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Charissa and Kym performing at Highercombe Residential Care Home

Music is life. It connects and inspires.

In the vibrant world of singing and musical theatre, the phrase ‘music is life’ resonates deeply with performers who live and breathe the melodies that bring stories to life.

For James, Charissa and Paul, the sentiment is the cornerstone of their artistic and professional journeys.

We asked them about their experiences, their love for music, and the roles that have defined their careers. We also introduce the newly-formed duo Autumn Leaves, touring ACH Group’s residential care homes.

Meet James, Charissa and Paul

James McCluskey-Garcia

As an actor, James has been involved in local musical theatre for 11 years when he auditioned for Phantom Of The Opera in 2013. He had always acted until then but discovered he also had a voice! The roles haven’t stopped since. James has been lucky enough to play Mal Bieneke in Addams Family, Larry in Company, Mr Banks in Mary Poppins, Agent Branton in Catch Me If You Can, Kashoggi in We Will Rock You, Mrs Thistletwot and right hand of Trekky in Avenue Q, George in Kinky Boots, Juan Peron in Evita, Monsieur Thenardier in Les Miserable, Mystery Man/Narrator in Into The Woods and then most recently Andrew Carnes in Oklahoma, Ado Annie’s father and Judge of the local town.

How important is music in your life, and what does it mean to you?

Music IS life, for without music life is nothing. We are able to work through our emotions and thoughts with music. It lifts us up when we are sad, gives us peace, gives us connection to others and engages our spirit, mind and body.

I am lucky to witness this at work everyday whilst I lead the ACH Group Residential Choirs. It is a privilege to see the connections and memories music can bring to the residents.

Can you play an instrument?

Yes, I have been playing piano since I was a child.

Do you have a favourite song you like to sing or perform?

‘This is the Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde and ‘Soliloquy’ from Carousel.

What are your favourite songs or types of music to listen to?

Musical theatre is often listened to in our house along with classical music and acapella artists, and 80’s music gets a workout too!

Paul Sinkinson

Paul was the Associate Music Director for the national tour of Friends! The Musical Parody and has worked as keyboard deputy on touring productions of 9 to 5 The Musical, Frozen, The Sound of Music, Singin’ In The Rain and Mamma Mia! and played in numerous Adelaide based productions. Previous show credits include Music Director for This Girl: Regional SA Cabaret Tour (Rachael Beck), Shrek The Musical, In Pieces, Mamma Mia!, Songs for a New World and Spring Awakening (Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre), 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).

Paul specialises as a repertoire coach, accompanist and music director, while also working as a music theatre pit musician and choir leader throughout South Australia. He is currently a resident music director and repertoire coach for the Elder Conservatorium Bachelor of Music Theatre at the University of Adelaide. Paul holds a Masters of Secondary Education in Media and Music and is also the Choir Director for the ACH Group Sing for Joy Choir.

How important is music in your life, and what does it mean to you?

Music is integral to every aspect of my life; I can’t imagine a single moment without a melody or rhythm resonating around me. Music is everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. It might be the specific pitch of a squeaky door or the harmony created by car horns at a traffic light.

The world would be a bleak place without music, and many don’t realise how much it envelops our daily existence. Music helps me process and express emotions, opening up pathways to feelings that words alone can’t reach. I immerse myself in a wide variety of styles and genres, constantly exploring and experiencing everything music has to offer.

Can you play an instrument?

I’ve been playing the piano since I was five, always challenging my teachers with unusual and intriguing tunes I’d hear on the radio, on cassette tapes, or from my parents’ record collection. While I’ve often accompanied choirs, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I began to fully utilise my singing voice as an instrument to guide and lead choral groups.

Do you have a favourite song you like to sing or perform?

I don’t have just one favourite song because I’m always discovering new music and getting inspired for fresh repertoire to explore with the Sing for Joy choirs and my students in the Bachelor of Music Theatre program at the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide. I engage with so many different pieces of music daily that I’m constantly falling in love with something new. Music theatre, at its core, is about storytelling.

Our job as musicians, actors, dancers, and artists is simple yet profound: we are here to tell an engaging story. Whenever a piece of music tells a compelling story, I’m all ears.

What are your favourite songs or types of music to listen to?

