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Simple Gifts: Finding My Voice in Music

by Linda Friend, MA, MFT, Healdsburg Holistic Health News 2000

For many years music for me was something everyone else got to do. I always had friends who were musicians or involved in the music world in one dimension or another. But I always felt it was something I could never do. I was gifted in other ways as a healer and psychotherapist but not musically.

About seven years ago I went with a friend at Christmas time to a performance of the San Francisco Bay Area Revels. At one point in the production, while holding the corners of patchwork quilts, the performers spun around slowly as they sang Simple Gifts, an Appalachian folk melody, best known in Aaron Copeland's adaptation, Appalachian Spring.

I was transfixed - The visual and auditory experience elicited a rich, sensory memory from my childhood. I began singing that song on the way home and over the next few weeks during the Christmas season, my voice came back to me. I remembered singing all the time when I was a little girl. Singing and swinging were favorite past times. But my mother was too scared to foster such free expression in her young daughter. I have heart breaking memories of standing in church when I was a teenager and not being able to sing on key. Loving the Christmas music and being unable to express it through my own body was terribly disappointing.

Before the return of my voice I had been doing Native American drumming and some singing along with that. But it was the song Simple Gifts, a song I felt and knew in my body as a little girl, which turned the key and my voice returned to me. I sang the song to my family at Christmas and they were impressed with my new found voice. Music has always been a big part of my life, so to be a conduit for its expressive beauty is very fulfilling to me.

For the last eighteen months I have been singing in a group led by Devi Mathieu. We sing the music of 12th century mystic, teacher and healer, Hildegaard Von Bingen. She composed her own music to be sung by the nuns in her own abbey in the Rhineland. It's a form of Gregorian chant that is particularly crystalline in quality. She sings in praise of the Virgin Mary, God, Jesus, and other saints. Singing the praise of God, particularly to the Mother of God, satisfies my soul by embodying my own spiritual expression. It has turned out to be the perfect counterpoint to my work as a spiritual psychotherapist. The same energy I use in my healing work with clients is focused into my own body and directly expressed.

I now study voice privately in Sebastopol with Devi as well as sing in the Hildegaard group. I am learning piano from Virginia Cayton here in Healdsburg. I am very grateful to Devi and Virginia who are patient and wonderful teachers. I am also blessed to be able to sing in praise to God alongside my daughter in church. I'm finding my musical gift.
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