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Music for the soul (Musical Jam, Darwin NT)

"Retirement scares me!" says musician and singer Sue Firth. Read on to find out more....

Health scientists tell us about improvements in our physical, social and mental health and well-being through involvement with music. So I went along to the COTA NT Musical Jam the last Tuesday in October, feeling like I needed to jump into a community group! I was keen to tease out good news stories of Territorians over 55 years of age; to celebrate Senior Territorians through words and images. So…loaded down with camera gear, notebook, and trepidation, I rocked up to Spillet House and introduced myself to the group, explaining why I was there with a camera instead of a musical instrument! I needn’t have worried, I was warmly welcomed, even encouraged, to ‘click away!’ with my camera and stick my lens in their faces as they sang and played their ukuleles, guitars, bass guitar, harmonica etc. ( p.s. They're looking for a drummer)

The two hours flew by, with well-known songs given the group’s unique arrangements and beautiful harmonies. Yeah...I sang along to 'Alexander’s Ragtime Band' and many more. I felt happy and included in their company. The Musical Jammers were self-assured, proud to be photographed and to be listened to by this stranger; maybe it would lead to a good news piece?

A common thread, upon hanging out with them was the story the group wanted me to hear - about the wider issue of the welfare of the elderly in the NT. They were the lucky ones – mobile, independent, healthy and living full lives. And each member of the Jammers has their own story about what lead them to join the group – feelings of social isolation, or a passion that needed an outlet, an interest to learn a new skill (how to play an instrument) or recovering from illness and other life tragedies.


Di told me, ‘What gets me here each week is to be with like-minded people; people who love music as much as I do. I love harmony singing with others, it feels so good!’ They individually needed this group - like air, food and water, to get by.

Sue Firth (pic below) started the group in 2015, under COTA NT administration and what lead her to conceive of the idea, what kept her going when the group faltered or was threatened, is a truth that resonates deeply in us all.

Sue puts it succinctly when she asks, ‘Why is it that because we’re 60 years or more we stop living? Look into Senior’s faces - see all the things they have done!

Sue Firth (pic) started Musical Jam

I was lucky to sit down with Sue as she shared her life’s passion for singing with me. Sue was born with a beautiful voice – identified by her mother when she was a small child. Sue always felt that music and singing was her destiny in life and she grew up dreaming of being a performer, but being quite shy, Sue had to grow into this picture she had for herself. As a young working woman in the UK, Sue scrimped and saved to pay for a series of singing lessons.

Her singing confidence grew, and Sue eventually joined two other women to form a harmony trio in the 70’s which took them to USA military bases in Turkey, Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore, to perform for the troops. The Vietnam war saw Sue’s trio engaged for many performances and Sue described how well the performers were looked after in the US bases, her face lighting up as she recalled stories for me. Now a seasoned performer, Sue settled back in the UK and held down the job of the feature singer in a club in Manchester. Then family reasons saw Sue travel to Australia in 1980. Sue and her husband settled in Darwin eventually and Sue continued to work in music as a school assistant with the Education Department. As a school assistant, specialising in music, Sue has worked with countless students and teachers for 20 years! Even now, in retirement, Sue works part-time teaching music, using music for healing in the Hospital School. I was struck by the irony of this…music and Sue’s singing has been a healing force for most of her life.

But retirement didn’t sit well with Sue – one day a week of work wasn’t enough for her. She recalled to me how she was in a very sad place when her full-time work was no more. ‘Retirement scares me,’ Sue tearfully explained and my eyes misted up too as Sue’s words sank in.

Sue joined in some COTA NT activities before having the realisation that ‘surely there are other people with guitars, drums, piano skills etc getting dusty in cupboards somewhere!’

So, through negotiations with COTA, Musical Jam started out with small numbers of players and their instruments, collecting songs, music and lyrics to add to their repertoire. By the time I visited their group, there were thick folders of music sheets for every musician!

Today the group springboards into other pop-up bands to entertain Darwin Seniors and other community groups in a variety of ways. The Sunshine Band play in Darwin’s Nursing Homes regularly and are much loved.

Musical Jam welcomes all people, you don’t have to be an accomplished musician to join. You only need to have an interest, like John (pic below) who told me,

‘I only started playing guitar two years ago, so I joined Musical Jam to grow my playing skills. It’s the company and friendships that keep me coming back too.’

Watching John strumming and singing, I was reminded of Neil Young! Especially when the group played "Four Winds"...

I don’t play any instrument, I'm a photographer, but I know lots of songs and enjoy community singing. I’m feeling so welcome there. Perhaps I might ask the energetic Sue to teach me to play the Ukelele?

I might just be the 100th person she has taught to play!


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