Music as a mode of travel

September 2, 2009 was a perfect day. And by some miracle, I found a way to share it.

That day I was on a songwriting retreat at a tiny, beloved island in the border waters of Minnesota and Ontario. The days are long there. I awaken before dawn and slip into the cool, still water before I am awake. I emerge refreshed, dress against the chill, and make my way to the eastern end of the island to watch the sunrise across the water. Loons call. The breeze comes up. Another day of wonder begins.

I live deeply at the island – away from phones, computers, cars, keys, clocks, money, even running water. I follow rhythms and impulses in ways I can’t in the city.

Near the end of a particularly delicious day there, I sat down at the piano in my cabin and started writing a song of gratitude.

The last of the sun’s rays poured in as I wrote. I was certain that the song would provide me with a way to re-live that magical day any time I wanted. What I didn’t expect was that the song would make my experience vividly available to other people.

Every time I play the song, people tell me that the song carries them to the island. They feel the chill in the air during “the brilliant, watermelon dawn.” They smell the “sweet basil crushed between the fingers.” And often, they share the “grateful tears for having lived this perfect day.”

I wonder how songs – and other art forms – are capable of transmitting very specific experiences of memory, emotion, or experience from one imagination to another? What might this capacity mean in a world of increasing isolation and loneliness? What function will music play when the oil runs out and we need to find other ways to travel the world?

I vividly remember “traveling” on the songs of a Tuvan throat singer who was performing here in Minneapolis. The Tuvan throat singers from southern Siberia actually sing the geography of the places where they linger with their herds. They replicate the sounds of a particular waterfall or rock face through their strangely beautiful overtone singing.

His songs became vehicles for carrying me to specific landscapes and ways of life I will never directly experience.

I find the same phenomenon when I lead community singing. The African songs carry us to dusty squares or rainforests. The Irish songs invoke the rugged coasts and impossibly green hills. And the song from the high Andes leaves us all a little dizzy.

Inside of every song we sing is some essence of the person who created it and to the land they inhabited. When we fully open and deeply listen, we are able to use songs to visit other experiences, worldviews, and geographies. It’s all there inside the music.

Tell me, how have you traveled through time and space on wings of song?

About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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1 Response to Music as a mode of travel

  1. Avril says:

    I saw a group of Tuvan throat-singers called Chirgilchin at a folk festival a few years ago. It was literally a jaw-dropping experience – evocative, unearthly, magical. In their voices I could hear the wind blowing across the steppes and feel the horses thundering across the landscape. Whenever I hear their music I’m transported to a place I’ve never been, and feel like I recognize it.

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