Our Aural History

aural historyWhen two of my newborn babies spent time in the hospital due to serious medical problems, one of the many things that distressed me was all the noise surrounding them.  I wanted them to be introduced to the world differently. I wanted to wrap them in the sounds of home — voices of people who loved them, clatter of dishes at dinnertime, wind in the trees, lullabies sung, books read aloud. Instead there were loud beeping devices, intrusive announcements, squeaking wheels on equipment carts. They heard all sorts of strangers’ voices too, often while those strangers (for the very best reasons) imposed discomfort or pain. When they came home, both times, I noticed the sounds around them more than I normally would just because it was such a blessed relief.

My concern wasn’t overblown. In utero, a baby hears a symphony of prenatal sound that includes the mother’s heartbeat, breathing, and movement.  The baby’s auditory system is fully developed by the sixth month of pregnancy and what sounds it hears is a particularly big deal from that time until it reaches six months of age. Here’s what one medical journal has to say:

The period from 25 weeks’ gestation to 5 to 6 months of age is most critical to the development of the neurosensory part of the auditory system. This is the time when the hair cells of the cochlea, the axons of the auditory nerve, and the neurons of the temporal lobe auditory cortex are tuned to receive signals of specific frequencies and intensities. Unlike the visual system, the auditory system requires outside auditory stimulation. This needs to include speech, music, and meaningful sounds from the environment.

The preterm as well as the term infant cannot recognize or discriminate meaningful sounds with background noise levels greater than 60 dB. The more intense the background noise, especially low frequency, the fewer specific frequencies (pitch) can be heard and used to tune the hair cells of the cochlea. Continuous exposure to loud background noise in the NICU or home will interfere with auditory development and especially frequency discrimination. The initial stimulation of the auditory system (speech and music) needs to occur in utero or in the NICU to develop tonotopic columns in the auditory cortex and to have the critical tuning of the hair cells of the cochlea occur. The control of outside noise, the exposure to meaningful speech sounds and music, and the protection of sleep and sleep cycles, especially rapid eye movement sleep, are essential for healthy auditory development.

Hearing is also said to be the last sense to leave us at the end of life, as indicated by electroencephalograms of people in their last hours. (Oftentimes music can reach unconscious and dying people when other stimuli cannot.)

Sound has a way of sinking into us, linking with sensation and emotion to form lasting memories. When I read about refugees forced from their homes by war or famine or rising seas,  my sorrow for them (and my admiration for their courage) leads me to think about what sensory experiences they can never fully recapture from their homelands. Keeping one’s own language, foods, and faith alive is vital but I wonder if hunger for the unique sounds left behind ever goes away.

We carry aural memories with us forever. I suspect sounds from early childhood are rooted the most deeply. Here are some of the happiest I can remember. A summer of locusts, the sound cresting and falling like waves. The screen door’s awwaak as it opened and my mother’s voice from somewhere in the house calling “don’t slam it!” The shriek of a swing hung on chains as I swung on my belly watching ants scurry below.  My father whistling as he tinkered with some project. News on the radio my mother listened to for a few minutes each morning, all of it inane chatter to me except for ads that lodged in my memory like this one.  Planes taking off from nearby Cleveland Hopkins Airport,  curving overhead like toys even though adults insisted they were big enough to hold actual people inside (pffft!) Music my father listened to as he graded papers — classical, pop, big band. The creak of our old rocking chair. The indescribable security of lying in bed hearing my parent’s muffled voices. 

Imagine sounds from 100 years ago in the place you are now. Perhaps horses on stone-paved streets, vendors hawking their wares from open carts as they traveled through town, afternoon paperboys calling out the latest headlines, church bells tolling the hours, the whistle of steam engines passing in the distance, children playing outdoors everywhere.

Or maybe imagine sounds 100 years in the future, if you can.

What sounds surrounded you as a baby? Your children in infancy? What aural memories make up who you are today?

Time Turns Back on Itself

 

A post from the wayback machine, although it feels like yesterday to me…

memoir, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

“He fit right into the palm of my hand,” my mother always says.  Her arm trembles now when she holds it out. “His head here,” she gestures to her fingertips, “his little bottom here, and his legs curled up at my wrist. They never gave poor patients the incubators. They said babies that small didn’t make it anyway.  But he looked right at me and I knew he would live. I held him every night in the nursery until he was discharged. I wish I knew what happened to him.”

