St John Bosco High School, Engadine; Terms 1 and 2, 1985
I had been looking forward to high school, particularly high school music – a proper subject, the school musical, band and choirs. But why my friends and I decided to sacrifice our Tuesday lunchtimes as part of Junior Choir rather than just going straight to the School Choir, I cannot recall.
Mr May was the Junior Choirmaster. Anyone could join, so there we were, a disparate group of Year 7 and 8 girls and a couple of Year 8 boys, gathered in the music room to sing. The cassette was primed and I wondered what we were going to sing. The “folk” choir of my primary school sang hymns at school masses and wedding songs at teachers’ weddings.
My May turned on the cassette player: Seaside Rendezvous by Queen.
I didn’t know it was Queen at the time. Mr May handed out roneoed sheets with handwritten lyrics, but no acknowledgment of composer or artist. If you’d asked me I would have thought it was some bloke singing a song written for a 1940s musical.
After a few weeks it was time to learn a new song. This time there was some recognition of the music and the words that came out:
I sit alone and watch your light, my only friend on teenage nights, And everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio
For kids who were tentatively discovering their musical pathways it was a revelation. We can sing songs on the radio in choir? Why the hell not! And it was the same band that did Seaside Rendezvous? No way!
I don’t know how many times I listened to Radio Ga Ga. We listened to it on tape. We listened to Mr May play it on the piano. We listened and sang.
Despite the fact that our abilities were patchy, Mr May was faithful to the song and required us to break into harmony for the later choruses. Slowly the soprano line was learned. As was the alto and tenor.
All we hear is radio ga ga. Radio goo goo. Radio ga ga.
It was easy to sing along with the piano line in each group, but then the transition from unison to harmony, was difficult. I can still remember Mr May giving us the notes at the end of the verse: All, All, ALL his voice straining to get to the soprano note.
We sang it at our concert for our parents later in the year. They clapped politely. I don’t know how many of them recognized the song. In many families the Top 40 radio stations were only listened to in our bedrooms.
But radio was never really my old friend. Thirty years later I don’t listen to music on the radio any more. When I’m in my car I’m listening to CDs. Maybe my son will discover radio at some point – his music journey started with listening to his parents’ CDs and progressed to music downloads. He develops his own playlists for his MP3 player. He’s got Radio Ga Ga on playlist 6 and it’s on our family’s Queen mix-tape. Maybe one day he’ll listen to the lyrics of Radio Ga Ga and reflect on the extent to how much (or little) influence radio has on his own music choices.
I sometimes wonder what ever happened to Mr May. He’s responsible for one thing from high school that has lasted ever since – a proper introduction to Queen. I’d love to thank him in person; but I guess this story will have to do.