Lifestyle The Arts Singing Floats Their Boat
Singing Floats Their Boat
Written by Mr Peter McClelland


Floats-their-boat-April12_2Doctors in the boat: James Turner, 2nd from left; Airell Hodgkinson, 5th from left; Piet Claassen, 8th from left, Andrew Knight, 9th from left; Andrew Wenzel, far right.A Capella literally means, ‘in the manner of the church’. It is singing without music and a male choir from Albany, five of whom are GPS and specialist psychiatrists, does it in great style. The following words on their website, written by the singing psychiatrist Andrew Wenzel, from Headspace in Albany, are music on the page. ‘The Southern Right Males are a pod of 14 men from the breeding grounds in the freezing wastes of WA’s Great Southern who breach at irregular intervals to entertain the public with their haunting songs.’

GP James Turner, from Pioneer Health General Practice, the choir’s director and musical arranger, transforms the notes into words for Medical Forum.

“It all started with a visit to Albany by another male choir, the Spooky Men of the West. I put my hand up and said, ‘we should do something like that!’ There were 12 of us initially, the majority of them are still in the group and at the moment we don’t have any vacancies. We do have quite a few medicos, there’s quite a strong connection between doctors and music. There are teachers, engineers, an orderly from the hospital and a couple of retired people all with varying musical ability. Quite a few of them can’t read music,” said James.

As James points out, one thing they all share is their passion for living in a small regional town and the opportunity to enrich their own community.

“That’s the lovely thing about living in a country town. People tend to have a real ownership of things and I don’t think the choir would be as successful in the city. Here in Albany it’s been wonderful, people want to come along and hear us sing and we pop up in the local newspaper from time to time.

“We’ve come a long way since standing up at the Albany Farmer’s Market three years ago and singing a few songs. Now we’re performing at places such as the Albany Entertainment Centre and the Town Hall and we did one recently at Wignall’s Winery for about 1000 people.

“We’re always very well received, there’s something about a bunch of men standing up and singing in harmony. We do what’s called a ‘mob dance’ involving synchronised movements to the songs and people seem to really appreciate it. It’s probably because we look a sight doing it, but it adds a bit of fun.”

Floats-their-boat-April12_group3 “There’s something about a bunch of men standing up and singing in harmony.” Dr James TurnerThe Southern Right Males have an extensive repertoire which includes a few favourites.

“We started with arrangements of well-known songs that people know and love. One of my favourites is a Black Eyed Peas number and we’ve got songs from Gotye and Sting. Most of our pieces are in four or more parts and some of them are quite complex. We also do vocal percussion mimicking a number of different instruments. Our aim is to perform at a higher level so we’re always pushing the boundaries and singing more complex material.”

The collegial aspect of a male choir is very important, says James.

“Part of the fun is getting together over a bottle of wine and doing a rehearsal or two. You don’t often get a bunch of blokes together around a unified cause that doesn’t revolve around drinking or sport,” he said. “Some people have been through hard times over the last few years and it’s been a support line for them. It’s a good reminder that a bunch of blokes getting together is a very positive thing, whether it’s singing, woodwork or a Men’s Shed.”

For any doctor thinking about embracing the male a capella experience, James hits a positive note.

“I think getting together with other blokes is a lot of fun and good for the soul. For busy medicos it’s well worth carving out the space for something like this,” he said. “There’s a great benefit in belonging to the Southern Right Males and, even though it’s difficult to fit it in at times, no one wants to pull out of the group.

“We’re thinking about touring, maybe even the eastern states festival circuit. We’ve got a lot of momentum and we’re evolving all the time.”