Imagining the Manningham Community Jam

A project I will be working on over the next couple of months is the Manningham Community Jam, a large-scale music event to open the Manningham Community Square [MC2] community hub building on Doncaster Road in Melbourne. This brand new building is nearly finished and the Manningham Community Jam is part of the program of events to open it to the public. The building is light-filled, contemporary and purpose-built, it will house the public library and art gallery on the ground floor, with the top floor a dedicated community arts centre with dance studios, art studios, rehearsal spaces and a few offices. The building will also house a number of community organisations and support services.

The idea with the Manningham Community Jam is to bring together all the music groups that already exist in the area – several choirs, jazz bands, rock bands, a marimba group – and members of the public to play the building into being and warm the space with sounds. I’ll be composing the musical skeleton that the Jam will be based on, working with each of the groups to develop sections of this, and then leading a large-scale jam with members of the public and the groups. I’ll have a team of professional musicians working with me on the day. It’s going to be great!

On Friday I had a tour of the new building and heard about which groups had expressed interest in participating. Seeing the building and the possible spaces we could use always helps me begin to shape the musical ideas. Outside the front of the building is a small stage and the starting idea is for it to be an outdoor jam, with the participants facing towards the stage.

In the entrance of the building things are quite open-plan, with a stairway leading up and two further levels with balconies/bridges overlooking the foyer area.

Looking at this range of possible ‘stages’, the organisers and I couldn’t help but imagine how it could be if we had some of our groups positioned on each of these balconies, playing in turn. One of the desired outcomes of the community jam is for these local music groups to be featured in some way, so could we begin the jam with short but characteristic presentations from each of these groups, presented as a kind of music installation? We may have groups such as an Italian Women’s Choir, a senior citizen’s choir, a jazz ensemble, a brass ensemble… I like the idea of starting the jam with a short performance from a group on the highest balcony, followed by another by another group on the next balcony, and so on, cascading the sounds one by one down to the foyer where the marimba group could then perform, and have the rock band positioned outside the front of the building, as a way of drawing the general public out of the building and onto the forecourt for the big jam proper.

All the inside musicians would need to then come back downstairs (using the elevators probably) and out through the front doors in order to be featured in the jam as well.

However, moving people during an event is not ideal… It would be much more straightforward if we just kept everyone in the same place throughout. We don’t have any planned rehearsal time with the inside groups, to get them familiar with the space and where and when to move downstairs… perhaps we could schedule this in though? Maybe the day before?

I’m also not a great fan of the outdoor jam as managing sound and volume – so that everyone can hear each other, and most importantly hear me – can be a lot more problematic. No soundcheck on the day, apart from immediately before the event starts. However, the outdoor space is the largest space there is, and if all the groups that are expressing interest decide to participate, and if we get our anticipated take-up on the day, then there could easily be 600 or more people there.

The Community Jam is not a long event – we have 45 minutes in total, and following the Jam there will be a Time Capsule ceremony, which the organisers want all the general public to be part of. The Time Capsule ceremony will be the last event of the day.

I’ll continue to blog about this project over the coming weeks as it evolves and takes shape. It will culminate on Sunday 16 September.

Interestingly, opening a new building with community music making is a popular idea in current times – Melbourne’s main concert hall the Hamer Hall is opening this weekend after a major 2-year refurbishment. There are several months of activities coming up to mark the re-opening and one of them is an event called Raising the Roof, involving community ensembles from all across the state, which is going to be fabulous, I think. But that’s not until September 30th – we at Manningham will be setting the trend! And it is wonderful to think that bringing amateur musicians and music-making novices into prominent public spaces is a feature of the contemporary zeitgeist.

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