My mother’s stories of her early years as a registered nurse are becoming more common topics. I settle back and listen, encouraging her with my questions. The house seems darker each time I visit, curtains drawn against the daylight although family photos on every surface still fade in their frames. The cluttered rooms are hard to recognize as the same ones from my childhood. Time seems to stretch and bend out of proportion on these long afternoons.

“I nearly died of a staph infection when I was in nurses’ training. It was all through my bloodstream. The doctors were amazed I pulled through.” She shakes her head.  “It was a miracle.”

My two teenaged sons come in from doing yard work. They wash their hands, eat the snack she loves to offer them, and politely chat with her. She has tales to tell them too, usually emphasizing the value of working hard and saving money. Today she asks them to retrieve a bit of laundry she can’t reach. Somehow it sailed over the washing machine lid to fall somewhere behind the washer. Tossing anything while hanging on to a walker is an accomplishment for someone whose movements are as uncertain as hers. I thought I’d heard all her stories, yet she tells the boys that her laundry throw probably stemmed from her teen years when she used to be quite the softball pitcher.

“I never was never much of a runner in gym, but I had a great throwing arm.”

I am surprised. “You never told me that, Mom!”

“There’s plenty I haven’t told you,” she says.  Her gaze seems to linger on a field of high school girls from 60 years ago.

My father doesn’t settle down for long conversations during these visits.  He likes to work in the yard with his grandchildren, making use of their youthful energy, while my mother and I talk. I go outside to spend ten or fifteen minutes with him, reveling in the quieter connection we share, fully aware that my mother waits for me to return through the full length of each minute I’m away from her.

I see my parents bridging the passage beyond old age in their own ways.  My father redesigns the garden and invents odd labor-saving devices, always thinking ahead. My mother goes back to revisit her stronger years.

I am greedy for time. I want decades more with my parents despite their poor health. Their tradition of waving goodbye at the door as I back the car out always brings tears to my eyes.

On the long drive home my son comes across an old Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tune on the radio. Time twists around itself again.  I recall listening to this record in the late 70’s, from the same house we just left, although the raspberry-hued carpet of my girlhood bedroom is now under a pile of boxes. I used to climb out the window of that bedroom to lie on the rough-textured roof, looking at the stars. I paid such close attention to the music of my teens that I felt wrapped inside the notes and the lyrics.

“You see it’s all clear. You were meant to be here.” While the song plays I remember being a wispy 14-year-old  who bought batik scarves from the forbidden head shop in town. I twisted them into halter tops which I wore under more demure shirts until I was safely out of the house. I’d tell my parents I was going to see a girlfriend when I was really meeting my boyfriend. He and I kissed so much I was surprised my mother didn’t notice I’d return with chapped and reddened lips.

When the song ends I’m almost startled to find myself driving a car—a woman in her forties accompanied by two nearly grown children, married to the boy she kissed so long ago.

As time turns back on itself in our memories it reshapes and teaches us. It occurs to me I loved Emerson, Lake, and Palmer because they honored the two sounds I couldn’t imagine converging. I had rejected my parent’s organized religion, and with it the evocative strains of organ music. Instead I spent my babysitting money on albums with sounds that stirred my soul.  Emerson, Lake and Palmer put hymns and rock back together for me. As I head south with my boys, I’m also lying on the roof with my back safely against my childhood home and my face lifted to the sky.

I try to say something to my kids about how odd time and memory can be. But they’re young and the radio dial needs flipping. I guess we’re bridging our own passages. I take a breath, choosing to hold on to the peace of this moment so this exact car ride with my sons will always feel as close to me as the palm of my own hand.

Originally published in the anthology,  Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between

Waking the Spirit

Waking the Spirit, Andrew Schulman

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”  ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Andrew Schulman was born so ugly that his grandmother refused to believe he belonged to their family. She insisted the hospital investigate to make sure there wasn’t a baby mix-up.  Many years later, his cousin Miriam told him the nurses felt sorry for that disputed lone baby in the nursery, so they held him and sang to him all day. “Show tunes,” she said. “I heard them when I was there. It was so lovely.”

He writes in his new book, Waking the Spirit, “I like to think that my brain was wired in the nursery by the healing power of music.”

Andrew grew up to become a successful musician. He plays Carnegie Hall, the White House, and throughout Europe. He has three CD’s, an active performance schedule, and an enjoyable life with his wife in NYC.  His life, however, changed when he went in for surgery.

