Astrid Jordensen Pub Choir


Now for the second part of my chat with Astrid Jorgenson, the creator of Pub Choir! If you did not listen to part one, it really is essential that you go and listen to (or read!) part one first. The end of part one, well I don’t want to ruin anything for you. So I’m just going to stop now, you go back and do part one. Okay?

All right, now you’ve come back to me ready for part two. So, the slight hilarity at the end of part one does continue through the rest of this podcast, but we do deal with some very serious issues as well. In fact, we could solve a lot of the problems in the world if you followed the advice of Astrid so we’re going to talk about gratitude, and we’re going to hear her nuggets of fabulous and talk about advocacy. You are going to enjoy this. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy this, sit back and relax and listen to part two of my conversation with Astrid Jorgensen.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually instead of listening to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 024 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Episode 24 “Read the Episode” Transcript


All right, okay, gratitude. I always like to ask about gratitude, for what are you most grateful?

What Are You Most Grateful For?

Astrid Jorgensen
What am I most grateful for? Well, it’s a great question. We should ask ourselves this every morning when we wake up.

I think we should.

Astrid Jorgensen

Look, I don’t know about you. But I’ve tried. Many times I try for this, I think I’m gonna have a gratitude journal, I’m gonna have a journal, and I buy myself a pretty book. And I say I’m gonna make myself write, you know, and I do it for like, two days. I don’t make time. And I go, You know what, it’s not that important that I write it down. It’s just important that I am grateful. Like, I raced out to the shops today, I went to Chermside, yay. Actually got what I wanted on my list, double yay.

And I was driving there thinking, I’m just really bloody grateful that I can hop in my car and go to the shops if I need to buy something. Like, I really should be grateful for that. Not everybody can jump in their car when they want. Not everybody can go buy something they need, I need more pants, I might have outgrown them. Let’s not go there. But I’m grateful I can do that. I’m grateful I can meet my friend there and have a coffee.

Astrid Jorgensen
Yeah, I love that. This might be controversial but I kind of think no matter what’s going on in life, the goal is to find gratitude, regardless of the circumstance because that kind of propels you forward. Every day is not going to be good in your life, so it’s about kind of being present and accepting and finding gratitude in your in your daily life.

I think everyone in this world has predispositions as to the kind of temperament that they have. I am grateful that I think I’m quite an optimistic person. And so that comes to me quite naturally. So I’m always looking for the next little thing. I think I’m tiring, I think I can be really tiring to people, you know, like my wonderful partner, Evan of 15 years, he’s a very calm person. And I think he would have to be to live with me, you know, like, I think I’m always looking and searching for something new.

I try to be grateful and optimistic about lots of stuff really, all of the time. There’s not anything that really sticks out as the number one thing I’m most grateful for. But um, I don’t know, I feel like that’s the whole purpose of life is finding gratitude every single day, not in a gross, like, toxic positive way. Like I’m not pretending everything’s good all the time.

But I feel like you’ve got to try and figure out how to live your life in a way that every day no matter what’s going on, you have the presence of mind to kind of see outside this very temporary moment and to be grateful generally, I can’t stop thinking about the burp. But I am grateful that that’s on camera.

Me too.

Astrid Jorgensen
Sorry. This is a podcast and people can’t see this. I have been laughing and shaking about that burp for the last 5 minutes. Anyway, yeah, I’m so sorry. I’m back on track now.

For now, we’ll see. We can we can circle back. Okay, now, well, yeah.

Astrid Jorgensen
Oh my god. I’m so sorry. Oh, my. Okay, all right.

There is nothing, nothing as magical as laughing, or singing together is magical but laughing is pretty fabulous, even better. It is and in fact, I have a joke at the end of every podcast, you’ll be pleased to know. I put a joke at the end of every podcast, whether they’re particularly good or not, it’s up to every person.

Of course, I think they’re hilariously funny. That’s I don’t know which one will be at the end of yours, but there will be a joke. So if people are listening, and they’re laughing now, good. Hold on to that because I want you to laugh at the end as well. We’re primed to laugh. Yep. Okay. Yeah, we’ve primed the laughing mechanism. So what is it? What is it, your sound hole? No. Is it?

