After hearing Lisa Gerrard talk last month, I’ve been thinking a bit about the people who have influenced my music. I’m not unique in saying that everything in my life influences me to some extent, so it is often hard to pin down. But then at critical moments, such as when you have a chance to hear someone speak, or when someone dies, it becomes crystal clear what their contribution has been to your growth as a musician and artist. Here are some of my such moments.
My mum, while not musically skilled herself, loved music and always had music playing while I was growing up. I would sing along to various records for children, and then later, middle of the road popular music. My parents encouraged me to buy a recorder as my first instrument. They bought me a book on how to play it, and I proceeded to teach myself to read music and play the recorder.
My first music teacher Mrs Willis taught me the piano and music theory. She stopped me from tapping my foot while playing by doing a caricature of a blues musician with fag hanging out of their mouth. I was very anti-smoking, so was sufficiently horrified to stop tapping my foot.
My brief attendance of Baptist Sunday school led to a sudden understanding of vocal harmony lines, as I heard one of the Sunday school teachers singing a descant a third above the melody line for the song “I am redeemed”. I joined in, and became aware of harmonising forever after that.
My brother was not so much a musical influence, but an enabler, by including me in his garage band, going halves on buying our first electric piano, giving me my first multi-tracker and synthesizer. My partner has also been an enabler in that respect, by buying me my Ensoniq TS-10, which became an important part of my sound for my first two albums.
Some artists that influenced my sound early on included Eurhythmics (for showing me how to do pop music without guitars), Ginger Baker of Cream (how to do a drum part), Enya (broadening possibilities for my music), DeadcanDance (showing me that it is possible to have both songs and pieces on an album), an obscure UK band called The In Ovo who demonstrated the kind of thing I wanted to do with world pop. Before all that I absorbed a lot about song craft from bands like the Beatles, and a passion for variety in my music from Queen.
Later music teachers have included my singing teacher Elizabeth van Rompaey, who took me from knowing nothing about my voice to knowing how to sing well. Also importantly, she taught me that you work at your singing technique (and song interpretation) “all your life”. It’s not really a case of getting the technique and you’re finished.
For performance, in addition to Elizabeth, I learnt much about tuning from Ian Harrison, who conducted the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic choir during my first year of singing in that choir. I continue to learn about tuning in practice, with some specific memories from Sarah Chan, and also from much stairwell singing with my duet partner Din.
For writing sheet music that reflects popular music’s syncopated rhythms I credit Kirby Shaw, who I had the chance to meet last year. His choral jazz arrangements taught me a lot.
I continue to learn more about music. Currently I’m picking up a few useful tips via some interviews on The Music Prosperity Summit. Maybe they’ll be useful for you too. There’s a time limit on them though, so check them quickly.