Kids and music

With iPod earphones strapped to their ears, kids today are missing out on musical riches of days gone by.

I GREW up surrounded by music. Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were playing for much of my early childhood. My father’s family came from Europe and brought with them an old record player and loads of classical records.

My house was filled with the sound of great operas and symphonies. I don’t think in those early years that I liked any of it, although I was fond of Rachmaninoff.


As I grew older the music became familiar to me, and familiarity burgeoned into love. Now I feel deeply satisfied that I was given the opportunity to appreciate the genius and beauty of many classical masterpieces and much more. My father was musical and sampled every type of sound imaginable.

I think of this often as I try to expose my daughter to many forms of music: classical, folk and world music, each coming with its own rich history.

I’ve tried valiantly to explain what the folk of the 1960s really meant; or about the evolution of the blues into soul, and soul into hip hop. But I don’t get anywhere. The trouble is that she wears headphones all the time and blasts herself with god knows what. A diet of bubblegum pop? Actually, I do like a great deal of her music. She has good taste, and I ask her to teach me about the latest mixes. But she never gets to hear my music. We don’t have an old gramophone; and if we did, she would block herself out.

Because of iPhones and iPods, she never has to live in an environment where songs that are not to her tastes are played. I was also into bubblegum pop at 16, but could not escape the lounge-room record player which Dad had on all day and night with his 60s songs of peace. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary were standard fare. But there was also jazz, or country and western, and hot diggity dog, who would ever believe I have grown to love country music for the sense of romance it has created.

Driving across America recently with the radio blaring, I found that the bluegrass and regional croonings brought me into a place and time I deeply understood. There we were, my boyfriend and I, bellowing out Me and Bobby McGee and Johnny Cash’s greatest hits, having the time of our lives.

I’m sad for the new generations who will never know what I know. You can’t recapture 20 years of exposure to things you didn’t like or want as you were growing up — but which then become yours. I cherish my musical background. And I just wish I could have passed on to my daughter what my father left to his children.
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14 Responses to Kids and music

  1. Ruth Ostrow 15 December 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Thank you Margaret

  2. Lucy 9 November 2011 at 6:33 am #

    Margaret Neate’s comments are apposite. Yes, you need the ‘classical music gene’. I guess the same could be said of other good forms of music – and there are many to choose from, not just classical. I also love the music of the American Musical Theatre (Kern, Porter, Gershwin and sophisticated jazz (George Shearing etc.) The Beatles were a huge buzz when I grew up, but they have faded into the distance for me now. But I do occasionally put on something with a great beat and celebrate that too. Many interesting comments on this topic this week!!

  3. Ruth Ostrow 8 November 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    Such a beautiful letter. I will drop you a personal line when I finish University in a couple of weeks – have assignments etc due in at the moment, but very thrilled to have such a meaningful letter.

  4. Margaret Neate 7 November 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Dear Ruth,
    I read your column “Missing out on musical riches” with interest.

    You are wise to try to expose your young daughter to different forms of music, even though she resists your efforts. I will not presume to advise you, but you might be interested to read about my personal experience of having an early taste for fine music nourished at home.

    My mother was a gifted musician, and performed in public often. Rehearsals for these performances were held in our house, and I remember repeatedly loitering within earshot after I had been sent to bed, in order not to miss a note.

    When I was very young my mother used to entertain me with songs written for children, and as I grew older, I came through her to know intimately and to love many of the songs and song-cycles of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and other classical composers. My increasing knowledge of classical music came also from the radio – which could be heard faintly through crackling static (this was in the 1930s). There was plenty of opportunity to hear pop music, much more clearly from the local radio, but I simply didn’t like it. I learned to play the piano from the age of five, and continued my study into adulthood, never wishing to play anything ‘popular’.

    In other words, although I was exposed to many different forms of music, none of it except classical appealed to me – in fact I found popular music, jazz, etc., quite painful if it was forced on me.

    My two elder brothers grew up in the same household. They had equal opportunity to hear different kinds of music and to learn the piano, but unlike me, neither of them developed any particular interest in any kind of music, and both of them dropped out of piano lessons at an early stage.

    I cannot grasp why people listen to popular types of music. When forced to endure it in public places I find it most irritating. Repetitiveness replaces creativity, the noise invariably lacks any satisfying melody, rhythm, sensitivity or meaning, and it often blasts the senses at painful volume. Yet this type of rubbish is undeniably what most people like – anything for them, it seems, is better than silence.

    Those who find classical music satisfying comprise a very small proportion of the population. I am one of that small minority. Fine music has been the source of intense satisfaction and pleasure to me throughout my life, and I believe, from the early experience I have outlined above, that to be so lucky is purely genetic. You can try all you like to pass on to your daughter your pleasure in your early music listening, but what satisfies her is beyond her control. She’s either got the classical gene, or she hasn’t, and she will choose what she wants to listen to.

    Best wishes – Margaret Neate

  5. Lucy 7 November 2011 at 6:50 am #

    Love it, Christina!!

  6. Peter 6 November 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    Hi Ruth

    I did enjoy your article this weekend on the value of music to your life. I have long felt the same way and was recently moved to write “It’s Music to Your Ears” which was published just a few weeks ago by Keith Ready of Sydney at his “Gifts of Inspiration” website. You can find it at

    The article also contains a link to a previous article of mine which tells the story of how joining a choir about ten years ago turned my life around. (I still sing in that choir and I love it).
    Best regards

  7. Christina 6 November 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Great article, music when you are growing up always stays with you. Our solution for the next generation was to let everyone (including parents) have a turn each night to choose the music they liked to hear while we were having dinner. This gave everyone a great variety of music to listen to even if sometimes it gave us a bit of indigestion!

