Geelong choir proving music and community are an antidote to loneliness

todayJuly 29, 2023 3

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Evenings are quiet at Wesley Church in Geelong’s CBD, except on Mondays when a harmony of 80 voices drifts through the open doors.

Creativity Australia’s With One Voice Choir is a small community group providing residents with connection in one of Australia’s fastest-growing cities.

With more people moving to the town once dubbed a “sleepy hollow”, the risks of experiencing social isolation and loneliness are increasing, with some studies showing a link between big cities and higher rates of loneliness.

Ending Loneliness Together chair Michelle Lim warns of “significant health impacts” relating to loneliness, which at its most extreme can lead to “increased likelihood of earlier death”.

She warns one in three Australians are experiencing loneliness, compared to one in four prior to the pandemic.

But the Geelong residents who are members of the choir have found the effects of loneliness can be buffered with a weekly hour and a quarter of group singing.  

It is a connection literally saving lives in this burgeoning community.

Composer Kym Dillon has been leading the With One Voice Choir in Geelong for more than 10 years. (ABC News: Harrison Tippet)

Standing behind a Roland keyboard at the front of the room each week is Kym Dillon, an energetic, personable, whirlwind of positivity who leads the choir through its sessions.

She is a composer and musician whose works have been commissioned by the likes of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and have been performed across the globe.

But here in Geelong, it is her role in bringing almost 100 disparate residents together that draws the most admiration.

“We give this kind of snapshot of humanity,” she says.

“We don’t try to iron it out into everyone sounding the same way or looking the same or acting the same.

“We try to celebrate their individual characters, but every single person’s voice is part of the overall fabric.

“That’s what makes it work so well, but it’s also so beautiful to me.”

In more than a decade of leading the choir, Kym has heard plenty of stories about members using the choir as a tool to create and maintain social connections.

“Some have told me that this is the one thing they can come out of their house for, and often the one thing that stopped them actually ending their life because they didn’t have a sense of community [previously].

“But here they feel part of a family, able to contribute, a sense of ownership.

“So it literally is a lifeline for some people, and that story is just very profound for me to hear.”

Woman in bright red t-shirt smiles at the camera

Jessica Walker feels she can be herself around members of the With One Voice Choir.(ABC News: Harrison Tippet)

During choir sessions the group stays seated as Kym walks them through each song, before the members stand to perform each piece together.

Jessica Walker spends a bit more time standing than most because she dances her way through each song, with each action helping her remember the words she cannot properly see on the projector.

“I joined the choir with my mum a while back,” Jessica says.

“I don’t know really why. I just needed something to do, something to make me happy and get rid of all the pent-up energy I had. Because I have autism, Asperger’s actually.

“I love it here, I love coming out of my shell, I love being me.

“I’m free to be me, whereas outside in society I feel the pressure of having to be like everybody else.”

“But I’m not like everybody else, which I’m proud of. I’m proud of not being like everybody else. I’m proud I have a disability. I love having a disability, I love saying I have one. Because it’s not really a disability, it’s more a way of different thinking, in my opinion.”

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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