The Glenray Choir Lifting Hearts, Raising Voices
Standing backstage at BMEC as stage hands excitedly hurry past, I see Krissy’s anxiety start to overwhelm her. Her face crumbles as the second skin of orange and black face paint, a ferocious lion melts into her tears. “I know you can do this, but you don’t have to. Making it this far is amazing, it’s up to you if you want to go on…” We do two-minutes of deep breathing and she chooses to walk onto the stage, helping to push Ben in his wheelchair, who is excitedly clapping.
Hundreds of people in the audience patiently wait. I adjust the huge sparkling sun headdresses that circle their nervously eager faces, and give the cue for ‘sunglasses on’ – hiding the lions waiting beneath. I know the choir are taking cues from Darlene and I – we had started the choir four months ago, and although our body language confidently announced “we got this” we share a quick, deeply honest moment acknowledging the huge unknown ahead as we lock eyes and bump fists.
The heavy blue curtains open to the warm, joyful opening bars of The Beatles classic ‘Here Comes the Sun’. As the choir sing and dance using Sign Language I feel the audience, who are not familiar with a disability choir pull back slightly.
The record scratches and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ kicks in – the choir rips off their sunglasses and proudly sings out – “you held me down, but I got up!” The sun rays suddenly transform into beautiful manes, revealing a pride of lions – warriors, singing out both verbal and non-verbal acoustics and the audience erupts in applause. They take a bow.
This is their moment and it has been earnt through months of hard work and dedication. The Glenray choir members who suffer from near debilitating anxiety smile wider than I’ve ever seen – wider then seems possible as they keep repeating “I didn’t think I could do it, but I did it!”
This is one of the highlights of my career. It’s hard to put into words the rippling positive effect that night had, seeing an overwhelming pride fill the entire choir like a breath of pure oxygen, a wave of confidence and audience recognition transforming their posture and grinning faces into pure joy – it’s transformative.
Before working in the disability sector I worked in production, filming Neil Armstrong’s final interview before he died. I studied theatre at University of New England and although I loved my job in film, nothing compares to using yourself to lift and help disadvantaged and vulnerable people around you. I always held this belief, but my job lets me put this into practice every day. People living with disabilities are ranked highly for sexual abuse and violence. They can be marginalised, stigmatised, ostracised and looked over. We have the opportunity to change that with the smallest of steps, in a million different ways every single day, and I’m grateful for that. A big part of my job is role modelling healthy social interactions and emotion regulation, but when you truly look at the history and even current experiences of people with disabilities I have to wonder if they are actually the ones role modelling a heightened ability to rise above, to overcome and push forward.
The cognitive and physical benefits of singing are numerous and include everything from boosting your immune system to being a natural anti-depressant. The Glenray Choir is more than a performance group, it is music and speech therapy combined. It is collaborative costume design, choreography and uplifting creativity, building confidence and social connection. It is empowering voices beyond lyrics.
After The Glenray Choir’s successful first performance we were asked to open for the grand finale of the 2017 Bathurst Eisteddfod, and as I write this we’re excitedly working towards our 2018 performance.
It can be hard to put yourself out there in everyday life let alone on a stage, to take that leap of faith in being genuinely vulnerable. To choose to be aware and accountable for what we add to the world around us, and the far reaching effects of our intentions, words and actions. Like pebbles dropped into still water everything we do, no matter how insignificant ripples outwards. Choosing compassion is fundamental because our impact amplifies over time, affecting things in ways we often never see or know.
The Glenray Choir has created a space for us to really see each other, and when we see each other we want to help each other. It is a platform for the empowerment of the individual. One kindness can change a life, so any power we get in this life should be used to help others rise up. I hope this inspires you to see past perceptions and be fearless in shining your positivity, to be an anchor for people who are lost, wings for those weighed down and of course – to sing.
Love and thanks, Eliza Di Mauro
The Glenray Choir Instructor & Magic Maker ✨
Rising up to the challenge: “Be fearless in shining your positivity.”