Kathleen, who is an academic in the School of Education, created and voluntarily leads this national project to help support Impact, a charity that assists women and children fleeing extreme violence at home.

The No Excuses! Choir Project draws on her skills and extensive experience as a composer and choir director, as well as her capacity for leadership and innovation. In creating the project, Kathleen recruited 80 women – including ACU students and staff – to perform a choral suite, No Excuses!, that she co-composed with Dr Christina Green, based on true stories of women survivors of domestic violence.

The project, which culminated in a fundraising concert on 9 November, is also the subject of a feature story for inclusion in an upcoming news bulletin on SBS TV.

Kathleen says the title of the choral suite and choir emerged organically during research for the project.

“We originally interviewed and collected stories from women who had survived domestic family violence,” she said. “The title ‘No Excuses!’ grew from a story from a woman who talked about the many excuses she had made for her partner who abused her. Others talked about the excuses they heard from their partners for their violence. A third layer is the excuses society makes for allowing violence to exist. The title resonates for many people in many ways.”

A performance for the times

The choral music performed by the choir was composed several years ago and was performed many times in 2015–16. It was an SBS journalist who suggested revisiting the project now, given the increase in domestic and family violence during the pandemic.

“The United Nations, with input from 44 countries, reported in 2020 as many as three times the number of people seeking help during COVID-19 due to domestic violence. It has been coined the ‘shadow pandemic’,” Kathleen said.

“Statistically we all know someone who is a victim of domestic family violence, so we’re all impacted. This is something that’s much closer to us than many people realise.”

Kathleen approached Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement Professor Sandra Jones and ACU Engagement with the idea of a project based on the choral suite. Together they developed the idea of a concert to raise money for Impact for Women and its Bags of Love initiative, which distributes bags of essential items and gifts to women and children escaping domestic violence.

Putting together the choir and preparing for the public performance was a huge undertaking, particularly during the most recent COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria, where Kathleen and many of the choir members are based. With the shift to an online concert, Kathleen has collected hundreds of recordings from performers and made thousands of audio and video edits for the online presentation. 

Kathleen recruited volunteer professional musicians to support the choir; led weekly virtual choir rehearsals, drawing on new technologies that enable real-time music rehearsals online; supervised student volunteers who undertook community engagement placements through the project; contributed to promotional materials; and liaised with the ACU Engagement team and SBS-TV reporters.

While virtual rehearsals had their challenges, they also brought unexpected advantages.

“We’ve been able to include participants from outside Melbourne, as far away as Canberra and Sydney, and also regional Victoria,” said Kathleen. “Our first performance [also] moved online, which means we can have people from all over the country viewing the program. It’s increasing the scope of our message.”

The power of sharing stories

The project is grounded in ACU’s mission to create impact through empathy.

“This project, by its very essence, is filled with empathy,” Kathleen said. “It provides empathy for those who have suffered as victims of domestic violence, including some in the choir who have had direct experience.

“The project gives a voice to those who have shared their stories in the music, helping them feel as if they did not suffer in vain as their stories will help make life better for someone else. We’re showing empathy to the women and children who will be collecting Bags of Love from Impact.”

In addition to raising funds, the project is also raising awareness of the effects of family violence. It also incorporates a research element that Kathleen hopes will lead to a greater understanding of the issue and ultimately make a difference.

The impact of the project has been both practical, with over $2,500 raised for Impact to date, and, in some cases, life changing.

“I cannot understate the power music can have to affect people,” said Kathleen. “Hearing true stories told by a choir reaches people in ways far deeper than you could imagine.

“Multiple women have talked to me after rehearsals, during rehearsals, or even strangers approaching me after a concert, telling me about their stories as victims of domestic violence, and then telling me that I was the first person they’ve spoken to. Some women only realise when they hear the music or sing the music that they are victims. The violence has become so normalised in their lives that they start to believe it is normal.”

Kathleen said that being recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award has reaffirmed her career-long interest in community engagement.

“To have the opportunity to embrace ACU’s mission, identity and values through community engagement and to be recognised for it by this award shows that we’re encouraged to walk the walk. ACU’s not just giving lip service to upholding the dignity of all humans.

“I’m excited to share this award with the women in the choir and the other musicians involved, the staff and volunteers at ACU Engagement, my mentors and colleagues in the School of Education, my collaborator Dr Christina Green, Impact for Women and the amazing work that they do, and all who are affected by family violence. I truly hope this award will help to bring attention to this shadow pandemic and will be a step towards changes in our society.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their home, and there are no excuses for family violence.”

A feature story about the No Excuses! Choir will air nationally in an upcoming SBS nightly news bulletin later this year.

 Dr Kathleen McGuire 
Page last updated on 24/11/2021

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