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MUSIC GROUP HELPS PEOPLE FIND THEIR VOICE BY EMMA WATSON. lv Express News paper article
A Traralgon aged care facility was delighted to hear the delicate sounds of ukeleles recently.
Led by ukelele teacher Phillip Chalker, eight ukelele enthusiasts took to O’Mara House to entertain its residents.
“We played a good few classic numbers from songs like ‘How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’,” Mr Chalker said.
“There were 30 people watching and they were all clapping so they obviously liked it and would like to have us come again.”
Mr Chalker is vision impaired and despite this, now runs ukelele classes for beginner levels to advanced.
“After doing this, I’m confident in teaching one-on-one private lessons now anywhere in the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Chalker said.
“If any nursing homes would like to have me perform solo I don’t mind, or if any organisations would like to have me perform with my ukelele.”
Mr Chalker thanked Morwell Neighbourhood House for providing a space for his lessons.
Phillip Chalker and his merry band of Ukers performed at O’Mara House aged care facility recently. Photograph Tom Morrison
Ukulele workshops, run by Traralgon resident Phillip Chalker, were a learning experience in more ways than one.
Mr Chalker, who is legally blind, was aided by Jane Coker and guided the small class for four weeks through chords and songs.
At the conclusion participants could perform tunes, including Singing in the Rain, Achy Breaky Heart and Doggy in the Window, but their communication skills had also developed.
“It’s been really broadening our horizons in terms of communicating with Phillip,” participant Barb Harding said.
“It’s sort of been two-way learning, he’s got to learn to teach us while we’re learning from him.”
“ Mr Chalker said he was working with Ms Coker in hopes of one day running the workshops or hosting private lessons solo.
“There’s still barriers,” he said, citing the fact that he could not see participants’ hands to know they were in the correct position as one challenge.
“There’s lots I can’t do, but there’s lot’s I can do.” Mr Chalker said his goal was to one day run ukelele workshops and events all around Australia.
“I’m on my way. Just waiting until Jane gives me the okay to go solo,” he said.
The next round of beginners workshops begin Thursday, 1 May and continue each week until 29 May.
The sessions are held from noon to 1.30pm at a cost of $10 with concession or $20 without concession, per work-shop.
Participants must sign up by 22 April.
Participant Paula Sammut, teachers Jane Coker and Phillip Chalker and participant Barb Harding enjoyed their last ukelele workshop together.
Inspiration: Traralgon musician Phillip Chalker, with his seeing eye dog Kransky, hopes to bring music to disabled people across Gippsland.
It’s Music To The Ears
By Jarrod Whittaker
For Traralgon musician Phillip Chalker the formation of a band is just the beginning of his plans to bring music to the region’s people with a disability.
The 33 year-old, who has been legally blind since the age of five, recently began working on a collection of songs with friend Warren Bartlett.
The pair has been recording and hope to perform together in the future.
The duo has adopted the name ‘Latrobe Boys’ and their new song, ‘Down In The Valley’, tells the story of their experiences living in the region.
“It took us about to to three weeks (to write) and that’s just sitting down with an instrument,” Mr Chalker said.
“In the way of writing lyrics it took us (another) two to three weeks and a bit longer to get recorded.”
The pair are now working on a song about the experiences of people who are forced to live on the streets and are keen to perform for people who have a disability.
“Disabled people are easy going… (and) it doesn’t matter what disability they have, they just have fun,” he said.
“With the disability field you’ve got to chuck out music like ‘I’m A Believer’ and ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ – things you’re going to know.”
Mr Chalker conducts karaoke sessions and song writing workshops for people with disabilities and is now undertaking Certificate III in Music at GippsTAFE.
“My Idea is to build confidence for people with disabilities – if they haven’t recorded before I’ll help them write it (the music) and if they want to we can fix the lyrics together,” he said.
“We ran song writing workshops before and they (the participants) walked away with a smile on their face.”
Mr Chalker is hoping to find assistance to operate karaoke dance parties in the area and wants to conduct more song writing workshops.
“I love being around disabled people because I love seeing them getting a smile on their face,” he said.
Anyone interested in conducting disability music workshops with Mr Chalker can phone me with the details provided on this website.
Phillip Chalker will never forget the moment he met his new seeing eye dog Roddy late last year.
“I was lucky to get to pick out of two dogs, but this dog wouldn’t give the other one a chance to say hello to me,” Phillip said.
“I got a big lick right on my face and two paws up on my shoulder, as if to say ‘pick me, pick me’.”
The black Labrador is Phillip’s second seeing eye dog following Kransky, who retired due to arthritis.
“Kransky kind of had the cheeky temperament, licking girls’ legs and all that,” Phillip chuckled.
“Roddy, when he’s not in a harness, has got a really boisterous child in him.”
The Traralgon musician has retinitis pigmentosa and can only see shadows out of one eye.
He said seeing eye dogs had brought him independence, freedom and confidence.
“I wouldn’t be out and about and doing things if I didn’t have my seeing eye dog,” Phillip said.
“Canes can’t help you like a dog can.”
