Throughout history music and singing have been powerful healing tools to uplift and inspire us, bring us comfort and hope, and give voice to our struggles. From the rhythms of our heartbeat, music is primal to our life and our healing. Even in the most difficult and darkest of times I am utterly in awe of the power music and singing can have to awaken a person’s spirit or even the spirit of a whole community.
I’ve recently been captivated by the “Freedom Songs” of the civil rights movement, which Martin Luther King Jr. said were critical to their fight: “They give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.’’ What stands out most for me in these words is how their freedom songs gave people a sense of unity. Singing together was a way to encourage individuals to add their voices to their collective experience, which brought people out of isolation, validated their struggles, mobilized their collective efforts and even offered hope and inspiration in a time of such darkness and despair.
The challenges and experiences of the individuals and families that I support in our healing circles at Callanish Society are very different from the lived experiences of those who took part in the Civil Rights Movement, But I believe in Martin Luther King’s understanding of the role of music and singing in our individual and collective lives. After all, I often ask myself: “In the face of illness and uncertainty, how can we strengthen our collective resolve? How can we access joy, inspiration, and hope in the midst of such heartache and loss in our community?” My answer: By singing our hearts out!
I will admit that it has taken me years to articulate such a seemingly simple conclusion and even longer to turn it into practice. Not being a trained music therapist myself, I had not considered bringing my guitar and singing in our healing circles for many years. It was only after a lot of coaxing and encouraging from a dear friend and colleague that I decided to take a leap of faith and give it a try.
I am so glad I did, because what I quickly learned was that, when there’s really nothing more to be said, we can always sing. And when we sing together, something transformative can happen. At times, this transformation is the soothing and calming of our weary hearts; at other times, I’ve used a particular song as a way to try and express those often-indescribable feelings that arise in the most heart-breaking, devastating, or unbearable moments. I can think of many times when we’ve sung “Let it Be” by the Beatles to help us accept our lives as they are. Or “Imagine” by John Lennon to help us hold onto our hope and faith that anything is possible. Sometimes, a song like “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers can help uplift our spirits, so that, even for a moment, a sliver of light can find its way into the dark.
It has been tremendously uplifting and inspiring to me to see the way our community has wholeheartedly welcomed and continues to rejoice in the healing power of music and singing.
Header photo by David Welton