This is #65 in the series for Writers in the Attic and the final post for 2017. This series has been the most successful I’ve ever started on this blog, in terms of duration and readership. Each post has had well over 300 views and some over 2,000!
It’s been an honour to host so many beautifully crafted and moving essays, and the response from readers indicates how much the posts have resonated with them, too. I’m hugely grateful to everyone who wrote an essay, and to everyone who read them.
Now, I come to my own piece. I don’t think I need to introduce it because it speaks for itself.
Music has been in the background of my life, but never the foreground. It’s hard for me to write about it because I’m not a musician, and I’m therefore unqualified and feel a little unworthy. I’ve written about the bond I shared with my father through a love of music (Neil and Dad and Me). My father wasn’t a musician either, but we both understood how much it meant to the other.
For many years, I harboured a secret desire to be a singer. As a child, I was always singing and when I started school, my favourite lesson was music. Each week when Sister Bernadette came down to the Prep classroom to play the piano, I sat straighter on the mat and sang each song as loudly as I could. It would have been impossible not to notice me, yet each week Sister chose others to stand in front of the class and lead the singing. I don’t ever recall being picked. Not once. I don’t know how she missed me and, now that I’m older, I suspect it might have been deliberate.
Another highlight of my week was watching Young Talent Time on the telly with my sister, both of us yearning to be contestants or, even better, part of the actual ‘team’. We bought the albums and spent hours in front of the mirror practising our dance routines—hairbrushes for microphones, stepping back and forth and clapping and twirling in time. Because I had long straight hair like Karen Knowles, I was Karen, and because my sister had short blonde hair like Greg Mills, she was Greg. (We were way ahead of our time with gender fluidity.) We prepared concerts for our parents, made programmes and charged an entry fee. We gave our audiences terrific value for money—hours of entertainment, performed with gusto. It’s a shame Johnny Young never got to see us.
There was also mass each Sunday, where the hymns were the only things that kept me going during the dreary hour. When I was twelve, I decided I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. However, I was forced to still attend mass each week, so I stood mute for the whole hour, my lips sealed. Not reciting the prayers was easy, but not singing the hymns almost killed me.
At school, I was always a member of the choir and, although I rebelled in almost every other way imaginable, I don’t ever remember causing the choir teacher any grief. The opposite, in fact—I wanted her to think I was good. Our choir performed at masses, in Eisteddfods and in concerts with other schools. Somewhere along the line, someone must have noticed I could hold a tune because I did sing a solo or two. A highlight was when a classmate and I were chosen to sing a duet of I Gave My Love a Cherry in front of the Premier and a huge audience in Hobart.
At university a few years later, while on study breaks my sister and I sang duets in our lounge. We sang all our favourites, including ABBA and hymns, especially Amazing Grace. We experimented with harmonies, our voices blending as only sisters’ voices can.
At the end of that year, I sang Amazing Grace at her funeral. Everyone tried to talk me out of it, but I needed to do it—it was the only thing that kept me from crying. As soon as I started singing, I could hear her, too, singing with me.
When I was twenty-two, still without a singing lesson behind me, I was chosen for a role in Godspell. My confidence grew with each performance of our run, but I didn’t follow it up and quickly lost the courage I’d gained.
Throughout university and beyond, I sang with church choirs and, later, to my babies. Finally, after wanting to learn singing for as long as I could remember, at the age of thirty-six I had my first lesson. It was the beginning of my awakening. Using my natural instrument—my voice—to produce a melody lifted my mood. Until the day I asked my husband if I’d improved, and he paused before responding, ‘You’ve got louder.’
I stuck with it, though, and over the next few years, I learnt how to use my breath and body in order to make a continuous line of sound. I learnt to sing in different languages and I even sat exams. I auditioned for the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra chorus where, together with over 100 other voices, I sang the heavenly works of Beethoven and Mozart, all accompanied by a symphony orchestra. To have the privilege of playing the small role I did in bringing that majestic sound to audiences is something I’ll forever treasure.
