Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Practice: The Bach Remedy

I woke up this morning, with a storm slamming against the windows.  I decided to stay in bed longer and listen to Bach keyboard works.  I slipped Murray Perahia's Bach Partitas 2, 3 & 4 into my portable CD player and listened to Bach's solo piano via headphones.  The ostinato (bass line played with left hand), and the counterpoint so skillfully played by Perahia calmed my nerves.

My mind was racing at the time with thoughts tripping over each other. So I focused on the music, and listened intently while absorbing every nuance into my cells. About 15 minutes of listening to this recording, plus an eye pillow over my face, gave me the same affect as a half an hour of sitting meditation.

I realize that anyone who has read sound healing and healing music books would have seen Bach's music at the top of a healing music list.  Experts discuss the architecture and the mathematics of Bach's ingenuous compositions, not that I comprehend the intricacies of Bach's music. I recommend Bach's music for anyone who has a wandering mind and problems with concentration.  Listening to the solo instrument compositions leads to an absorbing experience.  But don't just put Bach on in the background and go about your business.  Take a good listen and feel your body absorb the music, pay attention to your heart beat and your body's rhythms as your body entrains to music.

I enjoy January and winter the least of all the seasons.  The dark, and gloomy sky often leads me into a deep funk or depression.  This year, I will make an effort to work with my musical toolkit, including Bach CDs to lift myself out of the darker realms and enjoy life again.  Have you tried the Bach remedy for the winter blahs?

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Practice: Keeping a Music Journal

After years of feeling affects of different types of music listened to in different settings, I came up with the concept of tracking responses to music via a journal. The benefits of keeping a music journal include, developing music consciousness (how music affects your mind, body, and spirit), exploring musical genres you wouldn't otherwise, and a journey into sound healing.

This exercise is more challenging for people with a short attention span or who live busier lifestyle. But the physical act of keeping a journal divided into columns with the headings Type of Music, Artist, time of day, emotional effects, and physical effects does the job.  You don't need to run out and buy a fancy leather bound journal, a cheap spiral notebook will do the job just as well.  So how do you get started?

First you purchase the journal and create the columns.  You can even keep an online journal using Access or Excel, if you spend more time in the typing mode.  Then you need to carve out at least two music listening sessions each day where you listen to a specific time of music, and track your physical and emotional responses.  Note the time of day makes a difference and so does the mood that you're in when you start the journal process.

For instance, I had a conversation with a music store owner who mentioned that he felt exhausted one day when he returned home.  His wife was listening to Cuban music at the time which irritated the nerves of the store owner.  It's not that he didn't appreciate Cuban music, but it's hardly the music you want to hear at the end of a long day when you just want to take a nap.  I know I've been there myself, the wrong music at the wrong time.  But that same music would prove useful during times when you need an extra boost of energy.  You need to listen to your body when choosing music.  Obviously this man is aware of how music affects him and has made conscious choices.  He doesn't need to keep a music journal.

People involved with music or sound healing are often conscious of how music affects them.  These lovely folks still take my workshops and I learn just as much from them as they do from me.  You can also keep a music journal (a small one in your bag or purse) to take notes for how ambient sounds and music you hear throughout your day affect you.

An example of this, one day I felt exhausted and I needed to drag myself to Best Buy.  Once I arrived at the store, I felt overwhelmed with rock music playing over the store system, television sets and stereos blaring throughout the store, etc...I thought I was going to experience a meltdown.  And you would think that going to an Aveda beauty school would provide a relaxing experience with sounds of nature and soothing music drifting through the background.  Not!  I once went to he Aveda school in Seattle where I was greeted by abrasive rock music which I sat through for the entire process of getting my hair cut.  Not only that I was situated near a wall that shook because of the washers and dryers on the other side.  You bet I took notes for how this sound experience affected me physically and emotionally.

I'll give you one last example of how the journal works.  You go to a bank and a piece by Ravel plays quietly in the background creating a relaxing atmosphere.  You wait in line, but you don't mind so much because the environment feels relaxing.  You take note of your emotional and physical responses to the music, and any changes it brought to your mood.  Later, you go to the library or a music shop and you check out a CD of Ravel.  You add this to your collection.

Once you have kept the music journal for several months, you will have an idea of the music that enhances your well being and music that you need to toss out.  We are all different so what works for one person won't for another.  Keeping a journal helps you to find what works for you as a unique individual.  I urge you to try keeping a music journal and then get back to me in a few months.  Let me know how it went.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Practice: Connecting to nature via music

I'm not writing about a new topic.   I write this essay in preparation for two workshops I plan on teaching this winter.  I adapted my course Exploring Music with Ecological Themes into a 2-hour workshop where I feature 5 songs hailing from diverse traditions.  We will explore the Finnish runo-song (sadly a fading tradition), indigenous music (haven't selected the tradition yet), the "wild bird jazz" of David Rothenberg and the sound healing-jazz of the late Marjorie De Muynck.  The exploration reads like a shamanic adventure, but my workshop also focuses on lost healing arts.

Sadly as a planet, we have mostly lost touch with the natural world and the purposes of music.  I feel that disconnected from nature and intentional music leads to dis-ease and destruction of the planet. If we perform ignorantly music with ill intentions then we lead ourselves further into dis-ease.  I cannot stress this enough.I see music used purposefully by advertisers who sell us products and I have seen music used purposefully by sound healers and music therapists with the intention of healing their clients.  I have seen music used purposefully for exercise such as with Zumba and I have seen drum circles use music purposefully.  So we are aware of the innate power of music and sound.

But how can we include music in our lives that allows us to connect with the natural world? Do we observe the natural sounds in our environment in the way that Marjorie De Muynck did with bees, hummingbirds, frogs, and bats? Do we join a pod of whales and play our clarinets along side them similar to David Rothenberg or sing with birds? Do we join indigenous people in communicating to non-humans via chants? These are some of the exciting options that exists at this time.  We can even connect to the waterways of the world through uplifting music, prayers, and chants (Dr. Emoto's work with water).  We can connect through the realm of sound and feel grounded in the process.

Half of my ancestry is Finnish and this lead me to the chants of the Saami people called yoiks.  This DNA connection also lead me to explore Finnish runo-songs and the Kalevala legend.  Now, if you have never heard of a Saami yoik, it's a chant to a person, place, or thing, usually an animal.  The chanter chants to the animal, picks up energy from the animal, and sends energy back through the chant.  I have yoiked in the past, mainly to squirrels and crows. And yes, through yoiking I felt deeply connected to the natural world.  In fact, I felt enchanted as if I entered another realm altogether.

Oddly, I recently read "Cesar's Way" by the dog whisperer Cesar Millan who mentions that dogs in particular pick up energy from us.  He didn't say that dogs pick up emotions, but energy.  Now, music is energy too and dogs respond to slow and simple classical music which provides a calming effect for canines.  But getting back to the yoik, we can now see that the ancient Saami knew about energy exchange with animals via sound waves.

Now if you reside in western Washington and this topic fascinates you, please enroll in my workshop, Exploring Music with Ecological Themes offered on Saturday, February 4, 2012 (10 a.m. to noon), through Whatcom Folk School.