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By Optometry Australia

“Without music, life would be a mistake”, Friedrich Nietzsche

‘We are here’ is a musical collaboration that was created to unite Optometry Australia members in a fun and engaging way during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Led by optometrist and Optometry Australia staff member Sophie Koh, the lyrics of the song were a composition of members’ thoughts and feelings about this weird time in the world. And so, ‘We are here’ was born.

And we’re still here, wanting to highlight some of the talented members who took part.

Each week we will feature some members’ words, photos and videos and share their thoughts about music and the project.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”, William Shakespeare

 

Tsu Shan Chambers from NSW (29 January 2021)

  • What is your relationship with performing/music/singing/being creative?

For the past 6 years, I’ve also been working as a professional actor, screenwriter and producer.  People tend to raise an eyebrow when they discover I’m also an Optometrist!

  • What triggered you to put your hand up for this project? What hurdles/discoveries/good things did you experience ?

How could I not?  A brilliant idea!  Was SO great to see the talents of other fellow colleagues and hopefully raise people’s spirits.  We are not just nerds working in a box!

  • Anything else you’d like to share? Any messages for the world/colleagues right now?

Grateful for this year, and all that it has become – the good and the challenging.  The feature film I produced, UNSOUND (https://www.unsoundmovie.com/) has been nominated as ‘Best Indie Feature’ at the AACTA awards and will be heading to cinemas early next year.  On my slate is another romance drama feature inspired by my experiences when I volunteered at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and worked with the visually impaired judo athletes.  In this film, I want to raise awareness about visual impairments in the broader community, who can be better informed and motivated to support greater inclusion, equity and diversity.

 

Judy Kwan from NSW (16 October 2020)

  • What is your relationship with performing/music/singing/being creative?

I enjoy arts and crafts, particularly activities which require meticulous attention to detail. As a result, I also enjoy listening to the intricacies and nuances within music. I enjoy a large variety of music but particularly like musicals and classical music.  Growing up among 3 other siblings, I was only given the opportunity to learn to play the piano when I was 13. To this day, although I’m not an expert, I continue to listen to music and play the piano as a form of relaxation.

  • What triggered you to put your hand up for this project? What hurdles/discoveries/good things did you experience ?

I put my hand up to the project because I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and have a bit of fun with colleagues who are like-minded. I also wanted to stretch myself beyond the routine work that I was doing during the COVID pandemic.  At the end of filming, it was very rewarding to show my children that making a video of ourselves can be fun and that they could do this too.

Naturally an introvert, it required me to step outside my comfort zone- I had to use some courage to put aside the perceived “embarrassment” of filming myself miming to a video.

Submitting this video made me more confident.

  • Anything else you’d like to share? Any messages for the world/colleagues right now?

I’m not your typical clinical optometrist; being heavily involved in providing education to students and optometrist at UNSW and Johnson & Johnson.  I’m also a mother to 2 children; so providing support and being a role model is important to me. This project showed me that occasionally stepping outside of our comfort zone is important; it gives us more confidence to do things we normally may feel is not possible. We may not be able to control external factors; but change can bring about opportunities you thought would never be possible.

 

Robyn Main from WA (2 October 2020)

  • What is your relationship with performing/music/singing/being creative? 

I took up guitar as a stress reliever in Year 12. I dragged it to places wherever I was stressed. It made an appearance in later year optometry lectures where I would strum in the break of Physiological Optics. Apologies to Professor Jack Alexander! Later, I would play to my children at bedtimes and in their kindy classes.

After completing a masters in research in optometry, I needed something fun to overcome the seriousness of academia. I found a local barbershop chorus of women who loved singing together and although they didn’t accept my guitar, they did accept my singing so I auditioned and joined. The chorus compete annually and have won best in Australia twice so we have represented Australia in Las Vegas and New Orleans over the last five years.

My practise is located in aged care facilities of Perth. The residents often have dementia and some don’t have much time left on earth so in some ways, it’s an honour to be the last one to look after their eyes and in other ways, it is sad and tiring. Singing has helped strengthen me and lift the way I see my work. Yes, sometimes I do sing to my patients! Fortunately, they haven’t hit me because of my singing!

I am now in a barbershop quartet with three other lovely ladies who I sing with regularly. We’re called “Artistry” if you’d like to have a look at us. We sing songs from the 50’s to the 80’s such as Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman”  which we sang at Perth’s Fringe Festival this year.

I also sing with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra chorus which is a different type of singing to barbershop as we sing with a fantastic professional orchestra and have to read music which I find a real challenge. We seldom sing in English as classical music is often in German, Italian, Russian and French. Many of the choristers are music teachers or have learnt music as a child. I try not to compare myself! WASO has been affected sorely affected by Covid 19. We are planning a big bash when restrictions are lifted with “Carmina Burana” which is also known as  the music for the “Carlton Dry” advert. It’s going to be a great concert in the beautiful concert hall. Classical music has been known to reduce blood pressure and help your health so I hope optometry members consider helping the arts when they can by coming along to a classical concert in their cities.