I loved singing as part of a choir—I never felt anxious. However, singing solo was a different matter. Even though I only ever sang before small, supportive audiences, I spent the hour beforehand on a toilet with anxiety-induced diarrhoea. I tried to tell myself that if I sang a wrong note, no one died, not like in my job as a doctor. But it didn’t work—after each performance I was in tears, even if I’d sung well. I felt exposed, as if I was standing before the audience wearing transparent clothes. There’s no hiding when you sing, your voice is the music, and if you make a mistake, it’s too late—there’s no correcting it.
Writing’s similar—your words are your voice and you feel naked, too. But at least you can edit when writing—the public don’t see your really big gaffes and it feels a wee bit safer.
So, I quit singing for writing. I still go to every opera in my hometown of Perth—it’s not the Met or Milan, but I enjoy the music and hearing those voices soar. My kids have succeeded musically, too, and it thrills me to have been part of their musical growth.
Music has been in the background of my life, but it’s been more than that, too. It says things for which I don’t have words. It speaks emotions I find hard to name. Each time I hear Elgar’s Nimrod or a Bach cantata, I cry at the beauty. It touches a part of me, an exquisitely tender part, that nothing else can reach.
If I could have done anything with my life, it would have been to create music in some way. I suspect I write words because I cannot write music. I’m not sorry, though, with the direction my life has taken—to be honest, I doubt I had the ability or the fortitude to be a singer.
When I started writing my novel, I had to give one of my characters a dream. The choice was easy—it could only be music. And using words as my instrument, I wrote my music into my novel.
Well, that’s it for Writers in the Attic for a while. As most of you know, my book will be released in two weeks time, and I’ll be rather busy and distracted so I don’t know when I’ll start it up again.
Thank you all for following my personal writing journey. It’s been a six-year trek and many of you have been here since the beginning—not long to the finish line now! On the one hand, it feels surreal and hard to believe my dream will be an actuality. On the other, it’s rather anxiety provoking—I’m in breath-holding limbo, waiting to see if the six years I’ve spent working on my novel have been worth it.
I have no idea how my book will be received—I don’t know if people will ‘get’ it, if it will resonate with readers, or if it will be panned. I hope not, of course, but no book has ever been universally liked—readers bring their own tastes, experiences and interpretations to a book.
Already, people have written some lovely reviews and/or messaged me privately to tell me they’ve been touched by it. I can see, too, how different aspects of the book are speaking to different people. I love hearing your reactions to my story, so please continue to let me know.
In the meantime, enjoy a lovely Christmas with your family and I wish you all the peace and blessings of the season.
A stunning piece Louise. Thank you. I will now always imagine you singing. Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas xxxx
Thanks, Rae! I’m still always singing, but only around the house now! 🙂
This is lovely, Louise, and a fitting way to end the year and the series. I would wish you good luck, but instead I’ll say, enjoy what’s to come. Each experience of seeing your novel out there will be special, different and unique and they will sustain you in your quiet moments … when you’re singing more words on paper. Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018. x
Thank you, Rashida, for your wise words—as someone who’s been through this experience! I’m determined to savour the fact my words are being read. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and your family, too! 🎄
Beautiful and heartfelt ❤
Thank you, Vicki. ❤️ I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Thank you for yet another beautiful, heartfelt post Louise. Music is something I always wish I had pursued, at least in a small way, through my childhood. I play no instruments and have never been a singer, despite my love for being in the spotlight. I love that you channeled this in your novel and I can’t wait to follow Nora’s journey. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and that all of the celebrations (including for your book) are a success! X
Thank you, Kirsty. It’s never too late to start learning music, or you can do what I did, and write it into your novel!
Christmas wishes to you and your family, too. 🎄
Thoughly enjoyed that.Music and books are pretty much me, as well. I sang for a lot of years, but am much better at writing.
Our daughter is the musical one, and has..is..passing her knowledge onto her children.
Can’t wait to read your book….Chrissy present.
Have a wonderful Christmas, and happy writing.
