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Every Sing


Mar 19, 2018

Healing  and  pain; creating healing or pain through our music choices and environments. 

The guests are two singers from my studio. They came down the Den of Technology to talk about how singing can bring healing and perhaps happiness. James Booth, student at Seattle Central College, and Allison Wilner Martin, in her gap year after high school and working for a law firm.

Singing, the most personal of all vocal expression, has always been tied to pain. Singing can help with healing or it can cause more pain. A singer cannot lie - a singer must believe what they are singing, at least for that moment, or we will know and realize they are a fraud. 

And our actions, as people building our lives around singing, have this same power - to make the most personal of all vocal expressions an instrument of pain or an instrument of healing. This is so commonly understood that I hardly think I need to give examples, but for the sake of context I’ll give a few. And I’ll try to make them not too personal, because I don’t want to cause pain here - I want to bring awareness to the power we hold as musicians.

About that power, the ancient greeks totally understood. In Greek mythology, Nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus .The individual muses have had various names and incarnations over the centuries and their very name, Muse, is the source of our English word, Music.

According to the website owlcation.com The Muses are minor goddesses of the Greek pantheon. They are the personification of literary arts, music, visual arts and science. We all have that spark of a Muse within us to aid in our creative endeavors.

The muses all have different jobs in music. Here are a few of them:

Polyhymnia is the protector of divine hymns. She created geometry and grammar. She wears a veil as she looks up to the Heavens. Melpomene is the protector of the Tragedies. She created rhetoric speech and the melodies of tragedy. She holds a theatrical tragedy mask. Euterpe is the protector of song and poetry of death, love, and war. She created several musical instruments and inspires beautiful music. She holds a flute with her other instruments surrounding her. Erato is the protector of lyrical and love poetry. She holds a lyre and love arrows with a bow. Clio is the protector of history and the guitar, the heroic arts. Clio holds a clarion in her right arm and a book in her left hand.

Calliope is the superior Muse. She inspired Homer as he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. She accompanied kings and princes to help them impose justice and serenity. Calliope is the protector of poetic works, the rhetoric arts, music and writing. Calliope holds laurels in one hand and two Homeric poems in the other. 

Since then, since the muses, have leaders and academics understood the power? You be they have. Think of the tribal, bringing-together power of national anthems and battle songs. 

Think of the songs used for forced labor, like those covered in Negro Work Songs and Calls. By Botkin and Lomax-1943 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx_OOivYYo8. It makes my stomach turn.

Songs have been used as weapons - Saul Williams in his NPR post Songs As Weapons, talks about Fela Kuti his music was his message as he defiantly proclaimed that "music is the weapon of the future." One of his songs was written in direct response to the loss of his mother, who died of complications after the Nigerian Army raided his compound. Fela Kuti marched his mother's coffin to the Head of State, placing it on his doorstep, while his band played this processional.

The Star Spangled Banner The Essential Jimi Hendrix is well understood as a protest song meant to shoot a spear into the heart of the United States, for excellent reason. The country was a MESS. For this song, Hendrix guitar does the singing.

Songs have been used to spurn a former lover. They have been used to wound someone who has wounded the singer. Singing has been used to point out a pain that has been caused with the intention of causing another pain. Have you heard Sound of Silence as interpreted by Disturbed? That is the very definition of pain. And in that vein, there are entire genres of popular music devoted to pain.

Singing is very, very effective at causing pain.

In a recent episodes of Every Sing, it has come to light that the world around singing is also a vehicle for pain. Among other powerful examples from people I have interviewed for this show, Sheila Houlahan, in episode 29, talked about two deep singing induced injuries. First was the evil competition brought out in her undergrad experience. People using music to justify their terrible intentions. Second was the pain caused by ignorance - an opera company who created disrespectful charactures of the Indian culture in their production - the equivalent to Sheila of black-face performances.

Ya know, my heart is racing while I talk to you about this. This so deep, so personal, and so important. The idea that singing has been used to cause pain in people I love, like Sheila, makes me sick. 

But there is more pain being caused every day around singing. Just today I heard a young man in a singing contest who’s every song was full of anger and pain. His songs were from the musicals Jeckly and Hide, Assassins, Oliver! and Oklahoma. What pain is in this young man that he has to relish in evil for every song he sings!

And what pain are we potentially causing when we pick venues for our events; does the venue hosting you welcome everyone in your group? People with physical handicaps, moral objections, or other cultural differences?  Is your event being held in a place where your LGBTQ singers might be preached against? Do your singers feel safe, not from others wielding guns, but from the words that can do so much damage and haunt them in the night? What pain was caused, historically, when black singers had to use the back door to enter a venue where they were entertaining a white audience? What confusion is happening for your muslim or atheist singers when you book a church as your performance venue? And what pain is being caused to the singers who are forced to step foot on an alt-right campus for a singing celebration for the sake of their teachers.

And what about the Grammy’s - run by the Recording Academy of which I am a member. They seem to have learned nothing from the MeToo movement, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow almost immediately made things worse after this year’s male dominated Grammys. He responded  by urging women to "step up."

In response to him, recording artist Pink posted on Twitter. "Women in music don't need to 'step up' – women have been stepping since the beginning of time," "Stepping up, and also stepping aside. Women owned music this year. They've been killing it. And every year before this."

So where does this leave us - you and me. Look closely - hold yourself accountable to the highest standard. Be vigilant. Be unrelenting. Err on the side of love. In the words of Cara Transtrom, see and understand better so that you can do better.

"We are all artists and music connects us as spiritual beings, transcending all this crap the world would use to divide us.” Patti Haak Barrow