The Voice Squad

THERE’S an old saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person. If that’s the case, the Voice Squad – Gail Brigden, Ian Cumming and Russell Bridge – would be obvious choices.

The trio, who all turn 79 this year, took out the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2017, and have been part of the group for a varying number of years: Ian about 16 years, Gail 9 years, and Russell 4 years

Having just retired, Ian joined after his wife Ann saw an advertisement in the paper for a pianist.

He reckons she didn’t want him under her feet…and it has worked.

The group, whose membership has varied over the years, sing at 10 nursing homes each month, practicing together once a month to provide a continually fresh collection of songs presented as solos and sing-alongs.

Ian also plays on his own to Alzheimer’s patients at Reynolds Court Aged Care in Bateau Bay every Wednesday morning, and is involved in Wyong Musical Theatre Company. 

Gail, having trained and worked as a singer, model, on TV (including blasts from the past like Sons and Daughter, the Love Boat and I Do, I Do) and in fashion (with her own fashion label), continues to be a wedding celebrant, a career she started in 1994.

She also took up painting at 50, and is actively involved with Tuggerah Lakes Art Society, including organising its annual Fab Fakes show.

She hadn’t sung in public for about 45 years before Ian saw her perform at the art society’s Christmas carols, and asked her to join the group.

Russell has been involved in Wyong Musical Theatre Company for over 10 years, having sung in choirs but never acted on stage before.

Since joining, the former Professor of Civil Engineering, said he has taken part in “just about every show they put on”, as well as running a gym and drop-in centre at Gwandalan. 

All three said they get as much enjoyment as the residents out of singing at the nursing homes, bringing something special into their lives, and seeing the audiences’ reactions.

“We get a real joy from doing the concerts; a lot of the residents know us by name and a lot of the ladies look forward to seeing what I’m going to wear each time,” Gail laughed.

“We have a laugh and joke together and there’s a bit of banter and story-telling”

Some of their audience members, she said, may be laid-up in beds, others in wheelchairs, some unable to speak, but they can still sway or clap along to the music, while others know every word of the songs and still others get up and dance.

She recalled one man who joined her in singing Ave Maria in Italian, who she later discovered had been a member of the famous Welsh Male Choir. 

“It’s fantastic to see the response people have to music,” Ian said. “…when they hear the music their faces light up…or you just see their fingers or toes tapping…

Sometimes, he said, the concerts bring tears of joy for audience members, other times sadness, but always memories.

A former Director of Health in Victoria and Queensland, he said care had certainly come a long way since the 1980s, when many elderly, particularly in country areas, had to move into hospitals if they didn’t want to leave their home town.

He hopes the Royal Commission into Nursing Homes will include a focus on activities for residents, so that more avenues are opened to stimulate their minds and keep them active.

For more information on THE VOICE SQUAD contact Gail Brigden on
0414 615 233 gailbrigden@hotmail.com

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