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.
I found myself reading the news compulsively. I watched as the country (and world) fell victim to a virus. We had awakenings on many levels. The racial injustice that was further exposed last year is horrendous and heartbreaking. The intense and often hate-filled polarity along political and religious lines continues to disturb me. I have sometimes struggled processing my own emotions to our rapidly changing world, as I tried to help my therapy clients do the same. I am continuing to try and listen more and show up as best I can.
One of the saving graces for me was found in Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion. Self-compassion allows me to pause and not get stuck in shame. It does not take away responsibility for my actions, it connects me to a shared humanity with others who are also struggling and gives me a way forward. I have used this passage from Neff’s work to help me when I am feeling I “should have done more.”
When I pause and note the difficulty of the moment, the action of kindness and compassion often settles on some kind of music, from listening, to writing, to playing. When I let self-compassion be my guide, my body and spirit let me know if I need to dance wildly to music to release pent up energy or sing out loud (emphasis on the LOUD) or sing tenderly or listen to a treasured album for comfort.
As I emerge from 2020, and light returns to my mornings and evenings, music seems to be bubbling and filling more and more moments. Creative inclinations are tingling in my fingers as I play my guitar and other instruments; I am humming and singing more. I realize that I learned quite a lot about connecting musically over the Internet. We have all been stretched in reaching out online to connect with others, even as we have had to reach inward to find meaning.
Music Across the Miles
It is not that online music was unavailable pre-COVID. These times just necessitated doing so much more of it. And the technology has been adapting and evolving to this need. I may have spent more hours this past year trying to figure out how to play music online than actually playing the music, but I’ve picked up some useful tools.
Online Concerts. I gave a CD Release YouTube concert in December, On the Journey (available on my YouTube channel). Friends and family who have never seen me perform had a chance to do so, from Northern Ontario to Southern California. I have also enjoyed seeing favorite artists offering music from their homes. Here is one of my favorites: Orpheus by Sara Bareilles
Online groups and classes. I learned a great song from a religious service I watched that took place in New York City. I have friends and therapy clients that have found kinship in various support groups and/or spiritual teachers from across the country and world.
Music making. I co-facilitated a Chant Circle through American Music Therapy Association with Daughters of Harriet (check us out on our Facebook page) via Zoom. The five of us Daughters each live in different states and usually only get to sing together once a year at conferences. I have also been singing weekly with the Open Circle Singers, a now-virtual community choir led by Peggy Taylor and David Edwards. I have been surprised by how much I enjoy being muted when others lead. I can accompany with any instrument I feel like playing and sing in any range without hurting others. Although, recently I forgot to mute my mic on a song, the look on everyone’s face informed me that my loud drumming did not match the tempo of the song. Oops! My self-compassion practicing sure helped with that moment.
Jamming together online can be a major boost and allow not only for fun jamming with friends, but open up possibilities for music therapists to work with people who are isolated or otherwise unable to receive services. Jamulus and JamKazam are two commonly used jamming sites. I look forward to more technological progress on making music together online!
I have been experimenting with recording in the app Acapella. Here is a song I wrote recently in reflection of the times and the polarization we are facing in our country. I am joined via video by my friend and colleague Samantha Sinai.
I look forward to the day when we can be making music together in person again. Nothing can replace that type of connection. Connecting with people online now has its place, too.
I look forward to singing with you more in 2021, on and off screen!
My mind was continuing to spiral even before I got out of bed. I did not want to start my day in anger and fear, so I put on some music (Meditation de Thais by Jules Massenet) via my iPad and headband headphones (so as to not wake my spouse). I allowed myself to continue to feel the pain and angst of the situation in our country/world but I let my body give in to the sweetness of the music. It did not change the crisis, but it did help me to start my day in more resourceful state. It is very easy to spiral into anxiety and hopelessness; music offers my body and spirit a comforting companion to easing some of those physiological and emotional responses.
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.