Issue 9 - 1 October 2012 enews home

Cultural experience enriches vocal studies lecturer

By Patrick Nelson

Lecturer Paolo Fabris with Desert Mulga's Gregwin Gibson, Steven Brown and Shannon Gallagher

CDU lecturer Paolo Fabris has returned to Darwin after a memorable cultural exchange with a group of Indigenous rock musicians at a remote teaching camp in Central Australia.

The Vocal Studies lecturer had been invited to deliver several workshops at the Ross River music camp, an event held to prepare musicians for the Bush Bands Bash, an annual concert featuring some of the best desert rock artists in Australia.

He had come at the request of Bush Bands organisers, MusicNT, and CDU’s Alice Springs VET music team.

“With my very limited experience with Aboriginal culture, I was a little unsure of what to expect,” Mr Fabris said.

“Slowly the bands started to arrive from all corners of the Centre, some having travelled several hundred kilometres across the desert.

“My job was to show them how to use their voice safely.”

Mr Fabris said he felt a little intimidated when it came time to deliver the first warm-up, early on the second day.

“There I was, a shy, short, pale Italian singing teacher standing in front of 85 men, with all eyes on me. I said something to myself like ‘it’s do or die’.”

Mr Fabris soon discovered that he had no cause for concern.

He explained to the musicians that it was important to engage some muscles, but not others, and took them through a set of basic vocal warm-up exercises.

“I asked them to yawn and to smile, and within a minute, everyone, including all the elders and supporters, were touching their necks, feeling their larynxes and experiencing some of the many movements that our voice box is capable of.

“They were transfixed. It was simply awesome.

“There I was, standing under a tent in the middle of nowhere, with my limited English, teaching rock bands how to open their throats, engage the Latissimus dorsi and be less twangy.”

Mr Fabris said he felt a strong connection between the human voice, its secrets and ancient Indigenous culture.

“I felt privileged when an elder invited me to sit with them by the camp fire. They taught me hand signals for kangaroo hunting, gave me a skin name and invited me to their communities.”

Mr Fabris said he had been looking forward to sitting among the crowd and watching the concert in Alice Springs a week later but the band members had other ideas.

“They all asked me to help them warm up, back stage,” he said.

“I feel enriched, empowered, honoured and so incredibly little.”