From time to time, friends tag each other on Facebook in ten day sharing sprees on a theme: black and white photo from your day; albums that had a significant impact; books you love. The latter one usually awakens my inner egotistical nightmare, looking through my friends’ lists for one of my collections of poetry, only to be disappointed. The less said about that the better.
When I was nominated to share ten albums that influenced you, the posts from friends already sharing theirs had sparked my wondering, and I had a list almost ready to go. Most of the albums I shared not only told the story of the music that has shaped me, but demonstrated how deeply my music sensibilities are shaped by my Dad.
It’s Father’s Day this Sunday. The first Father’s Day since he died. I’ll be stuck here in a city other than the one in which my family live. We will connect on Skype, possibly for hours, as we did on his birthday in July. We will celebrate our Dad, who we miss terribly. We will celebrate the dad who we have with us, son-in-law, husband, brother-in-law, Daddy to my precious niece and nephew.
My Dad died two weeks after Father’s Day last year, so September is going to be tough. As much as I want to give space to the sorrow, the loss, the grief, I also want to spend time with Dad in memories of gratitude and joy, because I love him so.
So here are ten albums that shaped me, as shared on Facebook some time back, and how they point to Dad’s influence, as much as the influence of the music itself.
Paul Simon: Graceland
Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon, Graceland. Some of the earliest music I heard, and it got into my soul. The poetry. The collaborations. On Graceland, the voices, rhythms, soul, from South Africa.
I studied music through high school, and in Year 12, took the option to do individual performance and a guided project. That project explored the influence of music out of Africa on Jazz. I learned about call and response and a whole lot of other things I’ve since forgotten, or so absorbed into my knowing it is without words for articulation.
Paul Simon’s collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo influenced my choice for that project. And my Dad’s influence is all through it.
Sweet Honey in the Rock: Still on the Journey
I may have found Sweet Honey in the Rock somewhat by myself, I think, through my research, but their gospel songs, their freedom songs from generations past to their own, their storytelling – that’s the stuff I learned to appreciate from my Dad and his love of folk music.
I knew musicians from The Sudan because Dad had met Ben Yengi through his work with international postgraduate students at Flinders University. My family and I went to a performance of Sudanese music at the Adelaide Zoo, invited by Ben. Together, we shared our love of music, following my current project deeper into music beyond our culture. It was so us, so Dad. He was all through this project.
Through Ben, I met Sam Oshodi, who I invited to lead a workshop on drums and the music of The Sudan with music students at my school.
Arrested Development: Greatest Hits
Dad probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the music of Arrested Development as much as I did, but again, it was infused with the cries of protest, the stories and poetry, that infused the music he did enjoy, on which he brought us up. One of my school friends and I used to sing ‘Mr Wendel’, with harmonies, in the yard at lunch times; and she and I would duck out of music classes to go round the corner and buy pineapple chunks from the corner shop. Music not only told me the stories of its songwriters and singers, but it narrates my own.
James Morrison et. al: The Gospel According to Groove
It was through this project that I embraced jazz, and the blues. I’m not sure how I found my way to it, perhaps through the music my clarinet teacher gave me to play for solo performances; it wasn’t through Dad. Though a decade later he would attend every single Black Wood Jazz alternative church gathering, it was not for the jazz. He tolerated a music form not his preference in order to be present with me as I explored and experimented with an alternative way of being church. James Morrison would have been one of the ways I found jazz: I’m sure my music class attended an event at another school featuring the Aussie jazz legend. This collaboration of his – The Gospel According to Groove – was influential in so many ways, for the jazz, and for sparking my imagination on how to sing the Sacred Song.
Norah Jones: come away with me
I’m not a die-hard jazz and blues girl who can tell you all the names of the greats, and though I cannot name all the movements and styles within jazz and blues genres, I appreciate a wide range of them. To give you an idea, think big band, 1990s jazz fusion, blues, modern, and the 1920s; also contemporary soft-jazz soft-pop music of Norah Jones, Michael Bublé, and Jamie Cullum. I can’t play jazz standards at the drop of a hat, but on my clarinet, as a member of the worship bands, I played my own style of jazzy improvisations over the songs we sang in church and youth group for roughly a decade.
The cover to the right is one representing a group of albums, a group of composers: Baroque.
A few years ago, I gave Dad a gift, an album of Baroque music the details of which I cannot remember now, and he said, how did you know I liked Baroque music? Dad, I replied, I’ve always known: this is a love we share. It struck me: I don’t think he realises how much I have inherited from him the intense music lover. He used to record onto cassette tape, every Sunday afternoon, the Sunday Folk music program on ABC radio. Every week.
His love of TV shows or movies was very often a reflection of his love or otherwise for the music.
