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Sonali Verma is director, business development, for Sophi, a data science startup within The Globe and Mail.
Technology has given me so much – an omniscient computer in the palm of my hand, frequent video calls with my parents halfway around the world, an engaging job that puts food on the table.
But one particular piece of tech is the bane of my existence: Earbuds.
Let me explain: My sisters and I grew up surrounded by music, whether it was my dad carrying his transistor from the dining table to the bedroom while getting ready in the morning, or all of us dancing to the well-worn Abba Greatest Hits cassette after dinner or impatiently awaiting our turns to pick the radio station on family road trips.
We knew when it was time to leave for the bus stop every morning when a particular theme song started like clockwork on the radio. We spent hours composing songs that we sang together at family weddings. We delighted together when another lyricist picked a clever turn of phrase, and we have never stopped teasing my elder sister about her uncanny ability to mangle lyrics beyond recognition.
Without meaning to, this is where we picked up my father’s love of nuanced poetry and classical music. The delicate twist in the last phrase of an Urdu couplet and the humming that goes along with identifying a song’s raag, these are things that make me smile and connect me to him. Almost half a century later, our family Zoom calls are still peppered with lyrics and the laughter that follows.
These songs are indelibly part of who I am. There are days when I can’t remember when my next meeting is, but I can sing from memory every word and note of a song I haven’t heard in three decades.
So, when my husband and I had children, we had music routines as well. Each morning, we slipped in the same serene CDs as the family ate breakfast and shared the newspaper. When he made pizza every Friday night, the soundtrack was always Fela Kuti at top volume. We talked over dinner about chord progressions, how taranas and scatting achieve the same effect, the use of modulation as a way to inject energy into a song, and why 6/8 time works so well for ballads. Every night, the boys and I sang together, unselfconsciously, as part of their bedtime ritual.
Every trip in the car started with the radio being switched on. One year, our boys begged for Paul Simon on repeat as we drove all the way to Myrtle Beach and back. (We remain eternally grateful that we never introduced them to children’s music.)
My kids didn’t end up as professional musicians, but it is a source of unending pride for me that they can identify every song on the local classic rock station within the first eight beats.
The car radio was also an indispensable parenting tool. Almost every pop song is about relationships or drugs – what better springboard for a conversation about these things, without making eye contact, with a preteen on the way to sports practice?
Music is all about connection. It’s the difference between dancing alone at home and dancing with friends at a party. One is fun; the other brings with it the joy and energy of being part of something bigger.
For me, it was also a meaningful way to connect my boys to my heritage, to make sure that when they come across a snippet of a qawwali or a sargam, they recognize it as part of their own cultural fabric. Unsurprisingly, my Bollywood playlist, replete with irresistible beats and questionable lyrics, has helped build their Hindi vocabulary far better than any devotional music could.
Enter the villain of the piece: earbuds. Music is no longer a shared experience, a way to build a bridge between my universe and theirs. We are each immersed in our own solitudes, listening to different voices in our heads, marching to our own drummers.
So, I protested. Can’t we all just listen to the same music, guys? We can take turns deciding!
It seems not. My husband, for one, does not want to hear Drake whining about how he doesn’t get called on his cellphone any more (“Be a man about it! Move on!”).
The teenagers have other reasons. Apparently, some of their playlist lyrics are not suitable for all ages. I am apologetically told, “It’s explicit.”
Do we still bond over music? I have heard the boys sing together in the kitchen while cooking and cleaning, and one is teaching the other to play pieces on the guitar (it helps with girls, it seems).
In the far corner of the house, our 17-year-old listens to a Bollywood playlist by himself and then comes over and tells me why he prefers one song to another. He has only a basic grasp of Hindi, but the joy of EDM transcends that. Our common language is still music, even though we speak it with different accents.
What else we’re thinking about
If you, too, have had enough of Paul Simon, may I recommend an audio book for that long family road trip? Over the years, we’ve listened to short stories by Saki and Edgar Allan Poe, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the absolutely outstanding Lord of the Rings trilogy read by Rob Inglis, and Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, to name a few. This year, my colleagues recommend Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem (science) and Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary (science fiction).
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