4 July 2022

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Joyful and intimate, a delicately-told ode to music

By Ian Palmer

12 February 2022

Whole Notes: Life Lessons through Music” by Ed Ayres, ABC Books. 

I regularly listen to Ed Ayres, weekend mornings on ABC Classic, as I guess do other readers of The Melbourne Anglican. So, when late last year I heard of Ayres’ new book Whole Notes I was off to the bookshop to buy it. I was not disappointed. This enthralling book is “an ode to music”. It’s a book about life, about finding yourself, and about the role that music can and does play in that journey. 

Several years ago, we listened to Ed as Emma and those soft, English tones enchanted us. Then Ayres took a momentous journey to teach music for a year in Afghanistan, and the even more momentous journey of transitioning from Emma to Eadric.  

This is a story of transition. It is also the story of how Ayres, a strings player and teacher, becomes a student again and learns to play the horn. It does not surprise us when we read gentle and humorous passages about the way he teaches music and creatively works out what’s best for his students. Throughout the book there are touching vignettes about composers or players and other people he has known. 

Ayres describes music as “humanity’s greatest creation”, saying: “we know ourselves more intimately, more honestly and more clearly with every note. And with every note, music offers us a hand to the beyond.” Music invites us to touch that which is divine because through music the divine is reaching out to us. 

Resonating through this book are the seven notes of the major scale, representing qualities that give meaning to our lives. These are the chapter headings of bravery, knowledge, resilience, kindness, wisdom, hope and love. Ayres uses language carefully and delicately. He tells stories so engagingly and with such great artistry that he invites us to view the mystery of life on a large canvas of outstandingly gorgeous music, with a CD that accompanies the book. 

But this is an intimate book in which Ayres shares the sometimes-painful journey of discovery of his true identity and gender as a man, and how he makes this transition and shares life with, his now-wife Charlie. He does this sensitively with a lightness of touch that invites us to join in his search and pain, then rejoice with him in his new identity. 

This book will be welcomed by music lovers just for the delight of being immersed in language, music, ideas and hope. 

This book deserves to be read by church people because Ayres communicates with joy, and clarity, inviting us to walk the journey of life with openness to others. Whole Notes is written in a non-judgemental, compassionate, non-political and very personal way. Ayres frames issues of gender, identity, sexual relationships and marriage not as matters of doctrine or legislation, but rather as a caring conversation with hurting, searching, vulnerable, sincere people around us.  

This extraordinary “beguiling account” – to quote Geraldine Doogue – is both didactic and invitational. May the music live on! 

Bishop Ian Palmer is the former Bishop of Bathurst, now living in Victoria. 

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