Dana Clark Music

The Healing Power of Music

A Musical Autobiography

I believe music is magic.

I believe music is medicine.

I believe music can work miracles.

I believe music can help us remake the world.

 

In the small black and white photograph a year old baby wearing overalls sits in a high chair pulled up to an old piano. Her back is straight, her hands on the keys in proper position. The angle of her head indicates that she is watching her fingers make music.  She is completely absorbed, oblivious to the rest of the world. On the music rack in front of her is a piece of sheet music, “Black and White Rag.”

 

Though the photo is black and white, I clearly remember that the high chair gleamed with shiny blue paint. The sheet music for “Black and White Rag” is still one of my treasured possessions. Looking at the photo, I realize that my lifelong fascination with the auditory art of music has long roots stretching back into my infancy, and it is too late to stop now! No wonder my identity was always bound up with the art of creating music. No wonder the most important decisions in my life were made in service to my musical evolution. It seems that I have always been willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of pursuing the musical adventure wherever it might lead. Some of those sacrifices were painful. Music was my greatest comfort. Music saved my sanity. Writing songs has saved my life.

 

Coping with the emotional turbulence of adolescence was no easy task in a small farm town with few alternatives. I learned there were two sources of relief: longs walks that brought me the mindless peace associated with physical exhaustion, and the catharsis of playing into the piano every nuance of the powerful emotions that at times seemed to be tearing me apart. Beethoven was very therapeutic, though I’m sure my interpretations were histrionic at times! As a teenager alone with my instruments and my emotional turmoil, the necessity of finding musical release provided a period of intense training that taught me to channel emotion through my fingers and voice.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Music is the language of emotion. When nothing else can quite express what you’re feeling, music will. Collect recordings that touch your heart. Go for stylistic variety. Choose songs that evoke strong feelings of joy, rage, strength, fear, sadness, tenderness, love, etc. Keep them handy in a private listening spot. Use them as medicine, as often as needed. Listen to them. Sing along (at the top of your lungs, if need be.) Dance to them. Give yourself permission to laugh or cry. Repeat until you feel comforted. If you play an instrument or sing, develop a repertoire of favorite songs that portray a wide range of emotions. Turn to this outlet whenever you need it. Express yourself fully! Your own music will develop rich nuances of emotion if you play when you need to channel a powerful feeling. These songs can then be shared with others who need to hear them for their own healing.

 

As I had always planned, I enrolled as a Music Major when I entered college. As part of the curriculum, I had private lessons with one of my professors. He taught me only one thing: that I could never be a musician. He indicated that my technique was appalling, my sight-reading abominable, my repertoire inadequate. Rather than an expression of the heart, music became a mechanical exercise. Just like the little kids who give up singing for life once they’ve been told to stand in the back of the class and silently move their lips, the rejection of one teacher changed the direction of my life. I decided that if I couldn’t be a musician, I would do something almost as important: I would try to save the world. I thought I could help others by studying psychology and working with children. For the next seven years I did just that, acquiring a B.A. in Child Psychology, and an M.A. in Behavior Modification. Music remained my “hobby.” Accompanied by my guitar, I sang the folk songs of the day.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Teachers can be invaluable at spurring your musical development. However—all music teachers are not created equal! Look for a one who is willing to teach you what youwant to learn in the way you need to learn it. Teachers who have a “one size fits all” approach may make you feel that their failure to meet your needs is your fault! Not true! There are as many ways to learn music as there are people on the planet. All ways are valid.

 

While working on my PhD in Educational Psychology I made friends with someone in that department who had played guitar in a rock band to help pay his way through college.   We got together with our instruments and “jammed.” When I discovered that my skills were just as good as his, I suddenly realized that if he could be a musician, so could I! In that moment my life reversed direction. A few months later I was playing in my first band, having dropped out of school and quit my job as a counselor! I was penniless and I was happy. When the band proved short-lived I began writing songs and gigging solo, first in southern Illinois and later in Chicago, where there seemed to be no end of jobs for the working musician.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Finding others with whom to share music making can be an opportunity for growth. Don’t worry—your life probably will not change as radically as mine did! Invite others to your home for a sing-along. Host a get-together at which everyone is invited to bring their favorite recording to share. Find out about “picking parties” in your area. Be aware of the people in your circle of friends who play an instrument or sing, and do some casual music making with one or two at a time. Take advantage of opportunities to join in Christmas caroling groups, community choirs, music making at church, and drum circles.

