The cat’s nose and the mystery of why we love music

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Way back in ’81, my flatmate Rachel made an interesting remark

An art student and painter of nudes, she had no real interest in music. But, one day, she admitted overhearing the rest of us describe how much we liked a particular song.

“When I heard what you said, the only thing I could compare it to is what I feel when I see our cat’s nose.”

For some people, music isn’t that important: just pleasing sounds that they can take or leave. But for some of us, it’s an overwhelming passion: something that takes over our whole life as we collect, read about and play our favourite tunes while yearning for a musical instrument of our own.

My interest certainly didn’t result from study (although eventually I did, and it certainly enhances the experience). For me, it was more like as if there was software all set up in my brain, ready and waiting for the right tune to come along. Then, one day, it did.

Of course, growing up in an Irish family, music is hard to avoid

Is that because it’s ‘bred in the bone’ or just because it was a cheap form of entertainment in the pre-TV era? I’d argue the former. But, whatever the reason, no one in my family was immune to its allure.

Grandad had a fine voice and would often entertain people in his local with renditions from a deep repertoire of ancient airs. There was also a great uncle of mine, a reputed lyricist whom everyone was careful not to fall out with for fear of being lampooned in one of his songs. 

My namesake Uncle Brendan was a fine accordionist and guitar player. After emigrating to America, he entertained New York’s Irish expatriate community and made a lot of money, most of it from the jewellery and watches the audience threw on the stage rather than from any performance fees.

So, music was definitely in my blood, but how did my own interest begin? Well, that’s another story.

So, readers, do any of you have musicians in the family? Or maybe other types of entertainers? It would be great to hear about them.


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