Piano. Accordion. Ukulele. These are just a few of the instruments that Alan Norman plays. You see, Alan speaks music. It’s the language in which he expresses himself. Sometimes it’s the language he uses where he works. Alan works at Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) – a charity organisation that deals with homeless Wellingtonians, providing much needed support to over 850 service users. Alan spends his time connecting with service users on a daily basis, building a rapport of trust and friendship, often with the help of a guitar or two. He also has established DCM’s first Ukulele Orchestra – Ukes Matawaka. This orchestra meets weekly to rehearse and perform around town. We talk to Alan about how music transcends great divides.
“I was brought up in Titahi Bay. It was a great place to grow up and develop an affinity with the sea, which still has a big influence on my life. I began playing and learning music at a very young age and I found I had a pretty keen ear. Amongst my more formal training I found I could play something just by listening to it.
I’ve been fortunate to have played with some of the best in the business and I’ve played on countless recordings for different artists. Being with the Warratahs I learnt a bunch of country licks. You’ll still find me out there playing ‘live’ around Wellington with different combinations of people and instruments.
I trained as a psychopaedic nurse in 70s, and found that music was an incredible therapeutic tool. Now I often have guitars in my office. At DCM playing and singing Waiata is a good way of initially getting to know someone. Two minutes of ‘jamming’ can be as beneficial as 2 hours of talking. It’s also a good conversation piece if dealing with a music enthusiast of which there are many here! A musical exchange between two people can ease any tension and can lead to easy conversation. It can break down barriers.
The Ukes Matawaka was a collective idea and came about after enthusiasm for a singing group started to wane. It is necessary because it gives people in our service a chance to express themselves creatively. One person that joined us is Bronwyn. Bronwyn is a remarkable singer who has gained confidence in her singing by participating in the Ukes Matawaka. She has a unique colour in her vocal tone that gives the orchestra character.
I’ve had some wonderful moments with the Ukes Matawaka and I’m looking forward to widening the program to include an open forum for jamming, practical and theory. Rhythm, melody and lyrics can really and truly enrich someone’s life.”
DCM provides essential services to Wellington's vulnerable, such as health care, access to housing, financial advice and food parcels. If you would like to leanr more about the work that they do, and to give your 1% to them through One Percent Collective, check them out below.