My favourite genres are Pop and Music Theatre, with a particular fondness for 1980s Synth Pop. Artists like ABBA, Whitney Houston, Bonnie Tyler, Wham!, Cher, A-ha, The Buggles, Culture Club, and Duran Duran epitomise this era. The late 1970s and 1980s were thrilling times for keyboard and synthesiser innovation.

Instruments like the Yamaha DX-7, Prophet-5, and Roland Jupiter created iconic sounds that still resonate today. Their pulsating basslines and ethereal pads transported listeners to new realms, adding depth, texture, and personality. The optimistic and vibrant lyrical content of that time speaks to my personality, reflecting a buoyant and enthusiastic approach to life.

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.

Charissa McCluskey-Garcia

Just as with James, you may already know Charissa McCluskey-Garcia, ACH Group’s masterful Event Planner for Retirement Living and Residential Care, also well-regarded for her musical theatre achievements.

Charissa started in musical theatre when she was 18 and hasn’t stopped since – although not all roles or experiences have been on stage.

She has been on stage in musicals as Chiffon in Little Shop Of Horrors, Peggy in Godspell, A Nanny in Mary Poppins, Aretha in We Will Rock You, Ensemble for Kinky Boots and most recently as Diva in Priscilla Queen Of The Dessert.

Off stage Charissa completed roles as director, assistant director, stage manager, production manager and many shows as crew member.

Charissa confessed that she loves everything to do with theatre, but especially musical theatre.

How important is music in your life, and what does it mean to you?

I sing everyday. There is a song for everything. I can often be heard singing the next line of a song in general conversation, I mean, you can nearly always say something and someone has written a song about it!

I love that. Music can be heard in anything if we just listen… the rhythm of the indicator in the car, the sound of your car wheels driving over a railway track, even the sound of your feet walking along a path. Without music, days are ok, but with music, days are great!

Can you play an instrument?

The voice is an instrument, right? Its just not one you have to pack and unpack – it travels with me wherever I go.

Do you have a favourite song you like to sing or perform?

It changes everyday! So much of my life has music in it! My day job is about finding entertainment and creating events for residents so I am always listening to, searching for or speaking to entertainers, so their music is what I listen to. Somedays I am lucky enough to work with those entertainers, like this month, bringing Jazz to the residents as part of the Autumn Leaves Duo! I’ve had the privilege this month to learn some jazz songs and discover news ways of singing for me, so jazz is now added to my personal song list. However to answer more concisely, Somewhere That’s Green or Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop Of Horrors.

What are your favourite songs or types of music to listen to?

This changes everyday too! To relax or whilst working from home, The Outlander soundtrack (from every season!) is on very high rotation but if housework needs to be done then Madonna The Immaculate Collection is played at high volume. Of course whatever I am working on at that point gets played a lot too…I’ve been listening to a LOT of jazz! Ha ha.

Introducing… Autumn Leaves

If you’re a jazz fan, you probably know ‘Autumn Leaves’ by Joseph Kosma, one of the most popular jazz standards ever. It’s also the name of a new duo featuring singer Charissa McCluskey-Garcia and saxophone player Kym Mitchell. The band performed across all nine ACH Group’s residential care homes in June 2024.

Thanks, Charissa and Kym, for showing how music, especially jazz, is a universal way to be creative with compositions

Music connects and inspires, leading us to discover Kym Mitchell’s talents.

Kym’s mum is a resident at Yankalilla Centre Residential Care Home, and through various social activities, we learned about Kym’s successful career as a saxophonist. Since then, he’s been invited to perform as a solo act as well as with his band.

Kym started playing at eight years old, the first alto saxophone was given to him by his grandfather Charles. Kym recalls that Charles was a great musician himself, playing saxophone, trumpet and piano; while Kym’s grandmother Jean played violin. Kym shared that his passion talents were always well supported by his parents.

Sharing unspoken connection through every note.

For Robert, a resident at Highercombe who also plays saxophone, listening to another saxophonist playing live, was ‘a real treat’.

Kym, Robert and Charissa, posing for a photo marking Autumn Leaves performance.
Kym, Robert and Charissa, sharing a moment after the 'Autumn Leaves' performance.

Being yourself never gets old

The ACH Group difference can be felt through real experiences and the promotion of valued roles, fostering a sense of belonging and community connection. Let’s celebrate the life experiences and interests of older people because ‘being yourself never gets old’!

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