How Pub Choir is For Everyone

Astrid Jorgensen
Yeah, yeah I try at Pub Choir, not to use any musical terms, not because I don’t want people to be more educated in the music sphere. But I just don’t want them to bring any baggage with them.

So I don’t use soprano, alto, tenor. I’ll just say high ladies, low ladies, men. And I don’t say like your voice box and your larynx and your soft palate. I just say open your sound hole, which is your mouth, and let out some sound? That’s as complicated as it needs to be. Yeah.

Well, the lady in front of me, she was a bit too tall. But anyway, I was just because I was like, right in the middle of the crowd, literally. Right. And I’m not terribly tall. But I did pick myself out in the video because of the pink hair. And also the tall lady who was in front of me with the sound hole t shirt on, which was looking at me in the face the whole time. She had blue hair, you actually said something about her blue hair.

Astrid Jorgensen
I, yes I remember the blue haired lady.

Well that was me, the short one sort of in behind her. I was there. The pink hair got lost with the tall blue haired lady with the sound hole t shirt. Alright, we get to this part of the podcast and I ask people and it’s just made up, obviously, nuggets of fabulous is what I call it, where you can sort of offer advice for people. And of course, I would assume that it’s mainly music teachers listening to this. So. Just any hints, tips, ideas, repertoire, anything that you’d like to share that might help other music teachers?

Astrid Jorgenson’s Nuggets of Fabulous

Be Kind, But Honest

Astrid Jorgensen
Okay, that’s a great question. Um, a couple of things spring to mind. One is, I think that you should be honest and optimistic as often as you can. So say when it comes to Pub Choir, and you mentioned this briefly before, when the crowd misses a note, I don’t lie to them about it. I try not to be I mean, I hope I can say this, a bitch. I try to be good about it, but there’s no point lying to your musicians, because they know. And so if they miss, you can laugh about it.

But there’s definitely no point in saying, Oh, you’re amazing all the time and this is so great. Just say, well, you’ve missed but this, thank you for being honest and this is what we hope it would be. So I think that’s something that can be very tempting, especially when you work with kids, it’s tempting to cajole them and to lie about it really and just be like you’re amazing, you’re doing such a good job.

But that I think that I would file that under toxic positivity is they don’t need to be lied to, they want to be better. I think that we have the most fun in life when we’re good at stuff, or we feel good about stuff. And so the quickest way to get there is to tell the truth, I think. So that forms a really big part of what I do with Pub Choir but I bring that into other areas of my life. And I think it’s really served me well.

Sometimes not everyone’s ready for the truth, but it’s always fastest. And so yeah, and I try to be optimistic about it. So this didn’t go right but I’m telling you, because I believe in you and this is what I hope it could be in the future, you know. So I think that’s one thing that really drives a lot of work that I do. And if it helps you in your work, then that might be nice.

Sometimes Technical Proficiency Builds Barriers to Music

Yeah, the other thing that I think I mentioned this in that keynote, you were speaking about, when I spoke to the KMEIA annual general meeting, I think I brought this up, is this idea of if you are trying to get any group of people to sing, I think that we spend far too much time making people feel self conscious about their bodies, and how technically proficient they are. Whereas I think we really need to get back to basics and all singing starts with the body and everybody has enough tools to begin immediately.

So let me say that more clearly. When I was working in schools, I would find that I had this certain idea of what choir was supposed to be. You come in, and then we do certain stretches, and then we talk about your breathing, and then we do 10 minutes of very particular warmups and I’m doing this and I’m stretching that and I’m making the kids feel uncomfortable and it’s not fun music that sometimes warmups can be fun.

But really what’s happening is we’re spending half of the rehearsal saying you were not ready to sing when you came in today. And you can only be ready to sing if I guide you there as this like mystic with all of the information about singing. Whereas I think it’s possible to sing first, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for warm ups and for breathing and for technique development.

