Written by Laura Eley
An icon in Canadian radio and music journalism, Alan Cross is instantly recognized for his voice and for having hosted acclaimed radio series like The Ongoing History of New Music and The Secret History of Rock. Spending time, among other roles, as the senior program director and head curator for Corus Radio and Interactive, he recently joined the newly launched Indie88 team.
With his combined media experience and personal passion for music knowledge, Cross shares his love of music and history with thousands of listeners not only across Canada, but the globe.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with him about what music has meant in his life and how it can help a child build self-esteem and skills for their future.
LAURA ELEY: When did you first become interested in music?
ALAN CROSS: It was on my sixth birthday, and for a reason still unknown to everybody, my grandmother gave me a transistor radio. I was growing-up in a small town north of Winnipeg, we had three T.V. channels — two of which were English — and my world was pretty small. But with this radio it became exponentially larger over night and the radio became this window to news and information and entertainment and music. From then on I was besotted with the whole thing.
ELEY: Were radio and music simultaneous interests for you?
CROSS: No, music came along a little bit later. I was more interested in what was actually out there. I had no idea that all this music existed, and the radio was the thing that allowed me to experience it for the first time.
ELEY: Why are the histories and processes that go into making music as important as the music itself?
CROSS: Music on its own has no context; there is no perspective there. You like the melody and the beat, and you can dance to it and sing along with it, but that’s only part of it. I think what you really need to do to experience everything a song and an artist has to offer is to get into what made that song possible, where it came from, who wrote it, why they wrote it, how it was made. The stories behind the music are the things that, for me, keep it alive. You can have 160,000 songs on an iPod but if there’s nobody to tell you why each or any of these songs are important or what they really mean. You have to have some context and perspective on what you’re listening to.
“I encourage everyone to at least try to be interested in music, especially when it comes to music lessons, because that leads to better spatial reasoning, it helps with mathematics, it’s a series of skills that allow you to do other things that you may not realize [are connected].”
ELEY: Do you think the music experience is different for people who learn to play instruments through a virtual medium, like an online tutorial, vs. learning in an ensemble with a teacher who also shares a passion for music?
CROSS: When I was learning to play an instrument I had to be playing with other people, and just that pressure of being with other people affected your performance and your outlook on things. I think this is another way of practicing on your own, because at some point you’re probably going to want to go out and make music with other people because it’s just much more fun.
ELEY: Is music as important to a professional musician as to someone working in an unrelated industry?
CROSS: I encourage everyone to at least try to be interested in music, especially when it comes to music lessons, because that leads to better spatial reasoning, it helps with mathematics, it’s a series of skills that allow you to do other things that you may not realize [are connected].
ELEY: Why is it important for media outlets to support philanthropic ventures?
CROSS: The government requires that you [radio stations] put a certain amount of stuff back into the community in exchange for using these public frequencies. There are a number of ways you can do that and there are some that are legally mandated and regulated but then there are other things that are just the right thing to do. If you’re going to be part of a community and you want to touch people’s lives, you have to get involved in their lives and you have to do it in a very positive way. And that’s why almost every broadcasting outlet chooses a charity or two or three or four to support wholeheartedly because they want to make a difference in the lives of the people who listen to and watch them… Any time you can get involved in any kind of music education, I’m all for it.
We also interviewed young people formerly in the child welfare system who talked about the artists and songs that inspired them
Kiwayne – Popcaan, Dream
The song title is Dream by Popcaan, a reggae artist that has really helped my over the years. His messaging in the particular song encourages young people to work hard for what they are passionate about, no matter if people laugh or think its impossible. You never know who may help you along the way, but its important to keep working at your passion.
Michele – K’naan, Waving Flag
The song is inspiring to me because even in times of struggle it teaches me to rise above them and to learn and grow from the challenge!
Nana – Robbie Williams, Angels
This was one of my favourite songs growing up and it is still on my top 10. Music can have a such a strong impact, especially when coupled with lyrics that strike a chord. From the first time I heard it on the special Brit List edition of the YTV music countdown show, The Hit List, this song always reminded me that whatever was happening, there were still angels in my life. Whether they were teachers, friends or total strangers, there were people that genuinely cared about my well being. One of the parts of the song I love the most is the lyric, “Wherever it may take me, I know that life won’t break me.” That just resonated with me and I always remember it whenever the going gets hard. Side note: There’s been a few covers of this song but I love the original Robbie Williams version because of the simple and gentle manner he sings the song.
Wendy – LIGHTS, Heavy Rope
The lyrics of this song have always reminded me of my experience of being a youth in care. How there are so many people who come in to our lives (workers, foster families, volunteers) and yet despite this many of us still feel very isolated. It’s also about being in a precarious position, not doing well, but there still being hope if only someone would toss a ‘heavy rope’ and give the opportunity for a way to safety. “Oh, I’m not a lost cause. I’m just stuck in a spot.”
Learn more about the enrichment programs, including music education, that the Children’s Aid Foundation supports by clicking here.