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How Adversity Shaped My Music Making Journey

Nearly all of us have our own origin story around music making. For many our first encounters with singing or playing a musical instrument are traumatic - so often we have been told or laughed at or have heard, ‘You’re not good enough,’ or ‘Stop!’ Or words or experiences to that effect, that shut us down, and our musical journey may have sadly stopped there (for the time being!).

For others, may be you stopped singing or playing because you didn’t find the right teacher to inspire you or the right kind of music or band or community of singers / musicians to bring out your unique soul and heart connection to music.

Maybe you are one of the ‘lucky’ few who haven’t had any trauma or lack of inspirational and supportive musical environments around you and you have had a lifelong happy relationship with music making!

Or maybe, like me, you had experienced the ‘adversity’ of trauma and soul-destroying musical environments but kept on going anyway and found your own way to a meaningful, beautiful connection to music making.

There was a soul yearning for this inside of me that was so strong, I persisted, or rather, I re-invented myself musically.

I am sharing this brief outline of my music making journey with you in the hope it may be of service to you in some way!… Whether that’s encouraging you to give music making another go, or finding a way to relate to it that gives soul satisfaction, or simply inspiring reflection on your own musical journey.

My first experience of music making, like many others, was at school playing the recorder. Or, in my case, I should say, miming the recorder! The whole class was playing this tune and I was being a bit silly pretending I knew how to play it! Then the teacher picked on me to play the tune in front of the whole class. I just froze. I didn’t play anything… An awful silence arose which seemed like hours!

I went home, a six year old kid crying, shamed and mortified to mum and dad. All I remember was my dad saying, ‘It can’t be that hard!’ And he proceeded to pick up my recorder and start playing a few notes. I was thinking, ‘Wow, how did you just do that?!’

My dad bought his own recorder, and we started learning to play together! I was super fortunate to have such a supportive dad after the traumatic school experience. Dad kept buying more and more sheet music and we used to play sometimes for hours in his study - Bach and Telemann and Handel and Boismortier et al. We especially loved playing duets with two parts in harmony or counterpoint.

When I was nine, I found myself able to play all the tunes with the school class from memory, looking the teacher in the eye the whole time! I think I was trying to communicate, in a kind of f—k you attitude, ‘Look, see, I CAN play recorder after all!’ (Even though it was to a different teacher in a different school!)

Then I heard this sound on the car radio that utterly entranced me. I asked my dad what that music was. He said it was a solo flute played by James Galway. My dad was guessing my thoughts as he said to me, ‘Would you like to try one?’ And I said Yes and within weeks we drove all the way to the Northampton woodwind shop, I picked this flute up and immediately made a sound which just filled me with goosebumps! It was love at first sight, or I should say, first hearing!

Dad of course bought one too, and we both had flute lessons with our first private music teacher. She was sweetness and light to talk to outside of lesson time, but during the lessons, she took us both to task and then some! It was all about the pursuit of perfection, at any cost. Any bum note, any timing issue, and she would lash out like a wounded animal! ‘No, do it again!’ ‘No, go back to the top!’ Again and again and again!

Neither my dad nor I realised consciously we were becoming more and more traumatised and conditioned by these weekly classes. Sometimes we were nervous wrecks by the end of a lesson, my dad especially! At some point, my dad did say he had had enough of flute and the lessons (though he loved playing at home with me), and decided to take up sax instead.

I grinned and beared it, but at great cost. In preparation for every solo classical music offering at school, I used to practise until I was exhausted. I would deliberately drive myself into being a nervous wreck, and then, in this state, I would have to play through the whole piece of music at least three times in one go, without making a single mistake. If I made so much as an inkling of a mistake, I would repeat that section so many times, then have to start the whole playing through the whole piece three times drill all over again. I became my own personal great slave driver!

And wow, my stomach was in so many knots before a performance, yet I was able to play every time ‘perfectly.’ But how could my heart and soul be in the performance when I was stricken with the terror of making a mistake?

My parents and teacher often were encouraging me gently to go to music school and become a professional orchestral flute player. But my whole body just shuddered at the thought of it. The thing I loved the most became the thing I hated the most.

When I left school, I didn’t play flute publicly for about a decade. I was through with classical music, strict teachers and music I didn’t really connect with.

I was listening then to Jim Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Arethra Franklin, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Love, The Clash, Nirvana to name a few. It was like a great explosion of colour and vibrancy into my life! I was totally in love with all of them! There was a freedom, a yearning, a passion, a joy and an iconoclasm in their music which I totally connected to and needed at that time.

Inspired, I began playing guitar and singing, my own way. I never had any music lessons again! I often joked that during my English Literature degree, I majored in Songwriting! It became my life, my obsession. Pretty much all the spare time I had, during my twenties, if I wasn’t physically songwriting, I was listening to music to learn how to write songs better!

My dream was to be a professional singer-songwriter, to make albums of music that were loved. But it didn’t materialise in my twenties as I lacked the confidence.

When I awoke to the wonder of presence and consciousness on my Saturn return, and then discovered yoga, kirtan, mantra, meditation, so much more energy was freed up in me and I found my confidence in my thirties - and with it my singing voice totally transformed. From that time onwards it has been an ever expanding journey of connecting to music as an act of service, of uplifting myself and others and as a remembering of who we truly are - the peace, the joy, the bliss, the Oneness.

Even still, it has been a step by step process of letting go of performance anxiety and the inner critic when I offer music to others. It was invaluable to re-frame ‘performance’ to ‘offering’ or ‘facilitation’ - to move into relating to music as sweet medicine rather than pure entertainment.

Even now, I have to be careful to not become my old music teacher when I practice with myself or Geeti, and to put the savage music critic back in its box! It is humbling to think that these ‘archetypal’ energies of ‘abusee’, ‘abuser’ and ‘critic’ may always remain somewhere in my being as ‘potentials’ to arise. To stay away from these potentials, and stay in my heart and soul, I need to keep feeding myself and others with positive experiences of music, and that whenever I play or sing, be it practice or ‘performance’, it is an act of service to God - or to all beings.

So I am super grateful now for the so-called adversity I suffered when I was a child and teenager, which led me to re-discover the magic of music in my own unique way. And also super grateful for all the loving support and encouragement of my parents and teachers and friends and unseen support along the way, without which I’m sure I wouldn’t still be playing or singing. And I appreciate my ‘adversity’ is relative… so many people haven’t been given the opportunities and support I was given.

To think that I could have spent the last two decades without music making in my life, is unthinkable… I don’t know if I could have coped living in this world without music.

Singing, especially, for me is such a joy… The instrument is us, our bodies. It is part of all of us, naturally. For me now it is as natural as talking or moving. Though for the first eighteen years of my life I avoided and disconnected to singing.

It is one of my great joys now to help others one-to-one and in groups find a relationship with their voice through playing and singing kirtan music, which is meaningful and connects them to their heart and soul. It is amazing to witness now how even a little encouragement, support and love can make the difference to people music making or not!

In love and peace xxx

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