Dot Kelly is the narrator of With the Music, four years old at the start of the story and in her early 40s by the end. Drawn to late 70s post-punk, Dot is looking for an unknown something, and the music is her only clue. Her shyness is masked by her love of music and pretending to be aloof. Slightly judgemental about things she thinks aren't cool, Dot is intellectually smart, but not emotionally smart. Life seems to just happen to Dot, and she doesn't always make the best choices, so it takes her a while to work out her path. As an adult the things she treasures are olives, the smell of spring in the air at the end of winter, the way her lungs feel after a long swim, her brother's cheeky jokes, her best friend's slang, hearing her father play the accordion, red wine, salami, dogs, cheese, conversations about nothing that last all night, getting tipsy and feeling a connection with someone new, never forgetting her childhood, the inner city, little old workmen’s cottages, the colour green, judging bogans, Dr Ivanskiy’s funny sayings, mod-style dresses, black mascara, tapas, walking through the streets without a destination, the yellow colour in the air before the sun starts to set, little bars and sailing even though she's never been sailing.
Colin Kelly (Jack) is Dot’s brother, two years her junior. Although his real name is Colin, he starts calling himself Jack at an early age (because he likes the name) and it sticks. Jack is a popular and outgoing larrikin, with lots of luck with the girls, much to Dot’s annoyance, as she is reserved and has more complicated relationships. Jack appears to cruise through life and he likes to be the funny guy. As a kid he gets kicks out of teasing Dot, and their relationship of a squabbling yet very close brother and sister duo continues through into adulthood. As a teenager Jack is into skateboarding and Public Enemy.
Gerald Kelly is Dot and Jack’s father. He likes early nights, healthy food, exercise and can’t drink caffeine after 10am. Intelligent and highly strung, Gerald loves Irish music and board games. Despite finding Catholic rituals comforting, Gerald is an atheist. He plays the accordion in an Irish band which, as a teenager, was painfully embarrassing for Dot, but by the time she's a young adult, it’s a source of hipster coolness. Gerald bans Dot and Jack from watching commercial television and eating junk food. He scrimps and saves to send the children to private secondary schools, and constantly threatens them with the local government school should they be seen to be squandering their education in any way. Every holiday Gerald makes the kids do volunteer work and deducts their pocket money if they get fillings. He believes in honesty and contribution, and strictly enforces those beliefs on his children.
Margaret Kelly is the kids' mother. She likes tea, knitting, England and researching her genealogy. Once the kids are at school Margaret takes up a modest but steady career in bookkeeping. Margaret and Gerald are a unit, often enmeshed, so their personalities can be indistinguishable. They are known as the Parental Units until Dot and Jack are well beyond adolescence. Margaret isn’t a gambling addict, but she's famous for the annual roulette party she throws. Margaret and Gerald are young parents – both were only 20 when Dot was born.
Caitali Nepal is Dot’s best friend. They meet in Grade Prep and have been friends ever since. Caitali is popular and wild as a teenager and Dot socially lives on her coat tails. Her parents are very strict but never get wind of her antics due to adolescent cunning. Dot and Caitali drift apart a little in high school as Dot is less adventurous, but they become closer again in their early twenties when Dot takes up Caitali’s love of clubbing. By then it’s the mid-90’s so they hit all the Indie clubs, taking turns picking up and getting into mischief. Caitali settles down and gets married, quickly followed by kids, but she still manages to retain a fun life. One of her quirks is she likes whatever slang is popular at the time, much to the embarrassment of her two daughters.
Jordan Gregory is Dot’s first boyfriend and is a DJ at her favourite nightclub. Jordan is skinny, not terribly attractive, weak-willed and boring; but the social status of being a DJ appeals to 21 year old Dot. In actual fact, he's a homebody and just working as a DJ to pay his way through his Commerce degree. Sick of being single in her 30s, Dot reconnects with Jordan via Facebook and engineers things so they start going out. By now he has a successful career in middle management and his DJ days are long over. Jordan grows into a kind-hearted but rule-loving man, and to Dot he’s just a means of satisfying her status anxiety.
Trevor Cook is an office bogan Dot who has a crush on when she’s in her mid-twenties. He’s charismatic, arrogant, materialistic and not suited to Dot, although it takes her a long time to realise this. Trevor is six years older than Dot, and with a little more worldly knowledge that he uses this to capture the hearts of attractive young women, exaggerating his achievements with the Eksnep Account (read that backwards). He’s a loud, insecure man, obsessed with gadgets. Trevor lives off closing the Eksnep Account, and is borderline alcoholic. Throughout the novel he is slightly overweight, bald, has a silver earring and wears acid wash and chambray on casual Fridays. Her friends are at a loss as to why the style-conscious Dot is attracted to this man, but she’s painfully in love/obsessed with him.
Dr Ivan Ivanskiy is a Kelly family friend and dentist. Jolly, full of politically incorrect sayings, thick eastern European accent and love of Vodka. Many of Dr Ivanskiy’s stories involve him crawling home after a night on the Vodka. Even though the kids see him as daggy and a source of mirth, he speaks four languages and they are taught to respect him. Throughout the story, it is revealed that Dr Ivanskiy went through terrible experiences during the Second World War and is a hero to the older Kelly family as he saved the life of an inebriated Grandpa Kelly who, back in the late 40s, stumbled out of a pub pissed as a fart on the 6 o’clock swill, walked in front of a tram but was luckily pushed out of the way by an equally pissed Dr Ivanskiy. The two returned to the pub to get even drunker and were firm friends from then on. Following Grandpa Kelly’s death Dr Ivanskiy becomes a father figure to the family, often financially helping out the money-hopeless Kellys. Despite being separated from his original family, Dr Ivanskiy is always cheerful and devoted to the Kellys, who have taken him on as one of their own. Bits of his story are revealed throughout the book. Dr Ivanskiy is someone who overcame odds, a foil to Dot and her “first world problems”, who helps a lot of people, but is largely unseen.