Thursday, August 6, 2009

Essay--On angry music

The Healing Powers of Music and Anger Issues

One of the issues regarding music awareness that comes up in my life a lot is use of dark, fear-driven lyrics and music that feels like an assault on the nervous system. While I understand that a lot of people feel powerless, especially women, children and young adults, I do not believe that listening to music performed by another angry person will heal or empower anyone. If anything the listeners will identify too strongly with self-righteous anger and end up in a dualistic situation. I have experienced this first hand and know the results.

I believe strongly in the power of words, intention and sound. I also believe that a fearful and angry person can infect an entire room. I am not blaming a person for their emotions, nor am I asking anyone to repress their emotions. A person who comes from a fearful and angry place needs love and support, but in a way that enables the person to evolve as a human being and travel through their emotions to a safe place. Emotional Freedom Technique, shamanic soul retrievals, and other types of energy healing can be employed along with various types of music.

When I was in my youth and for most of my adult life, I dealt with anger issues. While I never acted out in a violent way physically, I did sabotage many opportunities and I manifested numerous enemies because of my anger and fear issues. I lived in a world of victim and martyr mentality. And I found it too easy to point the finger of blame at others rather than take responsibility for my own healing.

I spent my twenties and thirties listening to a lot of angry alternative rock. And my own music was melancholic at best, and ravaging at worse. Instead of seeking win-win situations with political leaders, bosses, etc..., I became overly critical missing the fact that we are human, we all make mistakes, and we can all be redeemed. I am not however saying that we should not right wrongs and strive for a real lasting peace in the world. Only that the world cannot heal until each of us focuses on healing ourselves, one emotion at a time.

Now when it comes to music, I don't think that all classical music is healthy, harmonious and happy, nor do I believe that all rock music is toxic, since a lot of it has some good qualities and maybe even provides some much needed humor. But what I have seen too often and I feel greatly disturbed by it is that music when produced a certain way can have a drug-like effect on its listeners. And sometimes that effect with is fight or flight syndrome, can cause a listener to act out in violence in the worse case scenario or carry around angry energy that does not belong to them, but more or less to the performers of the angry song or songs. Which then multiplies the listener's own anger and depression.

I know when I am around angry music, being the sensitive sponge that I am, suddenly I feel tense and angry when I did not feel like that previously. In contrast, if I find myself in a foul mood (we all have them, spiritual or not), I listen to music that I know will help me to transcend, not mask that foul mood. I also combine Emotional Freedom Technique or some other energy work while listening to the music if I am in a deep funk.

Now, I know many of you reading this essay are not going to agree with me on this topic. It is written from my own observations and experiences with music. I transformed my life from deep unrelenting anger and depression to enjoying the natural world around me, relating to people in a more peaceful manner and feeling physically better than I ever have in my entire life. I connect all of this to the music I choose to have in my life. I tried other healing modalities and therapies for years, but this anger did not subside until I changed my music diet. The other modalities chipped away at my anger which I then replaced by listening to more music with dark tones and heavy emotions.

That's not to say that folk music, blues, fado and flamenco which provides a passionate outlet could not help with anger issues. These types of music, including tango and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony provide healthy cathartic outlets. And sometimes not understanding the lyrics sung in a different language than our own, proves helpful too because then the listener is dealing with pure emotions.

We are all different. We all have different needs, experiences, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I take all of this into consideration. However, I ask those folks out there dealing with anger issues or working with others with those issues to try a new approach. Research various types of drumming and chanting practices from around the world, and employ music with the opposite emotion when dealing with anger issues, even if that peaceful music is only played in the background of a therapy session.

And if you are dealing with severe repressed emotions combine Emotional Freedom Technique which can get to the core of an issue quite rapidly. Also look into Margaret Ruby's work with releasing ancestral emotional patterns from the DNA. Her comprehensive book, The DNA of Healing is a great place to start.

I want to end with I felt a strong intuitive urge to write this essay. I encourage you to read the interviews and articles on this blog which deal more with healing clients and humanity, if this is a topic that interest you. The reviews provide a list of healthy musical choices, that will interests some people and not others. I try to provide a variety of types of recordings for various musical palettes. It is my hope that the information I provide acts as a stepping stone to more research and exploration of the healing powers of music. And like all medicine, we must choose the right music for the right situation, relying on our intuition to do so.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In review--Taking it to DC

Cheick Hamala Diabate
Ake Doni Doni (Take it Slow)
Grigri Discs

I imagine that we Americans need a West African griot and n’goni player advising our government representatives. Malian n’goni player and musical diplomat has exchanged culture and I hope humanitarian ethics with members of the U.S. Congress and “hobnobbed with American string and blues legend Bela Fleck to Corey Harris…”

According to the press release, “As the resident griot of DC, Diabate happily take on a very traditional role of in his adopted home where he has lived since 1995. He still earns his living the old fashion way—praising notables and legitimizing leaders and garnering generous rewards for his songs.” However, the songs on Ake Doni Doni also teach politicians, the media and other Washington DC dwellers how to be better parents, better leaders and to heal themselves of a “grab fast” mentality which Diabate addresses in the titular song.

Take a listen to Astou Diabate’s fiery vocals on Oude Diallo where she gives her unwavering support to the griot tradition. And throughout the recording listeners are treated to masterful n’goni (West African banjo) playing, a rush of calabashes, brass, kora and Corey Harris’ slide guitar. American influences could be heard here with the big brass sound, slide guitar and organ that appears on the opener--which falls into the West African reggae groove.

