When you think of the music that’s been made over two decades from the Women of Note, it’s something to write home about.

By Lauren Mitchell – Photography by Leon Schoots

The Women of Note choir has come a long way since its first performance in the YMCA carpark 20 years ago. Member Murene Cassai remembers dragging her family along for the makeshift audience on the asphalt. “Since then we’ve developed quite a performance history,” she says.
Murene is one of five founding Women of Note members to still be singing each week in the YMCA Hall in Mundy Street. In 1999, she responded to a newspaper ad calling on Bendigo women to form a choir.  “The idea was to improve the health and confidence of women. I came along because I thought it would be nice to sing.”
What’s kept Murene coming back is the joyous camaraderie that goes hand-in-hand with singing in a group, as opposed to solo in the car! She says through the choir she’s made life-long friends and enjoyed trips to sing in America, New Zealand and South Africa. “And next year we’re going to Italy and Austria.”
When fellow singer Val Lovejoy heard about these overseas adventures, she thought it would be just the choir for her. “That was one of the things that attracted me,” Val says. “I’d also heard Women of Note sing at The Capital and I’d wanted to join ever since. I used to sing with my sister when I was young — we used to sing harmonies together. I’ve just always loved singing and thought I’d join a choir one day. I just love coming along. You can be as tired and low as you like and you always go away on a high, just from the endorphins from singing.
“Singing together has lots of rewards and you really do feel absorbed into something greater than you. It’s just a wonderful group of women.”
This year the honorary associate at La Trobe University is juggling a few history book projects with organising the choir’s 20th anniversary celebrations.
Val has been a lecturer in the local education department for many years. She says she relishes being on the flip side of learning at choir.
When Bendigo Magazine drops into choir practice, musical director Laura Dusseljee is teaching them to sing in Russian. Also on tonight’s bill is the classic When I Fall in Love, made famous by Doris Day in 1952.  “I just love this song, but I also love the challenge of singing in different languages,” Val says.
As an ex-pat from South Africa, Laura has brought an international flavour to the choir in her ten years as director, plus an ever-rising level of performing excellence.
Laura studied music at The University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, majoring in piano studies. In her graduate year as a teacher she was assigned to the choir because she could play the piano. Her passion for directing has become her life’s work.
Laura currently teaches at Girton Grammar School, where she is head of junior school music and assistant head of music. She also leads the much-loved over-65s rock choir Forever Young.
“It is said that there are two types of people in this world and people in a choir are better than both of them. I agree,” Laura says.
“Being involved with the Women of Note has been a magical and joyous experience for me. I never knew when I started ten years ago as the choir’s director that I would come to love our weekly sessions together. While the music making has been a particular joy, it is the friendships and the memories that we make together that are most significant. The Women of Note is a fine example of community music making at its best.”

When Kat Meadows decided to join a choir this year, she asked her children’s school music teacher, Laura, if she knew of one. Women of Note’s weekly rehearsal was only two hours away, and so Kat came on a whim.
“It was an opportunity that came with moving to a new town,” she says, having recently shifted from Ballarat. “What’s the point of moving somewhere new if you’re going to do the same old things? It’s lovely fun. It’s just brilliant. There are some really talented people here. Peter (on piano) is amazing, Laura is amazing. I feel like I get to watch a show every week and sometimes join in with the music.”
The choir’s newest member is Natalie Rhook. This is her third rehearsal. Natalie is also a newcomer to Bendigo. She moved from Melbourne in January for a change of pace. “I’d been looking for a choir in Bendigo and this one seemed like fun,” she says. Natalie’s partner is a bluegrass musician, meaning sweet tunes are part and parcel of her life. “But me as a singer, without wine and without friends, this is the first time,” she laughs. Three weeks in, and she’s hooked. “The synapses in the brain go berserk. It’s the sort of thing that everyone should do. It’s got ‘wellness’ written all over it.”
And so the choir’s original intent continues to deliver.
Women of Note will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a “choral spectacular” called Come to the Music, featuring choirs from around Victoria,  singing workshops and an evening performance at Ulumbarra Theatre on Saturday, August 24. For details go to www.wonbendigo.org