Category Archives: music

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A lesson in culture from the humble lullaby

My grandmother taught me to waltz in Vienna when I was seven years old. That’s Vienna, Virginia, USA – not Vienna, Austria…. but I like the happy coincidence.

Now, more than two decades later (ahem, almost three…), whenever I hear Mozart it takes me back to that day in my kitchen, riding atop my grandmother’s feet, held up by her strength and warmed by her flesh as she held me in a dancer’s embrace.

My grandmother was also the one who taught me to sing through my chronic childhood carsickness, but I took that advice as a bigger lifelong lesson.

Now, I sing through my heartbreak. I sing through stress. It calms me. More than massage, more than meditation…there’s something about belting out a classic tune that stops the endless pursuit of negative thoughts in my head and releases a rush of endorphins into my bloodstream.

Realising that singing is my drug of sorts, it got me thinking. Where does my love of music come from? And more broadly – who is it that inspires our souls with sound? 

My mum was the first to give me the gift of music.

The rhythm of her fingers as she tapped her pregnant belly. The deep bass of her voice as she talked, setting a slow and steady beat.  My first lullaby, sung to me as I nestled in the crook of her elbow.

As the years continued, my mother’s and my singing repertoire grew – from Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’, to Bette Midler classics from ‘For The Boys‘ soundtrack,  to Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’ (because she loved me, not because it was to her taste).

Modestly and generously she let me take the lead.

All these many moons later, and I sing the same lullabies to my own children. Often, I have to catch my breath as raw emotion floods my system.

My mother and grandmother live inside every melody. I can not filter them out of my musical memory.

The Baz Luhrmann film ‘Australia’ has a famous line, said between Lady Ashley (Nicole Kidman) and Nullah (Brandon Walters) – “I sing you to me”. There’s an incredibly powerful, unspoken truth here – music can connect people. It is one of culture’s greatest assets, and I believe it is primarily through the female line that it lives on*.


While music may be but one of culture’s many hallmarks, I strongly believe that women govern most of the other signature ones – food, dance, and storytelling.

Our evolutionary needs have dictated this to some extent. As  the men go out to hunt, silence and stealth are necessary qualities. And as the women gather together, with children nursing at their breasts, they talk. They share. They teach.

Sure, we don’t live in remote villages anymore, and my husband’s never so much as caught a fish. But in our blood – our primal instincts – I still believe it’s the women doing the lion(ess)’s share of culture commanding.

We are the storytellers of culture. The vocalisers. The lullaby singers. The melody givers.

And for that, I say thank you mum. And thank you Shirl. You’re immortal to me, because you set the rhythm of my heartbeat.Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 7.16.50 PM

 So – who inspired your love of music? 


*Note: My assertions are based predominantly on western culture.