  • What triggered you to put your hand up for this project? What hurdles/discoveries/good things did you experience ?

Covid affected my business drastically. For 10 weeks, aged care facilities went into hard lockdown conditions where external contractors where often not allowed in. Fortunately, the Optometry Association gave me a telephone research assistant casual employment but I also had time to think about my hobbies and goals in other aspects of my life. Covid has given me the time to sit still and reflect on my life and wonder if this is still the road I am to travel, or is it time to take another? Because music is one of my happy places, I was excited to respond to Sophie’s call out for the project and “have a go”. I liked how we had the two dimensions to work on- the music and the video. I thought about the lyrics and knew I wanted to video outside because I live near the beach and there was that great lyric “ there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand upon the earth”  that just had to be filmed on the beach. I loved how my son loaned me his surfboard and came and filmed me.

I loved seeing the end result culminating in such a fantastic group presentation. Seeing kids and families involved, seeing the optometrist use her ophthalmoscope as a microphone- great ideas! Really, the sum of the parts made for a wonderful united front in a time of trauma and virus war. I was proud of my fellow eye professionals. There is more to our beings than just looking at eyes daily!

  • Anything else you’d like to share? Any messages for the world/colleagues right now?

As we are being shaken and stirred by Covid right now, use it to sit and be still and to think about the gifts and talents you have. You have a wonderful gift of bringing sight to the blind or near blind or maybe just the slightly ametropic. The fact is you are a “healer” and the world needs us right now.

Robyn surfing on ‘We are here’ song

This time will pass as good and bad times all do. Consider your ways pre-Covid. Did they bring you peace and happiness? Pain and negativity? It is a good time to make decisions that change your life for the better. Be strong doing good and being one that brings peace to those closest to you, starting with yourself!

 

Susan Bilton from NSW (18 September 2020)

“I was traditionally shy and over-anxious in public as a young person. I found public speaking painful, too. Anyhow, I did some work on myself in my late 20s which helped me feel more confident, which meant I found public speaking to be less horrific.  Then I had my daughter, who grew to have a lovely singing voice. She had lessons at a voice studio that also had some choirs, and she joined the main choir from that studio, which was very successful, winning Sydney Eisteddfod and national choir competitions, etc.

I was shuttling Yasi here and there and secretly feeling a bit hemmed in and jealous of her opportunities, while being too tired to feel up to doing anything creative myself, while working full-time and being a mum. When Yasi left home to go to Uni, I joined a casual women’s community choir from the studio she used to sing at, that was formed with other mums who were also secretly jealous of their kids’ opportunities. This choir is informal and fun, and we have become a pretty solid support unit, with some of us extending ourselves more, by having singing lessons or auditioning for solos, etc. We also had a great time being in the backing choir to a local performance of the rock opera “Chess”. I enjoy going to choir and having a chance to sing loud, which tends to ease some of the tension from a pretty responsible work life.

A couple of years ago I was kind of handpicked to play the role of Winifred, the head witch in Hocus Pocus (Bette Midler played her). We got dressed in witches outfits and did a rendition of “I put a spell on you” from the movie. Apparently I was a suitably hag like prospect.

I actually prefer singing loud in the back row of the choir, but this experience has opened me up to feeling freer inside, and to doing my best to perform for an audience. This is a big contradiction to being a health professional, and I am happier for it.

Anyhow, after 5 years of this, singing just comes naturally now, and I actually thought this project would be a compilation of small faces (like being in the back row of the choir) so I was comfortable to send in a video.

I don’t like being time poor and I didn’t put enough time into the project but I am continuing to learn to drop being perfectionist, and it is better to do what you can rather than nothing at all. I really enjoyed seeing the compilation, and the song itself had a really good feeling.

I am a little lost about what is a message I can give for us moving forward. I oscillate between continue on working with care, live life to the fullest while you can-do those things you’ve always wanted to if you can, isolate and keep yourself safe until things go back to normal, and reach out and connect as much as possible in any way you can. In other words, this pandemic is freaking me out, but if it all ends now, I want to live with love for myself and for as many others as I can…”

 

Sujan Hong from NSW (11 September 2020)

“Music is not something I could do professionally (I don’t think I can practice 10+ hours a day to become a professional) but more something I couldn’t live without! Having spent most of my “after school” hours during high school involved with every music group at school, I would feel weird and empty not having some sort of musical activity in my life. Being able to express my feelings via music is something that I would be eternally grateful for from my parents.

I have missed collaborating and playing with others. Since coming to Australia, I haven’t been involved with any orchestras, bands or choirs and the prospect of being able to play the piano AND sing sounded like too good of an opportunity to miss. The Optometry Australia song was super catchy and I really enjoyed being part of it. When the circumstances change and when we can have a face-to-face conference event in the future, I am hoping we could continue this project to a real live performance!