My family was horrified that I given up the security of my job and dropped out of graduate school to play in a rock and roll band!  My life partner and I split up after being together seven years. I had difficulty explaining why these things were happening, even to myself!  What gave music so much power over me?  I couldn’t claim that it was as essential to human survival as food and shelter, and yet I found myself willing to sacrifice everything in order to pursue it as my life’s work. Through observation and reading I eventually came to understand how music affects the individual, bonding us to each other and to our community.  Not mere entertainment, music exists in every culture and is commonly linked with spirituality and community.  We are all inherently music-making creatures, and by participating in music we can all become more full human.

 

I believe that music is nothing less than the first language of every human being.  In the womb we grow familiar with the cadences of our mother’s heartbeat, breathing, and movement.  Though unequipped to understand the meaning of her words, we absorb the melody of her speech.  From that moment in our prenatal development when our auditory nerves conduct the first signal, we hear the variations in pitch and tempo of our mother’s voice associated with the physiological components of her emotional states. Blood of her blood, flesh of her flesh, we learn the meaning of her body music.

 

This communication becomes a duet at the moment of birth.  Before speech develops, a mother must interpret the “musical” qualities of her infant’s vocalizations in order to determine its needs.  Attentive parents quickly learn the difference between the sound of a baby’s cry of pain and the whine of fatigue, and are thereby guided in their responses.

 

If this ability to respond to musical elements is important to human survival, one would expect it to be something all humans share—something “hard-wired” in the human brain.  With the functional brain imagery that allows scientists to examine which parts of the living brain are active, it has been found that as people listen to or participate in music, many different locations in the brain begin to work together in a coordinated fashion.  At the very least, reading a piece of sheet music while singing and playing the piano requires that an individual use the parts of the brain associated with vision, hearing, memory, language, conscious breathing, and motor movements.  Other activities may activate only a limited portion of the brain, whereas music “turns us on” more completely. In a way, we are never more whole, more completely ourselves than when we are listening or participating in music. Is this the reason music can make us feel so alive, centered, and transformed? Could this be the reason why a thought can become so much more powerful and easily understood when expressed as a lyric accompanied by music? I know that the special joy I find while playing music rarely occurs in any other part of my life.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Feeling foggy and unfocussed? Need to be alert for a creative task? Let music help activate your brain!  You can use recorded music, play your instrument, or sing. Focus all your attention on what you hear.  Close your eyes.   Music can be described as patterned sound.  Keep track of the patterns you hear.  Use your imagination to “see the sound” as shapes.  Focus on one instrument, then another. Move your body and breathe in rhythm. Be open to the memories or fantasies that appear in your imagination. Your mental functioning should be quite improved after a few minutes!

In a way, the discipline of playing music is akin to meditation, except that there are immediate negative consequences for losing focus. When a distracting thought occurs to pull my attention away from my playing, my rhythm falters and discordant notes destroy my pleasure. These built-in consequences serve to enforce careful attention to the present moment.  During an intense performance, my attention can become so focused on the music that I lose my awareness of anything but the sound. Afterward, as I return to everyday consciousness, I gradually become aware of details, like my name and what planet I’m on! It usually doesn’t take me long to remember that I have two children. Because it takes me awhile to return to normal, it is not uncommon for me to get lost while driving home after a gig.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Before meditating, try chanting, singing, or playing an instrument to enhance your focus. During your meditation, try listening to the recorded music of Shakuhachi flute, a Japanese bamboo flute associated with Zen meditation.

 

I spent nine years in the Chicago area, performing at clubs, coffeehouses, colleges, and hotels—anywhere people would listen to my music.  It was in Chicago that I recorded my first album of original songs. I continued to study piano with private teachers, blues pianist Erwin Helfer and jazz teacher Skip Green.  They had a flexible approach that gave me the tools I needed to pursue my own direction. The foundation they provided was so thorough that it continues to fuel my evolution today.