But for me, I have seen this real revelation with Pub Choir that we can just rock up and start to sing immediately and everyone feels good. And it depends on what your goal is, of course, right. So my goal is not to create an award winning performance, but I think I would bring that into my school choirs if I ever went back, do I need to spend 20 minutes of a 40 minute lunchtime rehearsal correcting postures and making kids feel a little bit uncomfortable about the way that they walked in? Or could we sing first? Could I say, you being here is good enough? Like, let’s begin.

And then when we’ve got used to the idea of singing? Can we unpack any of that? Can we make a more comfortable way of getting that note? Is there a way that we could stand that would help us to sing better the next time we sing this? But yeah, I really think it might be nice for people to consider that. The messaging that that way of setting up rehearsals gives to your to your groups or to your classes when they come in. What are they learning unconsciously by you, setting up any rehearsal space, with this huge focus on fixing things before we’ve even begun?

Hmm, yes, I like it, you’re almost coming from a deficit mindset aren’t you. Like you’re coming in and you’re fixing,what are we going to fix today? How can I make you into a singer, instead of we’re singers and we’re joyous and we’re together, and then we’ll refine.

Astrid Jorgensen
Yeah, absolutely, yeah. And I really like the idea of saying, show me where you’re at and then let’s work at it together, rather than I’m going to assume I know where you need to change, before you’ve even begun. So people can come to your rehearsal, as soon as they come in the room sing something short that they love to sing. I always start Pub Choir with a really well known song as a warm up, just a chorus. And I just see where they’re at. And then maybe you say, Okay, now we’ve sung something. Now we’re ready to go. Let’s try making that feel even better by setting up our mouths like this, or standing in this certain way. You know, like, work with what you have first, rather than, like you say, making people feel like it’s a deficit that we’re looking to correct before we’ve even begun.

Yeah, I love it, they are definitely nuggets of fabulous.

Astrid Jorgensen
Oh, good.

Okay. I’m starting to laugh about the burp again, it wasn’t even that funny, but it was a bit. Okay. Very seriously, advocacy. Now we’re facing a bit of a crisis I feel in education generally. I mean, we have been for a while it’s just coming to a bit of a head here in Queensland I feel. Aware we’ve had historically world-leading programs in our state primary schools. But anyway, I don’t want to go too much down the specifics. But I do think Music Education offers a lot to our young people, not just musically, but for wellbeing, for cognitive development, like, you know, the research is there. It’s a fact.

So why do we have to fight for our existence first off, but what advice would you give us to help advocate for our, like it’s something you do. I know, I’m waffling a bit here now. But like through Pub Choir, that’s huge to me, that’s an advocacy tool. You know, I have parents at my school that go and rave about it, and how good it is to sing together.

So in a way you’re doing it, but what advice would you give to us to help show people how important it is for our children to have a music education as part of their education delivered by qualified people, I might say, who make it joyous and who know what they’re doing?

Music Education Advocacy

Astrid Jorgensen
Yeah, look, that’s a big job, isn’t it? I mean, I wish I had a silver bullet answer to say, this is how we get people to care about music education. What I will say is that, like it or not, I think sport does a better job of being inclusive than music does, let me qualify that statement with some information.

So I mean, because I know that it’s very much a sport versus music debate in the world sometimes, and especially during COVID when sport could happen and music couldn’t and all this other stuff. But what I will say is that there is a room for everyone in the house of sport, and you can be the worst at any sport and you can still sign up for a team.

Most workplaces have an indoor soccer club, or, you know, most people can play touch football if they want. If I wanted to go play netball, I could sign up for the very worst division and find a group of friends and we could just make it work. What do you do when you’re dead average at music? I think it’s just something to consider because I think something that sport does really well, it convinces everybody that they are welcome. And not only that, because sport is so welcoming, and everyone I think in Australia has some experience with sport. So we would have all played it at school, even just briefly, we would have all tried sport in different ways at different times. And it gives us context for when we see sport in the world.

So I played tennis as a kid, very badly. And I have experienced how hard it is to serve the ball, and I lost every game I’ve ever played, whatever. But when I watch tennis on TV, I have some context around how incredible it is, when we see Ash Barty play tennis, I have found some notion of what is involved because I tried it and I was the worst ever. And now I know how much work was required to be that good as the people that we see at Wimbledon.

