By Bob Halstead

A good friend of mine, one of the world’s top underwater photographers, recently sent me an e mail. He has not had a good year. A romance failed, he caught hepatitis, could not dive for nine months and had to spend a lot of time just lying around.

Snapper Ballet at Steve's Bommie

Not the sort of fellow to waste a moment of his life, he decided to try something he had never done before – and started to listen to Classical music. Knowing my love of Classical and modern “serious” music he informed me that we now had something else in common. “I can’t believe I wasted all those years listening to Pop music”, he wrote. Exactly.

Some people waste their lives just reading rubbish, ignoring literature and even this column. Or spend all their time in front of a television instead of actually venturing outdoors to go diving and experience life. Some divers limit their diving to coral reefs, and ignore the more challenging art of Muck Diving.

It takes a little effort and education to get acquainted with Classical music. You do have to listen to it, not just hear it or bop your head to the beat. There is a myriad of composers, eras and styles and starting from scratch can be daunting. If you think Classical music a bit snobbish, ignore the academic commentaries and cover notes. Most of it is art-speak gobbledegook consisting of efforts to put in words what is self-evident when listening to the music. Good music is all about communicating emotion intelligently and subtly, rather than crudely and obviously – the way Pop music does.

People used to ask me how on earth Dinah and I built our beautiful 20m dive boat Telita in PNG, neither of us having any experience as boat builders. Luck? Wealth? Treasure? Magic? But the “secret” was none of those. In any complex endeavour, and you should love me for telling you this, figure out the first thing to do and then DO IT. Doing it is the hard part. While you are doing it, figure out the next thing to do, and then do that. After many small steps, you have climbed the mountain.

So with Classical music, start with something that you are familiar and comfortable with and move to other pieces by the same composer, then other composers in the same era and so on. My friend started with Mozart, it is as good a place as any. Or, if you are fortunate to live in Australia – which has the worlds finest classical music radio station ABC Classic FM – to which all my home and car tuners are welded – listen any chance you can. If you miss the composer’s name when announced you can find it on the internet later. Simple.

Unfortunately you would not have been able to learn a single thing about Classical music by going on a live-aboard dive boat. Every one I have been on blares Pop or “New Age” music/muzak day and night, and renders an otherwise perfectly comfortable dive boat uninhabitable. Usually this is because the crew are young and, frankly, do not realise how dreadful this experience is for music lovers. I kid you not, it is torture – I’d confess anything! “Yes, I did go one metre deeper on my second dive, no I do not know where my buddy is. Just shut that noise up!” I have considered smashing the boat sound system or even mutiny. I know that when I am in the thralls of Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto others might not be so appreciative and so stick to my private I-pod. Why can’t they use theirs?

I strive to educate the crew, and start very politely, waving my dive knife, “Turn that ……. rubbish off!”, with a reply “Oh don’t you like Spudface? I’ll change it to Turbopants”. Me – “How about Brahms?”. It  – “Never heard of them”….

In case you think I am exaggerating the general public ignorance of fine music consider this. I bought my grandkids a cartoon video version of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute then went to the local music store to see if I could buy a CD with excerpts from the real thing to play when I had them captive in my car. The enthusiastic young shop assistant came bounding over as I pawed through the meagre classical selection. “Can I help you Sir?”  “Well, Yes, please  – I’m looking for the Magic Flute”  “Oh Sir” quoth she, “That will be in the instrumental section.”

The plague of bad music is not confined to dive boats of course. In an effort to get even fitter than I am, I started going to the local Gym where I did not only have to listen to incessant wailing and thumping, I had to watch asinine whelps mime it on the ubiquitous TV screens too. I do know in a Gym it is important for mental health to keep one’s IQ less than one half of one’s heartbeat so I should, I suppose, have expected it. Football and cricket are now unbearable with Pop music pounding at any interval, and it is vital to take one’s seat at the cinema at exactly the starting time for the main film. I sometimes wonder if Pop music is a cunning form of terrorism. You cannot even have a decent argument with the telephone salesman from Lahore without the vile caterwauling of a Pop diva while he puts you on hold.

A while back I had to receive treatment for a medical ailment. I was positioned on the slab of a huge space-age machine, and the staff departed the room while I was to be treated. On the way out they turned on a portable disk player playing Pop music. I repeatedly yelled “Foul Notes!” causing a minor panic (serves them right) and explained that such noise destroys the will to live, and I had no intention of staying there while it assaulted my senses. I recovered, but I am not sure if they did.

By the way, in case you have not got the message, please do not send me a DVD of your latest dive adventure if all you have done to the sound track is dubbed in the latest New-Age-Aqua-Ethereal-Zen mood music.

But now the good news.

Imagine for a moment cruising to concertos, dive briefing to Bach, suiting up to serenades, and sipping sundowners to symphonies and sonatas.  For meal times we might actually enjoy SILENCE in the background – to allow for aged ears, and engage in some scintillating conversation. At anchor after dinner, yes!  Live, un-amplified, beautiful music …… a dream, no, just read on.

Knowing that there are many other music lovers in the world who dive, I am working with DiversionOZ dive Travel, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and International Concert Violinist, and diver, Kirtley Leigh Paine to put together the World’s first Classical Music Dive Cruise in December 2007. As I write this Kirtley Leigh is setting off for New Zealand for a concert tour, the highlight of which is the premier performance of a Suite for violin and orchestra written for, and dedicated to, her by composer Ross Carey.

Guests aboard Spoilsport will enjoy great diving during the day (and no pop music) at the Northern Great Barrier Reef, which is still Great, and live chamber music concerts in the evenings. All we have to do is find a crew.

I lie. The crew I have already spoken to cannot wait, they are sick of Pop music too. Either that or they do not believe I can dive, and play Classical saxophone…Now where did I leave my dive knife?


Reading this now – a few years later – I realise I was dreaming. The cruise failed to gather the necessary numbers. Evidently the ten other divers in the world that love classical music were all busy.


October 2006


 Posted by at 8:45 am