Supporting myself as a singer-songwriter in the big city took a great toll on my personal life. Those I cared about were sometimes negatively impacted by my decision to keep music my first priority. Music continued to remain my greatest source of comfort, but it is also true that it was often the cause of my pain. Eventually I became aware that audiences seemed to love me best when my heart was broken. The emotional power of my performance was strongest when my life was falling apart and I felt like there was nothing to cling to but the next song. Faced with the necessity of reconstructing my life from the ground up after a disastrous relationship, I jumped at the first gig that presented itself—playing a grand piano in a hotel lobby fifteen stories high near O’Hare Airport. The acoustics were phenomenal. Every syllable I sang echoed back from all fifteen stories, and my voice felt enormous, my intense emotional investment in each song magnified a thousand times. Best of all, the job was five hours a night, five nights a week. No other kind of therapy could have been so effective. I might wobble into work feeling traumatized and fragile, but I could always sing my way to strength and peace before the night was out. The hotel management loved me!  I began to heal rapidly.  My life seemed once more on track. Once again, a serious personal problem seemed to have a musical solution.

 

This song describes the process of putting life back together after personal tragedy.

 

You Resurrect Yourself

Copyright 1997 Dana Clark


No one seems to see your pain.  
You're too ashamed to ask for help.
Sometimes you think you are to blame.  
There’s no one you can trust to tell
Despairing and defeated, a victim with no voice
Then just when you’ve lost your last hope, 
You find you have a choice

 

CHORUS:  Then you resurrect yourself from the ashes of your dreams

You slowly work a miracle, though it’s harder than it seems

Patiently you seek a way to restore your battered soul

You claim the fragments of your life.  You learn to take control

Once you were broken

Now you’re whole

 

Your sorrow strips you to the bone and leaves your naked heart to mourn

You struggle hard to stand alone, you labor long to be reborn

For each burden that you carry you must climb ever higher

Your spirit stronger since it has been tempered by the fire

 

CHORUS:  As you resurrect yourself…..

 

Against all odds your scars have healed and you’ve remembered how to laugh

What you have won you’ll never yield, a champion in your own behalf

Your goals grow ever clearer.  Your mind seems twice alive

You’re empowered knowing you can face the worst and you’ll survive

 

CHORUS:  For you resurrect yourself from the ashes of your dreams

You slowly work a miracle and it’s harder than it seems

Patiently you seek a way to restore your battered soul

You claim the fragments of your life. You learn to take control

Once you were broken

Now you’re whole

 

As I healed, the job began to seem routine. My performance must have lost its sparkle, because eventually I was fired! I learned an important lesson about the boundary between professionalism and self-therapy, and my next gigs lasted as long as I wanted them.  At the time I became pregnant with my daughter I was working between five and seven nights a week. I continued to do so until I was five months pregnant and felt as big as a whale!  In an effort to “get normal,” before the baby arrived, my husband and I moved to San Antonio where he took a day job. I had thought that I would go back to playing when Annie was a few weeks old, but found it impossible to leave my baby. The recent move had left me with no local support network of family or friends. I decided to begin teaching piano at home, grateful that music was flexible enough to support my life even when my situation had changed so radically. Putting Annie in her stroller, I walked the neighborhood, leaving fliers advertising my services on doorsteps. With a few satisfied customers, word of mouth advertising brought me more. When my son was born two and a half years later, I had twice as many reasons to continue combining music teaching with mothering. Determined to be the teacher I wish I’d had, I never allowed myself to discourage a student.  Though most of them might not be destined for the concert stage, I felt dedicated to the task of helping them all experience the joy and personal growth of making music. My background in psychology helped me recognize the kind of music that fueled each individual’s passion, and enabled me to present the material according to the student’s learning style.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Even if you have had no previous music instruction, IT IS NOT TOO LATE!!! Remember:  Music was your first language.  As long as you are breathing, you are a singer.  As long as your heart is beating, you have rhythm.  Many people believe that if they did not learn as children, they will not be able to learn as adults.  Adults learn differently from children, but that difference can lead to rapid acquisition of skills.  Children must learn everything in a concrete fashion, one building block at a time.  Adults can learn conceptually, grasping an abstract concept and then applying it to many situations, causing a simple skill learned in one context to generalize broadly.  I have found that with a few simple guidelines most adults can learn to improvise beautiful, expressive piano music in an hour, even with no previous experience.

 

If you have had disappointing experiences with a music teacher before, perhaps the problem was a poor fit between that person’s style and your own. Music is often presented in an intellectual, abstract way that makes learning more difficult than it has to be. It should be as easy as for you as it was to learn your primary language. While reading music can be an important skill, music is an auditory art, not a visual art!  Some people learn best by ear, and some of the best musicians I have ever played with do not read music.

