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Personal Music Therapy

The Sensible Flutist: Personal Music Therapy

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Personal Music Therapy

For those of you that follow me on twitter and Facebook, you know that my grandmother passed away recently. Even though I had prepared myself for the inevitable, her passing was still painful especially since she was my last living grandparent and she was my favorite.

As I did for both my grandfathers' services, I played my flute. My grandparents were so proud of my accomplishments, and I am so proud of my family's musical heritage.

Because of these past performances, my mother and uncle wanted my brother and I to play what we had already done once before. My grandmother was treated to an encore performance of what my brother and I had played for my paternal grandfather, and what I had played alone for my maternal grandfather. And more so than the times before, playing during my grandmother's funeral service was perhaps the most therapeutic experience I've had in my life.

My brother played on the mandolin that our paternal grandfather (a bluegrass musician himself) left him, handmade in 1997 by a local man. We chose "Amazing Grace," a simple but powerful tune that resonates so well in the hills of Southwest Virginia. Because of our lack of time and the expected yet unexpected timing of my grandmother's passing, we didn't have time to prepare anything else; however, playing with my brother, products of our family's musical influence, I could do nothing else but hug my brother when we finished.

Unlike past services, I had to play again. This time "The Lord's Prayer." I was happy to play unaccompanied because it meant I could let my emotions guide me without straying from the song's intent. Emotionally charged throughout, I was able to stay focused on the task at hand - performing to honor my grandmother's memory.

The climax was the most difficult moment of the song, as I felt a huge swell of emotion within. I was able to finish, and that moment became a lesson in resilience. No matter how low the valley, we all have enough strength to get through the toughest moments. Since I wanted to use my performances to "converse" one last time with my grandmother, I stayed aware of my family to invite them into reflection but I also stayed within myself.

Interestingly, I did not have to cope with any performance anxiety. I want to figure out why this type of emotional performance did not affect me in the same way as my other performances do. Instead, I think I played the most musically I have in quite some time and that gave me peace and helped calm the self-doubt I've been wrestling with recently. It reminded me of all the qualities that my grandmother passed on to me: strength, courage, resilience, compassion.

Moments of grief come and go, but the fact that I was able to perform not once but twice for my Nanny will comfort me for years to come. Being able to play for a relative's funeral is not easy, but the healing benefits are very important in the grieving process.

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At May 17, 2011 at 10:48 AM , Blogger Erica Ann Sipes said...

Thank you for sharing this personal experience with all of us. It sounds like it was a very special moment for all and reading about it was a moving, powerful experience to me. Reminds me of how powerful intent can be and that if we, as performers, can find reasons behind why we do what we do, performance anxiety may no longer be much of an issue.

All the best to you as you continue on without the physical presence of your grandma but may she always be there with you, somewhere.


At May 18, 2011 at 12:46 AM , Anonymous Marion Harrington said...

This has to be one of the most moving posts that you have written and certainly that I have read recently.

It evoked so many memories of my own Grandma Allen as it was she who passed on the family musical legacy to me.

Their physical presence may no longer be with us in reality but I feel so often when I'm playing that she's standing there right behind me.

Sending you a big hug...


At May 19, 2011 at 1:01 PM , OpenID said...

What a great post. You're really hitting on the interrelatedness of motivation, expressivity, and performance anxiety. And you're doing so in such a personal and poignant way.

This is my first visit to your site. I'm sure I'll be back again. I also liked your April post about motivation. Good stuff!


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