Life Lessons from Music


-Listening to another human being is the most precious gift you can offer, and the most powerful tool we have for change and growth as individuals, families and communities

-Being heard by another human being is among the most precious gifts we can receive: a deeply healing experience that can change a life

-Silence shared with another is among the deepest, most ancient medicine; and Silence is the seed of a miracle that allows us to be in the deepest support possible of another human being in pain, without acting to fade or hide or fix that pain. When in doubt about how to be a friend, we can be silent and offer the profound love song of our silence.

-Sound offers expression where words fail.

-Silence offers expression where sound fails.

-When I sing/sound/speak I am telling my story, and as a living being it is my birthright to share my story. My story is important—and necessary—to share

-Silence brings awareness to the dynamics of daily communication, and awareness leads to evolution and innovation

-Sound is the expression of love, fear, shame, grief, rage, joy, conflict and delight. Without these emotions and experiences there is no music, no art

-Sound is also—along with its friend, silence–the double-threshold to the music that is deeper and older than the music of all conflict

-Certain patterns of music (e.g. mantras, rhythms, the scale Sa-Re-Ga, musical modes) have been given to us—or are waiting to be discovered—to attune and entrain our physical systems in an ongoing process of healing and becoming

-Music transforms all emotion, all experience, into a love song that can fuel our lives

-Listening to music [any genre] can help me to hear my story as told by another and reminds me: even if I am lonely, I am not alone

-Sounding gives me the opportunity to acknowledge, integrate, and express my own shadow safely, without harming myself. or another

-Sounding authentically in a safe environment—be it a group or my bathroom shower—creates a habit of self-awareness and expression, which can become a habit of authentic self-expression in daily communication, which can become a habit of acting and living from the centre and source of my being

-Is there anything that resonates more deeply in our very cells than a deep belly laugh, the sound of a child’s giggle, the keening of honest grief, or a primal scream of rage or fear?

Add your own . . .



Human Beings Tell Stories

When I am exhausted, when I’ve run into something I don’t know how to handle, when I’m sad or frustrated, there are two things that help me: telling my story, and walking in beauty for a while. Often, the two go hand-in-hand.

Storytelling has been in my life for literally as long as I can remember. I consider myself fortunate that, in addition to reading my favorite storybooks, my Dad also told actual, off-book-out-of-his-head bedtime stories.

Many of them were along the lines of “things me and my brothers used to do on Grandma’s farm that you should never do because they’re really dangerous.” And some of them were giggle-inducing spoofs on popular fairytales, like “The Three Little Pigs and the Welcome Wagon Wolf Who Lived in the Middle of the Desert.”

(I’ll leave that to your imagination.)

Storytelling has been a part of human life for as long as we can remember. Since we first had sing-song musical communication and language, since we could draw on the wall of a cave. It is a primal, human impulse.

Over and over, from my English Lit degree to my current work as a voice coach, I have had opportunity to appreciate the value of storytelling: to honour our humanity, to entertain, to connect with our tribe, and to facilitate individual healing or group evolution. One of the first things I do in my work with a new voice student is invite her to tell me her voice story.

When I practiced foot reflexology many years ago, I was consistently amazed at how—about ten minutes into a session—just about every client would start pouring out their stories: vignettes about the minutiae of daily life; or huge archetypal or ancestral tales that they’d been carrying with them for decades. The combo of physiological input and the space of trust they felt with an empathic, skilled listener seemed to open the floodgates. Even now, I can’t say for sure how many were actually coming for the foot massage, and how many were there to simply be witnessed. It’s a humbling thought.

The innate capacity to tell our stories is how we share our joy, it is how we live in the midst of the crisis without imploding, it is how we solve problems and move forward after heartbreak.

New School: The Myth of ‘Sharing’ in Social Media

Today we have more outlets for sharing our stories than ever before: my blog could be read in China, or Antarctica, or outer space. But posting cautiously-curated snippets about our lives or weird-factoid memes is not the same as sharing our stories. Hitting the “Like” or “Heart this” button can make a mockery of witnessing another’s story with honour.