One adult student who had never had any previous music experience confessed to me after several months of piano lessons that he had begun having a number of new insights in which he perceived important parallels between things he had previously thought were unrelated. Remembering how music stimulates and coordinates multiple brain sites, I exclaimed to him that his new insights were coming about because different parts of his brain were just now meeting for the very first time!  I warned him that eventually he might end up becoming a philosopher, or trade his conservative lifestyle for something more adventurous!

 

Many students continue to study with me for years. I watch their lives change as music becomes part of them. My experience has taught me that there is no one who cannot make music. I have had students with a wide range of learning disabilities and even congenital physical problems. The success they have experienced with music has generalized to other areas of their lives. They develop confidence that they can learn whatever they want. Adults who hadn’t known they could carry a tune find their singing voices, learn to express themselves, and become empowered enough to take on other challenges in their lives. Children improve their grades in school because the discipline of coordinating so many different areas of their brain improves their ability to think. Children who learn to play expressively have an outlet that can help with the emotional challenges of adolescence. I believe that once they are exposed to the “natural high” of music making, they have a healthy alternative to the street drugs they may encounter as teens.

 

Some of my students have suffered from depression. Sitting beside them at the piano, I have had the opportunity to watch from a front row seat as music does its healing work. A recently widowed older woman came back to life as she learned how to play piano the way she’d always wanted.  Her energy might seem low at the beginning of a lesson, but as we worked her mood would lighten, and she would leave proclaiming that what she had learned was “exciting!”  I knew she was back on her feet when her life became too busy to continue lessons!

 

Many of my musician friends who play in nursing homes have told me that elderly people who are usually non-responsive can become animated and even sing lyrics  perfectly even though they can no longer speak!  They seem to “wake up,” remaining alert for a period even after the music ends.  It’s true that “you can’t take it with you when you go.”  This applies to music as well, but the songs that you learn may stay with you longer than anything else in life.  They may provide others with a way of interacting with you after all other ways are gone.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Mood and behavior can be greatly influenced by music. Find a song that encourages your personal growth, and listen to it frequently.  Think of it as “medicine.”  Learn to sing it.  Make it your theme song—part of the soundtrack of your life.  Paste the lyrics on your bathroom mirror. Soon you will find it playing on your “internal radio” like one of those advertising jingles that get stuck in your head.  The song will continue to work its magic as you go through your day, whether you are consciously aware of it or not, encouraging you to make healthy changes in your life.  When the song begins to lose its power, find a new one to take its place.  Search out songwriters whose music revolves around the themes you need.

The song below was written for a friend whose life seemed to fall apart unexpectedly. I have since found it very helpful when I need to encourage myself!  It is a reminder to follow the still small voice inside as it leads us forward.  The more we listen to that voice, the stronger it grows.

 

 

Trust Your Heart to Lead You Home

Copyright 1998 Dana Clark

 

When you began this journey you were sure how it would end

So you found the faith to follow though the road would often bend

But now you’ve lost direction.  There’s nowhere you can turn.

And from this crossroad all you see are bridges you have burned.

 

CH:  Trust your heart to lead you home.

Find a path that’s yours alone.

Listen to the voice inside you.  It will grow in strength to guide you.

Trust your heart to lead you home.

 

Home is not the place you started from.  It’s a place you’re reaching for

When you stretch beyond yourself to find a harbor in the storm.

A dream will be your compass.  Your passion is your guide.

Sometimes you will have to crawl, but sometimes you can fly.

 

Like a painter with her canvas or a sculptor with his clay,

Your life takes shape beneath your hands as you work through each day.

You create a fabric with the threads of love you hold.

A tapestry of memory to warm you when you’re cold

 

CH:  Trust your heart to lead you home.

Find a path that’s yours alone.

Listen to the voice inside you.  It will grow in strength to guide you.

Trust your heart to lead you home.

 

 

I continued to teach music at home when my children reached school age. We homeschooled until my daughter was ready to enter high school. At this time, they seemed more independent from me and I was able to consider my own happiness. For my children as well as for myself, I was forced to admit that I needed to end my marriage and make a healthier life for the three of us. Again, it was music that provided me with a lifeboat. I began working as a substitute teacher at a private school, and soon was hired there full time as Lead Teacher and Music Teacher. I became more involved in playing for services at my church and writing songs to fit the sermons. Later, I taught music classes for a homeschool organization, while increasing my private students.

