Singing a part in life's chorus

Never gonna give you up, Rick Astley. Photo: Getty Images
Never gonna give you up, Rick Astley. Photo: Getty Images

What would you sing though, if you had to take part? asks Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

It's always a surprise reveal as to who is in Wanaka's Stars in Your Eyes. I've spent a couple of months not telling anyone that our Dylan was rehearsing to bust out an epic bit of Eminem last week. As well as being a Very Proud Mother I'm pretty happy to live in a house where we're often losing ourselves in the music, the moment, we own it, we better never let it go ... Even when one of the fam hasn't got an exam or a project or a new song on the go, there's always someone strumming or fluting or something turned up to 11 on the stereo. I love it.

I was the cliched kid at school who had MUSIC IS MY LIFE written in block sharpie letters on my canvas army surplus bag, and yet I was about as far from a cool muso type as you can possibly get. I went to music school every Saturday, played violin and viola and sang in the school and church choirs. I rocked a mean Kyrie eleison and my idea of badass eclectic was a really fruity madrigal, or Joan Baez.

Researchers have shown that if you start playing someone a song they know and then stop it part way through, their audio cortex will carry on internally playing the lyrics. I'm not sure but I think this might account for waking up humming the same bit of Rick Astley over and over again when I've been thinking the night before about whether or not to lose any remaining shred of credibility by admitting that I bought him on vinyl, earnestly and unironically, at least 20 years before the Rick Roll. Oh Rick. Never gonna give you up.

See, Rick is part of my episodic memory, meaning that even when I sing it all these years later, I associate Together Forever with trying on hundreds of outfits (OK, maybe five) with friends and going for the multi-stripe jeans and a crop top. I remember, like yesterday, looking wistfully at my red-pixie-booted feet while he was singing When I Fall In Love at the school disco, as the teachers made sure all the dancers stayed at least an arm's length apart. My semantic memory for those times is a little hazier. The care factor doesn't come along with the facts.

Trigonometry - what? Who?

How would you choose though, if you had to take part?

I used to have nightmares that somehow the world would run out of combinations of notes. Now I know we're in no danger of that. Even if I got through all the tens of millions of songs on Spotify, I could browse the four million on Forgotify. I've almost forgotified, myself, a time when music wasn't at my fingertips.

Think of a song, search it up. It's a far cry from the pause and record game I used to play with a tape recorder and the top 40, or saving up for a single or the thrill of hearing a new album's first radio play. I don't know if music means less to a generation who can access, more easily, more. Or if it means differently. But I love it that good songs come around. I listened to Eminem sing that track, again and again, before our kids were even a thing.

What would you sing though, if you had to take part?

It's key to remember that the songs that suit your voice may not be the ones that spin your discs. Much as I want to, I don't think I'll ever be Patti Smith. I did once get hounded by a guy in a nightclub in Bristol who was completely positive that I was Dolores from the Cranberries. Until finally I sang to him. Poor guy. As if being drunk and delusional in a sweaty warehouse at 2am wasn't bad enough. I don't think I could pull off Jarvis Cocker doing Common People either, though it's an anthem for my life and a belter in the car or the shower. Ditto every other song that means so much to me - you'd never get a desert island big enough for all my chosen discs.

Still, for those of us who keep our warbles under a bushel, it's good to remember this: the researchers also say that singing releases endorphins, makes you happier, protects against dementia and sets you up for a good night's sleep. They don't specify that you have to sing particularly well to get these benefits. You just have to sing.


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