Thank you for the music

Music has always been a big part of my life. And I’m delighted that it’s a big part of our children’s lives too.

A love of music is something many kids develop from an early age. From expectant mothers playing classical music to their unborn babies to music-based toddler sessions and nursery rhymes, it’s something we are conditioned to find familiar and soothing.

Set adrift on memory bliss

It was my dad who fuelled my musical education. I grew up surrounded by audio technology: records, reel-to-reel tapes, 8-track cartridges, the whole nine yards. We watched classic musicals such as South Pacific and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers whenever they came on TV. The first film I ever saw at the cinema was Grease.

None of my family is musically gifted. I’m certainly not. But music courses through my veins in much the same way football does with others. It was quite literally the soundtrack to my teenage years. Many of my strongest associations to major events in my personal or world history are with the music of that time. When I moved from primary to secondary school, Irene Cara’s Fame was number one for most of that summer. The chart-topper during the fall of the Berlin Wall? Jive Bunny’s That’s What I Like. (You can’t win them all.) Michael Jackson’s Black or White occupied the top spot the night Heather and I started going out together.

I don’t really know why these are etched so strongly in my memory. But they are – often more so than the actual dates they occurred on.

There was a time when I could have rattled off every top ten from every week of the current year in much the same way maths prodigies can recite the digits of pi. I could have identified any chart song from its first three or four notes too. In our post-university years, our mortal enemies at our local pub quiz were a team that included the record department manager at the local WH Smith. We were the only team who could take them on in the music round that so often determined the outcome each week.

The day the music died

Those days are long gone now. At some point in my mid-thirties, I started to lose touch with current music. I stopped listening to mainstream radio and switched to retro 80s and 90s channels instead. Radio 2 replaced Radio 1.

Nowadays I’m hopelessly out of touch. But what little remaining connection I have to modern music exists because of the bond I share with our kids.

Running in the family

Just as my dad passed a love of music down to me, I (well, both of us) have done the same with our children.

With Isaac, this started from a very early age. Never the best of sleepers, he used to wake up regularly at 3am. He and I would decamp to the sofa to watch the music channels on TV or, somewhat randomly, an old recording of a Suzanne Vega concert from 2004. The latter was always guaranteed to soothe him to sleep. As he grew, he sang and danced constantly. (I distinctly remember his Rihanna phase. He once insisted on watching the video for Don’t Stop the Music 16 times in a row.)

Toby enjoys his music too, but in a less obsessive way. That is, until he discovered Eurovision, which would now be one of his Mastermind specialist subjects, alongside Top Gear 2002-2020 and ‘skyscrapers’.

And Kara is very much a chip off the old block. She has a fantastic ear for a tune and remembers song lyrics instantly. In particular, she adores musicals. My musicals playlist is the one she always requests when we’re alone in the car together. She has known pretty much every word to every Hamilton song since the age of six. And, of course, she is the first to volunteer for karaoke. She even memorably leapt on to stage to do a solo rendition of YMCA at a holiday camp in Luxembourg last year.

Good tradition

One of our family traditions for our annual summer road trips is to compile a playlist of songs for the car. Every year this evolves, providing us with a snapshot of our kids’ musical preferences throughout the years. This year’s list is full of songs from Dua Lipa, the Eurovision movie and Lady Gaga. Esoterically, we also threw in ELO’s Mr Blue Sky – you can blame Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 for that – which will forever be the song I associate with this year’s holiday, ironically, because it rained pretty much the entire time.

You will often hear one or more of the children wandering around the house bursting spontaneously into song. Sometimes it feels like the Kids from Fame got together with the cast of Glee for a night in watching the Pitch Perfect trilogy. But with more singing. And fewer harmonies.

Thank you for the music

Having said all that, I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get them all to watch the Mamma Mia films. We watched them both at the end of our recent UK road trip. Unsurprisingly, they loved them. Kara, in particular, is now busily learning ABBA’s entire catalogue. We’re are already on our second viewing of the films. (Mamma Mia, here we go again …) And why not?

In this year of coronavirus and lockdowns, music has played a big role in keeping us entertained and sane. I’d been hoping to take the children up to London to see more musicals. That’s obviously on the back burner for the moment. When theatres do open up again, Wicked is probably at the top of the list. But there’s every chance it may be deposed by our new ABBA-based favourite.

This year has reminded us all that there are a lot of simple pleasures in life to be thankful for. Our shared love of music is definitely one of these. And, of course, no one expresses that sentiment better than ABBA themselves:

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance, what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

Thank You for the Music – ABBA

(And, yes, all the section headings are song references. In order: PM Dawn’s Set Adrift on Memory Bliss; Don McLean’s American Pie; Level 42’s Running in the Family; Tanita Tikaram’s Good Tradition; ABBA’s Thank You for the Music.)


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