As a trained musician, I have always been a little wary, a little resistant, when encountering the concept of music therapy or healing, using music as a vehicle. Over the years, I’ve found myself at various Paganish gatherings, community choirs and open mic settings, where the spiritual intent was good but the music was…(there’s no nice way of saying it), simply not professional standard. I tend to think that healing should be a side effect, not the main event. I  tend to maintain that all art, including music, has qualities that are beyond morality, but belong to a neutral world of aesthetic  laws and that truly excellent music will take care of both artistic merit and healing at the same time.

Or put more crassly, if I want to feel ‘healed’ I’d rather listen to the finely wrought craft of a George Benson love song or a Bach guitar arrangement, than listen to a music therapist.

Or so I thought….

How refreshing then, and challenging, to be in the environment of the Grandmother’s Kagoshima event, where both musicians and healers were in abundance and blurring just about every boundary you can think of.

Nearly 2 months on from the event, it strikes me again and again how lucky we all were to be in the company of some of the most progressive people on the planet right now. All of the Japanese participants, were at odds with the mainstream and ploughing an alternative field; some, as middle class crystal healers and aromatherapists, ecologists and Steiner school teachers, others because their indigenous racial heritage placed them so far down the social ladder that they are, literally, fighting for their rights, land and language. There was a delegation of leaf-headressed Okinawans, who came, in tears, telling of how their sacred homeland was trapped between expanding US airbases on one side, and the collusion of the Japanese military on the other. And a quartet of almost painfully dignified Ainu Grandmothers, from Hokkaido. The Ainu have been systematically denied their culture by the Japanese government, and not surprisingly, the Indigenous Japanese found especially soulful solidarity with the Native American Grandmothers and their families…

Back to the music. Excuse me if I go into a rapture trying to describe some of the healing music/musical healing that I witnessed.

The folk songs of the Ainu women, sung with a nasal, almost Balkan harshess, with a repetitive trance like phase pattern, accompanied by a leaping circle dance, (which I couldn’t quite get the hang of…) shared with such patience and generosity. These songs are passed down by ear, since the Ainu don’t use written language…and actually brought the sun from behind the clouds and then… a rainbow and much cheering. Then, the famed ( and comparatively more commercial sounding) Amami Singer, well into her 70’s with a voice like cracked, burnt sugar – she and her band did a kind of pop folk with traditional instruments and a synthesiser – achingly melancholic tunes about the sea, and the Mother – everyone in tears…then the exquisitely gentle Miyuki, pictured here with her healing Lyre. She asks subjects to lie down, she lays the lyre on your back, legs and head and…strums. I can only describe this as being like a journey in space with, er…pixies. Especially after a mind alteringly hot Onsen bath – it was all I could do not to drift off into dreams. (She runs a company called Curative Sound)….also let me mention gifted intuitive, Icasiana Barrs and her  healing maracas.  Used (and maybe designed by?) the (arguably) most New Age of the Grandmothers, Floredemayo, these look like titanium eggs, filled with specially energised fragments of meteorite and crystal. Icasiana shook them all around my head, knocked them together and placed them on my body and head whilst humming and ‘oohing’. This made my spine leap and fizz as though I had grasshoppers in my clothes and my brain. It was unquestionably, like launching into and travelling in space – such sounds I have never heard. Then there were… white-robed Shinto priestesses, whirling and spinning with bells,breaking into full-throated chanting. (I had previously only seen them in modern dress with their mobile phones and laptops and had no idea of this other identity.)  I will never forget the evening when one of these priestesses, (back in her civvies) rushed into the restaurant in excitement, saying ‘rainbow around the moon, rainbow around the moon!’ We all went outside and sure enough there it was – a full moon with a perfect rainbow ring. The entire restaurant staff seemed to gather, all with mobile phones held up, (though attempts to capture it were mostly fruitless and it changed and dispersed before our eyes.) We all became children in our wonder…then one of the interpreters spontaneously broke into a song of celebration – with a fabulous full-bodied folk delivery that made me ask later if she was a professional musician (she was). I also must mention the elderly and sweetly glamorous Japanese Steiner school teacher who played for us on her harp, and told us stories with fabric dolls. (She explained carefully beforehand that her harp had been known to draw fairies into the room.)

And here is the wonderful Imani, ceremonial musician and assistant to Grandmother Floredemayo. The ceremony of this Grandmother was an ecstatic high point, combining as it did, the meteorite shakers, sacred drumming, Imanis beautiful songs sung in bi-lingual arrangement, (with yours truly, drumstick in hand, full throttle, in Japanese.) and a climax of spontaneous hugging and dancing. The instrument Imani plays, is called a Hon, made, as I understand it, of metal offcuts from the automobile industry. Developed in Germany, it looks like a flying saucer and works like a steel pan, with raised bumps and indents that when struck, produce pitch.  In conversation atop the sacred volcano, Imani described how she felt ‘called’ to play the Hon over a number of years and only really embraced it when she felt truly ready. It holds for her a sacred weight, never played casually and never played or touched by anyone but her. In the picture below, she played it whilst singing and praying. The sound rang out and was heard, unbelievably, by kiosk staff many hundreds of feet below. (Unfortunately, due to various factors including moisture and flat batteries, I only caught 1 photo and 2 seconds of video footage. The best way to find out more about Imani’s work is to click on MzImani.com)

Here’s Imani…

Here’s Miyuki below, with her healing lyre….

And I sign off with some thoughts, but no final conclusions, about music and healing and the nature of art. Traditional cultures don’t have a separate concept of art, since art and craft, rhythm and song are always part of the shamanic practice. Anthropologists and cultural commentators such as the late Terence McKenna, suggests that in the modern world, the artist takes the function of the Shaman, only in the sense that she/he is the closest we may have to such a figure. A fitting comparison, in that the artist has visions, travels between worlds and brings back images/sounds and hopefully weaves them into something for the greater good.

People who visit me for their music lessons, always report a surge in well being and overall personal upliftment, extra to the skill being learned. In fact I’m sure that’s why they come. So is it me, or the music…and to what degree?

And why is it that I feel I should keep the healing aspect of what I do… secret?(except that I just told everyone about it…)

I think we could do to expand the idea of what it means to be a healer and that sometimes just sharing the skill that you do best is the best healing for everyone.

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