It’s hard to compose with Dora the Explorer on in the background…

I was hoping to get some composition done this month, as it is summer and my son is away with his grandparents in Australia.

Nothing doing. I still have my four year old daughter here. I never knew how difficult it was to compose with Dora the Explorer (“It’s the map, it’s the map, it’s the map!”) playing in the background.

Now I’m wiser.

So my month of composition isn’t likely to happen. Family comes first.

Instead of grinding away with Sibelius, I’ve been down the local pool doing killer whale impersonations for my daughter (and anyone else who wants to watch), and running around the farm with my girlie, as she chases after our lambs laughing and giggling.

Some of our lambs

It’s a lovely sight, so I can’t say that doing without new music down isn’t worth the wait.

Every single human being is musical

There. I said it. A blanket satement: “Every single human being is musical.”

It isn’t so long ago I didn’t believe that.

For instance, I remember being singled out for orchestra in primary school, over thirty years ago now (in Ye Darke Ages!).

Our whole year level was given a hearing test, where they beeped these notes at us, and we had to say which ones were the same and which were different.

I must have done well in that whacked-out test, because next thing I knew, I was selected to play the violin in the school orchestra. One of only half a dozen kids in the year level.

Then I noticed, once I’d joined the orchestra, how many family members there were: the Tickle sisters, the Beard brothers (all four of them!), and now the Veitch siblings – my older brother and me.

My brother and I with our instruments: him with his 'cello, and me with my violin

It looked like musicality ran in families, and since I first noticed it, all those years ago, I’ve never disputed that some families were “more equal than others” when it came to music.

And somehow or other, despite never having being taught or trained, my brother and I seemed to have this knack for music that was in us, right from the beginning – born inside our genetic shells, where no-one could take it away, or even really see what it was or where it came from.

Questioning the God-given, self-acknowledged superiority of The Musician

But now I’m not so sure.

I think maybe there’s a big problem with our musical culture, and how we judge music, and very much with how we train and teach music.

We musical types are so convinced we have something special, we’ve hardly stopped to question whether that’s actually true or not – or whether we’ve just rigged the playing field to suit us, and paid off the referee.

I mean, what about that kid that can’t hold a tune, but has an incredible sense of rhythm? They would never have been picked for orchestra, but that same orchestra might have just missed out on the best percussionist it would ever have got. Are they musical? I’d think so.

And what about the kid who can dance like you’ve never seen, but sings like a cat on steroids? Their whole fricking body is registering the music and responding to it – not just their fingers or their vocal chords! Yet if we heard them sing, we’d never call them a musician.

But I would.

Music doesn’t stop with the throat and hands!

And then there’s the issue of hand-eye co-ordination. I’ve lost track of the number of musicians I know who can sing well but are an embarrasement on the dance floor (hi honey!).

A choir I used to be involved with tried just a few simple steps (like – really, REALLY simple!) to some African music they sang a couple of years ago, and I swear most of the choir members couldn’t tell their left foot from their right. Just as well, really, as I think most of the men, at least, had two left feet!

This might seem irrelevant, but in a lot of cultures, singing and dancing are intertwined, inseparable. Would these “special needs” dancers have been stopped from singing because they couldn’t dance?

Maybe…I guess that means my husband’s career in music would have been doomed too! Which shows how judging according to one particular view of what it means to be musical can be so wrong – and so limiting.

What I’m saying here is that we judge people as musical or not, in our society, according to a very small set of metrics that totally ignore whole facets of what it means to be musical, and to have the music in you.

We tell a person they can’t sing if their voice is rough, despite the fact they have perfect pitch – then they go away and never sing again, convinced they’re a failure in the musical world.

Or we stop someone from joining a choir because they’re too loud, too tall, too whatever – and prevent someone from sharing the music that is in them and of them, because of our own shallow and petty perspectives about the world.

Music is transformative

Every single human being is musical. I’m convinced of it. My son, who is autistic, used to bellow out songs so badly you’d want to block your ears – tuneless and loud, and totally awful in every respect.

But recently his understanding of music (he’s only six) has transformed, and suddenly we’re finding he’s got great pitch, and sounds nice to listen to, and he’s in time with the music better than most kids his age. He clearly just needed to grow into the music – and to be given a chance to shine.

Transformation can happen, if we give it a chance. And maybe his transformation is happening because we always encouraged him and told him he could, instead of telling him to stop, and making him believe that he couldn’t.

