When I was a kid, my parents started my older sister and I playing violin through the Suzuki method from the age of 3. I don’t remember much about it. Twinkle twinkle little star and masking tape markings on the bow showing me where to aim. I think it can’t be very pleasant listening to a 3 year old play violin. I played through the first eight books of Suzuki before leaving that program for other worlds, but what really stuck in my memory were the flexible translucent green plastic 33rpm records published in each suzuki volume with examples of all the songs in the book. The records were stapled into the back of the book. The Suzuki motto is ‘listen and play’. I don’t recall every listening to the green records because we could never get them to work properly, and when they did the sound was pretty terrible, and it was probably 1972 or there abouts (the grammar is a hint to where I done growed up). But my sister was 5 years older than me and I got to hear her play everything before it was my turn. Turns out I was very good at learning from listening.
Violin got sidetracked by soccer and ice hockey but it never ceased. At 12 I started playing sax and flute while banging away on the piano at home. My main music influences were coming from television in the form of The Ed Sullivan show, Tommy Hunter(epic Canadian country music hero), Walt Disney, Looney Tunes, Rocket Robin Hood, etc etc. Also riding around in the car with the radio playing was an unexpected source. My folks listen mostly to classical and opera, and as kids we played violin in the Edmonton youth orchestra, several quartets, a string orchestras and a few small ensembles (which would travel around to retirement homes performing Greensleeves and Silent Night with two violins, flute and a voice, to a room full of potential cheek tweakers and me being probably 10yrs with buck teeth, giant ears, fly away blond hair and the inability to handle tricky social situations being confronted and cornered by the elderly residents who talked and liked to tweak your cheek, it was back then ya know).
Riding in the back seat of the car (there were three of us and it was before seat belts – ooooh and it was a 1966 Pontiac Parisienne) we could occasionally get the radio turned to something non-classical. My first memory is ‘Bungalow Bill’ and singing along with it at the top of our lungs. I never knew what it was about, but there were kids in it, and I loved the way the song would switch back and forth from the two different parts(and I guarantee I was singing ‘Buffalo Bill’ because that was something I knew about and I would have sung before really listening). I still don’t know what its about. I just searched it on wiki and as I started reading I immediately stopped. I don’t want to know. I want to hear it (cue youtube and multiple browser tabs). And hear it I have.
Bungalow Bill is an interesting first Magpie Moment. It contains a few things which were to become very ingrained in my musical psyche and very much a theme for what really turns me on in a moment of music. The chorus, the Hey Bungalow Bill bit is a very rollicking play play of harmony between major and minor modes which may or may not be interesting, but what it does is toy with your musical emotions. As westerners we are very trained and in tune with the emotional extortion-ism and, might I add, terrorism, of the minor versus major, the Happy-Sad conundrum. Which is over simplifying but raises the issue of simplicity to which we will return later on. Bungalow Bill’s chorus goes back and forth from happy to terrifying (remember I am 10) and the joyful crying out is tempered by asking ‘what did you kill?’, which to me I thought I must be hearing it wrong because a song couldn’t be about killing things, . . . or so I thought at the time.
I could never remember the verse, slow bits, and so I never learned the story, but I could sing the chorus anytime, anywhere, I still can, and I absolutely love the way the chords play out with the melody. Its deep in my heart. I have to confess I didn’t know who the beatles were either. This was a song on the radio and that is the only place I ever heard it.
I had not yet made the connection that playing music on my violin had any relation to the music I heard on radio and television. I didn’t realise I too was making music. It may seem odd and I can’t explain why, but that connection would come some years later.
So go and listen to Bungalow Bill and sing along. It will make your heart feel a little bit lighter and provide a musical bug in the ear for the rest of the day. Or at lest until you hear something you like better.