What was taken from you? Where do we get it back?

I went to the INARS conference this past week, and I’ve taken away so many learnings that I don’t know where to begin. But I was inspired today when I walked into a cafe for lunch and heard a song.

If you were conscious during the early ’90s, you undoubtedly know this song. It starts with the repeated words: “In the middle of the – I go walking in the – In the middle of the – I go walking in the – ”

Are we there? Yeah. The song is Billy Joel’s mega-hit from 1993, “River of Dreams.” Now, before I left for the conference, I hadn’t heard this song, or hadn’t paid attention to it, in years. But in a bar in Landsdowne Street with friends, having dinner before a They Might Be Giants concert with dear friends, I heard it, and my friend did too. We both started singing along together:

In the middle of the night (middle of the night)
I go walking in my sleep (walking in my sleep)
From the mountains of faith (mountains of faith)
To a river so deep (river so deep)…

We sang along and boogied from the bar to our tables and commented on how long it had been since we’d heard that song, and what a good song it was. I mumbled along to a lot of the faster lyrics, and we moved on to dinner.

Today, after therapy, after talking about everything I’d been through at the conference, I heard it again in the cafe: In the middle of the night…

And I stopped, because I was hearing words I’d never heard before.

And I’ve been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

This weekend, we focused on soul: what feeds us, where we feel at home, how we connect to passion, to center, to power, to connection itself. As part of that, we talked about the thwarts to passion: what does your passion call you to do, and what gets our way?

An important learning from this was that most of the time, the thing thwarting us is not of us. We may have internalized it, sure, but it was something done to us. “Something taken out of my soul. Something I would never lose. Something somebody stole.” Or, something somebody put there, something that doesn’t belong, that we should never have been forced to carry.

One fellow Synergist felt the sense of the thwart so deeply that she was convinced it was all her, and said it felt like a bunch of heavy locks. Gently but with laser clarity as always, one of the program heads, Noel Wight, told her: Very few people put locks inside themselves, just naturally, on purpose. It’s possible that this Synergist was the one who put them there. But what drove that action? What was the message she received that told her: lock yourself away. You are too much to take. Your passion burns too hot. Be quiet. Keep it to yourself.

What was stolen from her? What was put in its place?

And how do we get those things back? How do we return to ourselves, to a place where our passion, our will, can flow freely?

The answer differs for each person, but it starts with the body. What movement is restricted now, as a result of that thwarting, that theft, that abuse, that grasping, that constant imposition? Whatever it was, what movement can we use to restore ourselves to ourselves?

Here’s an example: for me, it was space. I got the message repeatedly that I took up too much space: I was too big, my laugh was too loud, I ate too much, and I needed to follow the rules, keep my legs together, and be a lady. So is is any surprise that now my hips are tight, I squeeze my shoulders into their sockets, my ribs get compressed, and I can’t take a full breath?

The restoration of my width, my length, my breath, my available space – this is the work that I need to do to restore my connection to passion, my soul, my source, and my sense of direction: where I am going in my life, and who gets to decide?

When we turn to the body and seek the source of our tensions, our aches, our habitual movements that hold us back, we begin to see other possibilities for movement, other ways that we can be, move, and live.

Contact me if you want some help doing this for your own life.

Watching music wake people up


Scott Allen Jarrett, center, with some of the residents of Compass in Hopkinton

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to do something wonderful with the Back Bay Chorale – a great volunteer chorus I’ve talked about here in the past.  Under the auspices of their new Bridges program, we have been visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities in small groups, singing well-known songs to seniors in all stages of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  Our foray this weekend was to Hopkinton, where 15 of us sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Ave Verum Corpus,” standards like “Moonglow” and “All the Things You Are,” and a sing-along medley of The Sound of Music.  The audience consisted of a cohort of Alzheimer’s patients – this was the first facility we’ve gone to that was entirely a locked Alzheimer’s unit – and an energetic, positive staff.

Our mini-chorus

Our mini-chorus

One sharp old character – a former professor at BU whom the director addressed as “Doctor” – kept asking to see the words of the songs so he could better sing along.  One woman in the front row kept saying “wonderful,” and sang along to the standards, knowing every word.  Others were less responsive, but one woman simply opened her mouth and sang.

The response we received reminded me powerfully of a video I shared in another post, in which an almost entirely unresponsive man is brought to sudden lucidity by listening to a familiar song.  Aw heck, it’s so good, here it is again:

I keep being floored by the effect that music can have on the brains and hearts of people who are watching their lives and memories fade.  After we sang one of the jazz standards, one woman exclaimed, “That takes me back, oh, about 25 years!”  The brightness that came into these people’s eyes, the clarity, was at moments stunning.

I’m looking forward to more of this, and more research on how music can help restore, even temporarily, a person’s sense of self, time, and place.

Why does music make us cry?

Everyone knows how a song can open us to emotion.  Most of us probably have songs that make us cry, songs that make us nostalgic for our youth, songs that make it impossible not to dance.  And as we go into the holiday season, there are doubtless songs that make us homicidal, particularly the ones that get repeated endlessly on piped-in mall music.

Some of this can be attributed to memory and meaning: the song was playing during our first kiss, or the words remind us of a lost love.  But some of it is purely the music itself.  Have you ever had the experience of a particular violin or cello strain cracking you open?  Of certain music making you cry, because, for whatever reason, it aches?

Science is still studying why it’s the case that music can have such a powerful emotional effect.  A recent study showed that listening to music can affect how we perceive neutral human faces: happy music makes us see them as happier, for example.  But why it has this effect is not fully known.

