Navy singers strike a chord in Defence choir

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), LSIS James McDougall (photographer)

Location(s): Russell Offices, Canberra

Topic(s): Health, Fitness and Wellbeing

The Defence Choir perform their winter concert in the Ngunnawal Theatrette at Russell Offices, Canberra. (photo: LSIS James McDougall)
The Defence Choir perform their winter concert in the Ngunnawal Theatrette at Russell Offices, Canberra.

As the Chief Legal Officer to the Chief of Navy and a mother-of-three children, you wouldn’t think Commander Rachel Jones would have much time for hobbies, but her posting to Navy Headquarters has unexpectedly given her an opportunity to reconnect with one of her first loves: singing.

Commander Jones is a member of the Defence Choir – a group of Canberra-based Navy, Army, Air Force and Australian Public Service vocalists who meet at lunchtime once-a-week to exercise their vocal chords and create beautiful harmonies together.

Chief Legal Officer to the Chief of Navy, Commander Rachel Jones (green shirt) joins in song during the Defence Choir’s winter concert held in the Ngunnawal Theatrette at Russell Offices, Canberra.

Chief Legal Officer to the Chief of Navy, Commander Rachel Jones (green shirt) joins in song during the Defence Choir’s winter concert held in the Ngunnawal Theatrette at Russell Offices, Canberra.

The group also occasionally performs to an audience. This week, it put on a short concert at Russell Offices in Canberra – the home of Defence’s senior leadership. 

Choir Director Katrin Hingee said the origins of the choir dated back many decades. She has personally led it for the past 20 years. 

“I have loved watching our choir members grow as singers over the years.

“For many choir members, joining the Defence Choir is the first time they’ve sung with other people since they last had to sing the national anthem at school.

“At first, the mouse impersonations can be quite impressive and I often don’t get a sense of what someone actually sounds like for years.

“But, eventually, the skills come, confidence grows and maybe one day they make the mistake of sitting next to me in the rehearsal room.

“Or, I ask for a volunteer to fill in on a solo line and their hand gets tentatively raised, while the rest of their body tries to hide under the table.

“It’s then that I realise there is a voice,” Ms Hingee said.

Commander Jones is one of the brave choir members who sometimes sings solo parts in the choir’s performances.

“This is my second season singing in the Defence Choir.

“I joined because I wanted to have fun, and rediscover what I love about singing in a choir, which I haven’t done since I was at university around 20 years ago. I sang a lot at school, both in large choirs, small A cappella groups and as a vocalist for the high school jazz band.

“It has also helped me to remember that I have more interests than just work and a busy family.

“It’s probably a mid-life crisis and the choir is my convertible car!” she joked.

The Navy Legal Officer, who is a “mostly alto, sometimes mezzo-soprano”, said while she was initially looking for fun, the choir has brought more than she expected to her Defence life.

“Once a week, I get away from my desk and feel a different type of belonging.

“A choir is a team effort and each week we see the results of what we’re achieving together.

“The creativity and sense of ‘one-ness’ of being in a choir really regenerates my energy, and whatever is sitting in my email inbox melts away during that hour of choir practice.

“I’d suspect the endorphins released are much the same as a gym session,” Commander Jones said, adding that she also enjoyed the opportunity to meet Defence people from outside her immediate work environment.

Lieutenant Commander Barbara Woodruff, from the Command Support Branch of Australian Defence Force Headquarters, has been singing with the choir for a year.

She said participating in the choir had benefited her mental health and resilience in the workplace. 

“I joined the choir because I really enjoy singing. 

“I also needed something that could give me a break from the workplace – as part of my self-care plan – and this was the perfect answer. 

“At the moment, there are only three military members in the choir - two Navy and one Air Force – so it gives me the opportunity to interact with a whole bunch of Australian Public Service people outside of normal work requirements. 

“I also get to sing songs that I’ve never heard before - songs from centuries ago, and pieces that really challenge me. 

“For example, this season we’re singing a song in Swahili - I kid you not!” she said.

Katrin Hingee said the choir was always looking for new members, and said aspiring vocalists shouldn’t let a lack of experience put them off having a go.

“Like all good skills, singing is something that takes practice.

“Very few people are born singers; most of us have worked hard to develop our voices,” she said.

Lieutenant Commander Woodruff added that not everyone was a perfect performer.

“That’s what makes it fun,” she said.

Commander Jones also didn’t hesitate to recommend the choir.

“I would absolutely encourage others to get involved.

“Being creative outside of our work lives must surely spur creativity in our work lives.

“We know that Defence is seeking to be innovative in how we do business, so why not exercise our creativity muscles and have fun doing it,” she said.

For information on joining the Defence Choir, contact: defencechoirdirector@dpe.protected.mil.au