As well as generally guiding Phillip, two year-old Roddy helps him to find bench seats and even his favourite stores, following some positive reinforcement.
“You go up to the store, say the name of the store and give the dog a treat and by the third time, the dog’s got it,” Phillip said.
“Eventually they know half of your town.”
Phillip is encouraging the community to get behind Seeing Eye Dogs Australia, to help others who are blind or have low vision find their own canine companion.
Each seeing eye dog costs about $35,000 to train and there is currently more than a year-long wait list for people in need.
SEDA is calling for regular donations through ‘puppy sponsorship’ to support its breeding program.
To make a donation or become a puppy sponsor, visit SEDA or phone 1800 037 773.
See more Phillip’s videos on his Youtube page.
Leading a music group can bring challenges as well as rewards, but how do you anticipate those pitfalls, read the signs and assess the harmony when you have the additional factor of being legally blind?
Phil Chalker is a musician and music leader from Gippsland who co-runs ukulele and song writing workshops, encourages people to find their voice and organises Big Sing sessions too. Since the age of 5, Philip was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease that causes vision impairment and, in severe cases like Phil’s, blindness.
Phil feels his personal experience and frustration of a mainstream education system which was ill equipped to deal with his needs has made him more mindful of the importance of being inclusive and remaining aware of group dynamics. It has influenced his preferred style of teaching and underpinned his desire to ensure that everyone feels at ease, within a group context, too.
Mentoring by fellow Gippsland musician, teacher and CMVic stalwart, Jane Coker, has assisted Phil in developing the skills necessary to facilitate and lead a group. Jane succeeded where various schools had previously failed, in successfully recognizing what Phil needs to learn and develop in a way that suits him. “Jane understands and inspires me…she makes me feel relaxed. She’ll say, ‘don’t tell me you can’t do it because I know you can do it.’ ”
A couple of years ago, Jane and Phil established The Uklaimers, a ukulele group for beginners and players of all abilities in Morwell. Co-running the group with Jane allowed Phil to observe her teaching methods whilst developing his own style in a supportive environment as he took the first steps in his goal towards autonomous leadership of a community music group.
In addition to the usual challenges faced by group facilitators, Phil has to consider how to tackle his inability to respond to visual prompts, relying instead on his aural ability to detect issues such as fingers in the wrong place or the wrong chord being strummed.
Tuning up the instruments for beginner students is also tricky, but Phil gets around this problem by using a talking tuner.
Establishing good communication is vital to everybody in getting the most out of a workshop session and Phil gets a huge amount from feeling that he is enabling people to try new things and share the experience of learning with him.
“I use oral cues such as ‘I do understand/ I don’t understand’. I make people turn the paper over and not look at it so that they learn the blind way. You can’t rely on reading the dots cos you can’t see them”.
In addition to his music making, Phil is a tireless campaigner seeking to challenge the status quo about rights and access to the kind of things able-bodied people take for granted in life. Phil recently tried to organize a Big Sing for visually impaired and blind people, but had to cancel due to a disappointing lack of interest.
“Blind people are isolated. I’m trying to run workshops and uke workshops that include them but am not getting any responses.”
But instead of feeling defeated, Phil is more interested in finding out the reasons behind this. And he would like the seeing music making community to be mindful of the fact that blind people – including himself – are reluctant to attend events for fear of being a burden. ”You need to understand a blind person’s needs and the barriers faced by the blind community like transport to and from an event, for example.”
Phil is a regular on the Traralgon busking circuit, frequently playing his ukulele around the town. As a child he would listen to Elvis and his bedroom walls were covered in posters of the King but it wasn’t until his late teens that he was interested in playing. Picking up a 12 string guitar whilst on work experience in a music store, Phil found he enjoyed singing along with the instrument and finding his own harmonies.
With his personal musical seam well and truly tapped, Phil took his guitar to a Club Wild session run by Phil Heuzenroeder. He announced that he was “a muso just starting out” and found himself playing on stage that same night. This not only made him “so happy”, it encouraged him to believe in his ability.
One thing Phil used to worry about was doubting that people’s positive response to his playing was genuine appreciation of what they were hearing and not because they felt sorry for him: “Having a disability makes you question whether people are clapping through kindness or clapping cos you’re good… are they clapping for me or clapping for Roddy?” (Phil’s dog).
Phil’s story is a testimony to the importance and value of mentorship, skill sharing and support. Jane Coker and Phil Heuzenroeder were key people in his journey who met him head on and encouraged him to pursue his passion to teach and make music. In turn, Phil is himself a keen advocate of the work done by CanDo Musos, who support musicians with challenges, all over the world. He also runs Gippsland Disability Social Group.
So, if you or anyone you know is feeling dejected about overcoming a challenge, point them in the direction of Phil’s website. The strength of his spirit and determination to make the world sit up and take notice of him as a visually impaired music teacher, working to enable other people, is abundantly clear. And there’s information about how to take part in the Big Sing sessions he is planning to run over the course of the coming year, too.
Deb Carveth with Philip Chalker, February 2015. This article can also be found on CMV Blog.
Phillip Chalker Talking Vision radio interview 2016