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The Healing Power of Music — or Whatever Does it For You


23Sep 2007

A week ago, I had the privilege of attending a music festival with my son, Daniel.  Although the festival is several days long (and many people go and camp out, playing music all night long), we were only able to go for one long day. For those who are not familiar with it, the Walnut Valley Festival can sound like a small-scale gathering of country hicks — it is located in Winfield, KS, a small community one hour’s drive outside of Wichita, KS.  But the festival has been the home to the national acoustic guitar flat picking championships for 30 years, has between 12,000 – 15,000 attendees each year, and a variety of musical styles are represented.  Performers as diverse as Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss, John McCutcheon, the Dixie Chicks and Byron Berline have played at the festival over the years.

This year I thoroughly enjoyed the high energy rockabilly style of The Wilders , the humorous entertainment of the Italian maestro of acoustic guitar — Beppe Gambetta , John McCutcheon’s irreverant political satire and command of multiple instruments, and the driving rhymic jazz of Tommy Emmanuel.  But probably the most delightful surprise was my introduction to The Greencards, an up and coming bluegrass/jazz group who play in a style reminiscient of Nickel Creek.  They are a trio from Austrailia and Great Britain who have mastered a traditional form of American music and added their own twist to it. (Some friends of my son’s had heard them and encouraged us to go and listen to them — there are four stages going simultaneously at the festival, so you have to choose who to listen to.)

Now, why am I writing about this?  I obviously am not a music critic and the theme of this blog isn’t music.  However, I was moved deeply during the time — as I often am when I listen to music.  For me, music (and especially music with no lyrics) is healing.  In fact, I firmly believe that when I listen to purely instrumental music for a period of time, I can actually feel its impact on my brain.  I”feel” different — I calm down and relax, there feels like activity in parts of my brain that I don’t usually experience, and the “high activity” parts of my brain related to words gets to relax.

Now add live music to sitting outside, with a breeze on your skin, sometimes drizzling rain, sometimes partly sunny, sitting on a grassy hill (at one of the stages, at least), and watching a variety of people — different ages, various backgrounds, and different reasons for attending (for some, it is an annual ritual, for others it is an introduction to new types of music, and for many, it is a reason to get together with friends) — and you get an incredible multisensory experience.  And that doesn’t even include the food.

You may not especially like music.  That’s ok.  I am not trying to sell “music”.  But I hope you have other, similar experiences that provide this type of restorative feeling to you.  Biking, sailing, hiking, fishing, reading a good novel, gardening, painting, sewing or knitting, hunting, watching the stars, running, — whatever it is, I would encourage you to make some time for it.  And if you are like most of us today, you will need to plan in advance, otherwise it may not happen.  What would you like to do?  When?  Get out your calendar and write it in.  And enjoy — both looking forward to it, planning it, experiencing it, and reflecting upon it.

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