Talented trio beautifully on song
THERE'S an old saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person.
If that's the case, members of the Voice Squad - Gail Brigden, Ian Cumming and Russell Bridge - would be obvious choices.
The trio, who all turn 78 this year, were finalists in the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2017, and have been part of the group for a varying number of years: Ian about 15 years, Gail seven to eight, and Russell two to three.
Having just retired, Ian joined after his wife Ann saw an advertisement in the paper for a pianist.
He reckons she didn't want him under her feet ... and it has worked.
The group, whose membership has varied over the years, sings at 10 nursing homes each month, practising together once a month to provide a continually fresh collection of songs presented as solos and singalongs.
Ian also plays on his own to Alzheimer's patients at Reynolds Court Aged Care in Bateau Bay every Wednesday morning, and is involved in the Wyong Musical Theatre Company.
Gail, having trained and worked as a singer, model, on TV (including on blasts from the past like Sons and Daughters, The Love Boat and I Do, I Do) and in fashion (with her own fashion label), continues to be a wedding celebrant, a career she started in 1994.
She also took up painting at 50, and is actively involved with the Tuggerah Lakes Art Society, including organising its annual Fab Fakes show.
Gail hadn't sung in public for about 45 years before Ian saw her perform at the art society's Christmas carols, and asked her to join the group.
Russell has been involved in the Wyong Musical Theatre Company for more than 10 years, having sung in choirs but never having acted on stage before. Since joining, the former professor of civil engineering said he had taken part in "just about every show they put on", as well as running a gym and drop-in centre at Gwandalan.
All three said they got as much enjoyment out of singing at the nursing homes as the residents, bringing something special into their lives, and seeing the audiences' reactions.
"We get a real joy from doing the concerts; a lot of the residents know us by name and a lot of the ladies look forward to seeing what I'm going to wear each time," Gail laughed. "We have a laugh and joke together and there's a bit of banter and storytelling," Gail said.
Some of their audience, she said, may be laid-up in beds, others in wheelchairs, some unable to speak, but they can still sway or clap along to the music. Others know every word of the songs, and some get up and dance.
She recalled one man who joined her in singing Ave Maria in Italian, who she later discovered had been a member of the famous Welsh Male Choir.
"It's fantastic to see the response people have to music," Ian said.
Sometimes, he said, the concerts bring audience members to tears of joy, other times sadness, but always memories.
A former Director of Health in Victoria and Queensland, he said care had come a long way since the 1980s, when many elderly, particularly in country areas, had to move into hospitals if they didn't want to leave their home town.
He hopes the Royal Commission into aged care will include a focus on activities for nursing home residents, so that more avenues are opened to stimulate their minds and keep them active.