Friends who sing together stay together. ELISSA FRIDAY meets the Acabellas, three women bringing the joy of music to Geelong’s masses.
Pictures: Louisa Jones
“Music is like the river of life,” declares Belinda McArdle.
“And it’s so powerful singing with other people than on your own.”
That power comes through in the community acapella open-house she founded with fellow working mums and best friends Lisa Singline and Sue Hindle.
The three women have been operating Acabellas for 14 years, extending an open invitation to singers of all levels to join their regular sessions at Geelong West Senior Citizens hall, on the corner of cosmopolitan Pakington Street.
Belinda developed the Acabellas concept after attending a community choir in Melbourne.
“There was nothing quite like it in Geelong,” she remembers.
“I really wanted to start something like it here; where people stand and sing in a circle and it’s all quite informal.”
Belinda “took a leap of faith”, leaving her full-time job in Department of Health management to invest in the business of community singing.
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it all,” she admits.
First the group needed a venue. Belinda looked out her bedroom window and spotted the senior citizens hall, which she immediately identified as the place to “let your soul sing out”.
The next and final step was to begin singing and throw open the doors, she says.
“So I put an advertisement in the paper and we are still here today, 14 years later.”
The venture’s name took a cue from Belinda’s own, she explains, with the ’B’ from Belinda replacing the ’c’ in acapella to produce Acabellas.
She now runs several singing groups, which she considers a form of “team work”.
“When you sing in a group you’re not by yourself,” Belinda explains.
“You don’t have to talk about it, you can sing about it.
“We fully activate our bodies when we sing.”
In the early days of Acabellas formation Lisa suggested helping Belinda with chores like photocopying and printing, which developed their friendship.
“It became natural and I could see she had leadership qualities,” Belinda says.
Lisa began leading the group with Belinda, later introducing Sue to Acabellas. Lisa and Sue’s children attended the same primary school, with the three women becoming “really close friends” as they continued developing Acabellas.
Now 40, Belinda has been singing since she was four. She counts folk as perhaps her favourite style.
As such, Acabellas sessions predominantly feature folk songs but the group also produces originals.
But group singing remains the focus, Belinda says.
“There’s something constant about people singing together; you can express your joy and pain.
“I’ve seen people go through massive highs and lows: cancer, relationship breakdowns, birth of children, loss of children.
“I’ve seen people become stronger, more empowered and more connected at times when they might be really lonely.”
Acabellas holds classes in evenings and on Friday and Saturday mornings, with all sorts of participants joining in the fun.
“A variety of people, including kids, the elderly, mums, daughters, husbands and wives, attend and people come along with their families and neighbours,” Belinda explains.
“I think that’s what I love about Acabellas so much.”
Lisa has lived in Geelong for 17 years but began attending Acabellas in 2004, just a couple of years after Belinda set up the group.
Singing and playing the guitar from the age of 8, Lisa took to writing songs in her teens.
She expresses her passion for music through her singing and string instruments, particularly the ukulele.
“Singing is such a beautiful activity to participate in,” Lisa observes.
“I think it gives a general sense of well-being and a sense of community.”
Lisa believes singing has numerous advantages, including health benefits and its ability to initiate and nurture friendships and social networks.
It can also be good for a few laughs, she says.
“Lots of people come to us and say, ‘I sang in my school choir and was told to mime the words’.
“They say, ’I just don’t sing’, but everyone has the right to use their own voice and we really encourage that.
“Some people might not feel that they’re individually a strong singer but within the group it creates strength and support.”
Sue’s been with Acabellas for the past 11 years. As someone who “always wanted to sing”, Sue says her passion is working with kids as a private singing teacher.
“I love the openness of children singing, their inhibition. They’re fully free to express themselves; they express the joy.”
Sue was first friends with Lisa before meeting Belinda to set the foundation of Acabellas.
“It felt so amazing, so accepting, and we could express ourselves,” Sue says.
Her main focus with Acabellas is well-being sessions but she also enjoys the group’s Nurture experience, which uses “sound-healing” to “help people de-stress and feel good”.
“We do singing and chanting, a bit of meditation, and use crystal singing bowls to a meta-vibration,” Sue explains.
“The meta-vibration creates soundwaves to realign the energetic system and bring harmony to the body and mind – it’s very calming.”
Last year Sue released an album of original songs for children, titled I Can’t Stand Still.
“The album’s playing on the Little Rockers Radio app,” she enthuses.
But apart from the singing, Acabellas is really about partnership. Each of the three women have grown to become the best of friends and are business partners, too.
“We feel pretty blessed to have such a great combination,” Belinda says.