How Pub Choir Breaks Barriers By Being a Singing Club

With music, unless we give everybody the context, at some point in life, they will have nothing to compare it to and they won’t have the ability to contextualise and appreciate creative people in the world who are doing incredible things. Like I think we’ve kind of gotten to this mindset in society, that music is like a gift from God and you either have it or you don’t.

But anyone who’s ever had a music lesson knows that you learn technique, and you practice and you get better by doing. And I think we have to find a way as music educators, to invite more people into that grassroots level. Of course, I’m biased because I run a grassroots level activity as a job. But I think it’s kind of the way that we let people into the music universe, we give them an experience of what it would take to be good at it. And then they go home and I like to think that people who come to Pub Choir for an evening, have a bit of a revelation and think, oh, wow, we learnt a song in three part harmony. And someone guided me through that experience and we got to have a product at the end.

And then they go home. Maybe they try and sing in harmony with the radio and they realise it’s not something that they can do by themselves necessarily, they might need to go and work at it a little bit more, they might need to go and get a singing lesson or two, they might look to join their local choir to try and recreate that feeling. I feel like the grassroots music making is how we get people to appreciate the high level stuff. And yeah, I don’t know. I feel like if there’s a way, of course it’s all about budgets and stuff too at schools.

But is there a way to have an awful no audition choir that performs for no one? It’s like singing club? You know, is there a way that we can just have drama club and never put on a performance? Like can we offer children right at the beginning an experience of making something, so that they have the context for creativity in the world when they see it, and they have a better chance at appreciating what is involved?

I think that would be really good and sport does a good job at that and I want us to be better at it as music educators.

I agree 100%. And I think that’s what as as a primary classroom teacher, that’s what we have and what we can do, because we teach every kid and it’s really important. In fact, with Deb Brydon, when we were recording the episode with her, it’s really important that our children call themselves musicians, they’re musicians, they’re singers, they’re composers, every single kid in that school.

And every kid sings together, and I think that we can make a difference there. It’s reaching the adults, it’s reaching the decision makers. You know, I think that we can do it with children, if we’re lucky enough to be in a situation like me that teaches every kid and they all believe they can sing because they can, they all believe that they can compose because they can.

But that’s that’s a whole attitude that we can do in our classrooms, but it’s reaching the, well hopefully you can reach your own administrators in your school. But how do you reach the decision makers at the top of the Department of Education and the ministers who say and well no we’ll make music optional?

You know, they’re they’re making it even more elitist. So I think we’ve got to reach ordinary people as well and that’s certainly something you do.

Astrid Jorgensen
I’m trying my best. It’s a big job, isn’t it? And I guess even if we can’t solve it today, you are teaching children who will become decision makers. So we hope that you know, we can bring in a change of attitude, but it’d be nice if it happened before that.

It would be, but certainly I agree. We need to, we all need to do our bit to convince people. You just happened to do your bit with thousands of people. So we’re really appreciative.

Astrid Jorgensen
I’m doing my best. Thank you.

Get On Your Soapbox

You do, so one last chance to get on your soapbox. I like to finish by making this offer, that if there was something that you wanted to tell the world, you’ve given us lots of ideas and thoughts. But one really important thing that you’d like to tell everybody, what would it be?

Astrid Jorgensen
I was like, in my mind, I was just like, say something positive, say something positive. But I mentioned this at the AGM and I feel like this has become a bit of a focus of mine, and I’m grappling with how to work with this issue.

The APRA Issue

Is that I question whether or not APRA is always serving the best interests of musicians and music educators in this country. I think that music makers and composers absolutely deserve to be paid for their work. And APRA is the organisation that claims to protect and work on behalf of artists to get royalties and things like that.

Let me give you one example of why I’m concerned, every school in Australia who wants to photocopy music and have choirs or bands or anything pays an APRA license, so that you can make seven copies or whatever it is, I can’t remember, it’s been a while since I was at a school.

It’s five i think.

Astrid Jorgensen
So you can make five copies of each original and you pay a licensing fee from your precious Music Department budget, so that you can be assured that you are paying the correct licensing fees for the music that you use. Does APRA ever collect the information from you at the end of the year about what music you used?

