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Why this atheist loves church


Andy Parsons says playing with Berwick Corps worship band and jamming with other musos gives him the opportunity to get out of the house and hug his instrument.

 

BY LERISSE SMITH

There’s nothing better in life for Andy Parsons than grabbing his sparkly blue and white electric bass guitar and heading out for church each Sunday. It’s pure bliss, and he loves it.


For this self-confessed atheist, being a member of the worship band at Berwick Corps in Melbourne is a great musical experience.


“It gives me the opportunity to get out of the house and hug my instrument,” Andy said. “And it’s a chance to give back. Even though I am an atheist, I play at the worship band and attend church to support the wider community in Berwick. I attend with hopefully some experience (in playing an instrument) and helping them in the process. I love playing.


“The ‘Higher Power’ for me is the community from the Salvos. I do appreciate the value worship gives to the people who believe. I can see it really enriches people’s lives with a sense of worth, a sense of belonging, a sense of community and I appreciate it. I was a drug addict and alcoholic in my past, and my life was transformed through The Salvation Army.”


Andy is now further extending his musical journey as a member of the Timbarra Musos Jam Session held at the church.


“Jam sessions helped me to learn my instrument as a teenager,” he said.

“They are a useful tool in helping people who have learnt in the bedroom and at school. It’s a really good platform to get musos involved.”


The jam sessions are open to people of every age, skill level, and music style, and they have been a natural extension for Andy, who has played for more than 50 years.


And Andy hopes the jam sessions in the heart of Timbarra will inspire a community spirit and for people in the community to grab their instrument, singing voice, song ideas or anything else musically inspired and head on down to the church to experience a cool jam session with a difference.


The idea to run the jam sessions was birthed out of wanting to rebuild community, especially after the isolation of the tough past few years.


Rob Koch, who started the jam session at the church.

“It’s about helping people light up with what they love doing,” said Rob Koch, who initiated the jam session at his church and loves to play his sax.


“Music brings people together. With COVID, I’m very aware as a community development person that social isolation is a huge issue even this far beyond the pandemic because we’re not quite beyond the pandemic. There are still people living in isolation, in fear. And they need a safe place to be able to venture out a little.”


After thinking about how they could reach the community with a safe and welcoming space as part of the church’s vision, Rob conceived the idea of the jam session in the heart of Timbarra with the support of Colin Gould, who is on the church leadership team and Musical Director.


“The main goal is to develop community, getting people connected, and just seeing the thrill that they get to actually make music with other people rather than solely alone,” Rob said.


“For them to get excited that we’re able to pull a song together and that they’ve been able to contribute to that ... I think that’s amazing. It’s hard to develop as musicians just practising on your own, and not everyone can afford lessons. So, we believe music is a gift best shared.”


And what should people expect at the jam sessions?


“It depends on who comes!” Rob said. “We try to tailor the jam sessions to individual needs and suggestions. Understanding people’s goals helps. Normally, it will involve someone suggesting a song on the spot, and whoever wants to can chime in with their instrument or voice. Then we move to another, and so on. We may agree to work on a song at home for those who want to be more prepared.”


“The main goal is to develop community, getting people connected ... we believe music is a gift best shared.” – Rob Koch

Homework is not essential, and songs (and their key) can be posted on a group chat. Participants can then interact, answering questions and encouraging one another before giving it a go at the fortnightly jam sessions run every school term.


With the help of Colin as the Musical Director, some songs will be arranged so all can find a part to play. The church also has its own PA system, microphones, bass amp, drum kit, keyboard and piano, which are available for the muso sessions.


Rob said he had always been aware that churches were sitting idle for so much of the week, and Berwick Salvos had a great location and facility available to meet community needs.


He believes the jam sessions, which started in November last year, could eventually lead to a concert, open mic nights, or the formation of bands, duos or choirs. Some musos may also want to play in the Sunday Café Church band as they could always do with some more musicians and singers.


“I know the key to develop is to play along with other musicians,” Rob said. “I'm thinking about how many other people are out there, frustrated musicians who can't afford lessons, who don’t have confidence to sign up for something really serious.’’


Drummer Ron Micallef loves being part of the Timbarra Musos Jam Session.

Among those valuing the chance to jam with other like-minded musos is local community member Ron Micallef, who loves nothing better than banging the drums, a passion he has loved for many years.


A seven-year-old piano player also joins in the fun and fellowship with his parents.


“He’s an amazing maestro genius on the piano,” Rob said. “And I was just gobsmacked he plays classical rock.”


Rob said it was important for those thinking of jamming with others at the Timbarra Musos Jam Sessions that they were encouraging and teachable – and showed patience and respect in a positive learning environment.


“We want to help each other out without being pushy,” he said.

“Listening is a skill we never stop practising – it’s how beautiful music is made.”


For more details on the Timbarra Musos Jam Session, call Rob on 0432 439 943. (Children under 12 require adult supervision).

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