As a musician I frequently experience the amazing boost that I get from engaging with a piece of music; when I am playing percussion/drumming; listening to a recording or watching music live on-stage.
One of my most moving experiences I experienced was whilst running a percussion & drumming workshop for a group of young people, some of whom were severely disabled. Part way through the session I noticed one of the helpers was crying. When I looked at her she just smiled, but afterwards she explained that the girl in her care who was particularly severely disabled & normally just sat there objecting or taking no interest (in any activity) had spontaneously started to bang her drum along with the rest of us.
Friends of mine who use music as a therapy tell me of these sorts of breakthroughs on a more regular basis.
It really is a case that music reaches the parts other things can’t.
I honestly have no idea, but perhaps it is because there is no-one in the way of that person experiencing a direct response to their interaction with the instrument. As they touch, stroke or hit, so the instrument speaks back to them. I use the term ‘speaks’ intentionally as there are many more ways to communicate than by words.
In fact I find words very limiting as a means of communication at times.
If we are with someone we love or admire & tell them, they are (usually) pleased. However, the experience is so much deeper when we allow other senses like touch to play a part. They don’t just hear it in words; the experience it.
The power of the musical experience was brought home to me again last night whilst watching the amazing Nell Bryden from Brooklyn, New York perform live last night with her band at Nottingham’s The Bodega. Sure, I’d heard the quality of her voice & her compositions as I’d almost lasered-out my CD from playing it so much, but to be in the room, experiencing her bringing those songs to life; it took everything to a totally new dimension. There was something very powerful in seeing four musicians work together to take a song & breathe new life into it by their sensitivity, awareness & contributions.
Nell Bryden’s performance also reminded me (again) how vulnerable artists are as they pour their passion into their musical creations. They are baring their soul for the audience to see.
Tied-up in all of Nell’s songs were personal experiences, often tragedy:
- Living only a mile away from 9/11 when it happened but not being able to write about it for 9 years
- Visiting troops in Iraq & seeing that like many of us when we’re away from home, they miss families, friends & loved-ones
- Waking-up to find that all of her hair had fallen-out through stress (a condition known as alopecia) & all the psychological effects that had & how she’d overcome them at potentially great risk to herself, her reputation & her career
- Learning within a short time of returning from a revitalising trip to New Orleans & making lots of new personal & musician friends there, that many were claimed in the disaster brought by Hurricane Katrina
So, perhaps it is something about the honesty of music that gets through our well-hardened outer skin & speaks much deeper? Writing & performing the songs has certainly been therapy for many of the musicians I know. Somehow, getting it out in song is cathartic (but I am not advocating music as an excuse for anger which is often destructive to both performer & listener).
I know this is a huge & diverse area, but if my ramblings today have sparked or re-sparked an interest in finding rejuvenation through music (listening or playing an instrument) then it has been worth the effort.
My only word of advice I guess is don’t be afraid to experiment & try out new musical forms if your usual ‘favourite’ doesn’t help. I remember listening to a piece of classical music, almost by accident, that opened up a whole new experience for me. I can almost guarantee that you won’t like everything you listen to; but hopefully you will find something that helps.
Until next time …