Give me a break. My kids saw through Hannah Montana before I’d ever heard of her. The pseudo-conservative Christian morality, the hideous clothes, the bad music, the teenager being cute so she and her daddy can bag the cash.
You hear parents complaining about the money Hannah is costing them on themed products aimed at tweenies. The lunchbox, the clothes, the DVDs, the make-over, the neon eye shadow, the flavored lip-gloss, the duvet…I’m totally bored listening to parents moan about the premature sexualisation of children who move like lap-dancers at the age of six.
Parents who believe the old chestnut that commercial performers, such as Hannah Montana and her ilk (remember the uproar over the Spice Girls? Elvis?) is somehow responsible for their children’s materialism and eagerness to grow up too fast need to cop on. You helped create Hannah Montana, parents, since you pay her salary.
If you don’t want to spend money on her merchandise, then don’t. To hear some parents talk, you’d think Hannah was a tweenie Hitler spreading fascism of premature sexuality over which we are all powerless. If you spend money on Hannah, then you are willing participant in the premature sexualisation process, not to mention appalling music. It all comes down to the music, I think. I’m one of those old-fashioned people who believes that music is a participatory activity, not just a spectator sport. Music is a living, breathing, emotional thing that anyone can do but it does take effort and curiosity and dedication, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because learning is fun.
If you’ve heard Beyoncé’s tuneless efforts on YouTube before they processed her voice to sound as pretty as she looks, you realize the machine that churns out business models instead of musicians is so cynical about real music that Simon Cowell is saintly in comparison. Before electronic recording, you had to listen to a live performance in order to hear music. Before travel, the most beautiful music you would ever hear was played by your own family and friends. Music was a way to celebrate and a way to grieve – it was all about reaching and growing self – expression.
Children who grow up playing music still know this, which is why I don’t mind riding around in my 1999 recession-mobile as long as it means I can afford music lessons for my kids and the instruments they need to follow their hearts. I think their own experience of music is one of the reasons they saw through Hannah Montana and the materialism she represents. For them the choice between designer clothes and music lessons that contribute to the genuine pleasure of living music rather than just merely listening to it, is a no-brainer.
THE OTHER NIGHT, this all came home to me at the National Gallery, where the Kingston Academy, based in Dún Laoghaire, held its first annual recital, with its ethos of bringing music into museums. Performers ranged in age from young children, to the middle-aged and retirees who were rediscovering their childhood dreams of singing or playing instruments.
Audrey McKenna, who runs the academy, has an answer for people who hear beautiful music and say, “I wish I could do that”. “Why can’t you? Do it,” she says. – She and her teachers have a talent for pulling the music out of people of all ages and abilities and giving them confidence – whether they’re senior Feis Ceoil winners or beginners.
The teachers themselves put in extraordinary performances. Junshi Murakami is a master of the Irish harp and has played for the Emperor of Japan as gorgeously as he played a traditional Irish waltz and She Moved Through the Fair for us. We were spellbound by Jack Sherry’s and Michael Galen’s premier of their piano and guitar composition, Moleka. Sophie Ward’s Italian Concerto was superb – with the best performance of Back’s middle movement I’ve ever heard. Then scholarship student Regan Buckley, who can’t be quite 10 years old, sand Pie Jesu and we knew that we were hearing something really special, maybe even a future star tenor.
It was magical to hear real music from real people who were there not for money or fame. You can have this experience by participating in your local choir, or participating in an impromptu session in a pub or at a party. You can turn off your iPod and spend some time with your piano, your guitar, your voice and share what you discover with your family and friends. The original definition of “amateur” was a performer who made music or theater for the love of it, not for the money. And once you’ve discovered the joy of making music for music’s sake, well…it’s a little bit like falling in love. It lasts as long as it lasts, the length of a song or a poem and, maybe, it will never be heard again. But it’s so worth it. So thanks Audrey, for reminding us that we own the music. It’s ours. It doesn’t belong to Hannah.