For many of us, turning sixty means slowing down just a little, spending more time with family, perhaps enjoying grandchildren, travelling the world, playing more sport or simply socializing and enjoying a relaxed lifestyle – and rightly so.
Few of us decide to make a total life changing decision at this age, but Joanna White, longtime U3APP member, is one of those who did.
At sixty, the combination of a serious health scare, unexplained depression and a subsequent seven day transformative retreat, allowed Joanna to fully come to terms with her life and led to her following her childhood dream of creating music, in particular writing music and lyrics. Despite a total lack of theatrical and musical knowledge, the overwhelming urge to write a stage musical took hold.
Joanna set about the difficult task of learning how to write music; she’d always ‘heard’ music in her brain and had songs yearning to escape from inside her head. Now was the time to put this, along with lyrics, down on paper, eventually to be performed. She was extremely fortunate, and Joanna may say “lucky”, to meet up with two people who could assist her; one a woman she met on a tram who was able to translate her rough handwritten music into a gorgeous piano score, and another, a fabulous barefoot pub singer, after which the musical “The Time Pilgrims” was born.
Over the ensuing twenty years Joanna continued to focus her musical talents, and wrote forty songs, all professionally recorded, many of them included in the two musicals she’s written; one titled “Pink” which has been performed, the other “The Time Pilgrims”, waiting in the wings, perhaps to be turned into an educational, interactive computer game; nothing is out of the question where Joanna is concerned.
In 2000 another touch of fate saw Joanna meeting Sir Tim Rice at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. After an amusing exchange, he invited her to send him her first three songs, and liked them enough to invite her to his London base, by which time she’d written and recorded four more CD tracks.
Sir Tim Rice provided the encouragement for Joanna to continue with her long suppressed dream, and they remain good friends today. After he read her short story, “Miracle in Pink”, published by Penguin Books in the anthology “There’s so Much More to Life than Sex and Money”, he suggested this would be a wonderful idea for her second musical. She subsequently wrote and produced “Pink” which has won various workshops and showcases. Some of you may remember that a DVD of the two-hour performance was shown at Mary Kehoe Centre in mid 2018.
In February 2009, the devastating Black Saturday bushfires engulfed the town of Marysville, destroying almost everything in its path. Joanna and her partner have a farm in Taggerty, where the fire was eventually contained. She joined the team of volunteers at the CFA hub where local cooks had set up a temporary kitchen. While she was cutting sandwiches for the continuous line of exhausted firefighters, a poignant tune came into her head along with one line of verse.
When she found a few spare minutes, she quickly put pen to paper, but that’s all she could bear to write at that very emotional time. In the coming months and years this one line continued to gather dust and was almost forgotten until this year, the tenth anniversary of those dreadful fires.
Early in 2019 Joanna heard about a Regional Arts Victoria Grant, in conjunction with the new Marysville Gallery (MIRA), for artists who had pictures reflecting the ten years since the Bushfires. After making enquiries as to whether this abandoned and unfinished song might qualify as background music, and despite only having three days before submissions closed, it brought that one line of music out of the dust and into the daylight to be completed.
Pressed for time as well as the support needed to complete the song in time to enter the competition, Joanna went to great lengths, both metaphorically and literally, to ensure the song was ready, followed by a tortuous submission writing process, and finally tendering “Paradise Lost” just a minute before the deadline. Some of these lengths included a wild car ride, writing lyrics as her partner drove her from Whitfield, over Tolmie Mountain, through Mansfield and up to Eildon’s Skyline Rd to a house perched precariously on a sheer cliff near the fire lookout. But the achievement of one page of ‘real’ sheet music, computerized by the local musician she found at the end of this drive, made the escapade more than worthwhile, and it gave her enough to submit as a grant proposal.
Ten days later a delighted Joanna received a congratulatory call to advise that she had won the grant, with sufficient funds to finish this, along with another previously written composition, “The Dance of Life”. By changing two of its verses, it became a song of reverence for nature, respect for the planet as well as our own duty of care.
But things didn’t end there; the song had to be ready for the official opening of the Marysville Art Gallery in just a few weeks time, which meant another busy flurry of activity for Joanna on this exciting journey.
“Paradise Lost” had an astounding effect on some visitors when it was finally played during the bushfire-related exhibitions at the Marysville Gallery; some wept openly, grateful for ‘permission to cry’ and ‘not be brave anymore’. “The Dance of Life” was performed at the closing of this event on 4 April, a fitting song of hope and renewal for all those who had lived through those disastrous times and come out the other end with newfound strength and resilience.
One would imagine the adventure might now be over with this success under her belt; but Joanna went on to introduce “Paradise Lost” to the U3A Port Phillip choir and it has now become part of the choir’s repertoire. To coincide with this, Joanna heard that Jonathon Welch, of ‘Choir of Hard Knocks’ fame, would be visiting Marysville to run a community-building choir workshop and contacted him as she felt this very relevant number would be an ideal one to be included in the workshop.
The reply from Jonathon was more than Joanna could have hoped for; she was invited to sing her song – solo – at the concert on 7 April, after which his choir of eighty would perform. After ingesting copious amounts of pineapple juice (good for the voice) and trembling in her boots, Joanna sang “Paradise Lost” to a large local audience in Alexandra Town Hall and received thunderous applause, after which Jonathon interviewed her and endorsed her dream that it would be wonderful for the song to now travel to other choirs, perhaps via the U3A network and other community groups.
The feedback from members of this audience was not lost on Joanna, with many thanking her afterwards for the ‘gift’ she had given them, especially allowing them to open up and cry after ten years of bottling up the tears of grief – men and women alike. One woman who had managed to save only herself, her cat and her dog, had never shed a tear, until now when Joanna hugged her and allowed those tears to flow freely on her shoulder. Joanna, understandably, refers to this as the “the most moving moment in my life”.
And where to now for Joanna? Naturally she is not sitting back resting on her laurels any time soon! She’s keen to find a way to perform some of her work through mediums such as podcasting, or perhaps her dream of turning the musical “Pink” into a serialised radio musical.
She would love to meet and have a chat with people who are audio-savvy radio enthusiasts, sound recording editors, music buffs, writers, musicians, computer notation programmers, etc. In short people who’d like to spend a bit of time brainstorming ideas for producing interesting, broadcast quality material.
If you feel like you have something to share with Joanna, or can offer some advice, she would love to chat with you. Send an email to U3APP4Kate@gmail.com and we’ll put you in touch.