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The Song That Changed Your Life

The music of home by Maria Schamis Turner

Canada Writes editor Maria Schamis Turner kicks off The song that changed your life writing challenge with her piece on the music of her childhood

Tell us about the song or music that changed your life! See the details of the challenge here


My parents were opera fans and the soundtrack of my childhood included The Pirates of PenzanceThe Magic Flute, and L’Elisir d’Amore. I didn’t understand the music but I got caught up in the stories, following along as Tamino falls in love with Pamina, and Papageno meets Papagena. My sister and I sang along to the Marriage of Figaro and read librettos for entertainment. When Pavarotti came to Vancouver, my parents took me to the Magic Flute on 4th Avenue so I could ask for his autograph.

Like all children, I eventually learned that the outside world did not correspond to a larger, more populated version of my family. My parents were different from my friends’ parents. They were immigrants (Argentine and British), they were older, and they didn’t approve of television. We went on the same outings, but we didn’t seem to inhabit the same city. They didn’t see the homeless guy on the corner or the tired faces of the prostitutes on Davie Street. My mother didn’t notice the new fashions that everyone was wearing. In the Italian Coffee bars on Commercial Drive (before the neighborhood changed, before they became trendy), my father didn’t see the slight shrug in response to his attempts at Italian. The older I got, the more I felt the chronic anxiety of the immigrant child— it was my job to explain the city to my parents, to translate it into their language. Opera was not adequate for this world.

My sister and I eventually had our own tragedies to deal with—adolescence, my parents’ divorce—and knowing the words to The Barber of Seville was not winning us any popularity contests at school. We looked to other music to express our discomfort. When I was 13 and she was 15, my sister bought me a single by the new wave singer, Lene Lovich. I listened to it over and over again until I knew the words by heart and the unexpected inflections of her voice.  Home is where the heart is, home is so remote. Home is just emotion, sticking in my throat. This was music that I could hold on to, music that felt real. Opera faded into nostalgia, an occasional retreat into a make-believe world, that like my childhood, I knew no longer existed.

Maria Schamis Turner is an editor at Canada Writes and the online literary magazine carte blanche.

Tell us about the song or music that changed your life! See the details of the challenge here

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