Music and books—what else is important?! I think I’ll stick to writing, too—my kids frown at me when I sing these days! 😉
I love how music can be shared between generations—another of its many benefits.
I hope you and your family have a lovely Christmas, too, Maxine! Best wishes. xx
As always you have written so beautifully and authentically . I will never forget the sound of you singing Amazing Grace at Fran’s funeral from what sounded like up near the roof of the church. Thank you!
Of course you were there! It would be the most special song I’ve ever sung.
Thank you! xx
Thank you so much for a terrific year: I’ve really enjoyed the writers in the attic series, and I am excited about your new book coming out in January!
Best wishes for the Silly Season:) Lisa
Thanks, Lisa! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed this series, and I hope you enjoy my book.
Merry Christmas to you and your family, too.
Thank you for this beautiful post, Louise, and wishing you a Happy Christmas and nothing but the best for 2018 and the launch of your wonderful novel. xx
Marlish, you’ve been a tremendous support and I can’t thank you enough.
Happy Christmas to you and your family, too!
Such a moving post Louise. Enjoy your Christmas with family and friends and celebrate the launch of your wonderful story. I am sure it will be wonderful because all of your posts are so readable and full of honest emotion.Best wishes Delores
Thank you, Delores, for all of your support along the way. I so hope you enjoy this book I’ve been banging on about for so long! 😉
Merry Christmas to you and your family, too! xx
Oh, what a perfect ending to the Attic series for the year. It’s lovely to know a bit more about your musical talents and yearnings. And how gorgeous that your love of music has been woven into your book … 🙂
Thank you, Fi! I wrote part of this at my writing group and, after I’d shared it, another writer said, ‘You’ve never written about music before.’ It struck me that I hadn’t, yet it’s been a very important part of my life. I’m thrilled that I could weave it into my novel, too.
Thank you for all of your support over the years, and Merry Christmas to you and your family! 🙂
Dear Louise……..This is a beautiful heartfelt post. I feel so moved & privileged to have been a small part of your musical journey. Your solo performances were always well prepared & artistic…don’t forget how much joy you have given to others with your songs.Your family has flourished musically too because of your musical journey. Maureen F x
Thank you, Maureen! You’ve been such a huge part of my musical journey and those of my kids, too. 🙂
Thanks, too, for your lovely words about my singing! Merry Christmas! xx
Now I have a new goal. I hope to hear you sing one day 🙂
Happy Christmas, Louise xx
Not much chance of that these days, Lily, and you wouldn’t want to hear me anyway—just ask my kids! 😉
Happy Christmas to you and your family, too! xx
All the tears! I know that yearning to want to sing. I spent my childhood in detention instead of choir as they thought I was singing loudly and out of tune on purpose. It also put an end to my dreams to go into the theatre when I was in high school. I started singing lessons at 38, which helped me learn to express myself, and I started writing within months. I am still choked up by your beautiful words. And I know that your book The Sisters’ Song will speak (sing) to me deeply. I cannot wait to read it. You have been so supportive of the Australian writing community through your blog, and now it’s your turn to be lifted and supported by readers and writers. Wishing you all the love, luck, and joy in the world for 2018. x
Now your words have choked me up! Thank you, thank you. I just hope I’ve done justice to music in my story.
It’s been lovely to walk the home stretch towards publication with you, and it’s comforting to know our books will be on a shelf together. Wishing you and The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge all the best for publication, and I hope you have a lovely Christmas with your family! xx
The love of singing and following a dream definitely came through while reading The Sister’s Song.
I knew you had a musical background (but not the specifics) and that your children were also musical. I was delighted to read this post and learn new amazing facts about you, Louise.
I have always harboured a secret desire to be a singer, but lip-synced my entire high school years – including whilst on stage in the school choir at the Perth Concert Hall. I always mime the national anthem, and make sure my voice is barely audible when joining in a ‘happy birthday’ singalong. I realise this is probably the result of a hurtful comment somewhere along the line, and love singing along to the radio, but singing outside the immediate family – argh! 🤣
Your children are lucky to have inherited your love of music – I can see how it would provide a similar happiness that writing does.
