Book Review: House of Music: Raising The Kanneh-Masons  

by Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason
Published by Oneworld Publications

When I interviewed Sheku Kanneh-Mason for Ink Pellet in 2016 he rather disingenuously told me that his parents weren’t musicians, His mother’s memoir makes the truth clear. She and her husband Stuart both played instruments to a reasonable standard and are competent amateurs. This was why they were so keenly committed to ensuring that their seven children all have a musical education despite financial and practical constraints. She is good enough on violin to have initially taught several of the younger children. Stuart, meanwhile, plays piano. Both supervise and support their children’s practice in an informed way.

This book is interesting on Kadie’s (she is never called by her full name) upbringing as a mixed-race child in Britain after the premature death of her father in Sierra Leone where she was born. Then comes university, a career as a university lecturer, meeting Stuart and, finally, those famously talented seven children. Exhaustion and determination underpin the narrative – her pregnancies were not easy and there were five miscarriages in between. Then there’s cooking, laundry and getting the children to where they need to be. When they’re not in their Nottingham primary or secondary schools they are at music lessons, festivals, competitions or heading to London for Junior Royal Academy. It’s a logistical nightmare and there’s never enough money.

I admire the way Kadie differentiates between the children and loves and respects each of them as individuals. I’m also reassured by the normality of everyday life. These kids are not paragons. When she’s taking one of the younger ones to a regular weekly commitment the ones left at home operate as a team to confound all the rules. “While the cat’s away …” They also shout and argue and leave their toys lying about – as well as supporting each other musically in a very moving way. And I find that rather reassuring.

Review by Susan Elkin