Sweet Music Waters

I call this a “meditative ballad”. It’s an ode to music therapy, an homage to the power – and passion – of music, and a celebration of musicians.

Come on in – the water’s fine!

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Sometimes You Just Gotta (What Music Therapy Looks Like)

I’ve said it before…but, it bears repeating (and repeating, and repeating). Music is powerful. It’s spiritual and can be meditative and healing to body, as well as to mind, soul and spirit. Music therapy is a way to use music as medicine, very specifically and effectively. Playing a hand drum increases blood flow (circulation), singing is good for the lungs and nervous system. But that’s just one aspect (and only two examples). We’ve all heard how “music soothes the savage beast”. This isn’t just a saying. There is good medical science behind such a phrase. In making music, we can focus energy positively and that flow of positive energy and vibration can help manage conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as being a good therapy for those of us who suffer from mood and personality disorders. Music IS powerful. I made this video to extol the virtues of music therapy and showcase just some of the healing benefits of making music.

Life Blows… Blow Back!

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Or, we could say, “Life hits hard; hit back harder!”

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Music is powerful. Music is influential. No matter what you tell yourself and your parents when you’re a teenager; the music you listen to affects you, in a very real way. Science now supports all this. Thank God for the invention of brain scans, ay? What you listen to will affect mood, ideas; it will influence you in subtle and significant ways. Deny it if you want to, but music is a spiritual force.

I’m not hear to preach at you. I am simply in awe of, well, the awesomeness of music. As a musician, it’s an honour and responsibility to use the “power” wisely (with great power, yeah, yada yada yada…Spiderman has nothing on us musos…we’re the real superheros and, dare I say it, villians). Music is a gift to us all and a helpful medication in the struggle to cope with life.

I am a huge supporter and believer in music therapy and the more I find it helping myself and my mental health difficulties, the more I want to share the therapeutic benefits with everyone who will, well…listen.

Listening is where we start. Not a passive listening, but listening with awareness. Music is meditative in quality, and right there lies so much of its healing power.  The Latin word for meditation is mederi, which means “heal, cure, remedy, assauge, comfort, amend” (see, you learn something reading my blog).

What is listening with awareness or meditative listening? 

Sitting or lying comfortably, choose a piece of music to listen to (for this “exercise” I recommend going for an instrumental piece so you can focus more on the music and avoid the temptation to get caught up following the story of the lyrics and how THEY play on your emotions or what they cause you to remember, think about, etc.). If it is a piece you are familliar with already, approach this listening session as if it’s the first time you’ve heard the piece. Or, you could choose something new to you. The idea is to approach the music with curiosity, as if hearing – not only music, but hearing itself – for the first time.  You are cultivating a sense of curiosity and wonder. You are cultivating a sense of gratitude for the ability to hear and for the gift of music itself.

Perhaps you’ve been taught that meditation is some Eastern mystisism that you wish to avoid. Lately my view has been quite challened on this subject. The medical and scientific proofs of the benefit of meditation on the brain is not to be sniffed at! You need not sit and chant weird words and it’s not about reaching some altered state of consciousness. It’s about becoming AWARE, about getting off the autopilot most of us are run by day in and day out, and grounding yourself in the present moment. It’s about taking time out of all your busy DOING to simply BE.

Ok…now, back to the music…

Actively listen. Don’t judge what you hear. Just follow along with the “travel” of the changing notes, follow the rythym and, as you listen, shift your attention to your body and see how the sound is affecting you. What do you feel? (This is why it’s better to try this with music sans lyrics because we are discovering the raw effect, the sensations, in the body – how the music effects the body, and working with those feelings rather than with emotions. And (now this is important) if (and when) the mind wanders (it’s what minds do), gently escort your attention back to following the music, right where it is. The mind may wander several times – that’s natural,  but every time it does,  gently (without beating yourself up about it) bring your awareness back to the music.

When the piece of music finishes, you could sit quietly for a little longer, focusing on your breathing, staying aware of the present.

Taking the therapy beyond listening.

Making the music takes this therapy a leap beyond listening. This gets you actively involved with making and using the gift of music. Some might even call it true magic.  The problem is, not everyone is musically gifted and so they can feel left out of anything more than the listening. Sure, having some kind of natural talent helps (greatly), but you can still benefit from something like joining a drumming circle and getting involved with making the healing sounds. Drumming with a hand drum (like the African djembe which I am playing in the second picture up there), helps with blood flow and circulation. And, if you have any kind of rythym at all, you can play – it’s a very “user-friendly” instrument.

You don’t have to play complicated rythyms. Experiment. The idea here isn’t to play to entertain others, or even to “entertain” yourself. This is for YOU. Time for you to beat the demons away. Time for you to personally take the power of music and let it IMPACT you. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t judge the sounds, just play them. Imagine you’re one of those X-Factor contestants that really think they can sing but are tone deaf and couldn’t carry a tune if a bucket was strapped to them to carry one in! Just play.

Like anything, it takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth it. I challenge you to play the djembe for 15 minutes and tell me how you feel afterwards? It’s invigorating. Much better than a gym workout, in my opinion – one, because you don’t have to be a super-athlete to do it, and both body and MIND get the benefit.

See, meditation doesn’t have to be freaky hippie stuff – it can be cool musician stuff (I know, sometimes, it’s the same thing…but yeah… I encourage you; give it a go).

Anywho, hand drumming is a great place to start your music therapy journey. And, you don’t have to join a circle (that just gives an added social/community type thing to it – it is fun to make music with others) – just get yourself a hand drum (again, I highly recommend the djembe) and begin. I am certain you will feel the benefit straightaway.

