Sing your heart out with the Cooee Band

Sing your heart out with the Cooee Band
Posted on Tue 12 Dec 2017

If Stephen Arrowsmith’s mother hadn’t sat him near the family radio during the 1960s and 70s, the Cooee Band may never have been formed.

And that would have been a great pity because the nine people with disabilities, four Disability Support Practitioners and two volunteers who make up the band have a great time at the weekly gatherings and even more fun performing at musical festivals and events – as you can see by the photo. Stephen is in the front row and Marc Atkinson is leading the band on guitar.

Stephen is a long-time customer of Cerebral Palsy Alliance and during the 1980s he met Marc, now Senior Coordinator of Lifestyle at Allambie Heights.

Marc is a musician who has balanced his love of performing and surfing with providing day programs for people who have disabilities. But it wasn’t until 2011 he learnt that Stephen has a ‘super power’.

“Stephen’s cerebral palsy has affected his memory. He can’t remember what he did this morning,” explains Marc. “But he can recall all the lyrics of songs he heard during the 60s and 70s. It’s remarkable.”

Marc started bringing his guitar to work and Stephen would sing along. A duo was born. The pair began performing at CPA staff functions, the organisation paid for a PA system and other customers with cerebral palsy joined the band.

Originally called the Miracle Arts Crew Singers, the band renamed earlier this year. 

“We call out ‘cooee’ at the beginning of each performance,” Marc says. “Cooee means ‘come here’ and we call to the audience to come and watch us.”

Public performances

The Cooee Band has performed 12 times this year, including at the Northern Beaches Music Festival and regular performances in Chatswood Plaza.

“At festivals it gets professional with sound checks. There’s a sense of excitement and the singers feel it. On one level it’s fun but on another it gives the singers a sense of identity.”

Marc and the band are supported by Kazu Milne, a CPA Disability Support Worker who plays the violin and who Marc calls the “heart and soul” of the band. They are assisted by two steadfast volunteers, Don McLarty who plays the guitar and Patsy Templeton who is retired after a career in the theatre.

“It’s a joyous experience,” Patsy says. “You can see people arriving feeling a bit down and by the end of the day they’re grinning. I go home exhausted but it’s wonderful.”

Stephen says songs and singing makes him happy. When he listened to the radio as a child he had wanted to perform. “Now I perform and I see other people feeling happy.”

Georgia Cooper, 24, is one of the younger members and she adores performing. “I love getting out. I like all the songs and I love it when we perform in Chatswood. It’s like busking.”

Carol King has known Stephen and Marc for many years and she joined in order to perform. “I love being on stage. I feel wonderful when I sing. It also helps my breathing. I think the world of Marc.”

Marc says the band members choose the songs, he learns the music and teaches the band the lyrics. “It’s not about rhythm or timing. Cerebral palsy is such a complex condition that on any given day you don’t know how each member will perform. It’s controlled chaos and on a good day, when it works, the audience is blown away. It’s beautiful. Even on a bad day it’s a huge amount of fun.”

If you want to access your inner pop star, contact your local CPA office to see what's available in your area. Participation in social activities can be funded by your NDIS plan under Increased Social and Community Participation.

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We have been providing safe, friendly and enjoyable accommodation support for people with a range of complex disabilities for more than 60 years.

Enjoy a day or more each week with friends at one of our Community Access Centres, or try a new experiences with a small group or one-to-one support.