KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Music

Singing out

by Chad Parkhill , March 12, 20142 Comments

Grandma photoshop

 

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia were flying to Auckland from our homes on Australia’s east coast, trying to arrive in Katikati in time to bid her a final farewell. We didn’t make it, but this mad dash to Katikati did have the effect of drawing together a geographically atomised family for close to a week of mourning and funeral preparation.

Before she died, my grandmother had been serenaded on her deathbed by her three daughters, each of them a keen singer and ukulele player. By this stage her health was so far gone that she was practically insensate, yet this seems to have provided her with a great deal of comfort as she slowly passed. (Advice manuals for relatives of the dying usually claim that hearing is the last sense to go.) The situation also provided some rich gallows humour – as my mother began picking out the melody to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on her ukulele, my grandmother stirred and muttered ‘Oh, hell … oh, hell …’ Then, suddenly: ‘Oh! Heaven!’

The ukuleles are a recent development in my family, but it has always been a musical one. Douglas Lilburn, my grandfather’s uncle, was a composer of avant-garde classical music who went on to found Australasia’s first electronic music studio at the University of Wellington in 1966. While the rest of us are not as accomplished, we have integrated our passion for music into our personal and professional lives in some way or another.

One aunt used to teach music at a primary school, while another briefly scandalised the family by divorcing her husband and taking up with her guitar teacher. My parents are both avid singers who have joined a number of a capella choirs. One of my cousins produces electronic music and DJs, while my own musical leanings have been sublimated by writing about music and the occasional DJ gig. As the mania for the ukulele has swept my family, even my brother – who hadn’t expressed any interest in performing music since he quit the clarinet as a child – picked it up.

After my grandmother’s death, ukuleles seemed to proliferate in the house my grandfather had once shared with my grandmother. From mid-morning until late at night the house would be filled with the sound of various members of the family practising some of Merilai’s favourite tunes, which we would soon be singing at her funeral – ‘Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue’, ‘Side by Side’, ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’. When they weren’t in use, the ukuleles were lined up in a row on a couch in the living room, as though they were seated. It felt strange – almost impolite – to move them, even if we’d run out of room and visiting mourners needed a place to sit.

This was more than a way to pass the time between a death and a funeral – it was also a way of physically and metaphorically filling the house, a way of letting my grandfather know that he wasn’t alone, a way to help assuage his grief and ours. As we sat in the lounge room and sang, I was reminded of how much our family used music to communicate with one another: the way I always play new music to my parents when I visit them, the way my cousin and I DJ together every month at a restaurant-cum-bar despite its terrible sound system, the way I made my brother a mixed compilation of his favourite reggae tunes (a genre I have profoundly mixed feelings about) as a parting gift when he moved to Cairns. Like looking at a solar eclipse through a pinhole camera, music allows us to express what we can’t express in words because it would seem too mawkish or naive.

After the funeral, my mother announced that although she’d always wanted a choir at her own funeral, her plans had now changed – ‘Bugger that, I want a choir there as I die!’ I hope that doesn’t happen for a long time, but when it does, I know I’ll be there, with as many family members as I can muster, singing her out. It’s one means of repaying a debt to the woman who gave me life; a favour I can pay forward in the possibly vain hope that others will be there, ready to sing me out, when my own time comes.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

My Salinger Year

Carody Culver

Searching for Mr Salinger

Joanna Rakoff’s book is ‘the truth, told as best [she] could’, of her year as an assistant at one of New York’s oldest literary agencies, a job for which many an Arts graduate would sell a kidney. Read more »

editing

Carody Culver

Giving voice to a silent profession

The role editors play in the process of ushering new writing into the world is both vitally important and strangely overlooked. Read more »

354_1

Hannah Kent

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Hannah Kent defends Highbrow Literature

I understand why many people have a problem with highbrow literature. ‘Intellectual snobbery’ is a common accusation, as though the reason people read and write the stuff is solely to intimidate their dinner guests. ‘Highbrow literature is for wankers,’ I hear them say. Well, ladies and gentlemen, so is Fifty Shades of Grey. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

Douglass books

Julia Tulloh

High fantasy writers who aren’t George RR Martin, and who are also women

‘Tolkien is the greatest burden the modern fantasy author must labour under and eventually escape from if they are to succeed.’ So wrote Australian high fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, a decade and a half ago. Replace Tolkien with George RR Martin, and one might say the same principle applies today. Read more »

Conchita Wurst

Julia Tulloh

Why Eurovision 2014 was a bit disappointing

No one watches Eurovision to discover surprise new talent, or even to hear good singing. I watch it for the kitschy, pop-tastic visual onslaught which rarely fails to assault viewers. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

Under the Skin

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Size Matters

Bigger isn’t always better, but some films will open themselves up to you and pour themselves out in new ways when you see them on a cinema screen. Read more »

Babadook

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Bad Mothers

Movies – especially horror and psychological thrillers – have always loved to explore and exorcise our deepest fears, and when it comes to mothers those fears are many. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

filter

Reality vs. Instagram

It’s been over three years since Instagram launched, and we’re still not sure whether processing a photograph might be considered akin to doctoring a memory. Read more »

2014 Budget

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Could we crowdfund the dole?

Following the announcement of the 2014 budget, the director of a leading arts organisation posed a question on Facebook: ‘What recourse do the people have to stop these changes? What are next steps? Would be curious to know of any other effective measures to get the message across… apart from complaining on Twitter.’ Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

A Little Pretty Pocket Book

Danielle Binks

Who run the book world? GIRLS!

‘It’s no wonder boys aren’t reading – the children’s book market is run by women.’ So claimed the headline of an April article in The Times.

*Cue Liz Lemon eye-roll* Read more »

The Fault in Our Stars

Danielle Binks

The Fault in the Cult of John Green

I like John Green as much as the next YA-aficionado. I’ve snot-cried through his books, and chuckled over his YouTube videos. But now it’s time to talk about the media-led oversaturation of John Green, and the insulting way he’s been heralded as the saviour of young adult fiction. Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

The Knife

Chad Parkhill

Never Settled: The Knife’s Shaken-Up Versions

Making live electronic music engaging is a difficult task, and The Knife’s Silent Shout tour shows a band committed to breaking the visual cliché of performers standing still behind banks of electronic equipment. Read more »

Tori Amos

Chad Parkhill

Loving (and hating) Tori Amos

Tori Amos is hardly to blame for the existence of her fans’ expectations, nor for their disappointment when her work does not live up to them – but that doesn’t prevent that disappointment from feeling intensely personal. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »

deadwood-03-1024

Zora Sanders

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Zora Sanders defends Highbrow TV

I’m going to be honest with you. I feel a little guilty being gifted highbrow TV as a subject to defend. Highbrow TV doesn’t need a defender! It’s a battle that has been won! Highbrow TV is downright fucking awesome and every single person reading this already knows it. Read more »