  8. Lucy 6 November 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    Just another thought on this topic: peer pressure ought not to be under-estimated. Young people who show some “difference” in tastes and interests have to be extremely strong and brave to face the ‘playground mafia’, if I can use that metaphor. Unless they are with like-minded people they will succumb to following the herd. When I was 18 my mother gave me an LP of Beethoven Sonatas which I had to hide from my friends and peers because I felt “ashamed” and “different” and didn’t want ridicule – and that was in the late 1960’s. I wasn’t into the counter-culture, but mainstream classical music culture. To this day I harbour resentments about having to do that way back in those days and I redoubled my efforts in teaching my own children the importance of being strong and following their own beliefs and values.

  9. Kim Oxley 6 November 2011 at 11:31 am #

    My parents’ music filled our Brighton home, all hours of the day. Dad had a pianola and I would join him in the hunt at garage sales for ‘rolls’ that played a vast range of music. Musician friends came over, people played instruments that sat on top of the pianola when the mood struck them. Dad even wired up speakers to our garden so he could listen to music outside. My 14 year old daughter likes to play the piano – but she too is plugged into music not to be shared. If asked, she says she loves music but tolerates nothing from my ” baby boomer” generation. I’m just glad “The Beatles” still move me to a wonderfully nostalgic place.

  10. Helen Harman 6 November 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Dear Ruth,
    This is not really a comment about your recent column but a general thank you for all your poignant words and insights over the years. I have been reading your column for goodness knows how long and have often thought about sending you a message but I am always busy juggling kids, relationships, work, … My partner is in South America right now, and my children are elsewhere and I am spending a delicious Sunday morning ALONE.
    I open the Australian, and ask myself “what does Ruth have to say today?” as your words so often mirror what is going on in my life, sometimes uncannily! Thinking back, I remember your fear when letting your new cat outside, mine was a puppy. Whether or not to dye your hair. Your wanting to talk to your husband about ‘the relationship’ on the way to the airport. Your desire for a simple way of life; a sarong, a bongo drum and friends. Career changes, attraction to ‘blokes’, And more recently, unwanted parenting advice, your travels with your new boyfriend (my marriage ended too) and today your teenage daughter with wires in her ears (I have 2 wired teenagers.) When I returned from a visit to New York last year, I opened the paper and read your story about shopping in New York with your daughter, I had to laugh.
    Then I got thinking. Yes, some of the parallels are a little uncanny, but then why wouldn’t they be? You, Ruth, have a gift for mirroring the trails, tribulations, feelings and thoughts, that all of us experience. You so beautifully express the world, probably particularly perfectly for women of our age and life stage. You no doubt take beautiful photos too, but to me, your worlds are like photos, little works of art that capture moments of our lives.
    If ever there was someone I would want to find myself sitting next to on a plane, it would be you! I would love a good chat. I would ask you how your life is influenced by your writing, how having to regularly reflect and comment on your own life experience, impinges on way you move through life? Mostly I would thank you for making me pause and reflect, and realise that I am not alone out there!
    Helen Harman

  11. Lucy 5 November 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Thanks, Ruth, for bringing up this important topic. I’m living in Vienna, Austria, this year – the international city of classical music. Yet, vast numbers of young people in this country are welded to technologies which deliver mostly rubbish in the form of modern so-called music. You can hear it in their headphones any time you travel on public transport – to everyone else’s endless annoyance. I doubt very many students or young people here in Vienna would know anything about Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mozart (oh, they know him in chocolate form!), Mahler, Strauss, Bruckner etc. etc.
    I blame the education system. I was a teacher in NSW state schools and their “music education” program was CRASH/BANG. Simple as that. I offered to take music classes and teach them Musicology (as I have that as a degree major) but was politely refused. They wouldn’t have been up to it!!

    I was fortunate growing up as the daughter of a mother who was highly trained on piano. I grew up with Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Schumann and my mother used to play their music on records for me and always put them to an interesting narrative. So, at the age of age 8 I was fully used to Bach and grew up with a passionate love for this music. My sisters (3 of them) didn’t follow this passion. So, there are many reasons why we have our loves and passions, but education is fundamental to it. I just feel sorry for people who don’t have access to this extraordinary cultural legacy. Our young people are impoverished.

  12. leanne 5 November 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Wonderful article Ruth, it brings back such nostalic times for us all. You are so lucky to have had a Dad who taught you music from classics, jazz and folk. It is probably the last generation that could appreciate all that ,unless one is a musician. Plenty to think about and recall.Thank you.

  13. Zoe 5 November 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Hi Ruth, I particularly loved your column this morning. It sounded so much like my house – edith piaf, bob dylan, joan baez and joni mitchell, pan flutes, symphonies and waltzes. Apparently played louder and louder, my parents claim “lulling” me to sleep.

    Make no mistake I had a fair share of of kiddie vinyl – walt disney classics, singing and dancing LPs.

    Not only do earphoned youths miss the musical legacy of their parents, but also the idea of sharing the listening space. We have become so closeted with our earphones and retreats where once was just the family turntable and patience.

  14. Arnold 5 November 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Ruth, whenever 16yo daughter is in the car she insists on plugging her iPod into the car’s system because the sound quality is better and we have to endure… The Beatles as we drive her to another sporting commitment etc. Bliss!!!

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