It is a truism that what we have gained in the ability to instantly update our network on our status, we have lost in our experience of being truly seen and heard.

That said, I’ve noticed a curious thing: when I post a vulnerable piece my personal story; or when I take a few minutes to shape my perspective on current events into a narrative of momentary beauty, I get instant and enthusiastic engagement. And when I offer a thoughtful comment on someone else’s post that communicates, “I hear you,” instead of reflexively hitting “Like,” real dialogue often happens, and I feel the connection buzzing down the airwaves.

Old School: Circle the Fire With Our Tribe

Whatever the modern media options, I feel in myself that primal need to share words and songs around the metaphorical fire with my tribe. To be in the same place, at the same time, and just. . . .be there. It’s not about learning something new, it’s not about ‘doing,’ it’s simply about following what feels like an impulse coded in my DNA. It feels like going home.

And here’s the lovely thing. When I follow the impulse home, when I tell my story in words, grunts, cries, songs and dance around that metaphorical (or real!) fire—and those energies drop into the container of what I call resonant listening—they are transmuted. Whatever the subject matter—however bright and joyful, however wounded and dark—that witnessed story becomes transformed into a thing of beauty in the world.

By sharing our stories in this way, we give each other the gift of walking in beauty for a few moments. Each teller of tales becomes an artist, each human life, a work of art.

If you too are feeling the call, I hope you will join me at the upcoming event in the Calgary, Canada area.

And, I know it isn’t always possible to share with our tribe around the fire, in the old way. Here are some other possibilities to bring your innate storytelling ability into a place of conscious practice in your life.


Some Ways to Tell Your Story

In writing

-Write it in a journal. Or on some random pieces of paper. Eventually, you may want to have a ritual around it—ripping & recycling, burning, or perhaps turning it into a more polished piece to share with friends and typing it up beautifully.

-If things like grammar and vocabulary are buggin’ ya, Let it go. Write stream-of-consciousness words, write poetry snippets, get out your crayons and draw it or (if you’re like me) scribble odd things on the page.

Speak it out to one person

-Share with a friend, and then reciprocate and listen while they share. I highly recommend a practice like Heart Listening so that you can offer each other a container of compassionate listening. No interrupting, no problem-solving, no judgment, no commentary, no “me too.” Safe space, silence, resonant listening.

Without Words

-Sound it Out. Use your voice in a practice like Free Singing. You can do this at home on your own, or with a friend or two.

-Dance It. Find a song that is a favourite or that seems to match the energy of the moment and dance it out.

Bonus Material: Video Yourself

-If you don’t have the opportunity to speak to a friend, try video-ing yourself using your computer or smart phone camera. Tell the story as many times as you need to, in order to feel complete. In my experience, the camera acts as a sort of witness. You can even have fun with costume and set. Change the room up, change your clothes, put on special make-up or do your hair in a way you’ve never tried before.

Some Suggestions for Practice

If you are Speaking or Writing and not sure where to start, here are some key elements to include:

WHAT happened (events as you see them),

WHO was involved,

HOW you felt/feel about it (using your senses, your emotions),

WHY do all these elements form a story in your mind (what is the connection, the through line, how is the character “you” developing in this narrative)

WHERE are you in that story right now (are you at the end or somewhere in the middle, do you need further input or feedback to complete)

If you are Dancing or Free Singing, Some Suggestions

Craft Your Safe Container

Give some thought to how you will feel safe telling your story. Maybe you need to keep it private, sing it to yourself. If you are dancing, maybe you need to have some props on hand or move furniture out of the way. If you are sharing words or sounds with another person, try a practice like Heart Listening.

Begin with the Energy or the Feeling

Now, begin with the energy of the story. Feel your feet on the ground, pay attention to your breath, feel the emotion and locate where you feel that energy in your body. Don’t try to give it words or shape. Let your body and your voice do that.