All the best for 2018. I hope The Sister’s Song goes gangbusters! 💕
So many times I’ve heard people say they stopped singing after a cruel comment made to them as a child, and they’ve missed out on all of that joy. (Strangely enough, I did a similar thing with writing.) You’re right that it’s a similar euphoria to writing, but more nerve-wracking—for me anyway!
Have a wonderful Christmas and happy 2018 to you, too! x
Oh Louise! I love this post, especially as your comments so beautifully reflect elements of your novel, The Sisters’ Song. It also brought back memories of a dear friend’s kindness toward me. When I was going through a tough time, she took me to a choral workshop at the school where she works and we sang rounds and harmonies and laughed out loud. It was exactly what I needed. Thank you for saving this post for us to savour; and for all the other posts in this outstanding blog series. May you continue to hear the music around you, every day. 🎼🎤🎹
What a lovely friend! Singing is an instant pick-me-up!
I’ll continue to surround myself with music, don’t worry, and I’m glad you’re enjoying my book!
Merry Christmas to you and your family—you deserve every happiness in 2018! 🙂 xx
Lovely post Louise. I loved reading about the roles singing has played in your life. I too enjoyed singing in choirs in primary and high-school, although I was always aware that my voice wasn’t strong, my range small and pitch less than perfect. It didn’t matter though, singing had a unique effect on my brain. It took me to a safe place and filled me with joy. Later I played rudimentary bass guitar and back-up vocals in a band with friends. It was when I became a mother though that I realised how transforming singing could be. Whenever I felt overwhelmed and frustrated I started singing to my children. The results were immediate: it calmed both me and my children and took us to a better place. I still sing nightly to my kids, not because I’m any good at it, but because it’s good for us. Wishing you all the best for The SIsters’ Song release, I’m looking forward to reading it x
How lovely that you sing to your children—what a gift you’re giving them!
There are just so many benefits to singing. For sure, it releases endorphins—I know I used to come home from rehearsals on a high!
I know your novel once had another name and it was hard for you to let it go, but, given this story, what could be more perfect than The Sisters’ Song?
Yes, it’s funny how things always turn out for the best. I’m quite attached to its new name now! 🙂
A lovely way to end the year, thank you Louise. I too, sang in the school choir at church and have our music teacher to thank for my ability to breath deeply -we were trained from age nine, as if we were budding opera stars despite our lack of talent. I also played the piano up to sixth grade, so music is one of my passions too. I am now writing a novel about a pianist. My children had to suffer my singing to get them to sleep at night, probably why only one of them still sings. But I have one offspring who inherited my love of music. Andrew Burns creates and performs his music on the piano and guitar. That love of music is a special bond between us. I look forward to reading ‘The Sisters’ Song’ and hopefully your blogs next year.
What parallels we share! I remember singing at school being taught as if we were all budding opera stars—it was good training, though! I also learnt piano as a child, but gave up when the practice got too hard! I know what a wonderful bond music is between parent and child, having shared it with my father and now with my own children.
Thank you for sharing these stories with me, and I hope you enjoy my book! 🙂
What a perfect way to end the series for 2017! It was so exciting reading your story about music, I really had no idea, although ‘The Sisters’ song’ was definitely a clue! My younger sister loves her singing and music, and she really wants to be a country music singer one day. Funnily enough, I was the one who grew up with singing lessons and I was in the choir all through school until year 12. I was also part of the vocal assemble and participated in all the musicals I could get my hands on – yet I can’t really sing!! I just loved been on the stage I suppose (I wanted to be an actor at one point lol). My younger sister, the one with the beautiful voice, gets serious stage fright and only ever used to sing and play guitar in front of me. I secretly put one of her videos on YouTube, and after it did really well, she began to gain more confidence, and has started to sing in front of other people!
By the way, I can’t wait to read your book! Having a sister who sings, I think I’ll definitely really enjoy it 🙂