The operation was a success but on the way to recovery he suffered a rare reaction and was clinically dead by the time they rushed his gurney out of the elevator. Although they managed to resuscitate him in surgical intensive care, they couldn’t stabilize him. Doctors put him in a medically induced coma for several days, but his organs began to fail. He was not expected to live. His wife, desperate, asked permission to play music for him. His favorite piece, Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” popped up on his iPod. After a half hour, still apparently unresponsive, his vital signs began to stabilize. Confounding doctors, he recovered quickly over the next few days.

As Oliver Sacks once said, “Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music.” Andrew explains in his book, “Music reaches neural networks, including some of the most primary…. such as the brain stem, the cerebellum, and the amygdala. Music then initiates brain stem responses that, in turn, regulate heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, and muscle tension…. ”

We know that music chosen by parents and performed for premature babies for a few minutes at a time helps to calm them, resulting in longer quiet-alert states and easing pain.  Music sung by parents has a beneficial effect throughout infancy. Babies respond to music, even regular drumbeats, with increased smiling. In fact research shows that babies correlate their movements with the tempo and rhythm. They dance! And music gets a much greater response than spoken words. No wonder adults all over the world naturally engage babies in a sort of singsong-like call and response. We’re translating our language into one that is more evocative to mind and body.

Music makes a difference at the other end of life too. Studies of music in hospice care show  it can reduce anxiety, pain, and fatigue while enhancing mood, energy, and sense of spiritual comfort.

After Andrew fully recovered he made his way back to the same surgical intensive care ward at the same hospital. This time as a musician. Three times a week, every week, he enters the SICU, walks through the ward guided by intuition as much as beeping monitors, then sits at a bedside and begins to play.

People on this ward are very ill. They’re likely in pain and afraid. They may be in and out of consciousness, even comatose as he was. He plays all sorts of music for them, happy to honor requests by patients, family members, and staff. But he’s found music by certain composers has the greatest healing effect — Bach, Gershwin, the Beatles, along with Franz Schubert’s “Ständchen” and, strangely enough, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Freddy Mercury.

In his experience, Bach’s music is the gold standard.  It almost magically seems to increase alertness, reduce pain, and stabilize vital signs. Neuromusicologist Arthur W. Harvey agrees. Andrew quotes Dr. Harvey, “Of all the music we tested in medical school with patients, colleagues, and others, Bach’s music consistently made the brain work in a balanced way better than any other genre.”

Dr. Harvey and students studied the effect of music on the body using brain scans, focusing on seven genres: chant, Baroque, classical, gospel, new age, jazz, and folk. After two years they concluded Baroque era music most effectively “…stabilized the different rhythms of the body and mind — mental, physical, and emotional — which allowed for greater concentration and focus. Bach’s music consistently showed the best results in this regard.”

Andrew tries to unlock what it is about Bach.  “…Bach’s music utilizes both chordal music (music characterized by harmony) and contrapuntal textures (the interweaving melodies) somewhat equally, which provides for music processing in both left and right hemispheres of the human brain. A descriptive characteristic of his music and music of his time is the significance of balance… You hear sounds that are soft and loud, high and low, short and long. Rhythms that are slow and fast, simple and complex. Melodies and harmonies that have enormous stylistic variety.”  Such music stimulates brain functions without overload.

Andrew goes on to note that healing music often comes from composers who themselves suffered from depression and other forms of mental illness. Perhaps despair transmuted into beauty more profoundly eases other people’s suffering.

I can’t help but consider all that troubles our beautiful world. When music helps to lift the individual mind from unconsciousness to consciousness, surely music helps to lift our collective awareness as well.

After all, music is used to lull small ones to sleep, rouse teams to victory, woo lovers, deepen worship, commemorate solemn occasions, and celebrate joy. Throughout history, music has been a traditional way  to bring peace and justice. Through music we more fully grasp that all of us feel grief, love, fear, injustice, delight, and moments of transcendence. Let’s play one another into a more loving world.

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” ~Leonard Bernstein

Born to Love Music

music in uteroAll around the world, mothers gently murmur some version of “hush, hush,” or “shhhh, shhhh” to crying newborns. It’s said this calms babies because it mimics the sound they heard in utero — her heartbeat.

Babies actually hear a whole symphony of sound before they’re born.  Physicist Robert Chuckrow describes what makes up this orchestra in a paper he wrote back in the 1960’s, titled “Music: A Synthesis of Prenatal Stimuli.

Walking: As a pregnant woman walks or climbs stairs, Dr. Chuckrow writes, her steps send “a thud-like vibration through her body, similar in sound and periodicity to that of the beat of a drum. ”

Breathing: Each inhale and exhale, according to Dr. Chuckrow, makes a “…recurring sound rich in high frequencies and is similar to the sound of cymbals in music. In popular music especially, the sound of cymbals ‘crashing’ is very suggestive of the sound of the pregnant mother breathing.”

