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The show can go on…from the comfort of your home

Meet Paul Sinkinson, ACH Group’s music guru, who together technology played a wonderful role in getting the Sing for Joy choir online during the COVID-19 restrictions. Read about Paul’s early years discovering music to his most recent accomplishment as the much-loved Choir Director of ACH Group’s Sing for Joy choirs.

Paul’s career began in the Adelaide Hills town of Mount Pleasant, about ten minutes away from where he grew up. It was a musical called Luck! put on by the local theatre group that he was invited to teach and conduct the music component. From that moment, he was hooked and started working as a rehearsal pianist on community productions in Adelaide.

When did music become important in your life?

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Even as a child, music has always been ingrained in my life, whether that was playing the old piano mum had inherited, dancing around my bedroom pretending to conduct a symphony orchestra, putting on a concert in the backyard complete with choreography or creating my own band in primary school. Throughout high school and university study, I always felt myself gravitating back towards music – specifically musical theatre. Music has always allowed me to process my emotions and been the best way to express myself.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career as a musician?

I’ve had the pleasure of working on so many wonderful productions including Kinky Boots (Gilbert & Sullivan Society of SA), Avenue Q (Hills Musical Company), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Northern Light Theatre Company), Bye Bye Birdie (The MET), Wicked (Matt Byrne Media) and Mary Poppins (Whyalla Players), as well as countless other shows. I’ve met and worked with so many talented and hardworking artists and creative people and am so grateful to have been given these opportunities. In addition to my role as Choir Director of ACH Group’s Sing for Joy choirs, I am a resident Music Director and Repertoire Coach for the Elder Conservatorium Bachelor of Music Theatre at the University of Adelaide. I coach students one-on-one and lead music driven production classes. In the last few years, I have also worked as a keyboard deputy on touring productions of The Sound of Music, Singin’ In The Rain and Mamma Mia. Working as a keyboard deputy on a professional touring production is the most exciting yet terrifying experience and I must admit I love it.

How did your way cross paths with ACH Group’s Sing for Joy Choirs?

I first heard about ACH Group’s Sing for Joy choirs in 2018 when I was studying to become a high school music teacher. I was on my last teaching placement at a high school and was approached by an ACH Group staff member who had come to watch a performance for one of her children at the school. After spending six weeks with teenagers, I thought the idea of working with older people would be an excellent contrast! When I started assisting with the Sing for Joy choirs, I met so many wonderful older people with bright personalities a willingness to learn. It wasn’t long before the position of Choir Director opened up and I leapt at the chance to continue working with ACH Group.

Tell us a little bit about Sing for Joy Choirs.

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It’s all in the title really! Our choirs are all about coming together and sharing the feeling of what it is like making music together – it is a feeling of joy and elation! The choir was founded in 2010 as an opportunity for older people of all abilities to come together to not only learn to sing, but to enjoy singing as part of a group and contribute to the cultural life of South Australia. Older people have so much to contribute to the arts and the choirs provide opportunities to empower its members and entertain and inspire audiences.

Can you share some of your favourite moments directing ACH Group’s Sing for Joy Choirs?

My favourite moments are the ‘goose bump’ moments. When a piece of music comes together, everything clicks into place and we share a moment as a group. Smiles and laughter breaks out across the room. The sopranos have just heard the altos nail their harmony for the first time. Our sopranos have hit a note they never thought they could reach before. We finish a song and a choir member might shed a tear because they never thought they would be part of a group that could sing in three-part harmony. A choir member will share a story of what a particular lyric means to them or how a new song has changed their perspective on current events. These are the kind of moments that brighten my day.

How would you describe the members of the choirs? Who would be a good fit to join?

Sing for Joy choir members are one of the most diverse groups I have worked with. Members come from different backgrounds and bring their lived experiences into the rehearsals. Some members have been singing all their lives, others may have had a lapse while some have never had the opportunity or confidence to sing out loud before. We cater to all skillsets and work on music of all genres. Sing for Joy is also an inclusive social program so having a chat and sharing a story is encouraged! Just one year after you became the new director of ACH Group’s Sing for Joy choirs, a global pandemic starts.

How has it been for you and the members of the choirs?

It was inevitable that choral singing would be on the list of restricted activities once COVID-19 started spreading in Australia, but all our choir members understood the importance of looking after themselves and each other. For many of our members the Sing for Joy is an important weekly social event and not being able to catch up each week in person was an unfortunate outcome of restrictions.

How has it been getting the virtual choir rehearsals up and running during covid-19 restrictions?

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I developed an online choir rehearsal, offered as a live stream, to all our choir members. After some research and experimenting with microphones, lighting and internet speed, I managed to create an hour-long weekly session structured just like our face-to-face rehearsals. Members could log in with their laptops or iPads and access the live stream together. Staring into a webcam and imagining how choir members might react to what I am teaching was a learning curve, but it has been wonderful to see the names of members pop up as they log in and the many comments in the live chat.

What does the future hold for the Sing for Joy choirs post-pandemic?

The choirs will continue no matter what the future holds. Should the restrictions ease, face-to-face sessions will slowly resume adhering to health regulations and guidelines. The virtual online rehearsal will continue as it offers an alternative to those people concerned about their health and who would like to continue singing from home. Having two options has created more flexibility for members should they miss a week of choir and want to catch up. It is safe to say the music, joy and laughter shall continue in one form or another!

For anyone who is reading, why should they consider joining a choir?

Singing has so many physical and psychological benefits I would encourage anyone to join a choir! We work on our posture when we sing, we learn how to control our breathing through our lungs and diaphragm; and how to project the voice and grow our confidence. We also know that music improves our mental health, as does regular social involvement. Singing helps our brain form synapses quicker, helping our memory. Singing in a group gives us a sense of achievement as we work towards learning a piece of music, mastering its harmonies and rhythms. Sing for Joy choirs have no expectation of having previous musical knowledge as we value commitment and participation just as much as talent and experience. The choir is all about having fun, while telling a story through music and sharing a laugh with the friends you’ve made, all while learning and achieving your musical goals.