Reflections on Music and Life
I sleep really well. Sometimes. Other times, I engage in a familiar dance with interrupted sleep. For more than 40 years I have studied (anecdotally and scholarly) the notion of a “good night’s sleep.” Here is what I have gleaned from this adventure.
Joys of the night
Honestly, there is something very sweet about my time in the middle of the night. It is quiet. In my busy life, peaceful moments in the night are unscheduled and free. Lyrics to songs, fruitful problem solving, intense emotional venting on journal pages – all have been explored in these nocturnal moments.
What’s the big deal about sleep, anyway?
The initial shut down seemed to offer “time outside of time” - previously scheduled time that was now available. I thought it might be a chance for me to delve deeper into music, to write more songs, sing and work on my instrumental musical chops. But it didn’t exactly work out that way. 2020 left me feeling more stunned and less industrious, feelings of fear and uncertainty settled in as the year unfolded.
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. Buddha
As we head indoors with the dimming of daylight hours, many of us light candles and seek the warmth of a welcoming hearth. Sometimes a soft glowing light can seem even brighter in midst of darkness. This time indoors offers a chance to pause from our rush-filled days. Stopping for even a moment or two can help to reset our intentions or transition from chaos to calm; it is a chance to check-in and honor our own body/mind/spirit. In the spirit of the Buddhist practice of Loving Kindness, starting with love of self is a required first step. Each one of us has unique gifts that are needed to be acknowledged and shared in this world. In these times, now more than ever, we all needing to show up with whatever we have and who we are, and shine as bright as the moment will allow.
George Bernard Shaw said, Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
Playing beyond the barlines is an invitation for tapping into an intuitive experience with music …. when the heart leads over the dictates of the mind. Barlines are markers in musical notation that imply structure and order for music making.
I first really learned about crossing the barlines through my work as a music therapist with people who were dying. The people, their challenges and triumphs, opened my heart in ways I could not have predicted; nothing and everything mattered with the utmost intensity. The music served to address their physical and emotional experiences. Physically, that may have included my improvisational guitar playing that connected with someone’s pain and moved that individual toward a little more ease or softening of that pain. Emotionally, that may have included singing a song together that gave pause and touched the soul. Moving beyond the barlines taught me the power of music to transcend any given moment.
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world.
In fact, it is the only thing that ever has!” Margaret Mead
I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Suffice it to say, I have a renewed sense of why I make music. Her book gives encouragement and permission to fully delve into all parts of music making and composing in a freeing way that I hadn’t fully embraced.
Gilbert explored the notion of having a love affair with your art. Let it love you and help you dive deep to find whatever needs to be found. She debunks the notion of the "tortured artist" as the quintessential way to make art. It does not need to be a battle with conquerors and sub-missives. It can be an unfolding of layers upon layers.
“Forgive me if I don’t have the words, maybe if I sing it, you’ll understand.”
When we sing together we share a common voice, we are taking our breaths at roughly the same time, our words align, we create a collective sound together, and we sometimes harmonize. We can sing together even if we hold vastly different worldviews. Singing together does not mean that suddenly we agree on how to govern or live in this world. It means that for those moments, we are together and united in song.
“My 3rd grade teacher told me to mouth the words.”
“Even my parents have told me not to sing!”
“I was born with zero musical talent.”
Heard these laments before? Said one of them yourself?
Shaming experiences with music can stay with us for a lifetime, preventing us from rewarding music-making experiences.
“If I accept myself as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers
Shame is the opposite of that statement. It is that self-loathing experience of not feeling good enough. If I had a magic wand and the ability to create an immediate change in people, I would wave it to help recognize shame and transform it to love and acceptance of self. This does not absolve us of our wrongdoings; on the contrary, it gives us the opportunity to change rather being stuck in our shame.