By Danielle Kutchel
In the wake of this year’s devastating bushfires, like many others Mark Stanley wanted to do something.
As a music producer, he had the means of creating his own unique response to the tragedy.
Recognising the sadness and negativity that pervaded the community at the time, he decided he wanted to bring positivity and light back by offering local creatives the chance of a lifetime.
He put out a call on social media, seeking raw, hidden talents and offering to record their song for free to give them a leg up to a career in a competitive industry.
Pretty quickly he was inundated with submissions.
That’s where Jill Whitington came along. She joined Mr Stanley’s team as an administration assistant as the project gathered steam.
She had previously survived the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, so she had a sense of how important Mr Stanley’s work was.
The project was called Phoenix Ensemble – a collective of hidden talents, rising from the ashes.
The artists are an eclectic mix, drawn from areas as varied as Cockatoo, Emerald, Trafalgar and within the Dandenong Ranges. One is a survivor of Ash Wednesday, and others are connected to bushfire tragedies through their parents’ experience.
“Whilst not everybody came from the burnt-out area, certainly they were in one way or another impacted by this year’s fires or fires in the past,” Ms Whitington explains.
Also on board are co-producer and bass player Brett Taylor and accompanying artists Benjamin Bray, Jaidyn Whitington and Steve Donkin.
Ms Whitington says the first round of recording has already been completed and the second round is underway.
Her time and the recording time is voluntary and the team hopes to raise some money to have the album digitally remastered for radio in future. It is hoped the album will be ready by the end of this year or beginning of 2020.
In the meantime, some of the ensemble cast have been promoting themselves as solo artists in the region too. The opportunities after the project concludes are endless; some of the artists are considering going overseas to pursue their careers there.
Ms Whitington says the community has been extremely supportive of the meaning behind the album and the reason for it so far.
While the initial contract was not looking to make money out of the project, Ms Whiting says if any money is raised from album sales, the ten artists would make a joint decision as to what to do with it.
“It’s a bit of a mental health project,” she says.
“Music filled the void for me after the fires. We’re hopeful it’s doing that for other people too.”