I know that from every music teacher that I’ve ever asked this question they say no.

So then my follow up question would be where did the fees go? I am a person who composes music for choir, I sell it to schools for a fifth of the price because they only need to buy one copy for every five kids.

Yes, but I don’t get the royalties from APRA because they don’t collect information from schools about what music was played. So this is one of the questions that I have for APRA. And I think if you are in a music department that pays an APRA fee, or maybe you own a business, every business has to pay an APRA fee for the music that they play on their premises, even though APRA doesn’t ask them what music they played. I think you have every right to say where is my fee going? Are you giving this to the right people?

And how can I ensure that this precious music budget, money, is being spent in the way that I believe it is. Yeah, because if you think about it, if no one asks you what music you photocopied, how would the writer be paid? They’re not being paid for it, so where is the money going? That is my question and that is my soapbox.

Or are the retailers, is there any chance the retailers are asked for their information?

Astrid Jorgensen
They are not, and there’s no way of recouping it. So every single business premises in Australia has to pay an APRA license and nobody collects the information about what music is played on the premises, the APRA royalties are divided up automatically, according to commercial radio play.

So if you owned a beautiful cafe, and you went out of your way to only play indigenous female First Nations music, nobody’s collected that information so those artists aren’t getting paid. It’ll just be going to whatever’s on the radio that week. So it’s a bit concerning to me, and I’m at the moment, it’s, you know, my psychologist would say stay in your lane.

No, don’t stay in your line. You know, the best things happen when you pop outside your lane sometimes.

Astrid Jorgensen
Yeah. Well, I guess my provocation to anyone who’s listening is, do you pay an APRA fee? Does your school? Does your business pay an APRA licensing fee? And is it within your power to ask where is my money going?

I love that. How does it work? I know I was going to say this is the final soapbox, but how does it work in other countries?

Astrid Jorgensen
It’s different in every country. In America, there’s multiple rights agencies. So it’s not a monopoly like in Australia and APRA, I think a lot of people assume that it’s a government agency, but it’s actually a private agency run by music publishing executives who have obviously vested interests in the recuperation of fees around the country, because if they can collect money on music that’s on the radio, that is money that belongs to the labels that they work for outside of APRA.

It’s a whole thing. It’s been investigated by the ACCC, but in the meantime, that’s a year long process, and I think actually years long, but in the meantime schools are still using their budgets to pay for copyright licensing, which I think is not being used in the way that they believe it is.

Does that mean any choral music publisher is getting any money?

Astrid Jorgensen
I’m sure. Yeah, I’m sure that there is, people are being paid somehow. And especially, you know, if you buy them off websites or whatever. I think one thing that we know is that if you buy direct from the composer, they’re going to get the money.

Yes, but it’s more about buying the number of copies to suit the number of kids, but believing because you’ve paid your APRA license, that the royalties will find the right people and that’s not happening. That’s the thing that I’m concerned about. I understand that there are publishers, people need to take cuts, if they help you sell your music or whatever, I understand that.

But it’s more is the money that you’re paying because you want composers to receive royalties? Are they receiving those royalties with the money that you paid? There’s no mechanism for that to happen. So how could they?

Yeah, that is, well, it’s good that everybody is more aware of that.

Astrid Jorgensen
Yeah, I hope so. I really don’t want people to feel like they have to waste their money. I think that composers and musicians deserve to be paid and we should be asking questions, if they aren’t.

I love it. And I think that is the perfect place to say thank you very much for your time Astrid.

Astrid Jorgensen
It has been an absolute pleasure. This is the most unique chat with me being off my head on flu medication. This has been an absolute treat. I can’t wait to listen back. I’m going to slow down the burp. Listen multiple times. Thank you so much for having me.

Oh, I love it. I appreciate you and all of my colleagues, and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget, you’ll find the show notes on I’d love a share rate or review to help other music educators find this podcast. All I can be as the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Until next time, bye.

Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know, laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

I wanted to take my kids to see the pirate movie, but I couldn’t because it was rated aargh.

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