Eight Seconds? What Difference Does It Make?

It would be wrong to say that music was my first love but it may well turn out to be my last. Intrigued by the upcoming series of posts by John Tomsett and Carl Hendricks, I sat down this morning with my trusty notebook and began to scribble down some thoughts. It doesn’t often occur to me to sit down and think about how particular songs or artists or albums taught me or changed me. Clearly they have. But alongside books, my thinking life has been enhanced and developed by great song lyrics and amazing tunes. They have entertained and influenced me. They have made me a different person.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsI talk a lot about music in my classes, play a lot too. I love hearing my students talking about the bands they’re into; obscure names, weird styles, pop drivel. Teenagers are, perhaps, in the most transformational period of their lives and, I tell them, music more than anything forms who they are. It affects the people they hang out with, the clothes they wear, the books they read. Once over that reluctance to reveal their true passions, they love to talk about their music, their first gigs. It also provides great recipe for writing in the English classroom so I love to tap into that.

For a couple of years now, I’ve taught a unit of work in class called ‘I Don’t Care What You Think of My Music.’ It’s a unit which prepares pupils to write discursively or persuasively so we look at loads of exemplars of those sorts of writing. We develop a checklist of techniques and critique each others work as we go – yes, I write too – but all with a back drop of the class playlist. Each pupil picks five songs which they think should be included and argue their case. I usually choose one from each and Spotify provides the soundtrack to our summer term.

The individuality on display is incredible. They write passionately about what music means to them and how it is transforming them. They give up parts of themselves in a way that suggests a trust that I never take for granted. I feel honoured that they do so. But in that time I begin to think of how much one particular moment in time, one part of a song by one band changed me forever. ‘What Difference Does it Make?’ by The Smiths is not my favourite song by a long way. But when I think of the moment when music changed me from the immature listener who never bothered to like anything in particular to the listener I am now, it would be the opening eight seconds of that song, the eight seconds when I first heard The Smiths.

Eight seconds that changed my life. Up until then, empty with indifference, nothing I could call my own. A jangly guitar, shivering down my spine, and I was never the same. Eight seconds that changed my life and took me down I road I never knew existed. The voice I had been looking for; sad, lonely, melancholic; songs that sang to me, for me. And all these years later, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it has the same effect. A jangly guitar, shivering down my spine. What difference does it make? All the difference in the world.



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