Heartbeat.  Complex patterns are formed by varying rates of two heartbeats. A mother’s heart rate changes depending on her activity level and emotions, usually ranging somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. In contrast, her baby’s heart rate fluctuates between 120 to 160 beats per minute, making for an ongoing jazz-like improvisation.

Speech: A mother’s conversations are another acoustic pattern. Research shows newborns not only recognize their mother’s voices, they also show a preference for sounds from the language their mother speaks.

Other input: A fetus is surrounded by the internal hubbub of its mother chewing, swallowing, and the rest of the digestive processes. Her laughing, crying, coughing, yawning, sneezing, and scratching are also part of its moment-to-moment soundtrack. Add to that sounds heard from outside her body — whoosh of a shower, vibration from riding on a bus, clatter in a restaurant, drama of a movie she’s watching.

These aren’t just sounds. They come into the baby’s awareness accompanied by fluctuations in movement, pressure, and chemical signals. Sound pairs with sensation, over and over, throughout the pregnancy.  It is the earliest form of meaning, long before words make sense.

Take, for example, the effect when a mother experiences stress (even positive emotion). Her heart rate goes up while her baby’s heart rate doesn’t immediately increase. Instead, the uptick of her heartbeat would  “…produce in the fetus a state that is the prenatal analog of emotional tension.”  Dr. Chuckrow likens this to the way music creates emotional tension, especially when an “…increase in tempo or changes in rhythm produce such tension in the listener, and the rhythmic effect is increased by an increase in dynamic intensity.”

Or another example; the unborn baby’s experience of its mother’s laughter. As she laughs, her abdominal muscles contract around the uterus. Her larynx closes somewhat, making air intake irregular. And the noises she makes range from low giggles to shrieking cries.  Dr. Chuckrow writes, “For the mother, laughter would be accompanied by an exultant state and changes in her heart rate, breathing, and blood concentrations of oxygen and hormones. These changes would be expected to affect the fetus. The associated patterns involve a climactic change of acoustic, tactile, and chemical stimuli associated with a state of maternal well-being.”

Maybe these truly formative responses help to explain why music enters a place in us that’s deeper than words, beyond the limitations of thought. We’re shaped by an essential mother-specific melody.

“Many say that life entered the human body by the help of music, but the truth is that life itself is music.”  ~Hafiz

 

 

Making Memories Through Music

image: pixabay.com

image: pixabay.com

Do you attach any significance to songs that start playing in your mind? I do. Maybe that’s because they often get stuck, becoming earworms that loop around for what seem like hours. Sometimes they even wake me in the middle of the night.

I can’t help but wonder why the underpinning of my consciousness loads a particular piece of music. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out because my husband was whistling it or it was playing at a restaurant or I heard a slice of it when a car stopped next to me at a traffic light. Most of the time it seems too random to be chance. So I try to figure out what the song tells me in lyric or mood or memory.

Today, simply walking into a room, my mind’s playlist came up with a tender song I haven’t heard in decades, “Never My Love.”

It took me right back to my childhood home. Most evenings my schoolteacher father sat in an armchair grading papers. I liked to sit on the floor with my back against his chair reading a book in the same warm circle of lamplight. On those nights he played music like  “Only You” by The Platters, “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “Cherish” by The Association, “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins, “So Far Away” by Carole King, “Close to You” by the Carpenters, and just about anything by Burt Bacharach.

My father loved all kinds of music. In college he was nicknamed “Pitch Pipe” – a play on his surname Piper and an homage to his perfect pitch. When my siblings and I were tiny he’d turn the stereo up so we could dance to big band music, the score from a musical, or a classical standard. He’d sing along, harmonizing against the melody. Without a shred of self-consciousness he’d lift up his arms to conduct a particularly tantalizing portion of Bach or Mozart. And sometimes after dinner a song would come on the radio and he’d dance with my mother, both of them smiling as they swooped around the kitchen linoleum.

My father’s father died when my dad was only five years old. The only thing my dad owned of his father’s was a guitar, which he taught himself to play. Supervising little kids’ baths was one of his chores in the parental division of duties, so he’d sit on the toilet lid singing and strumming that guitar while we played in the tub. My splashy siblings and I sang right along with him to tunes like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” We also sang songs he remembered from his college days, lyrics edited for little ears.

