Music and community in Australian country towns: choir singing, belonging and emotion
This chapter discusses music's contributions to cultural life in rural Australia. The setting is a traditional agricultural region in transition - the Bega Valley, on the Far South Coast of New South Wales. To metropolitan Australians, the Bega Valley may seem a peculiar place in which to study or enjoy locally created and performed music. For most Australians, the valley is better known for its iconic Bega brand cheese, not its music. But it also hosts a vibrant community music scene, operating outside the commercial sphere of pubs, concerts and recorded music sales. Community-oriented music practices are those that spring from within local cultural life and exist beyond the market economy, rooted in everyday, meaningful community engagement. In the Bega Valley, community music takes shape in diverse forms and spaces - festivals, community halls, churches, cafes, markets - which differ from the traditional, male-dominated space of the pub, where, for many decades, Australian live music has been concentrated. This chapter focuses especially on choir singing - a prevalent community music form in the Bega Valley. Choral practices exemplify grassroots elements of cultural sustainability and invite contemplation of a broader range of social issues in rural life, including the meanings of leisure activities, inter-generational relationships, gender norms and emotional belonging.