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spires from Carfax


Books + Ideas, — February 2019

I did know, or would at least have guessed, that David Bowie and Prince were singers, and in talking about them I recognised the line "Ground control to Major Tom" and the phrase "The entity formerly known as Prince", but otherwise I knew little about them and the outpouring of emotion at their deaths was rather a mystery to me. More generally, questions such as "name the ten albums that most influenced you as a teenager" aren't really meaningful to me, since my teenage years were largely music-free.

I have a few music memories from my early years. I remember my parents listening to songs by country and folk singers such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, some of which stuck in my mind. I also remember a few songs (such as Moon of Mamaku) from when I was nine and went to Gospel Oak school in London for a term. And the song Any Dream Will Do is irrevocably associated for me with my fifth grade teacher, Mrs Halliday, and how sad I was when she left part-way through the year.

My parents had some interest in classical music, but much less so than my grandfather Wolfgang and aunt Gabi. Again from my primary school years, I remember Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade and Dvorak's New World Symphony because they were on cassettes (I even remember they were purple and yellow) rather than scratchable vinyl and so I was allowed to play them myself. My broader exposure to classical music really only started in my late teens, inspired by my bushwalking companion Vic and my step-father Peter.

In my early teens my mother took my sister and me to recorder classes — with a real recorder player, not as a default instrument — but I never took to it. Most of my teenage exposure to music and most of the popular music I am familiar with can be traced to specific people: Colin Davis, a chess-playing friend who used to stay with us when he came to Sydney, was a Beatles fanatic; Madonna and Billy Joel I associate with Adrian and Danielle Browne, family friends we spent a lot of time with; and They Might be Giants will always remind me of my friend David Hogan (dhog).

I took up Javanese gamelan in my mid-twenties and have played that regularly since. Throw anything new at me and I still struggle to find my feet — I often feel incompetent next to some of the professional musicians I play with, who seem to effortlessly pick up new melodic lines or rhythms — but I have acquired some domain-specific skills. I can still remember Sarah Weiss looking at me dubiously after a brief clapping test before I first joined the Sydney Uni gamelan group twenty five years ago, but now I'm one of Pete Smith's preferred peking players, so I must have learned something about subdividing at some point.

Camilla studied piano and music theory, and is serious enough a singer to have done a choir directing course. And Helen is going to have a vastly more musical childhood than me. She loves singing and does that with Oxford Youth Choir as well as with her school choir. She's also having piano lessons. I haven't got her to do much at gamelan yet — her favourite part is handing around the chocolates at break time — but she's at least heard a reasonable range of non-Western music. She was also quite taken by Balinese music and dance.

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Danny. I just want to share that, when we visited Ubud, Bali, with our elder daughter (who was then about 3), she was very keen on "Bali dances" -- so much so that, if we were going to the dances in the evening, we wouldn't tell her until shortly before we were going. Otherwise she would be pestering us for the "Bali dances" for the intervening hours. Which could become wearing.

    Comment by Richard Horsley — February 2019

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