So you can sleep well tonight knowing that at least one griot is hard at work pushing ethics at the U.S. Capital with his rousing songs. I just hope that members of the U.S. Congress shake their souls and awake when hearing these songs. How can they not with the peace-loving music on this disk?

In conversation: Jazz Guitarist Stanley Jordan

WM Tapping into the Healing Powers of Music: Conversation with Stanley Jordan

Guitarist and composer Stanley Jordan easily falls into that category of musician-healer-shaman, even though he might not refer to himself as a shaman. Known for his pioneering tapping technique for guitar and his intriguing recordings, Jordan is also an advocate for music therapy and a practitioner in his own right.

A visit to Jordan’s website provides viewers with information about his the twists and turns of his music career, his discovery of the healing powers of music and an article about music therapy that promises to leave tears of compassion in your eyes.

His 2008 release, State of Nature reveals Jordan exploring the healing connection between the natural world and music. While I have yet to hear this recording, you can find information about the project on Jordan’s website.
I was fortunate to have caught up with the busy musician. A short interview follows.

WME: I think it was about two years ago when I heard an interview with you on KBCS-FM when I was residing in Seattle. You began talking about music therapy in the middle of the interview and I got goose bumps. You had mentioned playing guitar for massage patients. And you did this by an exchange of energy with the patient.Do you still perform this type of music therapy for massage and other patients?

Stanley Jordan: Yes, I've continued this work. Any of a massage therapist's gestures can be translated into musical gestures. I'd like to develop this more, codify it, and teach it.It works on a number of levels. A CD is only a fixed recording, but a live musician canimprovise music that perfectly fits each moment. The massage and the music blend into a single unified experience.

This integrates the auditory and the kinesthetic, which leads to a kind of transcendence.
Plus live music has more soul, which opens our higher awareness. By addressing the spiritual dimension, music allows the massage therapist's healing touch to resonate at every level of the patient's being. The result is a wide-spectrum healing response. One place I often do this work is at Bothell Integrated Health in Bothell, WA.

WME: I read the article you posted on your website in which you mention your own experiences with music's healing potential-you had the flu and felt better after jamming with a pianist. Other musicians including myself have experienced similar situations. Could you elaborate on this experience and how it led you on your current healing music path?

SJ: Once when I was in high school I arranged to get together and jam with a pianist who went to my school. I came down with the flu that day and I almost canceled. But I thought "If I'm going to feel bad today, I might as well be doing something I enjoy." Well, as it happened, she and I played for like 6 hours or something—it was a marathon session! And by the end I felt noticeably better. I felt that the music had processed the flu right through my system and greatly accelerated my healing.

WME: It looks like the article was written over ten years ago. However, you mention a list of music therapists, researchers and healers. You mention music employed anesthetics for children and as relief for people dying from AIDS and other diseases. This information would have been groundbreaking and new to a lot of folks in 1998. What have you discovered as a musician and proponent of music therapy that you would like to mention today that could be considered groundbreaking?

SJ: One promising new technique is called RAS (rhythmic auditory stimulation). Rhythmic sounds and music can improve coordination and control of movement for Parkinson's patients, stroke victims, people with traumatic brain injury and others.

WME: What aspect of music therapy would you like to explore further in the future? Where do you see your own music path heading?
SJ: I've done some work with playing live during surgical operations. Before the operation, making music with the patient can help them to deal with their feelings about their condition, the coming operation, and their whole journey to health.

During the operation, music can be a kind of anesthetic which helps the patient to feel calm both physically and emotionally. At first I play more abstract musical patterns rather than recognizable songs because I want to help the patient turn off their conscious mind and go to sleep. While the patient is under, I assume they can still hear the music on some level, but I focus more on helping the doctors and nurses to stay relaxed yet focused. And of course I'm mindful of not distracting them. At the end I welcome the patient back to the world with a beautiful song such as "Here Comes the Sun."

WME: Now with authors such as Oliver Sacks exploring music therapy in his 2007 book, Musicophilia and more information coming out about the effects of music on the brain, I hope to see an increased interests in music employed in hospital and clinic settings. But my concern after learning about psychoacoustics and exploring different types of music on my own body, is that not all music is healthy (heavy metal and grunge for instance with its angry lyrics and jarring sound feels unhealthy even druglike to me), but obviously John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Taj Mahal, Bob Marley....has a more positive effect.

SJ: I think we need to distinguish between music healing, which refers to the direct healing effect of music on the body, and music therapy, which focuses more on the therapeutic relationship between therapist and patient. In terms of music healing, I agree that heavy metal and grunge would probably not give the best results. But in terms of music therapy heavy metal and grunge might be just the right thing if they can help a therapist to build trust with a troubled child.*

*Disclaimer: Whole Music Experience does not endorse playing music that involves shouting, screeching guitars and angry lyrics (heavy metal, grunge...). While I recognize that therapists work with clients with repressed anger, outward anger, feelings of powerlessness etc..., I prefer Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as the musical remedy for these issues. This symphony starts out in angry place and by the end of the third movement, ends victoriously. Click on the labels "Venezuela" or "Beethoven Fifth Symphony" and you will pull up a review that discusses this symphony and at-risk youth.

For information about Stanley’s tour dates, recordings and work with music therapy, visit

This conversation appears in my book Whole Music