FROM THE heart

Tania de Jong (AM) of Flinders is a world-class soprano who has performed in over 40 countries as a soloist and with her ensemble, Pot-Pourri. She can sing in eleven languages. Tania is also a motivational speaker, businesswoman, philanthropist and social entrepreneur who has developed six businesses and four charities, making her one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs.

Her ventures embrace the intersection of arts and science and they are changing people’s lives. As impressive as her extensive personal accomplishments are, what makes her stand out is not what she’s done, but who she is.

“Everything I do is from the heart. I want to help people find their own voice. I see the beauty in every person. I want to use my talents to help others unlock their potential so they can shine. Despite what I see in the world, I’m an optimist. I believe in people. I’ve connected a lot of people. It’s changed their lives and, through that, it’s changed mine. I am very grateful,” she says, with genuine humility.

In her TEDx talk, “How Singing Together Changes the Brain” Tania talks about the neuroscience of singing with others. It taps into the creative right side of the brain. With the constant onslaught of ‘information’ keeping the logical, practical left side of the brain in overdrive 85% of the time, being able switch over to the right side is more important than ever.

Singing has many real-world benefits. It improves language and learning, stimulates happy hormone, oxytocin, and gets neurotransmitters firing helping to build new neural pathways in the brain. Choral singing amplifies these effects and raises collective consciousness: – a divine experience in the truest sense of the word. “Connecting voices is a wonder drug. Not only do we breathe together, but our hearts start to beat together,” she says.

Photos Yanni & Supplied

Under her Creativity Australia banner is her With One Voice Choir program. What started out as one choir on a Tuesday night in Melbourne’s Sofitel Hotel has blossomed into 30 choirs Australia-wide connecting people aged 9-90 from every kind of background. One of her favourite things about One Voice is ‘The Wishlist’. At the end of each session, choir members can wish for something and other members fulfil that wish if they can.

“I meet a lot of people who come from dysfunctional backgrounds or are alone in the world. Choir is their light and weekly haven. Singing can be like a religion for people who have lost a sense of meaning and belonging. In choir, they find their voice, share their voice and connect with other voices. It’s so healing,” she says.

 Voice and transformation are at the heart of everything Tania does. Her vocal group Pot- Pourri have been lifting audiences up since 1987 in public, private and corporate settings all across the world. Their repertoire includes opera, musical theatre, cabaret and comedy with the occasional dash of magic, acrobatics, dance or didgeridoo! Hence the name, Pot-Pourri: – a little bit of everything!

While performing in schools, Tania found that public schools were not getting equal access to the arts. So, she set up her first charity The Song Room – an all access music program for underprivileged kids because evidence shows music education makes for brighter, more learning ready students. That program is now celebrating 15 years. Tania was awarded the Order of Australia medal (AM) in 2008 for her work with The Song Room and as a performer.

As a child, Tania imagined being an archaeologist, psychologist or doctor, but there was always a performer and entrepreneur brewing. She would perform magic shows for her parents, charging them five cents. Later, she sold tumbled rocks, shells and handmade jewellery at a stall in front of their Glen Iris home.

Following in the footsteps of her tennis champion Mother, Eva Duldig, Tania won a college tennis scholarship to America for a year, but by then singing was her true love. However, she used that knowledge to start her own tennis coaching business at 18. She began her first singing business in her early 20s.

Tania earned a Law degree with Honours at the University of Melbourne as a backstop in case singing didn’t work out. She then auditioned and was accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts Opera Studio Program.  She coached tennis during the day and went to Opera School at night. Tania has never shied away from hard work or a challenge.

Her biggest challenge came when she and her husband, philanthropist, Peter Hunt (AM) founded their charity, Mind Medicine Australia, in 2018 to make psychedelic-assisted therapy available to mental illness patients in Australia, particularly for patients who didn’t respond to other therapies.

Tania and Peter consulted with experts around the world. Used as a supervised adjunct to talk therapy, they knew, through all of their research, that this therapy could alleviate immense suffering.

They applied to the Therapeutic Goods Administration to have psilocybin and MDMA reclassified for therapy. After a long hard battle, in February this year Australia became the first country in the world to reclassify psilocybin and MDMA as controlled medicine. “These transformational therapies will improve the lives of millions of people,” she says.

While Tania has achieved an enormous amount in her lifetime, – her drive, ambition and success are largely reinvested into helping others. As she says, “There’s no greater gift than the gift of giving.”  And that’s who she is.

Peninsula Essence – December 2023