As always, I am curious to hear how it goes. You can share your feedback, here.




Many of you will be familiar with the story that our much-adored, mischievous festival of Halloween grew out of the major Celtic harvest holiday of Samhain (Sah-ween), a day when the ghosts of the dead are said to mingle more freely with the living than they do on any other day of the year. As happened with many other holidays and traditions, when the Christian missionaries came to Celtic territory, they attempted to co-opt Samhain into a celebration for their new religion, and from that particular conflagration came All Saints Day, traditionally celebrated on November 1, and the Mexican Day of the Dead, usually celebrated between October 31 and November 2.

In my typical fusion style, I’ve come to celebrate both All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day, finding meaning in each separately, and in how they seem (to me) to work together. This year, I invite you into that celebration with the theme of our November 1 Singing Circle.

The Saints Who Haunt Us

Institutions and dictionaries alike have attempted to define for us what a *saint* might be, but—never one to shy away at single-handedly re-working the English language—here’s how I’m defining it for our November 1 theme. The saints are beings or energies worthy of our remembrance. They might be living or dead; they might be working, everyday heroes and heroines; or the memory of great ones who have left us; or complete rascals whose mischief incites our admiration. A *saint* in your life could be a particular individual, or a long line of ancestors, archetypes and culture reaching back as far as imagination can take you. It might be your Aunt Velma, Mother Teresa, or Harry Potter; your own inner Witch or Healer; or the guy who fixes your car.

We all have people in our lives who “haunt” us, in a good way: the living, whose walking breathing qualities habitually inspire us, and the dead who persist through our stories and memories and dreams.

In that spirit, I have been contemplating the ancestors who walk with me at this time of year, when the veil is thinned. And, for reasons both personal and of the general zeitgeist, my attention has turned to those of my tribe whose lives were ended in their own time, at their own hands.

Dad’s Stories

A number of years ago, my Dad was asked to give a talk at his church to celebrate All Saints’ Day. What he shared surprised the congregation a little, because—far from the typical talk for that occasion—he courageously and compassionately spoke about members of his community who had died through suicide, *sainting* them with the blessing of his words and the ritual of the service. Today, I have permission to share some of his words, and have added a few reflections of my own.


My first reading of the transcript from Dad’s talk revealed a piece of family history previously unknown to me. It was the story of my great aunt Mattie, who I never met. I never even knew she existed, because she died before my dad was born, and her tale was not one most parents would tell to little girls. I understand why: it shattered me with horror and compassion.

As far as anyone can piece it together, Mattie suffered from serious post-partum depression. As Dad tells it:

“The depression was severe but at the time, the attitude of many (not all) in the church [her community] was that having faith in God’s promises would lift you out of such a state. It may not have been labeled depression. So there was no genuine counseling or help available from the church or elsewhere for Aunt Mattie and, after a few desperate months she took her own life. It was an awful tragedy made more tragic by her decision, which I can only imagine was based on terribly misguided love, to take her daughter, Lydia, with her.”

Aunt Mattie’s death was of course terribly traumatic for her surviving children, who would not have been encouraged to process their experience in the ways we now understand to be essential. In fact, it was not until 60 years later that one of the family members erected a proper marker for her grave, inscribed with his feelings about those events.

At the time of her death, and even in 2014, Aunt Mattie’s last acts would be considered by that community to be anti-heroic, the polar opposite of sainthood: quite literally, unspeakable. Something that one should try to forget (but how could you ever, ever forget?)

For me, the power in Dad’s simple act of storytelling was this: it reminded us that Mattie was a human being, a mother doing her very best while living in lonely pain in a community that could not meet her need. For that fact alone she deserves to be honored: because she existed. Because she lived, and loved, and did her best, no matter how heart-wrenchingly misguided that may look to any of us, no matter what questions we are left with.