I don’t know what it means that I’m hearing “Never My Love.” Most likely something below the surface of my awareness triggered a childhood memory. But I prefer to think it’s a form of connection that lasts even when death separates us.

I’m singing it aloud Dad. I’m singing it for you.

Keeping Creativity Alive

dbz-obsessed.deviantart.com/art/Creation-19299077

dbz-obsessed.deviantart.com/art/Creation-19299077

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”—Henry David Thoreau

Imagination springs from nowhere and brings something new to the world—games, art, inventions, stories, solutions. Childhood is particularly identified with this state, perhaps because creativity in adults is considered to be a trait possessed only by the artistic few.

baleze.deviantart.com/art/Playing-with-Shadows-61984249

baleze.deviantart.com/art/Playing-with-Shadows-61984249

Nurturing creativity in all its forms recognizes that humans are by nature generative beings. We need to create. The best approach may be to get out of one another’s way and welcome creativity as a life force.

pixabay.com/en/image-painted-colorful-color-247789/

pixabay.com/en/image-painted-colorful-color-247789/

If we are familiar with the process that takes us from vision to expression, we have the tools to use creativity throughout our lives. When we welcome the exuberance young children demonstrate as they dance around the room, talk to invisible friends, sing in the bathtub, and play made-up games we validate the importance of imagination.

pixabay.com/en/males-art-drawing-creativity-fig-391346/

pixabay.com/en/males-art-drawing-creativity-fig-391346/

When we encourage teens to leave room in their schedules for music or game design or skateboarding or whatever calls to them, we honor their need for self-expression. Young people who are comfortable with creativity can apply the same innovative mindset to their adult lives.

raj133.deviantart.com/art/Creativity-128976659

raj133.deviantart.com/art/Creativity-128976659

Creativity is necessary when dealing with an architectural dilemma, new recipe, marketing campaign, environmental solution, or personal relationship. In fact, it’s essential.

waterpolo218.deviantart.com/art/no-creativity-346991145

waterpolo218.deviantart.com/art/no-creativity-346991145

Imagination and inspiration have fueled human progress throughout time. Creative powers have brought us marvels and continue to expand the boundaries. The energy underlying the creative act is life-sustaining and honors the work of others.

pixabay.com/en/users/johnhain-352999/

pixabay.com/en/users/johnhain-352999/

But there’s a caveat. Creativity isn’t always positive, visionaries aren’t always compassionate, and progress isn’t always beneficial. After all, a clever mind is required to craft a conspiracy as well as to negotiate a peace accord.

raj133.deviantart.com/art/Creativity4-128977034

raj133.deviantart.com/art/Creativity4-128977034

Creativity is a life force when it arises as a healing impulse, as a truth-telling impulse, as an impulse to approach mystery.

mrcool256.deviantart.com/art/Basking-in-Creativity-22613894

mrcool256.deviantart.com/art/Basking-in-Creativity-22613894

Tomorrow’s possibilities call out to our inventive, imaginative selves. Let’s answer.

flora-silve.deviantart.com/art/Terre-104561782

flora-silve.deviantart.com/art/Terre-104561782

Portions of this post were excerpted from Free Range Learning.

11 Reasons Sing-Songy Names and Rhymes Are Important

benefits of nursery rhymes, chants for preschoolers,

We make up silly songs and even sillier rhymes in my family. Mostly it’s for fun, but I notice that it ushers in all sorts of other positives. It eases tension and creates fond memories. Sometimes it’s even a strangely effective method of shorthand communication.

You probably do this too without even noticing. Maybe you call your partner and kids nonsense names. Maybe you naturally make up tunes to ease a frustrating experience. Maybe you recite the same chants you learned as a child. Here are some reasons why this is so beneficial.

1. Sing-songy names and rhymes span generations. Your great-grandmother may have said “See you later alligator” when she was a girl. She probably also played finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Passing along these traditions preserves a language of play shared from oldest to youngest.

2. They are a form of cultural literacy. Many of these simple refrains are hundreds of years old, nearly identical to those recited in Shakespeare’s time. As children get older they’ll will be surprised to learn the historical roots of nursery rhymes like “Ring Around the Rosy” and “Humpty Dumpty.”

3. Playground rhymes and chants are part of what sociologists call “folkways.” Even when children don’t know one another, they know how to settle who goes first using “Rock, Paper, Scissors” or “Eenie Meenie Miny Mo.” These classics have surprising staying power and become norms in a child’s world.

4. Hand-clapping rhymes and songs not only promote motor skills and coordination, they’re also linked to academic skills. Research demonstrates that young children who take part in hand-clapping chants become better spellers, have neater handwriting, and better overall writing skills. A round of “Say, Say, Oh Playmate” anyone?

5. Nursery rhymes, songs, and clapping games can advance social skills and confidence. Young children feel comfortable with patterned singing, dancing, and playing because these activities proceed with a predictable sequences of words and actions.

6. Rhyming ditties can teach basic skills (such as “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”) and reinforce positive attitudes (such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”).

7. Rhymes help young children expand their vocabularies, become familiar with grammatical structure, and use sound patterns such as alliteration. The rhyming words themselves foster understanding of word families—groups of words with different beginning letters but the same ending letters. When children already know that “ball” rhymes with “call” they quickly recognize that “wall,” “fall,” and “small” also rhyme. This establishes a groundwork for later spelling and reading. 

8. Action rhymes like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” or “London Bridge is Falling Down” foster full body movement, always a good way to expend energy.

9. Rhymes aid in establishing routines, from clean-up songs to “Teddy Bear Say Good Night.” Familiar tunes and cadences ease transitions from one activity to another in a comfortably upbeat manner.

10. Rhymes are easily customized to fit the moment. Lyrics for “Wheels on the Bus” can be expanded to include such amusements as exhaust on the bus, clown on the bus, and so on. “This Little Piggy Went to the Market” can be played with toes that instead are destined to go to the park where they swing on swings, slide down the slide, drink from the water fountain, and whatever else the child likes to do at the park. The next time it might be played as “This Little Piggy Went to the Beach.” Personalized hand-clapping games, rhymes, and names make play meaningful and memorable.

11. Songs and chants are so essential to our development that we’re coded to recognize them in utero.  Start singing!

 

Originally published in Holistic Parenting

Public domain image, pixabay.com

Public domain image, pixabay.com

 

Understanding Children Through Imitation

follow your child's example, what it feels like to be a child, child's experience,

Mirror a child’s movements. (morguefile)

So much of a child’s experience, from infancy on, is constantly being shaped by adults. Their behavior, posture, movement, and sound are restricted by structured activities, confining seats, and grown-up expectations . If we allow ourselves, we can drop into a child’s world for few moments by replicating his or her movements. It’s a form of listening at the bodily level that can be instructive as well as enlightening.

I’ve admitted to trying this the very first time as a new mother, imitating my newborn’s movements in an experience so profound it felt like a ceremony.

I didn’t try it again until I was the mother of three kids under six. I’d dashed over to a friend’s house to drop something off, feeling rushed to get back to my nursing baby. My friend’s children weren’t home. I stood in her quiet kitchen telling her how much I wanted to sit down and chat, but couldn’t spare the time. She answered my complaint with mock outrage, “Don’t you dare relax! What were you thinking?”

In my best imitation toddler voice I said, “WANT TO!”

She wagged her finger. “That’s enough out of you. Do what you’re told right this minute.”

Then I dropped to the floor in a full-on act of defiance; lying on my back, kicking my legs, and squalling, “You can’t maaaaaake me!”

By this time our hilarity was well out of proportion to this brief moment of improv. When I got up I felt different—wonderfully de-stressed and energized.

I insisted my friend give it a try. She resisted, until I admonished her with the same phrases I’d heard her use on her kids. I even flung out her full name accompanied by finger wagging. That did it. She twirled around whining “Noooooo. No no no!” till she was out of breath, with hair in her mouth and a smile on her face.

We both agreed we felt incredible.

I don’t for a minute suggest you do this, ever, in front of any child. Self-expression should never be ridiculed. But if they’re not home, give it a try. What this did, for me as well as my friend, was let us fully express strong emotions through our bodies as our children do, as we used to do when we were children. We may have been well-educated, reasonably sophisticated women but the need to indulge in some primal venting hadn’t left us. A little method acting gave us both new insight into what our children experience.

After that, I looked for ways to learn from my children through imitation. We adults do this all the time when we play with our kids. We chase and let them chase us. When they pretend to be an animal or make-believe character we join in. We’re the big bad wolf blowing down a child’s fort made of cushions. We’re the sotto-voiced doll talking to another doll or the train engine struggling up an imaginary hill. Playing is a window into a child’s experience, and remarkably restorative for us as well.

But what truly let me honor my children’s world was letting them choreograph my movements. Sometimes we’d play what we called “mirror”— standard actor training done face to face. The child is the leader, the parent the “mirror.” As the child makes gestures, facial expressions, and hand movements the parent tries to duplicate the movements exactly. Then we ‘d switch so the child got a turn being the mirror. I always ended up laughing first.

Sometimes we played a variant of this, making each other into emotion mirrors. One would call out a feeling like “surprised” or “angry” or “wild” and the other would try to convey the word through facial expression. (This is also a great way to advance emotional intelligence.)

My favorite imitation was through dance. We’d turn on some lively music and I’d try to copy my child’s dance moves. This is much more difficult than it sounds. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with a child’s energy level for long!

My kids are past the stage where they want me to imitate their dance moves. But I haven’t forgotten how much letting my kids choreograph my movements taught me. Even now, they’ll catch my eye across a crowded room for a brief moment of mirroring. It’s funny, warm, and lets us both feel understood.

Don’t miss this wonderfully expressive choreography by Zaya, imitated by real dancers.

ANNA-RF: Beautiful Proofs of Mankind’s Similarity

 

Mid-Eastern new music, Israeli musicians play globally,

anna-rf.com

I first heard of ANNA-RF when a friend shared “Jump,” a playful video with lyrics that resound in our fractured world.

For all of us love is the flame
The fire that burns the hate
Helps us dream and create.
I can’t see the different between
And I know that the answer’s within.
Humanity is one big tribe
So why can’t we live side by side?

 

The very next video of theirs I clicked on was a stirringly beautiful rendition of a folk song from Azerbaijan.

Intrigued, I found out all I could about the group.

Musicians Roy Smila and Ofir J.Rock met in the small desert village of Shaharut, Israel back in 2011. They quickly forged a musical connection that evolved into the band ANNA-RF, which they named after an Arabic-Hebrew expression that means both “I know” and “I don’t know.” They play what they call electro-ethnic-reggae, although that term doesn’t stretch as far as their music which is highly versatile, in part thanks to collaboration with musicians from all over the world. Their compositions are original and often spontaneous, mixing new sounds with ancient traditions. Instruments they use include the kamancha, lafta, sazbush, flute, guitar, and didgeridoo.

A little rummaging around YouTube makes it obvious that visual art is an integral part of what they do. They create videos for each song, filming in mountains, deserts, and busy markets. They can be found dancing in desert rain

and playing Celtic reggae with musicians in Switzerland.

Last year the band added a new member, Or Rave. I reached out to them for an interview and they kindly made time to email me back from a concert date in London.

 

Despite our complicated political times, your lyrics are mostly celebratory. What message does your music convey?  

We find no truth in borders or other fictive ideas of separation. We enjoy the beauty of everyone and we find inspiration in every culture and every place. Our music is based on this point of view, therefore it is positive and open.

 

What’s your songwriting process like?

Our home and studio is in a tiny village in the desert. The emptiness of the desert is what inspires us to fill it with creation.

A song can start from anything. A line on the kamancha (the Persian violin), a riff on the guitar, a sentence someone throws to the air.

We also tour a lot and in our journeys we meet amazing people and artists who we collaborate with. In many cases that connection is an inspiration for a new song.

 

How does travel influence your music?

When you are traveling your life is highly dynamic and flexible. From that we get a variety of new points of view and inspiration. By traveling we meet a lot of amazing people and artists that influence us and broaden our horizons.

 


Tell us a little about collaborating with other musicians and who you’ve played with so far.
 

For us one of the most beautiful proofs of the similarity of mankind can be found in music. When you play with other musicians from around the globe you understand that all over this planet people get the same feeling from music and you can find similarity right in the musical scales.

We’ve played with:

  • Imamyar Hasanov, the great kamancha master from Azerbaijan
  • Yair Dalal, the well-known Oud master
  • The Turbans, the great Gypsy band from England
  • Farafi, beautiful African music from France and California
  • Daniel Waples, famous hang player from England
  • Davide Swarup, the hang and SPB pioneer from Italy
  • Tom Bertschy and Thom Freiburghaus, the medieval musicians from Switzerland

And many, many more amazing artists from all over this planet.

 

These videos are mostly filmed in evocative natural settings. What are some complications of filming in the sand, on a mountainside, or roadside?

In most of those beautiful locations there is no water or electricity there so we have to prepare in advance. We have to have food and water supply and to be very precise. We have to carry on our backs all the props and all the equipment.

 

Any interesting stories about mishaps in filming?

In the “Weeping Eyes” video we had to hike for nine hours to the location in the Himalayas. The energy that we spent there was way too much and we could not stay, so we had to climb down all the way back to our guesthouse. All of us were so worn out.

 

 

Can you tell us the story of how one song evolved?

Our last song is a collaboration with a great composer and musician called Eran Zamir. He came for a weekend of creation. A tradition we like to do on the first day—we played together and he played some of his own compositions and after a while we chose a line that all of us especially liked. With this line, Or the beat master added his own rhythm and we wrote the lyrics and created the structure of the song. Roy added a kamancha solo (that we connected to a guitar amp for the special sound of the over-drive) and Ofir recorded the vocals. On the next day we wrote the script and shot the video in the desert. The video is a result of our creative connection.

 

 

What are you listening to these days?

We listen to a lot of Azeric, Turkish, and Persian music as well reggae, pop and new electro and dubstep acts. We are inspired by many different styles and find beauty in all of them.

 

Your videos tend to include repeat props like a stuffed monkey and a variety of hats, and repeat themes like hitchhiking. What’s up with that?

The symbols are there for any person to see them as they will.

 

Fans can buy ANNA-RF music here

anna-rf.com

 

This interview originally appeared in First Day Press.

16 Ways To Spark Creativity

how to be creative,

1. Get out of your head and back to your senses. Touch, smell, and taste. Reach out and feel the texture of bricks as you walk by a building. Forgo utensils to eat with your hands. Notice the sensation of cool water sliding down your throat as you drink. Be in your body.

2. Avoid your playlist. Listen to music from a genre or part of the world completely unfamiliar to you. Music is a language more evocative than speech.

spark your creativity,

3. Better yet, try silence. The constant presence of media playing in our homes, cars, and public places dulls the essential connection we have to our inner selves.

eliminate blocks to productivity,

4. List your aggravations. Highlight the ones you have control over. Cross out the ones you don’t have control over. It’s a smaller list now isn’t it? Once you stop fretting so much you have energy for more generative pursuits.

why you should doodle,

5. Doodle. What seems like an aimless activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge. And the doodles themselves may tell you something.

fun is good for your brain,

6. Play. We function best mentally and physically when we indulge in the free form fun sort of play that calls on us to improvise, move, and laugh. If you’ve forgotten how, consult a three-year-old.

Mateo Inurria: Daydream

7. Welcome daydreams, they fuel our creative lives.

Familia

8. Seek metaphors. Challenge yourself to discern a “message” in the first billboard you see, first sentence you hear when you turn on music, or first visual that appears when you flick on the TV.

Margret Hofheinz-Döring/ Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen

9. Listen to your dreams. Before falling asleep, ask for a dream message. Remind yourself to remember the dream. As you waken, pull the threads of your dream into your conscious awareness and let it inform your day.

“Sprich! Ich höre Dir zu”

10. Imagine your own burning questions are being asked of you by someone you love dearly. Then answer as if you’re talking to that person. Your responses tend to be more wide open, innovative, and kind when responding to someone you love, much narrower within your own “self-talk.”

spark your creativity,

11. Keep creative thinking notebooks, as da Vinci did. Use them to make quick sketches and doodles, note ideas, write observations, free associate, draw mindmaps, and keep track of your inspirations.

creativity exercises,

Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

12. View issues from all angles. Don’t accept what you’re told or think what you’re expected to think.

Danny Gregory

13. Don’t wait till you have more time or life gets easier. Cultivate a passion that has been dormant too long. Pick up that paintbrush, practice your guitar, try out for that play, take those glassblowing classes, learn to sail. For inspiration, take a look at Everyday Matters. Author Danny Gregory’s wife became paralyzed in an accident. While caring for her and their infant son, Gregory decided to start drawing. His study of color, value, and ordinary beauty helped to heal their family too. And you don’t want to miss his extraordinary new book, Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are.

teach yourself to be more creative,

14. Make an effort to connect regularly with something in nature. Watch the same tree as it changes throughout the seasons, pay attention to a body of water in different weather conditions, take an evening walk (no matter the temperature) each time there’s full moon.

Mary Barnes

15. Cultivate flow, what’s also called being “in the zone.” That’s the feeling of being fully absorbed in your activity. Time is irrelevant, in fact you may feel at one with the project whether it’s sailing, gardening, sculpting, composing, or welding.

16. Do something unusual (for you) every day. Try an unfamiliar food, drive a different route, make up your own lyrics to a song, compliment a stranger, make a unique board game out of an old one, laugh off an irritation, use a new word three different times, lie in the grass, write affirmations on your underwear, leave encouraging notes in books, compose an anti-thank you letter, go on a media fast, use binoculars, chew every bite ten times, do somersaults.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.       -Martha Graham