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Case Study: “Changes in the Ranges” Dandenong Ranges Music Council

Case Studies

September 01, 2013

This case study was prepared as part of collaboration between Music: Count Us In and the Music in Communities Network. A Music Australia initiative.

Dandenong Music Ranges Music Council Performance - Education Case Study

For 30 years, the Dandenong Ranges Music Council (DRMC) has been creating opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to listen to, learn, participate in and perform music in the Yarra Ranges region.

It delivers a wide range of activities including workshops and masterclasses with professional musicians; music lessons on a wide variety of instruments in and outside of school hours; concerts in which school students and community musicians can collaborate; and music therapy sessions and performances for, and by, people with disability.

Having closely collaborated with local primary schools over many years, the DRMC got even closer in 2011, moving in to brand new premises in Monbulk Primary School’s BER-funded performing arts centre, named in honour of DRMC’s founder, Bev McAlister. It speaks volumes about the central place of music in the Dandenong Ranges community that the school’s new building is dedicated to the performing arts and named in honour of a committed advocate for community-wide music making. The co-location is great for the school and great for the DRMC.

“We have a strong belief which guides all our activities,” says Bev, “that music plays an important role in community building, wellbeing and cultural identity.”

Bev created the Council on returning to Australia after living with her family in Montana in the US. She had been impressed with the vibrancy and depth of community life there, in which active music making was the heart, and was surprised to find that this wasn’t the case in the Dandenong Ranges. It’s a very different story these days!

DRMC’s activities reach wide and deep into its community and are inspired by local people in genuine partnerships with local schools, resident music professionals, guest composers and songwriters, musical directors and instrument makers. Cross-generational collaborations are a big part of the DRMC’s agenda and an important part of its longevity and success, says Bev.

We said that if there was a need or desire to start a musical group…there needed to be a voluntary support committee of no fewer than four people to manage and drive that group, which would get them started.

“We encourage family participation in our projects, and in fact some local musicians had their first musical experiences as children with us. They have gone on to study and become music professionals, and have returned to live in this local community, which keeps the music making in our schools and community fresh and vibrant.”

Another important part of DRMC’s philosophy is the bottom-up approach: that music activities are driven by the community, not imposed upon it.

“We started with an overarching objective to foster music in the community. We visualised many empty boxes that could be filled with any musical need driven by the community. Those boxes could, and did, become anything from an orchestra, to a pipe band, bush band or choir. We said that if there was a need or desire to start a musical group, or fill in a box, there needed to be a voluntary support committee of no fewer than four people to manage and drive that group, which would get them started.

“Over the years we developed our manuals and resources and gave the volunteers training (which was usually peer-run) to help those groups manage themselves, which they did. We also realised early on that we couldn’t keep looking after all these groups under the DRMC umbrella. So we support these groups to become sustainable, financially, artistically, and administratively and if they become larger we help them become an incorporated body and move them out into the community. The DRMC must have spawned at least 30 of these groups that are now active in the region.”

By creating partnerships with a wide range of organisations, including non-arts bodies such as Parks Victoria, local fire brigades, community health organisations and hospices, the DRMC helps spawn rich musical experiences which benefit musicians of all ages, in and outside schools.

“We’ve also initiated activities which use music to convey community health and safety messages, such as the creative music programs which were run in schools to heal grief and loss after we had disastrous fires in the region.”

DRMC is currently collaborating with Melbourne University on a research project around song writing with students at Monbulk Primary School, to investigate the impacts of music making on student wellbeing.

Bev’s Tips and Ideas

  1. Any group needs a volunteer support group of no fewer than four people to drive it in the start-up phase.
  2. Think about the cross-generational aspects of what you do: involve families where you can. This keeps your base strong, particularly in regional areas
  3. Musical activities must be suggested and driven by the community – from the grassroots up – never imposed on people.
  4. Have Board members, patrons, volunteers with an excellent mix of skills, experience and contacts between them.
  5. Think laterally about funding opportunities: think about getting funding for themed projects from relevant organisations eg for projects which use music to convey health or public safety messages. That’s often easier than finding core funding for the running of the organisation.
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