Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Practice: Your Musical Evolution in 3 Suites

photo by Patricia Herlevi

Just like we wouldn’t try wearing shoes we wore as a child, as adults, our musical tastes and experiences evolve over time.  We might even discard genres of music in the wake as we evolve spiritually and our minds and bodies mature.  Certain songs will bring only sad memories and hanging onto those memories or songs no longer serves us.  Other types of music provide bridges from one genre to the next.

For instance, when I began evolving from alternative rock to world music, I discovered the new tangos of Astor Piazzolla, African pop, and archival fados.  I began hearing my first strains of jazz and Cuban music, such as Perez Prado’s mambos (  When I first began listening to world music I listed to global pop music as opposed to field recordings or traditional music played on traditional instruments.  Then over the following decade, I embraced global jazz and European classical along with art music from the Middle East and the East.

After I learned the basics of psycho-acoustic tools, and I took sound healing workshops where I experienced sound frequencies shifting the energies in my body and mind, not to mention, helping my soul evolve, I went through a purification stage. I couldn’t listen to any electronic music, not even new age CDs with synthesizers.  Ironically, I came out of this stage when I heard strains of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke while shopping for groceries.   

This led me on a nostalgic trip which helped me heal issues from my teen angst years. When I immersed myself in soul and funk music of the 1970s and 1980s, I noticed that my sensitivities to some pop music elements had subsided, but barely.  I still couldn't handle high-pitch guitar solos or anything loud and jarring.  Programmed drums were out too, but I could handle some synthesizer if it sunk into the background with acoustic instruments in the forefront.

I realize we’re all different.  Some humans have stronger nerves and constitutions.  They don’t sink into depression or anxiety easily, and their mellow attitudes can handle more stimuli than more sensitive types who hear a loud sound and their bodies go into fight or flight or freeze.  And it is up to each of us to discern which category we reside--sensitive or desensitized.  When you think about it these two types balance each other out.  Obviously, we need people with stronger nervous systems to deal with emergency situations and sensitive types to handle nurturing and healing situations.

The problems arrive when we bring music to communities that consist of both types.  The sensitive types need less stimuli in the form of softer and slower tempo music to relax their delicate nervous systems.  While the stronger types need louder and faster stimuli to get them up on their feet and into action.  Since I fall into the sensitive category, showing up at events with louder stimulating music gives me a headache.  Does this mean that both my musical tastes and types of life experiences have evolved in tandem? After all, people who don’t like loud, and crowded events aren’t going to naturally gravitate toward loud staccato music.

The stronger types who need more stimuli fall asleep during chamber music or other classical music concerts.  Smooth jazz or new age music won’t work for these folks either.  As we evolve musically, and if we pay attention to our body’s needs, we discern where our musical tastes have evolved.  And I wonder if age has anything to do with this evolution.  When I was in my 20s louder music didn’t bother me and it kept me awake on nights when I had to study for a final exam.  The louder or quicker tempo music acted like caffeine boosting my energy levels when I needed it.  But now in my middle age years, I find myself listening to music I once deemed for mama’s boys.  I find myself listening to and enjoying nostalgic lyrics or love songs without any jaded sentiments.  A sweet melody moves me to tears.

Suite One: Nostalgia

What role does nostalgia play with music? Do we find ourselves listening to music from other eras of our lives out of habit or because that music could lead us on a healing journey? If we only listen to music out of habit then it’s time to become more conscious about our musical choices and ask some challenging questions.

For instance if hearing an old song that reminds us of a romantic breakup or painful period in our lives then that song could be used in a therapeutic setting.  If the song triggers emotions, allow those emotions to surface and release them once and for all.  You might find that the song no longer appeals to you after releasing the stuck emotions.  Or you might notice that you are able to forgive yourself or others after listening to the song for release purposes.

If you are just listening to a song out of habit or to cling to another time in your life, then it’s time to let the song and the memories go.  Don’t squeeze your feet into childhood shoes because you have changed since that time.  True, a song you loved in your childhood now has ironic meanings that you didn’t sense during your childhood. 

Suite Two: Exploring New Music

Astor Piazzolla, Wikipedia
Think of yourself as a pioneer heading into new lands.  Even with the internet making the world look smaller, it’s still larger than we imagine.  Musical cultures await your exploration especially the music from your heritage and lineages.  When I took my first steps that would begin my global musical journey (I’m still on it), I felt my heart fluttering in my chest with excitement and it felt like trying new food from exotic locations.  When I read books about ethnomusicologists I felt a kinship with these musical explorers.

Explore one genre at a time or immerse yourself in several.  One thing that will happen if your current diet is mostly rock and pop music, and that is, you’ll discover roots such as the troubadour tradition of ancient times that now shows up with singer-songwriter material. And if you don’t have funds to travel, exploring music and culture from other parts of the world and satiate your travel and exploration appetite until you can pack your bags and travel to other places.   

Also if you don’t have funds seek out free folk music festivals (which don’t only feature singer-songwriters or what most people think of as folk music) or head to the local library to check out world music CDs.  Look for free or low-cost classical music events in your city or town and local libraries usually have a good classical collection of the most popular operas, symphonies, and composers.  Start with a composer you already know about such as Mozart or Beethoven.  Don’t start out with J.S. Bach since his music needs some explanation before fully appreciating it.  However, if a local ensemble happens to produce a Bach concert with lectures, put on your explorer hat and go.

Suite Three: Keep a Music Diary

Call it a music diary or call it a music travel log, but keep track of your musical experiences in a notebook.  Keep track of your emotional and physical responses to your first and subsequent encounters with the types of music you have explored.  Since your tastes and music sensibilities develop and evolve over time, that field recording that turned you off at the beginning of your journey might turn you on later.

Your musical tastes evolve also through all the knowledge about different cultures and music you acquire on your journey.  This is the main reason why I taught music appreciation classes and hosted a music-based community radio show for a year (2008) so that I could plant seeds about various types of music in listeners or students’ minds.  Unfortunately, I taught music appreciation classes to people 55+ and so I wasn’t able to reach younger music audiences.  I also ended up playing nostalgic music samples in class rather than more modern approaches.  Again, older people have sensitive nervous systems so sticking with what they already know was the healthiest route.

Your journey will differ from mine.  You might stay in the modern era or time travel to ancient Egypt.  Your past lives might influence your musical tastes or you meet people who introduce you to their favorite genres of music.  But regardless of the twists and turns in your journey, keep a music diary.  Years later you can refer back to your first musical stumbling with a nostalgic gleam in your eyes.

And if you wonder if I kept a music diary, the answer is no and I regret that omission.  You will track your musical evolution through the music diary and you might find that halfway through your journey you’re giving lectures and teaching workshops about your favorite musical discoveries. 

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