To comfort…to assuage (mederi).

If you follow my blog, you know I am a professional musician and have been singing since the age of 4. I am now nearly, coughcoughcough, shuddershudder, 40.  Throughout the whole of my existence, music has always been a great comfort to me. I have used my voice and the piano (mostly) to express myself, to express my emotions, my pain…to be the voice of my soul. Now, I am learning a new way to use music.

While I have always known music to be powerful and therapeutic, I am now using it in a specific and meditative (mederi) way and this has led me to expand from my comfort zone of voice and strings hit with hammers.

I am presently embarking on learning what I call “my second voice”.  This week, a dear friend of mine (another person I met because of this here series of books) sent me the exceptionally special gift of two Native American style wooden flutes.  And, when I play them, they speak to something deep within me and they become the voice of my soul, in that moment.  The sound resonates and clears my head.

Music therapy.  Awesome stuff.

Life blows.

I also had an appointment with a doctor this week who finally seemed to listen to me and see how badly I was struggling – crippled and not really living – because of my mental health. It was nice to hear someone who knows what they are talking about say that you can’t just choose to be happy; it’s a chemical thing. It was also nice to hear that she was going to get me properly diagnosed and see I eventually get some more specific help for my case. Refreshing. It won’t happen overnight; I still have to jump through some nhs hoops, but…there might be some hope, and that’s a big something. What do I do in the meantime?

Blow back! Oh, and I’m a musician, I welcome all your blowing jokes, innuendo, and double entendres…be my guest. Blow it, beat it, finger it, baby! 😉 It’s all good.

Yeah, it was nice to finally say to someone, “Really, there’s never a time I’d choose life (existing) over death…I’d always prefer to die,” and not have them give me some stupid, high and mighty response made in some effort to shame me into appreciating the “gift of life”. No, she listened, she understood, she promised to help. Now we see. And, for the moment… I play on.

Support my music. You can help me while I "play on".

Support my music. You can help me while I “play on”.

A Beautiful Experience

Last night I had a unique experience. I played to a group of people who appreciated my music. This is in stark contrast to having people be outwardly impressed by my voice or inwardly jealous of my talent. It was different to any other time of either secularly performing or “spiritually ministering”.

In the church, people either show off their talent (in an “I’m better than you” sort of way) and boast in it (in the name of God, of course) or they have some sort of false humility and run from anything that smacks of either fame OR true appreciation for the gifting. And, no one would admit it, but the jealousy is everywhere. And, also, no matter what they say, they are waiting for you to impress them. At least that’s the way it was at the last church I went to.

Secularly, you better be impressive. They want to be ENTERTAINED. “Come on! Entertain me!” and the awareness of music as a spiritual gift that has something to impart is lost to the entertainment. I like to entertain, but there is so much more to music…to the innate power of music. It is healing. It is therapy. Entertainment is such a shallow side to it. And, entertainment should NOT be confused with fun. Fun is almost always entertaining (and healthy) while entertainment is not always fun (or healthy). The proven practices of music therapy should be ample proof of this.

Last night was not a “Autumn, that was nice, but could you do something else?” “Oh, not your stuff, Autumn…sing us something we KNOW!” (Well, ahem, you’d KNOW it if you LISTENED to it!) In other words, “Could you not be you but what we want you to be?” It can be a very soul-crushing experience.

Last night, gently singing Journey’s End for a local meditation group, it was as if the song – and I – was received as a gift. There was not an attitude of, “impress me, entertain me, but/and, if you do, I’ll hate you for it”; there was a refreshing, delightful attitude of…thankfulness. There was a pure receptiveness that fed MY soul. I felt like I was, in truth, ministering in music.

I was glad to give, but I received most of all. It was beautiful. And, it was very worth a note of blogging about.

A Private Audience

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This afternoon I sat down at the piano and played and sung some of my songs, for myself.

Not rehearsing. Not working on new arrangements. Just enjoying the music, the lyrics and – yes, I’ll say it – the sound of my own voice.

Now, performing for a crowd is one of the biggest delights in my existence. When I’m not doing it on a regular basis, it isn’t long before I feel a piece is missing; I appreciate every opportunity I am given to do what I love doing. It’s more than “entertaining”. While I believe that the songs I write and I sing in my shows are good and that my voice is unique, powerful and moving, I don’t know if, honestly, “entertaining” is the right word. I kind of think if I’ve merely entertained an audience, I haven’t succeeded in what I’ve come to do. Not that there is anything wrong with entertainment…it’s just that music is soooo much MORE than that. Or, it can be so much more than that (because music is spiritual in nature). However, if someone has come for nothing more than to be entertained – and that is all they receive – so be it; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed (at least, I hope not), but I always endeavour there to be more there…to touch deeper, to go further, to leave fingerprints on the fabric of the soul which is beyond the ability of entertainment alone. And, when I listen to music or go to a concert, I am always personally disappointed if all that happened was that I was entertained.

So, today, it wasn’t about a little distraction (escape) from the relentless frustration of my (crappy) day, to come aside and amuse myself for a bit. It might have started that way, but it ended with feeding my soul and lifting it above the muck and mire (that’s the real power of music). These are songs with substance. Some are sad. Some are hopeful and comforting and encouraging. Some are prayer. All are honest expression. And, as I sat and played out the sorrows of the day, I was both performer and audience – and it was nothing so small as entertainment: this was important; this was therapy.