 

For nine years I was Music Director at a church in San Antonio.  I had the opportunity to write songs for the services, many of which were about personal healing and transformation. I was glad to be carrying on the age-old tradition, apparent in all cultures, of using music to enhance spiritual experience.

Writing about serious subjects forces me to think deeply about what is true for me. I very much appreciate the challenge, and the songs that result are some of the ones I value most. For the most part, I try to avoid using religious language, since that can sometimes close minds against the message.  Instead my aim is to focus on what is universally true about spiritual experience. This makes it possible for the songs to be useful in a wide range of performance situations.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: You can write songs! Write about changes in your life that you are trying to understand. As you write you will have the opportunity to discover what you really feel about your subject. We all have a unique perspective and a valuable message to express. Putting your bit of truth in a song turns it into something that can be shared. There are books in your local library that will give you practical guidelines about how to approach songwriting. You can find songwriting seminars on the internet.  For an easy start, take a song you are familiar with and rewrite the words. After you are happy with the words, change the melody.  There you have it—a brand new song!

Experienced musicians who play together frequently become so attuned to each other that it begins to seem as though they are communicating telepathically! Because music is the language of emotion, a rare intimacy and a powerful bond can develop. This is especially true when the musicians are involved in a romantic relationship!  Many musicians end up with life partners who are also musicians.

 

Eventually I came to realize that I would only be able to maintain an intimate relationship with someone whose life revolved around music as mine did. Who else would be able to understand why I could put everything on hold while finishing a song or a recording project?  Who else could share my passion and my obsession?  As a musician, I am never really off-duty. Because my life centers on my work, my partner must share my work or be relegated to the periphery of my life. Because musicians’ schedules are notoriously erratic, and they must often travel to their jobs, two musicians who try to maintain a relationship can find themselves constantly going in opposite directions unless they find a way to perform and record together.

 

It is the best of all worlds to have the person I love join me in the work I love. Movies are fun. Walks are fun. Getting together with friends is fun, but our idea of the perfect date is going out together to play music! Besides providing us with the greatest pleasure, it is no surprise that music gives us the opportunity to heal whatever may be wrong between us. We have found that everyday frustrations melt away as we work together to create the music neither of us could create alone.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Remember the old adage, “The family that prays together, stays together?” It can be equally true that “The family that PLAYS together, stays together!”  Try incorporating musical projects in your family’s activities. At my sister’s Thanksgiving dinner not only did guests bring food to share, but most brought some sort of musical instrument as well. Together they discovered what kind of musical pot-luck they could create when everyone contributed what they could.  Even instruments long-neglected were dusted off, and they sang together. Empty five-gallon water jugs make excellent drums, and simple shakers can be made with soda cans filled with dried beans or rice.  As you create music together in a relaxed environment the rapport that develops with your loved ones can help as you work through stresses that arise in other areas.  Best of all, you are making memories together that will return every time you hear one of the songs you have played. I treasure the memory of singing with my daughter Annie, whose voice is so similar to mine that it sounds like I am singing with myself. And it was very special to have Caleb join us onstage one evening to play bass on a song that I’m sure he learned in utero, as I often played it when I was pregnant with him!

A good alternative is to attend live music events with your loved ones. What is the most important difference between listening to recorded music and listening to live music? The recording doesn’t know you’re there! A live performer’s show is greatly affected by the audience. An attentive, responsive audience brings out the very best a musician has to offer. The children in your family may be inspired to learn music after attending a performance. Assure them they can learn to do anything they want to learn.  Assure yourself of the same thing!

I have always loved singing. Piano was my first instrument.  I began playing flute in the school band when I was nine. While in high school I learned to play guitar.  In recent years, following my own advice that it is never too late, I have begun learning other instruments.  I discovered that once you play one kind of flute, the rest are easy.

Mandolin has been a joy, and saxophone is my newest passion.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Each new instrument you learn is easier. By the time you get to three instruments, the rest seem like a snap!  Every new instrument provides a different perspective that enables you to play your first instrument better.  Take a chance!  If you’ve played guitar all your life, learn something about piano.  If you’ve always been a singer, try learning guitar. Your opportunities and progress will be enhanced. You will find new inspiration in old musical activities that might have become routine.