It would make for a long telling here to recount every person Dad *sainted* in his talk that day, as he lovingly and painstakingly laid out their humanity for his friends to hear. But there is one more person to remember. She has haunted me off and on for almost two decades, prompting some of life’s most unanswerable questions.


For me, this story cuts closest to the bone. Because Marni* was not a distant relative I never met, or someone whose funeral I heard whispered about as a child.

Marni was my first cousin, about two years older than me. I played with her on my Grandma’s farm in our growing up years; I saw her once in a while as we both attended the same university. And when she disappeared one day after leaving a note for her parents, I was one of the people who went down to the river valley in search parties, calling her name in the desperate hope that she might answer back.

(Remembering the shock and raw longing in her family’s faces that day still breaks my heart open, but I am here to honor her, so let the tears flow, breathe, and keep writing.)

Marni did do something in her young life that many of us would consider saintly. When the Grandma whose farm we played on suffered a few small strokes, and the uncle who lived with Grandma couldn’t keep up with her care, many family members made commitments to help as they could, but one, as my dad says, was “overwhelming”:

“ . . .with no sense of self-sacrifice, Marni said that she would come out to spend every weekend with her Grandma. Not out of a sense of duty, I believe, but out of a deep love for her Grandma. I was amazed by Marni’s response because, projecting myself back to when I was in my early 20’s, I knew that I would not have been prepared to make the same commitment.

Ditto, Dad. I was in my 20’s at the time, and I did not volunteer. And as I get older and acquire more responsibilities, it seems just that much more extraordinary to me, that ordinary act of love.

Sadly, I believe one of the consequences of this act of caring was that Marni felt my grandmother’s death acutely. It seems likely it was one of the triggers for the episode of depression that lead to her own passing.

Music & Mystery

The heart-wrenching and futile elephant in the room that I come to when I tell Marni’s story, and Mattie’s story, is the question that every social media outlet asked in relation to the recent passing of Robin Williams, the question that puzzles many human beings who hold to this life at all costs: “How could this be?” How is it that anyone with so much laughter or love to give can end her own life, his own life, in an act that can seem so counterintuitive to those they leave behind?

I have no words that can speak to that question. I have walked down paths of darkness and despair, but the final threshold—this remains a mystery.

What I can share is the small grain of wonder and almost-comfort that came to me one afternoon in the months after Marni died, when questions about her life and mine were the topic of regular journaling. That day, I wrote, “Perhaps she heard a different music.”

My relationship to music was different then. It wasn’t yet my career. But this is what I think I meant, what I felt in my heart as I wrote those words: maybe Marni, and the others who leave us as she did, cease to hear the music of this world, and instead are called to another music. Maybe they use up their love and their light to be here with us for just a short time, and then all that is left to them is to walk into the embrace of the darkness that calls with a unique rhythm, a different tempo than the one by which the rest of us measure our lives, a melody whose notes have an alien logic that is only comprehensible when we are already reaching out to touch the veil.

As time goes by, I stop trying to make sense of the mystery in favor of simply acknowledging it. I am not required to understand. But what I do need to do, always, is give voice. Give voice to my own confusion and humility and awe, and speak honorably about the mysterious grace of lives lived and ended, and souls beloved. To remember that which is too often silenced.

There are no right words for it, there never could be, and any comfort is cold and small.  But somehow, in holding the despair and loneliness and grief in these stories, I feel the presence of the Great Song.

Please join me on November 1 to sing and celebrate those energies, people, beings and qualities that you desire to honor or remember. Event details are here.

A huge thank you to my Dad, for giving voices to the voiceless in his talk, “The Great Multitude”, and for giving permission for me to share parts of it in this piece.

A special thank you to Sarah Kerr. Our recent conversation over tea revealed something I’ve been dancing with for a while, and our conversation about illness, death, ritual and sound resonated deeply.

A more cheerful-looking-than-you-might-expect website that explains Day of the Dead as it is celebrated in Mexican culture and around the world.

On All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain & All Saints’ Day History & Customs:

*Name changed to maintain her family’s privacy.