In tune with volunteering – Eurovision hopeful gives back

The Eurovision Song Contest celebrates diversity, music and culture and is one of the most-watched televised contests around the world. This year, everyone at VisAbility cheered on Australian band Voyager because Perth guitarist and vocalist Simone Dow is a VisAbility volunteer. Simone works within Audio Production Services to help create Audio Books for the VisAbility Library.

This annual, musical event is an excellent launchpad for anyone wanting to pursue a professional music career and make their mark as a musician or band on a global level. More than 120 million viewers watched this year’s Eurovision Song Contest live on Saturday 13 May. The band Voyager performed their song called ‘Promise.’

Amid endless rehearsals and band appearances ahead of the contest, Simone found time to tell us about her volunteering. Simone will perform at the Eurovision Song Contest just 36 hours ahead of National Volunteer Week (link opens  in new window).

How does it feel to be selected to perform at Eurovision?

Surreal! The past few months have been incredible, overwhelming, emotional and everything in between! I have vowed to live in the moment and enjoy it as much as possible.

Tell us about being a VisAbility volunteer

Unfortunately, I have lived with chronic migraine disease for most of my life. I understand how heartbreaking it is when people misunderstand the extent of the pain and difficulties you live with every day. Chronic migraine is an invisible illness that affects your ability to function. With an invisible illness, you look fine on the outside, but internally you are struggling.

You can feel isolated because you can’t get out to do the things you love. It can leave you lost. When my pain subsided, my symptoms were more manageable, so I thought I should try to get back into work, starting with volunteering. I wanted to be with an organisation understanding of my situation, where I could, in some way, help others struggling with health issues.

My employment service urged me to look at volunteering pages. As soon as I saw the advert for producing audio books on the VisAbility website, I knew it was for me because I could use my audio and musical knowledge to help others.

I’ve recorded enough albums over the years to understand the recording and audio terminology, production techniques, waveforms, etc. It was just a matter of learning the programs and processes.

I prefer audio books over traditional books, because I struggle to read for long periods due to my migraines and photophobia symptoms. Audio books have been a positive part of my life when I was experiencing migraines.

How does volunteering positively impact you?

When you volunteer, it’s something positive to look forward to. I always love sorting through the mail because of the beautiful thank-you notes sent by clients. They are often left within the DAISY cartridges. DAISY cartridges contain books (DAISY is an acronym for Digital Accessible Information System). Clients slot the cartridges into audio book players and listen to them.

Being a VisAbility volunteer is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. It opened the door to me gaining a semblance of my life back and getting back into the paid workforce. The positive impact on my mental health and my condition was incredible.

Simone stands in darkened room with a large hat and nodding to one side
Simone is the guitarist in Voyager – Photo credit Mike Dann

You have an interest in sound – how do the two roles interconnect?

As a musician in an original band, you wear a lot of different hats – it’s not just about playing an instrument. You spend time in the studio, recording albums, monitoring the quality of your performance, and checking for tone and any imperfections you hear in your tracks.

I know about wave waveforms (changes in voltage), so can easily edit audio. My skillset aligns well with this role. I monitor the audio of the books, ensuring the volume isn’t too quiet or loud, or whether a noise, like an intake of breath, which is distracting, should be removed. As well as producing books and editing, I reload DAISY cartridges for individual clients.  

How important is it for you to have flexibility with the way you volunteer?

When you have a medical condition/disability, having the flexibility to work from home is advantageous. Some days you are too sick to go out, but you know you might have a few hours where you’re well enough to do a small amount of work from your bed.

It might be you can’t work on your rostered day, but you’re feeling better a day or two later and want to fill the shift then.

Whether undertaking volunteer or paid work, more workplaces should offer flexibility as not everyone can function in a Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm role. As a VisAbility volunteer, there is an option to work from home.

How do migraines affect your everyday life?

Migraines impact me every single day of my life. Many believe a migraine is just a bad headache, but a migraine is a complex neurological disease that you have for life and can be genetic.

Alongside the migraine comes debilitating daily symptoms that differ from person to person. Now older, my joint pain, allodynia/nerve pain, brain fog, fatigue, and cognitive symptoms have worsened. I try to manage these pain levels and symptoms with various medications, physio exercises, supplementation and food intake.

I try to have periods of rest throughout the day. People find it unfathomable that I live with pain every single day of my life because of my ongoing headaches. 

I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about migraines to read the information on the Migraine World Summit (link opens in new window). They have a fantastic Instagram page and website and have been an invaluable source of information to me in understanding what’s been happening to me and upcoming studies and treatments.

Why do you want to spread greater awareness about migraines?

Over the years, I have experienced stigma and discrimination advocating for myself because of a misunderstanding about the severity of migraines.

I’m lucky now that I have achieved success with the band Voyager to be able to use this platform to spread awareness about migraines. I want to offer hope to people who are struggling. It can take time to discover tools and treatments that work. For anyone struggling with migraines, I say there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s not a one size fits all approach to managing migraines. Managing my illness has involved rejigging and trial and error. Things work for me for a year and then fail. Sometimes, it’s hard to dust yourself off and find the strength to keep fighting and not just give up. If I am transparent, vulnerable and honest about my own experiences, then I hope I am helping others.

What does music mean to you?

It’s like a second language for me. A way for me to express myself in a way I can’t with words. It’s a truly cathartic experience performing live. Honestly, music has been my major lifeline throughout this difficult journey I’ve had to navigate over the years.

Simone and four other members of the band gather around a small organ. They are all trying to play the organ and are in a fun pose, smiling and giggling
Simone is the only female band member – Photo credit Mike Dann

My parents are musical, so I’ve been surrounded by music even in the womb. I can’t imagine music not being a part of my life in some shape or form.

Do you envisage your life changing once you have appeared on Eurovision?

I have no idea what will happen after Eurovision. If this opportunity opens doors for the band, so we can earn a decent living through our songs and performances, then it would make me the happiest woman alive. I’m just living in the moment, taking nothing for granted. Three years ago I didn’t even know if I could continue doing music with my health. Most people don’t get to experience anything like this in their lifetime.

What next for the band after Eurovision?

Once the contest is over, we head off on our Australian Tour on 9 June. We release our eighth album in July before returning back to Europe in October. I like to think we can grow our fan base on a worldwide scale.

Music is a beacon of hope and an important mode of expression, especially for people living with vision impairment, disability, pain or struggling with mental health issue.

Three years ago, I didn’t even know if I could continue playing music because of my health, so performing in the Eurovision Song Contest goes beyond my wildest dreams. 

Are you interested in becoming a VisAbility volunteer? We have a raft of volunteering opportunities, so why not investigate positions on offer and start your journey, to become a volunteer today?