Monday, October 4, 2010
Is it the music that heals?
I’ve read a few studies that suggest that there is a genetic component to compassion and empathy in humans. It develops in infanthood and is engrained to assure we won’t always go around killing each other without some feeling because, after all, that wouldn’t be good for the continuation of the species the studies suggest. As a musician I know without a doubt the power of music to heal, lift the spirits, and soothe the soul. Recently on a trip with a dear friend to MD Anderson hospital for some pretty serious tests I was reminded just how important music is to comfort and elevate the mood.
I drove my friend fifteen hours to Houston taking three days to do it because he was in such pain. It is so hard to see anyone in pain, much less someone you care about. For many years I have played my Native American flute in Hospice and hospital settings and was aware of the emotional impact it had. I couldn’t see the people I was playing for but the families and loved ones would find me as I was leaving and tell me how for just a moment their loved one was peaceful, breathed deeper and slower or smiled at a familiar tune. When my Greyhound Chipo passed over it was such a sad night as I held her in my lap while my flute music was on loop in the bathroom stereo. She would sit as I played and practiced and I knew this would comfort her. When my Greyhound Ancho passed over I held her in the cold Vet’s office petting and comforting her and asked them to play my CD as we eased her pain. I have men come to me at my shows in tears saying they have never cried at a concert before until hearing me. It is such an honor because I know how hidden people are about their emotions. Yes music heals, but not always the music you think.
So driving back from Houston my friend was feeling quite down having some hard to digest news. All the music I was playing just made me nervous. I have stopped listening to news period. It is too much gossip. So I said hey you brought your iPod plug it in. Soon sing-along tunes were blaring. See, this is what I mean by healing is personal, like musical taste. So many think only a certain type of music should be healing, but it really is whatever music makes someone feel good. If it is Guns and Roses, Opera, Pop, New Age it doesn’t matter. It isn’t for us as musicians to presume to know what will be comforting or healing. Just play the damn thing with all your heart and hope it touches someone. Once I was playing in Hospice and played Summertime, the Gershwin song on the Native Flute. It is also part of the Jazz standard collection of songs. When I was packing up a woman came out and told me thank you and that her husband was a saxophone player in the past and it was the first time in six months she had seen him smile. I felt lifted by a cloud of gratitude.
As I help my friend through his challenges, adjust my schedule, cancel gigs, worry very much about income I think about my life as a musician. Also I think about who is my support system and realize I don’t really have one. A friend visiting me in Houston said I have a lot I’m going through. I don’t think so. It isn’t me who is facing the challenge of serious illness, side effects, pain and laying out end of life decisions like so much paperwork. I’m just a trusting comfort who happens to have the time because I make music for a living. I’ve never needed a support system, or admitted I needed one. My family is wonderful but come with born again baggage, no offense of course; my listeners want me funny, happy and positive. My friends—well I just don’t know. So I retreat into my music balancing the path of making art and music that never stops flowing with the increasingly hard task of supporting myself. I suspect I will be doing my best to continue to comfort people and make them feel something through my music. That said I’ve learned that sometimes the most healing sound is the silence of your breath just being present.
Maybe listening to music is one of the things in life that doesn’t require a judgment. You know, you listen and it happens without you needing to react. It doesn’t care about your body language or facial expression or if your texting while it plays. It is comfort, like a friend. And to me, that is what a friend should be, someone who is willing to be with you, unconditionally. I only aspire to that.
This weekend I’ll be performing a rare solo concert in Las Cruces where I live. It is Sunday, October 10, at 2:00PM part of the “Afternoon Concert Series” at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, 225 W. Griggs Ave, Las Cruces, NM 88005. I look forward to this. This is something I’ve been pursuing for about 5 years and received an unexpected message out of the blue. What an honor considering the caliber of people who have performed there. Check my calendar for more info. Hope to see you there.
Here is a sing-along tune from my cd A Place Called Peace: