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Written on November 14, 2006, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…

If young children are sung nursery rhymes, they have a head start in learning. So says UK children’s minister Beverley Hughes. But research suggests that class is still more important than intellect when it comes to achievement.

I remember being taught all the songs, and it wasn’t long before I was repeating them, and shortly after that I was making them up. I remember all five of us kids doing the same. When I first sat at a piano, aged 5, I knew how to play it. It wasn’t quite a Mozart virtuoso performance, but I can still remember the two-fingered, rhythmic tune I played, based on middle C, without ever having been formally taught, and also the enormous fuss that was made of me when I calmly climbed down from the piano stool. I must have observed people playing – I certainly had enough opportunity, as I was in and out of jazz clubs before I ever went to school. The tune however, was in my head. I distinctly remember deciding to play it. I didn’t make it up – I already knew it, like the shape of a flower, or the texture of sand.

I tend to believe this research that class has everything to do with what happens to children – it’s hard not to follow the examples set by your role models, including parents locked into secure nine-to-five jobs, older siblings into non-academic training. My two older brothers were passably musical, but not to the same extent as I, and as they hit adolescence, they would drone out the tunes they sang with a boys-own careless delivery. My perfect pitch began to follow suit; from the age of 12 onwards, I unconsciously adopted their slightly off notes, so my own singing would fit the mold they were establishing. I began to sing off-key, lazily, not ever quite hitting the notes.

One day, aged around 13, after a whole harmonious afternoon spent in the company of similarly musical children, I came home and had a moment of insight which doubtless changed my life – I saw clearly that I was letting my standards slip, just to fit in easier with the brothers, protecting terrors as they were, to be feared, looked up to, relied upon, and emulated. And I stopped myself doing it. From that day on, I deliberately reversed the conditioning.

I think the fact of my musicality and my later achievements are linked; later, I went to college and got a degree – I’m the only one of five to have done so, but no more intelligent than any one of us. I don’t know where the determination to do this came from, but I have always suspected that music had something to do with it.

I am grateful that I had the example not just of my immediate family, but of my grandparents, who bucked the trend, and played their part in the great social revolution of the 20th century. If ever I despaired at the work-to-death treadmill ahead of me, I looked to Fred for inspiration, Fred who was unafraid to lose his cushy job to expose fraud, who brought up not one but two families on the strength of his refusal to accept the social mores of the time, and who knew that it was class which kept good people down at the bottom of the heap, that it was no lack of talent that kept them there, but more a lack of confidence and self-belief from having been systematically denied opportunities for change over countless generations.

Yet, even the best opportunities in the world require the assumption of our success – or at least the perception of the chance of success – for us to take advantage of them. Or else, as we subconsciously know, we’ll have a great fall, and not even a King’s horse will put us back together again.

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One Comment

  1. Indigobusiness
    Posted 15 November, 2006 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Perfect pitch must be a fine source of confidence…and a distinct advantage, musically.

    Personally, my pitch is as imperfect as the rest of me. But my ear isn’t 24k tin. As my childhood cornet teacher told my folks, “…he really likes to swing out.” I guess he had to say something.

    So, I just tend to rely on delusions of grandeur to see me through my occassional drifts through self-sabotaging insecurities.

    Nice post, Deek.

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