A visit to a music store can open a door to a new direction. Walk in and look around.  Allow instruments to call to you.  Take your time.  BROWSE!  Touch them.  Discover the sounds in them.  Take the attitude that you are there to discover which instrument will be your new best friend.  There are many that are quite inexpensive.  Many will encourage you to find  music in them even with no instruction. Check out penny whistles, recorders, ukeleles, harmonicas, dulcimers, guitars, glockenspiels, strumsticks (a very simple guitar-like instrument), thumb pianos, boomwhackers, drums and all the “percussion toys:” drums, tambourines, scrapers and shakers of every kind.  (There’s a reason they are called “toys!”)  Inexpensive keyboard instruments with built in speakers come with a wide variety of voices and built in rhythm tracks that can provide the basis for endless improvisation.  Pick up a book as a guide, or get a music instruction DVD.  Take home the instrument and experiment.  Look up playing tips for that instrument on the internet. Something like a recorder or harmonica can be kept in your car so you can take advantage of unexpected time to play.

Giving up the practice of psychology did not mean giving up my ambition to help others. Driven by my double passions of music and saving the world, it is no wonder that I eventually found myself trying to save the world with music! My life has become richer as I volunteer to play for causes related to social justice and peace. Each involvement of this kind has inspired the writing of new songs. Music with message and the purpose of creating a better world has power in it! Music performed with conviction can transform listeners, opening hearts to the possibility of change. I have been privileged to work with wonderful partners to organize community events to increase awareness of issues and raise funds to benefit agencies that work to improve conditions.

 

This song was written to promote awareness of domestic violence, and to help others recognize when they are involved in an abusive relationship.

 

 

The Pleasure of My Pain

Copyright 2003 Dana Clark

 

He didn’t mean to hurt me.  He’s under so much stress.

And then the kids disturbed him when he tried to get some rest.

He doesn’t mean the things he says; he speaks before he thinks.

I’m really not afraid of him, unless he starts to drink.

There must be something wrong with me—that’s why he complains.

I know he loves me.  How could he find pleasure in my pain?

I know he loves me.  How could he find pleasure in my pain?

 

Some days it seems like everything I say or do is wrong.

I try to keep things quiet, and I try to get along.

But every time he needs to win, he makes sure that I lose.

I give him what he wants.  It’s so much worse if I refuse.

I make excuses for him, but my I live my life in chains.

And I’m starting to suspect he must find pleasure in my pain.

I’m starting to suspect he must find pleasure in my pain.

 

I work to make him happy, but it’s to no avail,

For he works even harder to make certain that I fail.

I’m ready to admit I might be better off alone,

But does that really matter when my children need a home?

My family says I shouldn’t leave, but how can I remain?

Now I know that he’s addicted to the pleasure of my pain.

I know that he’s addicted to the pleasure of my pain.

 

I’ve found a safe place we can go.  I know what I must do.

I’ve set aside some money, and my friends will help me, too.

He always told me if I left him I would not survive,

But now the kids are older.  I know somehow we’ll get by.

Then he won’t hurt me anymore and I won’t be ashamed.

For no one has a right to the pleasure of my pain.

No one has a right to the pleasure of my pain.

 

GIVE IT A TRY: Volunteer to serve in some way in a community effort that addresses a problem about which you feel a special concern. Look for ways music can be incorporated in that effort.  Musical performances added to an informational event can bring in a bigger audience and allow the event to become a fundraiser, as people can be charged an admission price.  Performers are sometimes willing to provide their services at a reduced fee for a worthy cause, especially if they are allowed to sell their CDs at the event.

Powerful music has been at the heart of every important social movement.  Music opens hearts and minds to new ideas, unifies people in common endeavor, and motivates change.  We need only remember the protest songs of the Anti-War Movement and the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement to know that the right music at the right time can express the deepest longings of an entire generation and galvanize them to action.

This song was written as our country considered going to war in Iraq.

 

World of Justice, World of Peace

Copyright 2003 Dana Clark

 

I want to give my children a world that’s safe in every way.

But now the radio reports new dangers every day.

Within this world of war my only weapon is a song.

All alone I’m not strong enough to right what’s wrong.

 

CHORUS:  But if we walk hand in hand, and we work side by side,

If we join heart to heart ‘til we see eye to eye,

Then all the dreams we dream will be reality,

In a world of justice, a world of peace.

