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by Kirsteen Paterson
19 January 2024
Michelle Thomson: My karaoke song is I Will Survive

Michelle Thomson MSP plays piano for the Scottish Parliament choir

Michelle Thomson: My karaoke song is I Will Survive

What was the first album you ever bought? Abba, Arrival. I think every girl at that time, of that age, loved Abba and still does today. Being honest, that wasn’t the record that had the most impact on me, it was Maggie May by Rod Stewart that my elder brother bought. I remember being astounded by the sound, and we sat and listened to the song over and over again.

Is that the music you associate with your childhood? I would say so. That sound just takes me back to the excitement we all felt from this sound coming into our living room. The other big reaction I had was the first time I heard a live performance. My dad took me to see Carousel and I remember being knocked out by the sound of the orchestra.

When did you first learn an instrument? I was about eight when I started to learn the piano and 11 when I started to learn the clarinet. I just took to it, loved it and went off to what wasn’t yet known as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with piano as my first study. My dad is very musical, but not trained, and my mother loved music. It’s my most enduring passion.

What song will always get you on the dance floor? I quite like things like jazzy funk – Mezzoforte, Average White Band, Earth, Wind and Fire sort of stuff. I’m still a bit of a 70s and 80s chick but there are genuinely so many I love. It’s not hard to get me on the dance floor. 

What music always makes you cry? The overture to The Maestersinger of Nuremberg. My biggest love is classical music and my husband and I had that as the play-out music at our wedding. It’s a massive, big, very grand overture and I suspect that the church organist had never had a request like that before. If I’d had my way we would have had a full symphony orchestra at it, I’m not joking. My son, who plays the trumpet, played it with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and it instantly made me cry to have him playing the song we had at our wedding.

What music do you hate? Anything on the panpipes. My mother used to have a double CD of well-known tunes done on panpipes and she would play it when we went round. Imagine the horror. 

How did the Scottish Parliament choir come about? When I was first elected I happened to notice that there weren’t all that many musical events. I said I’d be happy to help more music happen in the Scottish Parliament and get musicians for events. I have done that and organised the music for the annual St Andrews Day event, and then I came up with the idea for the choir. I didn’t know if there was going to be any appetite for it but it got quite a lot of interest. Our parliament should sing with 1,000 voices – it’s of the people and it’s for the people – but most of the time it shouts rather than sings. This is a way of giving something back to the institution which we all value so much.

Who is your best singer? I have to be honest and say the conductor, my husband, who is a former professional. That said, we do have some really committed singers. Alexander Stewart is so keen and such a delight in the choir. He never ever misses rehearsal.

Tell us about your career as a musician. It’s a very, very difficult way to make your living. I was lucky in that I was a reasonably good sight reader and could play a lot of music at first sight, which meant I did a lot of accompanying for singers, and I spent many years working for the Territorial Army. The army bands, when people leave they are put through a music diploma and they hired me to coach them through their solo parts and play for them. I did a bit of teaching then became a musical director for a theatre company and ended up composing for Shakespeare plays and things like that. I was an early adopter of IT for composing and that’s what then got me interested in IT.

What’s your go to karaoke song? I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. It’s an anthem for many, many people. I have had a very interesting and, in turns, challenging life in my early years and career, but that sense of ‘I will survive’ is very strong in me. Keep going, never give up – that song expresses it.

What music would you be embarrassed for people to know that you own? None. If I have it, it’s because I love it. 

What was the last music you saw live? It was a concert by Scottish Opera with my husband, which was utterly brilliant. I’m the convener of the Cross-Party Group for Music and I regard it as part of my role to attend as many musical events as I can. We’re very blessed with the quality of the national performing organisations we have in Scotland.

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