Music can be an inspiration for many things. It is the background to our lives, whether we want it or not, whether we sing or play music or simply dance to it or hear it in the background. It can evoke memories and take us back to a specific place in time in an instant. But does music inspire me to run or write? Christine Frazier posed the question in the #writeandrun31 challenge and this is my response.
Music has always been important to me. When I was a child, my mother always had BBC Radio 2 (easy listening) on in the background, so I grew up listening to Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and a host of other artists from the ’60s and ’70s. Incidentally I learned all sorts of random information about adult life from listening to the Jimmy Young Show; using the phrase ‘time is of the essence’ in complaints letters and signing off with TTFN, for instance. Hearing these songs over and over again and singing along means that I know the words to possibly thousands of songs – as long as I’ve got the artist to sing along to. We were also fervent listeners to the Family Favourites radio show on weekend mornings; more fuel to my repertoire of songs and this was added to when I joined the Girl Guides. Campfire singing was one of the many attractions.
My father was also a strong influence on my musical taste. He had strong opinions on music and enjoyed listening to classical music played as loud as possible. Goodness knows what the neighbours thought. I have fond memories of sitting side-by-side in the darkened living room, lit only by the orange glow of the valve radio, conducting the music and singing along. He fostered my love of ballet music and light opera and both he and my mother made us fans of English choral music. Not for us the sounds of Slade and Perry Como at Christmas. Listening to Carols from Kings College Cambridge was a Christmas Eve tradition both my sister and I have continued in our own families. Another Christmas tradition was the annual visit to the local choral society’s Christmas carol concert in the town’s concert hall, the Winter Gardens in Margate.
There used to be a tape of me aged 5 or so. Perhaps it was the fact that it was taped, but I distinctly remember standing on the landing halfway up the stairs with my pixie haircut, 1960s-short pinafore dress and white knee socks, singing my heart out in my best 5-year-old’s operatic voice. Unfortunately, I had a cold at the time and The Voice was decades off. Who knows what would have happened if I’d been ‘discovered’ back then! Fame and fortune could have been mine.
As it was, I was a keen member of the school choir and madrigal group; singing makes me happy. One of my best memories is singing in Handel’s Messiah when I was at senior school; as the glorious sounds of the final Amen echoed through the church, there was an electricity in the air that I have never experienced before or since.
On a side note, the 9-year-0ld daughter of one of my husband’s colleagues won Holland’s Got Talent last year with her amazing operatic voice. Amira taught herself to sing by imitating opera singers on YouTube. This is what I thought I sounded like, but didn’t.
As a young man my father used to go with a friend to record performances on reel-to-reel tapes so he owned a decent microphone and outside our bedroom door was the largest loudspeaker you’ve ever seen; easily the size of an American fridge. My father was a teller of tall tales. We were never quite sure how many of them were true, but one involved the Peter Pan-like singer Cliff Richard. According to my father, he once made a recording of the young Cliff singing in the toilets at The Kent pub at the bottom of Elephant Hill in Margate. Apparently the acoustics in the toilets were superior to those in the pub itself. Cliff Richard was billed as the UK’s answer to Elvis Presley. We didn’t listen to his Christmas songs, either.
In any case, my father was unimpressed when we started watching Top of the Pops. He said pop stars didn’t sing, they shouted, and they were all long-haired drug addicts. In some cases he had a point, but that didn’t stop my sister and I listening to the latest chart every week. My first pop idol was Sting when he was in The Police, but I secretly liked Andy Summers. Another of my flashbacks is the very first time I heard the song Roxanne. I was getting washed, listening to DLT on Radio 1 and the words to the song stopped me in my tracks. Mind you, the first single I ever bought was Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John and Kiki Dee; I still love that song. My sister was the buyer of records, but I was there too, singing along to Ultravox Vienna, XTC, OMD’s Architecture and Morality, Bee Gees Tragedy, ABBA and Foreigner’s Greatest Hits. Genesis and Phil Collins became favourites when I babysat for a family who had the Abacab album. I listened every time I was there. Probably the only other single I bought myself was Tainted Love by Soft Cell and Will You? by Hazel O’Connor.
Songs to inspire me to write and run
This is an intriguing question, but I’m not sure I can answer it. In actual fact, I prefer silence when I’m writing or at least some sort of music I don’t want to sing to. I am an inveterate sing-alonger; I just can’t help myself, even if I don’t know the words properly. The ideal writing music for me would be something bland, totally uncatchy and so quiet I can hardly hear it.
“Silence is golden!”
As a teenager the sound of wood pigeons cooing in the apple trees could derail all my good intentions of writing my English essays on sunny Sunday afternoons. That’s probably one of the reasons I often write most fluently in the wee small hours or if I’m lucky enough to have all my teenagers out of the house at the same time during the day. Even then I have to retire to my bedroom with the laptop or Fidget, the cat that likes to perch on my chest, will come for a cuddle and all is lost.
Perhaps the sort of music I need is the sort that is my go-to music when I need to relax; all three of my children might recognise James Galway’s Japanese-inspired Sounds of the Seashore because it was what I used to promote my afternoon snooze when I was pregnant. James Galway is also probably the inspiration for my dream of learning to play the flute; I started doing that a couple of years ago.
As for running, I can’t tell you one particular song that inspires me, but there is definitely a certain beat that makes me want to run. I do have a private YouTube ‘running’ list, but as I have only just got a smartphone, I haven’t had the opportunity to take it with me on a run to test it out. I have noticed that when I’m at the gym on the treadmill, running becomes so much easier when I’m in tune with the music. Sometimes a song starts up with a slow part, then it gains momentum and all of a sudden, there’s an extra spring in my step and I’m carried along by the beat. No longer am I staring at the seconds counting up to the time I set and feeling every breath I take. Suddenly running is fun again.
There are also specific songs that take me right back to specific exercise routines in my past. In the 1980s when leotards, lycra tights and leg warmers were de rigeur, a group of co-workers and I went to a lunchtime aerobics class in town. I can still remember some of the exercises we did; jogging on the spot with arms to the side at shoulder height, circling forwards then backwards and then pushing forward in spastic motions. I can still distinctly remember exercising to Jump by The Pointer Sisters and it’s still a great song to move to. Many years later, my first introduction to the V-step was set to the soundtrack of The Vengaboys and Boom! Boom! In a different class, we strutted the grapevine (or was it the step-touch) with accompanying arms to Cher’s Believe and spent months doing a dance routine to Shania Twaine’s Man, I Feel Like a Woman; every time I hear it, my muscle memory wants to set my body in motion. Perhaps this should set the alarm bells ringing, telling me to get myself a soundtrack to my running. If I started the music, would my body want to run? There’s every chance it might.