being part of a choir. As a singer in a choir you are always listening and trying to blend – this means when you try to match the tone and dynamics of your voice to the others in the room. It is a musical exercise, but it’s also results in strengthening ties between all the singers. Your voice is as important as everyone else’s there, but not more important. This is a hallmark of being part of a community, which is a grounding experience.
The main goal of our choir is for everyone to have fun and many friendships have been made. A lot of us had fantastic musical experiences through school, but unfortunately there are those who are still scarred from negative experiences: tension-filled auditions, educators saying ‘you can’t sing’, or feeling left out. Being in an inclusive space is an opportunity for people to let go and experience what music should be all about: expressing yourself and having fun.
So, if music or singing is something you’ve been curious about, and an opportunity arises (to join a choir, sing at an open mic night, sharing that song): say ‘yes’.