Dreaming a musical dream…

If I could have a dream project, it would be to gather together a whole stack of people who believe they can’t sing, who have been told they can’t sing, who have been encouraged to never sing, and who have been dumped from choirs and glee clubs around the world. And I’d get them to make music that would get the world dancing.

Because I believe that every single human being is musical. It is in us, and of us, and nothing can ever take it away. And if this is a rant, so be it, but it is what I believe, and that’s the end of this post.

Raising musical kids

I’ve got a six year old son and a four year old daughter.

Time for music education.

Yeeks – that sounds dull! Just by thinking about the words “music education” I’m already having visions of crotchets on blackboards, and deadly dull narrations by Ustinov of “Peter and the Wolf” running through my head and killing my brain cells in primary school already…aughhhh!

Mummy! Save me!

Seriously though, a lot of people would start with boring the pants off the kids by dumping lots of symphonies and opera at them, and hoping some of it sticks.

Or they throw “Peter and the Wolf” at their long-suffering kids, and somehow expect that it won’t bore their kids half as much as it bored them.

Because they really wanted to listen to screeching violins, twittery flutes, and six hours of Wagner – or a boring old fat guy talking about musical ducks – when they were at school too.

Teaching kids to love, enjoy and relishhhhhh music!

What I’ve done, instead, is put together playlists of what I consider to be great mixes of the best of popular music from across nearly a century of popular music.

We sing along, dance along, head bang along, air guitar along, and generally groove. And we’re embarrassing, and we have heaps of fun.

And the music sticks! And they ask for more!

I don’t bother with the classical stuff much at all. I reckon that the first step to success in education is getting kids interested, and loving the subject – whether it is music, english, maths or medieval basket weaving.

Then you worry about whether what you’re introducing is “culturally approved”, once the kids are suckered in and in love with the subject area.

And I think that kids deal better with shorter songs that tell a definite story, have melodic themes that are easy to identify, and have a solid beat that is fun to groove to. I hope that doesn’t make me a heretic.

So what’s on the listening list?

My kids are listening to:

  • The B-52s: Rock Lobster, Love Shack and Roam
  • Lady Gaga: Born This Way, The Edge of Glory and Bad Romance
  • The Beatles: Revolution, Octopuses Garden and Here Comes the Sun
  • The Beach Boys: Wouldn’t it be Nice and Do it Again
  • The Monkees: Daydream Believer
  • The Cure:The Lovecats

    The ultimate sing-a-long dance track for 80s leftovers – The Lovecats! (and my kids love it!)

  • Green Day: American Idiot
  • The Hollies: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
  • John Lennon: Imagine and Happy Christmas
  • Madonna: Like a Prayer and Express Yourself
  • The Mammas and the Papas: California Dreaming
  • Midnight Oil: King of the Mountain
  • Rolling Stones: Start Me Up
  • Prince: 7
  • Hair soundtrack: Good morning, Starshine
  • The Verve: Bittersweet Symphony
  • Hunters and Collectors: Throw your arms around me
  • Goanna: Solid Rock
  • Elvis: Jailhouse Rock and A Big Hunk O’ Love, plus A Little Less Conversation (JXL Radio Edit Remix)
  • Three Dog Night: Joy to the World
  • Genghis Khan: Moscow
  • Martha and the Muffins: Echo Beach
  • Cristina Aguilera, L’il Kim, Mya and Pink: Lady Marmalade
  • Pink: Feel Good Time
  • Icehouse: Electric Blue

    OMG – it’s Iva Davies! That mullet! Be still my heart!

  • M C Hammer: U Can’t Touch This
  • Adele: Rolling in the Deep
  • Katy Perry: Last Friday Night (TGIF)
  • The Tokens: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Great music doesn’t date. Ever. I just let my kids listen to stuff I like listening to, and make sure I update the list with some good stuff regularly.

I’d call most of the stuff above “easy listening”. It’s approachable, the kids can hear the lyrics easily enough, and most of the songs have a definite theme I can discuss with them.

Naturally, I’ve put in some fun stuff that is just plain embarrassing, but that the kids love anyway. “Moscow” fits in this category, as does “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.

And if you’re not ashamed to howl out the songs in the car with your kids, its a huge amount of fun.

The mix list also includes some classics from bands and artists that pretty much belong in the “must have” sack of music. Like, you have to listen to Elvis and John Lennon! 😉

So – if you have kids, what are yours listening to?