Moments of Music & Memory
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Music tags so many of lifes great moments. As a 14 year old boy I used to cringe listening to my older sister play 'her' song. Inside her teenage girls imagination it had been written just for her and her first boyfriend. Barbara saved up for a record player and the vinyl EP got a hammering from dawn to dust, complete with her backing vocal and the occasional sobs as she was overwhelmed by the intense, confusing, dramatic intoxication of first love. That state of first love, a universal experience, was colonised with music, made hers, and his, by their song.
I can't remember what it was but it was in the era that the Beatles were telling us that all you need is love, and the Petula Clark was exhorting us to never sleep in the subway, and definitely not to stand in the pouring rain. Richard Harris was lost in MacArthurs Park with a bloody cake which took so long to bake, and he'd never have that recipe again ... Oh No!
And even as I say those words something happens. I'm singing them. Music is a tardis that transports us to another age.
My mum has dementia and can't remember where she lives. Nethertheless, at a singing session at her nursing home recently, I saw her singing Rocky Mountain High like she was John Denver's mother. A local ukelele group came another time and performed war time standards. Even for dementia patients, 6 decades later they sang away, and it was still A Long Way to Tipperary, as imaginations and hearts drifted to young husbands and wives by their side, or going to the flics on a Saturday night to hear the grand organ, or waving a soldier goodbye.
I recently acted as narrator on a book tour of the Australian rock band the Angels, or more specifically the brothers Ric and John Brewster who were foundation members and who co-wrote the memoir. One of the points I made, and which was confirmed by people after the show, was the extent to which those songs were important to them, how that music from the golden era of Australian rock - think Midnight Oil, Dragon, Skyhooks, Australian Crawl, Cold Chisel, Jo Jo Zep and many others - had become, and still was, the soundtrack to their lives.
I'll share a memory that I experienced some years ago on the Desert Choir with Tony Backhouse. It appears on the Singing to the Heart brochure as a personal testimonial, and speaks, in my life at least, to the power of music to drive so much more than easy listening. In this case not just to take us back, but to resolve what is important or heartbreaking for us in the moment.
"Over years of leading choirs into beautiful places throughout Australia there have been many wondrous experiences: recitals in sea caves on the wild coast of Tasmania; pop-up gigs in remote pubs, in outback woolsheds and in lonely churches. One such experience was so sublime that it has never left me, and it resonates still in the design of Singing to the Heart.
At night the desert landscape of Australia mirrors a Shakespearean set, landscape a principal player, stage lighting provided by moon and stars, theatre props of shadowed rocks and spikey grevillias. All the while the sub - plot underpins the scene, that sense that Indigenous people lived and conducted ceremony here for thousands of years.
In a place like this, just six months from my father’s death, I listened to a choir sing around a fire. In one beautiful piece my loss found its expression, a universal register for those feelings you feared were yours alone. Sound was stripped to the elemental, attuned to a stark desert that demands sparseness in all things. At that perfect moment, around that fire, private grief morphed into something universal. It spoke to the transcendent power of song. Singing together in beautiful places can evoke a sense of the sublime. To not just see the desert but to stand with other human beings and sing, shared voices providing an intimate pathway towards comprehending the colossal space and story before us. The sense that we are not alone."
I was going to finish the blog with that last line but thought I'd add a photo of Petula Clark or the Beatles to add some visuals to the narrative. And here it was, on Google, my sister's song. How could it be anything else? - I COULDN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOUR LOVE.