Military Wives find Community in Song

Townsville's Australian Military Wives Choir brings women together through song. IMAGE Kati Hoehlr, Unsplash

Townsville is home to a very special choir, combining music and camaraderie in support of defence families and the community.

The Townsville branch of Australian Military Wives Choir (AMWChoir) is deliberate about their service goals and their national motto: “First we sing for our hearts. Second we sing for our voices. Third we sing for others”. 

Although the word wife is used throughout the organisation, it assumes the traditional etymology, broadly meaning woman. The choir is open to any female with a significant relationship to a serving member of the Defence Force including mothers, sisters, partners and others.

Rehearsals are about more than singing

 Army wife and coordinator of the Townsville AMWChoir Melissa Donges says a blend of music and mutual support drives the choir. 

“At every single rehearsal that we have, there’s always at least one person that comments and says ‘I really needed that’,” Melissa says.

“We don’t just sit there and sing, we do have a chat. Sometimes we might only sing one or two songs because someone has walked in and said ‘I’ve had the worst day ever’ and needs to debrief. Or if the members can tell someone is struggling, there’s always that offer to do groceries for you or just get you a bottle of milk.”

Australian Military Wives Choir members from across the country singing Build A Circle

A Repertoire that sings to the Australian Military Wives Choir values

While AMWChoir rehearsals are relaxed and social, they are far from directionless. Melissa explains that the musical repertoire is handpicked nationally to provide music that aligns with the values of AMWChoir Australia. There are even some songs that have been commissioned directly for the organisation. 

“The repertoire has quite specific criteria,” says Melissa.

“It can’t be a really depressing, sad song. It can’t have swear words or explicit content. A lot of the gigs that the choir does are for children and elderly people. The music is happy or reflective and it also has some sort of connection to being a military wife.” 

A transient community of singers

While other community music groups in Townsville may enjoy the same patronage and membership for years, AMWChoir’s members are transient, following the movement of defence postings. This is simply part and parcel with military life and the choir embraces the ever-changing nature of its membership.

“It doesn’t really matter where you get posted,” Melissa says. “You’ll know at least one person from a previous posting, so it’s nice. It’s a nice community.” 

As 2022 nears its end, some might describe the choir as being on hiatus with no immediate upcoming performances. The opposite can also be considered true: the choir is in full swing. Women all over Australia are unknowingly practicing: singing in their cars or their showers, not yet aware that their family will be posted to this seaside city; not yet knowing that they are simply warming up their pipes ahead of joining Townsville’s beloved AMWChoir.

For those incoming, or those already in Townsville, Melissa is emphatic: “You don’t have to be able to sing. You don’t have to be able to read sheet music. There’s no audition process. You just need to love music and you can come along!”

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This article was supported by the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a partnership between the Queensland Government and the Townsville City Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.

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