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The Culture Becomes the Patient (Music Matters 2)

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Evacuees from eastern Ukraine. Lviv, Ukraine - March 2, 2022.

Back in the darkness of Covid lockdown – as the world seemed to be coming apart and uncertainty reigned wild – I engaged in a conversation with my esteemed colleague, Christina Tourin, founder and guiding light of the International Harp Therapy Program. For three decades, Tina’s taught the art and craft of therapeutic bedside musicianship. Spanning the spectrum of esoteric traditions to leading edge science, Tina (a music therapist and classical/Celtic harpist) is an exemplar of a generation of committed women who’ve created US bedside music programs for healing assistance and transition. (1)

In 2020, as Covid, global warming, economic disparity, and social issues convulsed, I wondered about the role of musicians in our changing culture. Clearly, we’re on the precipice of multiple inflection points. Change brings discomfort, and uncertainty causes the freak-out button to go bright red! Regardless of where, our national and local cultures are stressed! It may lay beneath the surface, but foreboding affects a culture like it does an individual, and it ain’t pretty, or healthy. Unlike Covid, which was dramatically global, the line-up of cultural stressors are working locally now. Be it a town or a state, some feel it now while others breathe a sigh of relief for having dodged that bullet! But we all know we are living in a collective field, and it is not long before their school board fiasco or abortion disagreements becomes our issues, as well.

Out of all this, it makes sense to me that the culture itself is becoming a patient, analogous to a very sick person. However, the malady appears to be multi-dimensional with psychological ramifications in addition to the physical indications of stress and concern. With rampant uncertainty and fear, the emotional temperature of our cultures is rising. The only good news of this is that emotions, music, and sound are a solid match. The emotions are a direct portal into the nervous system for vibration (all music and sound). Therefore, the inquiry of how music can be of service to a continuously disrupted culture, is a timely and appropriate question to ask.

Our Culture is the Patient – Expanding the Role of Music in the Age of Covid & Climate (2)  

When discussing the concept of sick culture with Christina, she suggested we do a Zoom webinar to include many bedside musicians who’d been working in hospitals but could no longer gain entry due to Covid restrictions. About 30 of us gathered online in November, 2020, and I recall there were many considerations and every question sprouted multiple thoughts. I include these shared statements and feelings from 21 months ago Covid lockdown because it was a shared experience that’s shaped us all.

- What do we need to do to adapt?

- Profound loss of sense of purpose and isolation.

- Awakening into self sovereignty. isolation as an accidental condition?

- Music and sound is universal, art and science empowering. 

- Unify thru music and sound, nobody can do anything without our permission.

- Struggle w/technology to share with others.

- Lack of connectivity with others. 

- Lack of trust (internally and externally), bridge divides, Pan-cultural anxiety, racism

and trauma stored in the body, rebuild inner patterns, all about relationships one on

one or in groups, sound compromised due to tech.

- Necessity of self-care and care of others, isolation brings on fear, care of social

workers, care workers.

- Families living in small spaces, domestic violence up.

- Isolation, disconnection, fear, anxiety, living with unknown, adrenal burnout,

nervous system overload, disconnection from nature, disconnection from higher and

lower centers - how to use music to come back together without access to in person


- How visceral connection, how do we revamp? How being stuck on a screen will

bring people back together?

- Adapt to bad tech, use humming and toning instead of singing. Share a sound

instead of a structured song.

- Compromise of sound. Acceptance that it will not be perfect. Trusting sound with

intention. Work with what you’ve got, the connection will transmute.

- Acceptance. We don’t know where we will end up, but know where we were.

- Latency, embrace w/tech and experiment. Adaptation. After all is over, taking the

best and using it later. Accept where you are and trust.

- Working with chanting: Sense of connection when bringing intention. Coming

into coherence. Call and response when can’t be heard…bringing new adaptions


- Vibrational energy. How do thru microphone? How teach via frequencies online?

Teach about distance healing, intention. Harder to go thru microphone. (1:05:00)

how can we extend music to public while in lockdown?

- How bring music forth during these political times? Honoring of people who gave

their lives in this different kind of war.

- Intention. Polish up for intention to come across with the technology. Importance of intention. Can it go over the internet?

- Recurrent theme about transferring from who we were and who we are becoming?

- Trust, acceptance: We are not who we were and we don’t know who we are

becoming… Emergent theme: Frustration. We want to be manifesting, but everything

is topsy turvy. We are in choppy seas. Before take care anybody else, take care of self. Things that used to define me, compensatory mechanisms gone. All thrown into

new chapters TOGETHER.

