Alan Norman

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.

The orchestra rehearse a number

The orchestra rehearse a number

Performing for World Homeless Day

Performing for World Homeless Day

“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.

Ukes Matawaka play at Waitangi Day

Ukes Matawaka play at Waitangi Day

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.

Empty Bowls 2015

What’s in every home, used everyday, and has the potential to raise some serious funds for a super awesome Wellington charity? Bowls. Yes that’s right, bowls. Soup bowls, pudding bowls, maybe even bowls for haircuts – The Wellington Potters Association have put clay to kiln in order to raise some funds for our partner charity DCM with their project Empty Bowls 2015.

A target of 850 handcrafted bowls was set by the Wellington potters to symbolise the number of people going through DCM each year. These bowls are to be sold at local cafés and at the popular supermarket Moore Wilson's. "For $20 people will get a beautiful bowl. It's a token to always remind them they are lucky to be able to buy a nice warm bowl of soup,” says organiser Rebecca Flowerday.

Masterchef Rex Morgan from Boulcott St Bistro will launch the bowls at Moore Wilson's on Saturday the 1st of August at 11am, along with a bowl of soup for the punters. Keep your eyes peeled for this wonderful example of creative philanthropy in a café near you.

Images by Digital Ninja