                                  Sujan playing ‘We are here’ song

As professional affairs at Alcon, I get to share educational content to optometrists and budding optometrists (i.e. students) as well as other health care professionals. I find my job extremely fulfilling even though I don’t get to see patients directly and hope I can be of a useful resource to optometrists on all things Alcon whether it be contact lenses or dry eye management. When I am not working, I may sometimes be putting up K-POP covers on YouTube.”

You can also watch Sujan performing in some famous blockbuster movies!

 

Maria Dimitratos from NSW (4 September 2020)

“In 30+ years of being an optometrist there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to connect with a lot of colleagues, apart from the occasional networking at a CPD event.

Despite being married to (and working with) an optometrist I think we can be quite isolated in our profession, given that we spend a lot of time in our consult rooms in a’ one on one’ situation.

I loved singing from a young age and my musical experience revolved around singing in school choirs and later in a church choir. Performing at the Opera House, Angel Place in Sydney and the 2004 Athens Paralympic Closing Ceremony has been a thrill. Participating on this video rekindled beautiful memories of my Dad who had a beautiful tenor voice and would sing often because he just loved it!

My dad and his 4 siblings and grandad had beautiful singing voices. Having the chance to singalong reminded me of the joy in my dads face when he sang-even when he has Alzheimer’s in his later years , he couldn’t remember us but he had his singing voice. It’s been lovely to remember him just by giving this a go.

Music brings people together and when I sing (even if a bit off key) I feel I can express who I am and truly be myself. It also helps me feel connected to people in the group and the world beyond. Since we have all felt moments of isolation during the pandemic I thought it would be a great opportunity to connect with fellow optometrists in a personal way and get a bit of relief from the seriousness of what is going on in the world!

When I sing all worries fade away”

 

Dom Willson from NSW (28 August 2020)

“I’ve played various musical instruments since I was in primary school but started learning electric bass guitar when I was about 16 or 17, egged on by my mates who wanted a bass player to jam with!! When I was a teenager we used to idolise people in bands but these days it seems to be youtube stars that the teenagers look up to now. Over the years I’ve played in working bands in many pubs & clubs around Newcastle & the Hunter Valley. More recently I’ve been concentrating on my singing but that’s been happening more in the car than on stage!! I’ve never been a particularly artistic person but I love the way music can make you feel and transport you to a different place or evoke a strong emotion.

There are a few reasons I readily agreed to be involved in Optometry Australia music project:

1. I’ve always felt that if you jump in and volunteer for something that’s a bit of an unknown, you never know what benefits and positive experiences you’re gonna get out of it, and the “risks” are usually either very low or non-existent;

2. I’m a supporter of Optometry Australia and the principles behind it, and always want to support it however I can;

3. I love the idea of putting on a show and having some fun! I gained an appreciation of Sophie’s skill in writing a catchy pop-tune that was not only an ‘ear worm’ but had lyrics with meaning, and on a more practical level I learned how to record tracks on a web-based multi-track recorder (I’ve only ever recorded using real-life studio equipment or, before that, magnetic tapes to record songs!). Seeing the finished product reminded me that optometrists are not all just scientists but that we do also have a breadth of human abilities in our profession.

From a personal perspective, I’ve had my own practice in Newcastle NSW for just over 20 years now, but it’s time for a change and so I have plans to move to the next phase of my career, which will be offering locum optometry services around NSW & Australia.

For some optoms in some parts of Australia, I know things are tough right now, but as a nation we’ve come through tougher periods than this and come out the other side”

 

Rachael Kwok from Victoria (21 August 2020)

“My name’s Rachael, I work as an optometrist in Melbourne.

I usually sing in an a cappella group in my spare time. I’ve really missed singing with other people, since rehearsals aren’t possible at the moment.

So I jumped at the chance to be involved in Sophie’s music project! It was awkward singing to a camera at first, but I ended up having a lot of fun.

I’ve picked up (and put down) many instruments over the years, I’m currently using my extra time at home to learn the guitar.

During this difficult time, all we can do is take things day by day, and find things to do that bring a little bit of joy. We’re all in this together!”

 

David West from Victoria (14 August 2020)

“Music helps calm the soul, and is uplifting; a great way of reducing stress, particularly at present.

Other professions seem to have orchestras and choirs, and it was about time we punched our weight – thanks to Sophie, there is now some momentum.

I have played the piano from the age of 6, started learning the cello a few years ago (because I want to join an orchestra) and have been in various choirs for over a decade.

At present, I am a member of a smaller (26 choristers) community choir, so am missing that every Tuesday night.

I’d like to think that when we can all meet together again, there was the possibility of forming a choir consisting of our colleagues, even staff and those related in any way to the profession.

Music is a unifying force.”

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