Most of us are locked in, all of us have lost the chance to socialise, to meet and drink and talk and eat and see music and work out and enjoy things outside the house. But music doesn’t have to stop and The Great Confinement has opened up a chance to explore at home, to dig up old favourites and find new pleasures.
In this series we ask: what music is making you happy. Today, journalist and ABC executive, Judith Whelan.
WHAT ALBUMS OR ARTISTS HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING SINCE BEING CONFINED TO HOME?
Not as many as I’d like. I’ve been working too hard! And during any moments I'm not in virtual meetings, I'm listening to ABC local radio around the country on the Listen app (and it's never been better!). There are four of us working from home - me, my husband, and our son and daughter who are both university students - so it is quiet during the day but we come together to listen to things over dinner.
There’s been Bach cantatas and Corelli violin sonatas, Telemann’s violin concertos (all five volumes by Elizabeth Wallfisch), Handel, Beethoven of course - a current favourite is the Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Berlin Philharmonic recording of the violin concerto - Mozart’s piano concertos played by Mitsuko Uchida, Artur Rubinstein’s Chopin Nocturnes, and Murray Perahia’s recordings of Bach’s French Suites.
We never tire of The Great Summit: The Master Takes, with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, recorded at RCA Studios over two days in 1961, which also features the fabulous Barney Bigard on clarinet. We listen to him too. And to The Complete Morton Project, by Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow (my nephew-in-law!) in which they learnt and recorded all 93 of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions. It is endlessly entertaining.
It’s not all classical or jazz or swing. Sometimes you just need pop, or country, or if my son and I can convince everybody else, something electronic. Kylie gets a go (Golden is a favourite), First Aid Kit, Lindi Ortega, Aretha Franklin (Amazing Grace is great in the background when the political conversation gets heated), First Aid Kit, Daniel Avery, Explosions In The Sky, Flight Facilities, and Howling Wolf’s London Sessions.
WHICH HAVE BEEN GETTING MULTIPLE SPINS?
I don’t “spin” anything, having given away all our vinyl in a crazy Kondo-esque moment more than 20 years ago, after our turntable had died and we were about to move to London and the thought of packing up the albums yet again seemed too hard. I don’t miss listening to records, but I miss being able to look through them and strew them about the floor as I play them and remember all the music bought through my lifetime and the moments that went with them. Sigh.
So the better question is what has been getting multiple plays on Spotify or Primephonic or on CD (and yes, I still have those).
Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Jazz Samba by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, Vagamente by Wanda Sa, Bebo, the album Ella And Louis. I was in Greece last year with my daughter and some friends and we bought a 2 euro CD in Athens by Anastasia Moutsatsou which turned out to be the best present ever - we all love it.
If I do get the house to myself, or put in the earbuds as I’m cleaning up, then it will be Underworld - any album, though Beaucoup Fish seems a current favourite - The Chemical Brothers’ Born In The Echoes, and I’m loving No Geography, and if I’m feeling a bit pissed off, Queens of the Stone Age or Led Zeppelin or maybe a few tracks of King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard. And Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, and Blood On The Tracks.
WHAT ALBUM FROM YOUR PAST HAVE YOU REDISCOVERED? WHAT DO YOU STILL LOVE ABOUT IT?
My son has come home from his studies in Melbourne for the duration and he seems to be working his way through an old Caselogic collection of CDs I put together more than 20 years ago. The Big Easy soundtrack has made an appearance, along with Clifton Chenier, The Neville Brothers, Wayne Toups, Hound Dog Taylor, Professor Longhair, Lightning Hopkins and Bessie Smith. They have great energy, great melodies, great harmonies and they make you want to dance.
HAVE YOU FOUND NEW MUSIC? WHAT’S EXCITED YOU ABOUT IT?
Strangely, not much. I’ve tried to get into the new albums of Laura Marling and Caribou - artists I love - but still haven’t made it through an entire listen of either of them. I’ve tended instead to retreat to their previous ones, Semper Femina (still so good!) and Our Love, both of which have been getting multiple plays at dinner as well.
WHAT’S THE BEST MUSIC TO FLATTEN YOUR (ANXIETY) CURVE?
Classical or Romantic, Baroque too, though less so. And I find things like Gregorian chant, or Hildegard of Bingen or Locatelli have the opposite effect - I can feel my anxiety rising as I wait and wait for a cadence. Beethoven can soothe a savage soul every time, I think.
A couple of years ago, when I was recovering from surgery, around this same time of year, I would rest in the afternoons in my softly lit bedroom with books, and in that week listened to Claudio Arrau’s recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas. They’ve become one of my go-tos for ironing afternoons - contemplative, soothing, restoring order to the world.
Judith Whelan is the Director of Regional and Local at the ABC, and a former editor of both The Sydney Morning Herald and Good Weekend magazine.