 

Can we be sure of freedom when so many are not free?

Why do some have plenty while some live in poverty?

We grow so tired of the struggle because the problems never end.

But in each other’s eyes we find the faith to try again.

 

CHORUS:  For when we walk hand in hand…

 

Seven billion of us on a planet that’s so small.

Someday we may realize we’re family after all.

And when we reach out to heal each other, set each other free,

We’ll find only sisters, brothers, not one enemy.

 

CH:  Then we will walk hand in hand, and we’ll work side by side.

We will join heart to heart ‘til we see eye to eye.

Then all the dreams we dream will be reality,

In a world of justice, a world of peace.

 

A few years ago I worked with the San Antonio Peace Center and the Unity Church to promote events to bring awareness to A Season for Nonviolence. I produced two compilation CDs of music on the theme of peace. These were sold to raise funds for services for the homeless and for abused children. Because I was looking for a way to involve more people in the peace concerts we had planned, I invented the San Antonio Peace Choir. My goals were to be inclusive of everyone who had a heart for peace, regardless of musical experience, to minimize the time spent on preparation, and to maximize the impact on the community. In my advertising, I emphasized that singing in the Peace Choir was not about vocal technique, but rather about being willing to become an instrument for the music of peace to sing itself into the world. These were my guidelines:

 

  1. If you are breathing, you have already passed the audition.

  2. No experience is necessary, and you do not have to read music.

  3. A single one-hour rehearsal is all that is required.

  4. Singers could begin learning the music on-line at my website

 

I held rehearsals at different times and locations during the month leading up to a concert.  I passed out booklets of lyrics, and the music was learned by call and response in the oral tradition. I made a deliberate attempt to reach out to a wide variety of people in order to present a true rainbow of diversity. People were encouraged to bring family and friends to sing with them. No one was too young or too old. We had singers as young as four and as old as 82. At our first concert we had about 70 singers participating.  At our second concert, we had about 140!  A full band backed up the Choir:  bass, drums, piano, and guitar.  Soloists sang some parts of the songs. I rarely saw anyone glance at a lyric book.  Instead, everyone sang from their hearts, faces glowing, expressing their true passion for a better world. The music unified us, creating a powerful vision, and making us all believe that peace is possible

 

At the beginning of a rehearsal I would notice some roughness in the blend of voices.  Not everyone would be perfectly on pitch, and some voices were too loud.  Slowly we learned the first few songs. About twenty minutes into a rehearsal I would suddenly realize that the voices sounded balanced, tuned, and very sweet. We could sing through a new chorus just once as call and response, and immediately sing it in perfect unison. I was reminded of the way fish school, and the how birds fly in perfect formation, all seeming to wheel and turn on cue.

 

Listening and making music together in community is an essential part of being human.  We have lost much of that in today’s world, where music is too often thought of as a commodity to be bought and sold.  It is easy to get the feeling that only a few special people have talent; they become “stars” and no one else has anything to offer.  We strongly disagree with that idea!  Part of our mission is to help others discover they have more music inside than they ever suspected.  We do this as teachers with our music students.  We do this as performers when we invite the audience to make the music with us.

Every Monday evening Kevin and I host a musical gathering where all are encouraged to participate. We work to break down the artificial barrier between audience and performer. Some of the finest musicians in the city have played for us, as well as some of the newest musicians in the city!  All are honored for their contributions. It is our desire to provide an opportunity for the power of music to accomplish its very important work in the world:  enriching our human experience by calling forth a subtle variety of emotions/promoting healing and transformation by helping us integrate body, mind, and spirit.

 

Many times I have seen musicians who have never met before, do not know each other’s names, and do not necessarily speak the same language sit down with their instruments and on the spur of the moment create beautiful music together. How do they do this?  By listening carefully to each other and being responsible about how they contribute the sound of their instruments to the overall composition. What if instead of sending our politicians to Washington (or to the United Nations) we sent our very best musicians.   What if they first worked out harmonies with each other and improvised a symphony of new music to which they all contributed.  Somehow I think tackling social/political issues after that would be much easier and more likely to result in justice and peace.

 

Music has been my greatest comfort. Music has saved my sanity. Writing songs has saved my life.

 

I believe music is magic.  I believe music is medicine.  I believe music can work miracles.  I believe music can help us remake the world.

Dana Clark