One theory the writer of the Scientific American article linked above has is that music is connected with human movement.  Music, after all, is a series of sounds made possible by human movement: breath, pressure, bowing, pressing keys, strumming strings, striking drums, and so on.  And music inspires us to dance, or to close our eyes and go inside ourselves to listen.  

Ilana Rubenfeld trained as a symphonic conductor at Julliard, and was herself a violinist. Her approach to her work was highly musical, and she knew how powerfully music was connected to emotion.  She saw our bodies as our most valuable instruments, and our lives as ongoing symphonies.  That may sound Pollyannic, but it may actually be literally true, and may be the key to discovering why music is so – literally – moving.

In my sessions, I strive to connect the person I’m working with to their own internal instrument.  To listen to their own breath, to be moved by their own movements (interesting that sections of symphonies and concertos are also called “movements”), to discover what their song sounds like right now.  Some people are more musical than others, but most people can be connected to their rhythms, to the pulse of what makes them human and alive.

To connect with your own rhythm and find your song again, get in touch with me.


The art of asking

Amanda Palmer, late of the Dresden Dolls and ever-itinerant, fascinating, fearless musician and artist, did a TED talk in which she shows how she got people to pay for music in the digital age – by asking them.

This talk reminds me how difficult it is for people to connect with each other, social media explosion notwithstanding.  How hard it is to hold eye contact for more than a moment; how hard to hold out your hand to someone, to speak to a stranger, to allow contact.

Watch it and learn.

Carmina Burana, the bombings, and being an artistic first responder

On Monday night, I returned to rehearsal with the Back Bay Chorale. We rehearse on Newbury Street, about a block from where the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, and since we rehearse on Mondays, last week’s rehearsal was a no-go.  But this past Monday, we were back, and our fearless leader Scott Allen Jarrett had some beautiful things to say.

Many of us probably felt a bit helpless on the day of the event, but many of us also tried to find ways to respond that would be productive in some way.  As not all of us can be first responders, or firefighters, or police, or doctors, we looked for ways to connect.  To help the grieving.  To begin the healing.  Scott plugged us choristers in to what it is that we do, and how much it truly helps.  Here is an excerpt from his letter to us:

As creative people, we feel the impulse to actively participate in making music, as affirmation of our communities. And in so doing, we each become ‘first responders’ of a sort. Some of you sang the Brahms Requiem last night. Others of us sang Messiah Saturday night. Still others raised the roof of the Garden with the National Anthem at the Bruins game.

Tonight we’ll gather to rehearse Carmina Burana. There is no In Paradisum or Selig sind die Toten, a Heaney sonnet, or even an energetic Et vitam venturi. But these texts are in our shared musical vocabulary. They are the reason we can so ably and readily respond in time of need. We have practiced being a community before. And we will do just that tonight and next Monday and in all our future rehearsals and performances….

Most of the time, I’m interested to care for the music, and in so doing, care for one another, each receiving in her own way. And so tonight, come and sing, work hard and sing more right notes, get better, learn a few more words. But let’s ‘lean forward’ together and look for ways to care for one another. This practice of community is and will be a healing and necessary affirmation for us all.

At the rehearsal itself, he drew us together still more, his voice breaking a few times as he gave his earnest self to us, and to the music, yet again.

I am struck, again and again, by how healing music is, and how intimately related it is to the body, especially for singers.  The ability to literally move vibrations through our bodies and produce sound, which then enters our own ears and others’, and which literally moves us and changes us, is a powerful gift.  Sound, as psychology professor Anne Fernald explains, is like touch at a distance, and so the intimate relationship between Ilana Rubenfeld’s musicianship and her healing work begins to make more sense.

I feel blessed to be able to work with singers as a singer, and also, to work with performing artists as a healer.  As we work together, we help each other to become more responsive – rather than reactive – in situations where what is called for is contact, community, and harmony.


The healing power of music

Music 01754
I’ve written here before about how music touches lives, opens hearts, and even brings back memory.  Music may not be entirely unique to humans, but it is definitely a primal need: throughout our history, music has soothed us, aided us in celebration and in mourning, been indispensable in our rituals, driven cultural revolutions, fueled protests, and been one of the most popular forms of entertainment for centuries, whether it’s Grandpa on the porch with a banjo or Madonna on an arena stage surrounded by sexy dancers and pyrotechnics.

When considering RSM, it’s helpful to recall that before she was a healer, Ilana Rubenfeld was a Julliard-trained symphonic conductor.  The extent to which music informed her work is great, and really masterful sessions can have the qualities of a well conducted symphony: separate movements, swells and climaxes, gentle andante sections, elegant resolutions.

Music moves through the body just as touch does: sound is literally vibrations which not only get translated to sound in the air, but can sometimes be felt in other parts of the body.  Think of how a really low bass note will vibrate your belly, or how drums shake the floor.  And partly because of this, music can move us in more direct ways than other things can: music is intimately connected with emotion, and for many people there is nothing that can bring tears or smiles more easily than a well-placed strain of music.

For me, this phenomenon becomes even more profound when I’m the one making the music.  Yesterday I again got to sing with the wonderful Back Bay Chorale, and we sang a new piece along with the Mozart Requiem.  I was going through some personal difficulty this weekend, but predicted that singing the Mozart would help a great deal.

I was thrilled with how right I was about it.  Breathing deeply, singing fully, letting that gorgeous lamentation for the dead flow through my body made me feel freer and stronger.  Being surrounded by 120 other voices, an orchestra, and world-class soloists peeling the paint off the walls also helped.

Even if you don’t feel like you can make your own music, though, when you’re having a hard time, let music help you.  Play it loud in your living room and lie on the floor to let the vibrations literally move you, or wear headphones in your bed.  Blast your favorite song in your car as you drive.  Let the music you love vibrate your ears and your cells to a new place.  Believe me, it helps.