- Learning about learning how to be with what is instead of trying to fix it.

- Where is my sense of purpose? Don’t know where I am anymore. Lag, time, tonality

over the internet. Time is up. Can’t find the downbeat anymore; all changed. I can’t

dance tango… make up something else. Wasting our precious life. You are not your

violin. You are not your harp. You are not your tango. Think renaissance. Different

instrument now. Learn about latency and lag as a metaphor.

- Is it possible that energy can come thru hands over the internet? 

- Take artists inclinations and push and settle into these mediums we have been

given to work with. The essence of who we are is what comes thru our instruments.

Learn how to be in the unknown. Beyond words.

- We’re all improvisors.

- Re-tuning one self.

Inspired by this powerful gathering, I began formulating the idea that trained therapeutic musicians would be great ambassadors into a new music paradigm. Certified musicians have been educated in taking pulses, reading emotional and physical signatures, and devising appropriate music and sound with individuals sick and/or dying.

Pulse of the Neighborhood

Our culture is undeniably unwell. From Sri Lanka to Washington DC, we’re in a reassessment and realignment – or not – of how humans live together. The heat is proportionate to violence. Maybe like a forest fire, a cultural fever is necessary to open the terrain. I don’t know… But what I do know is that music has a great psychological imprint: harmony triggers unity; melody reminds us of the perfection of beauty; rhythm entrains us together. Historically, music is a cohesive balm.

Therapeutic musicians, like musicians everywhere, know how to read an audience and create an effect. While there is a great difference between bar and bedside musicians, they bring good intention and musical surcease. But if a community is hurting, what can music do?

Most of us don’t quite know what to do with a patient as big as a neighborhood, town, or country. So, the human way is to just make it up; what comes from within? Here are some recent examples of music beyond entertainment to trigger your imagination.

Homebound Italian musicians spontaneously appeared on Milan balconies during severe 2020 Covid isolation.

The Black String Triage Ensemble is “…committed to using music as the healing force for the soul in the immediate aftermath of community violence.” They play concerts for the community at the scene of an incident. (3)

Estonian singers in 1987-1991 took on the Soviet Union in a singing revolution, “…so named because Balts identified songs as the unifying symbol and nonviolent weapon of choice in the struggle for national self-determination.” (4)

The Pavarotti Music Centre in Bosnia opened in 1997 after a devastating war because they understood the importance of non-professional music directly in homes and neighborhoods.

In 2022, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, made up of both refugees who fled the war and artists who stayed behind, tours the world to keep attention on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A musician says, as he joins, “I don’t have a gun, but I have my cello.” (5)

Dayvin Hallmon, the creator and conductor of The Black String Triage Ensemble, speaks about the use of music and art “…to address pain, foster healing, promote love, call for justice, and guard against hopelessness.”

Expanded Skillsets

Now, the consideration is what are the skillsets that musicians (therapeutically trained or not) would add, to be effective sonic facilitators to cultures in transition, from fire, war, immigration, loss, racism, etc.? In the parlance of rock musicians, the term woodshedding refers to going away and learning new things. What does it take, as adults, for us to go back to ‘school’ so we can go forward with a new grace and purpose? What do we need to know about technology, psychology, culture, change? You already know about music… Now how apply it to different circumstances because “the times they are a changing” (6) and in these times of uncertainty, everybody can use inspiration, and everybody can use hope.

I suggest that concerned and relevant musicians do serious mental and physical woodshedding to sharpen a new skillset that will allow them to bring their music out of the concert hall and hospital room and into the street and community centers. The third Music Matters blog, Public Music, will delve further into this idea.

My question for you, my dear fellow musicians, is:

What are the new skillsets we need to be sonic healers in a disrupted culture?


Therapeutic Music and Sound Education Resources USA (8/2022)

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1. Other organizations include Bedside Harp, Harp for Healing, Music Thanatology Association International, The Chalice of Repose, Music for Healing and Transition Program, and The National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians.

2. 92-min Zoom recording can be found at

3. The Black String Triage Ensemble. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

4. Foreign Policy Research Institute.

5. New York Times, An Orchestra Supports Ukraine, and Reunites a Couple Parted by War. 8/14/22

6. Thanks Bob


Join Soundwork 21 Facebook discussion group HERE

Read blog #1, Why Soundwork Research Matters, in this series of three HERE

Watch video, Why Soundwork Research Matters, HERE

Watch video, The Culture Becomes the Patient, HERE

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