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Tracy Miller on celebrating suburban soul and the mass choir at Live At Warrawee

Tracey Miller is one of those people whose passion for music permeates every aspect of her life, and the happiness it brings her is tangible.

Rather than give up playing guitar after a freak accident with a louvre blind that saw her lose use of her left hand, she learned to use her hand again, and developed her own playing style. Yearly trips to Hawaii have seen her take up the ukulele and study harmony, with her accident, she says, making her a better musician.
 
After more than 25 years of teaching and singing in choirs, she’ll be leading the Mass Community Choir at Live at Warrawee Soul Explosion, a music festival put on by Monash City.
 
“There’s a lot of people out there who do community work, or help out their neighbours in some way, we should have things to celebrate in life, it shouldn’t always be about hard work. It’s a great way to get the community together,” says Miller.
 
“I know for a fact having taught choirs for many, many years that every single time anyone talks to me about their experience it's just that they experience a lot of joy.”
 
The festival’s stellar lineup serves as a celebration of suburban soul and the mass choir, comprising of over 100 performers of all ages and backgrounds coming together as one.
 
“Because it’s a soul music event, one of the things they wanted was that the local community could be involved, in particular the musical community. So as many choirs as we could find were called up to make one big sound, performing soul music,” says Miller.
 
To make things even more extravagant, the council added the Oakleigh brass band, with David Keeffe and the Peter Vadiveloo drumming group in the mix.
“I could teach a thousand voice choir, doesn’t matter how many people I’m teaching, but with this, I’m including a brass band and a drumming group as well, so we really had to think, and work together, and see how we could put it all together. It’s confusing and complicated,” says Miller.
 
To keep that soul theme alive, alongside Oakleigh Brass, she developed a jazz sound for the mass choir, and to complement the strengths of Vadiveloo’s drumming, they’ve drawn upon African influences.
 
The process of bringing together all these musicians is made even more impressive by the knowledge that the mass choir and their accompanying bands will only practice together three times before they hit the stage. Miller has worked around these difficulties with an unconventional and creative approach to preparation.
 
“First of all, with the choirs I had to record myself singing all the different parts, so it would save time by giving that to all the various leaders of the choirs,” she says. “The leaders were invited to come to as many of my choir sessions as they wanted to get more information from me. As well as that I had all the music notated, so they could read it.”
 
Though she laughs off the possibilities of things going wrong, she’s confident the act will be a joy for all involved. Her daughter, Loretta, will be taking a solo part over the choir of near strangers for part of the set, making it an even more personal project.
 
“To be a part of a mass community, and know that all these voices are coming together as one big sound is a pretty exciting thing to do, and it just shows your place in the community, it highlights the fact that we’re all here living in this area, and connecting,” Miller says.
 
“We’re all so different from each other, the way certain people will approach their sound is very different than how I would approach it, and we’re all managing to learn a repertoire separate from each other, so being able to work together. That’s the highlight, that we can get over our differences and make this beautiful sound together.”
 
By Claire Morley

Tracey Miller will lead the Mass Community Choir at Live at Warrawee Soul Explosion, taking place at Warrawee ParkOakleigh on Saturday March 18.