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




  • Lucy Macintyre

    Chad that was so beautifully written, I had a tear in my eye by the end!

9780733633782

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their July picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

9781925106510

Oliver Mol

July First Book Club: Read an excerpt from Oliver Mol’s Lion Attack!

At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in July, Oliver Mol will discuss his debut memoir, Lion Attack!. Read an extract from this funny, energetic and original coming-of-age story, which interweaves stories from Oliver’s childhood in Texas and his young adulthood in Melbourne. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »