Why Music Matters

I wrote this line last night for a new song "what will we do for money, oh I don't know, but as long as I have you and my music, I'll be fine."
Why music matters? Music is a force, a vehicle of authentic connection.  It is a way to celebrate life--both the ups and the downs, and to find joy in each moment, beyond the limiting judgments of good, bad, what should be and what should not.  I laughed out loud onstage Monday night-- about how most of my songs are so serious and sad, and told the audience, "It's not a pity party; it's that I really feel that through music we get to be connected with our own humanity, and become one with the joy and suffering of all human beings. That's why I do what I do. That's why I share my music".  And it it's true... 

Someone asked me recently, "Can you write when you're happy?"  My answer? Of course!  In fact, when I'm most upset it is much more difficult to write.  I think that is because during those times, I am too self absorbed, and for me, writing is about tuning into a greater camaraderie with the world. It can't be all about me when I create or when I perform. Still, I think that it's a very personal process and there is nothing wrong with using music when you feel most down. Music is there for us, in our brightest and darkest moments. Think of all the songs written to cope with genocide.  Think of all the songs about heartbreak. It is up to the individual to discover how to write, how to perform, how to create and how to be a witness. But, to be able to write only when you have something terrible happen can be limiting. For me, the songs of longing and heartbreak come when I am grieving not for myself, but for the world. Songwriting is a way to tune into and channel the pain that is not mine. (But this is coming from a woman who has had a pretty privileged life). Yet, with any personal hardship, I can to turn to music to help me get through, as well as trust that my experience is universal so that when I write of my personal pain, it will reach out and touch others.

Music is powerful and there are many ways to connect with music and be served by it. You can be in the audience, or you can be a performer.  And then there are all the spaces in between. Part of connecting with the power of music is learning where it fits into your life and really honoring that.  If you've always wanted to sing-- go for it! Find a space that allows you to. The monthly Living Song Voice Circle is a wonderful safe space for you to test your vocal wings. If you want to be a performer-- go for it!.  And, if you are happy to sit in the audience and simply listen... we performers love and honor you for witnessing us and sharing in the healing experience of music. Whether we know it intimately or barely at all, the truth is that music is a part of our daily life. Music is making a difference on the planet. It is changing how we do things, how we connect to cultures different from our own, it is changing our relationship to the earth, it is changing lives.
I love participating in music in a variety of ways. So on that note I want to share that I've been spending a lot of time in the Mission District of San Francisco. Last Friday, I had the distinct privilege of going out to see the Buena Vista Social Club at the Red Poppy Arthouse.
I show up to the venue early. A red curtain is draped in the doorway. I sit on the bench outside, waiting. Soon a line has gathered and all around I hear Spanish. I admit that in my obsession with the French language, I have never really wanted to learn Spanish, but in this moment I want to be intimately connected, through sound, through language with the people around me. We gather inside. Right away I begin speaking to a couple near me (in English). It turns out we are all musicians. Soon the performance we are here for begins and then the dancing. I love dancing to great music almost as much as I love performing. Madeleines voice is beautiful. I can feel her connection to these songs, traditional songs written at times of pain. Social songs. I am swept up and after the show find myself at a gluten free pasta party with amazing new friends (the band and others).
The wine is passed around as the savory smell of pasta sauce begins to waft through the air. We talk about women's empowerment, we talk about the history of Latino oppression. A table cloth is set on the floor and soon we are sitting with bowls of pasta. The cheese and olive oil is passed around. When we are done eating, the music begins. They ask me to sing for them and I sing one traditional Bulgarian tune and then La Vie En Rose. "This is it, " I think, "this is life-- communities gathering in song”. Diversity in Song. Then Ivan picks up a flute and the traditional Latino songs begin. So beautiful... 
Music connects people across cultures and allows us to share our cultures. Music helps us let people in to experience what we have lived, or our ancestors have lived. Here I am a white American singing songs from Bulgaria, Nigeria and France, in a community of mixed Americans and Latin Americans, singing their traditional songs.
I have to admit I'm a bit fearful of writing about a community of which I know I am on outside. I have not had to deal with discrimination; I do not share the pain of generations. So I apologize if I say the wrong thing, and welcome corrections and information as it is important for me to not assume, but to understand. What I do know is that right now, in the wonderful, artistic Mission District of San Francisco, many in this community are being evicted. This is a rich community of artists who understand this importance of culture, community art making, and performance in life. The Red Poppy Arthouse is central to this community and the work they are doing in using art to bring awareness to these issues is truly inspiring. 
Discrimination is not something of the past. It is here. I know making music can make all the difference. So write your songs, dance to the music, sing your heart out and let our differences be celebrated and barriers erased! Here's to a world where all people have a voice!

Posted on November 1, 2013 .