Baroque music. My favourite composers are Vivaldi and Telemann. Dad’s favourite piece was Spring, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I love all four movements of that. I love the recorder pieces, because I am a recorder player. Genevieve Lacy is one of the musicians I most admire.
Vivaldi and Telemann, though. Speak to my soul. And keep Dad close.
Tommy Emmanuel: The Journey
The title track of this album also speaks to my soul. It speaks, without needing words, to me of Australia, of home, of the journeys we take. I listened to this on my discman on every road trip for most of my teens, I think. And I return to our car, full with the five of us, travelling towards family in the South East of South Australia, or further East in Melbourne. Family was important to Dad, though it wasn’t until his last couple of decades that he really softened to more readily speak of them, and his love and concern for siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews and their growing families. Until then, his actions spoke, showing us in his commitment to packing us up for those long journeys; to take his turn among his siblings to invite his mum to live with us for several months during a certain season of her life; to his mother-in-law in the respect and humour of their relationship.
So Dad is not necessarily the influence for this musical choice, but he’s in the story this album holds of family, our little band of five, and the extended family we would travel 500 miles to see, and then some, because he taught us to.
We trace our heritage, through Dad’s ancestry, to Scotland, one of the lands of the Celtic peoples. Dad loved the green hills of the British and Irish islands, though he never travelled there to see them for himself. He loved the music – it’s more story and poetry, protest and lament and joy. And of course, I love it, too.
Eden’s Bridge: Celtic Christmas
Christmas. Family. The story of God’s light born among us. When I spoke at his funeral, I noted his influence on me as a person of faith. He wasn’t dogmatic, or belligerent, or possessed of the arrogance that assumes the story of Jesus is the only story to which a person might authentically align their life and being. He was committed, faithful, generous. He continued to wrestle, to grow, to change his ideas. I saw a golden thread of faith connecting my Dad to his Mum; my Dad to his daughters.
Dad’s favourite Christmas song was Little Drummer Boy. No idea why, as it is so beyond the bounds of either Christmas story told in the New Testament. But he loved it. My sister and I used to play it on piano and clarinet, and he loved that especially. Then we discovered the Pentatonix version, and on the back of that, he decided to accompany my sisters to their concert! I think he was a little shocked to discover their music wasn’t all like that song; that the theatre was full of screaming teenagers!
Orinoco Flow will always take me back to the house of my childhood best friend and her family, where we first heard of Enya, first heard this song. This album and Enya’s next one were two we could play in the car stereo for the whole family to enjoy, while most of the time, us kids retreated under our headphones to avoid the endless folk music. (I may have loved Simon and Garfunkel / Paul Simon, but much of the rest of it I could happily leave Mum and Dad to enjoy by themselves!)
Three families who met through mother’s and babies after I was born, Linda two months later, and Warwick not much after that, remained for each other another kind of extended family through my whole childhood. The parents still share meals regularly. Two of the dads rallied around the third when one of the mums died ten years ago, the three of them going for coffee, when before that, they’d really only caught up with each other as couples. Both sets of pseudo aunts and uncles looked out for my sister and me when our parents and youngest sister lived interstate and we stayed to finish high school and uni. They’ve rallied around my mum now that Dad has died, too. I’m realising now that I’m grown and living away from family how important such friends have been for my parents, living far from their siblings.
Padraig Ò Tuama: Hymns to Swear By
I know, the assumption of the exercise was ten music albums, and this is a spoken word album of poetry. I like to break rules occasionally, and have little time for pedantics.
I didn’t realise how important poetry was to Dad until Mum spoke at his funeral of his connection with his mum over poetry when he was in high school. I knew he got on well with some of the English academics at Flinders University, with whom he played social tennis for many years. I knew one of them (Syd Harrex) had written a poem for Dad, and included it in one of his collections. I would later be encouraged by Syd with my poetry, and to study English and Creative Writing in a return to Flinders University, and later, when I was working for a publisher, I would help copy edit and typeset another collection of Syd’s poems. There’s a photo of me with Mum and Dad at my first book launch, and he looks proud as punch. But I didn’t realise how, just as the thread of faith weaves between him, his mum, and me, the thread of poetry was so woven between us.
When I first encountered Padraig Ò Tuama’s poetry, it was on his voice, in a tent on a racecourse just outside of Cheltenham, England. It was like music. In English or Irish, Ò Tuama’s poetry plays like music, and I still prefer to engage with it by listening rather than reading. These poems connect me to that first trip to England and Ireland; to the people with whom I travelled and explored alternative ways of being church; to myself as poet. And because these poems tell stories of faith and protest, lament and joy, things my Dad taught my ears and my heart to love, this album, along with all the others here, connects me to Dad.