Music as Medicine

It has been very exciting to create several new pieces of music for the classes that Jody Cassell and I presented under the auspices of the American Dance Festival this Fall. The classes focused on health and wellness through movement and sound. I am studying Kay Gardner’s Music As Medicine audio workshop, and used what I am learning there in creating the sound sketches for these events. The healing potential of sound is studied and used by many people from ancient indigenous cultures to contemporary healing communities- including some HOSPITALS!

Embracing Health Through Movement met for four Tuesdays in a row at the ADF Studios in Durham. Our focus was on using dance movement patterns and sound to promote the growth of neural pathways and shift cellular vibrations on a subtle level. Here are some of the techniques we used:

Laban’s Dance Scales – these are groups of movements that bisect planes and cross mid-lines, thus shaking up habitual movement patterns and creating new neural pathways. These scales work with sequencing and memory, as well. Learning the dimensional scale and parts of the A Scale, challenge and invigorate the central nervous system and the brain of the mover. Both scales are sonically supported by accelerated harmonics, a concept I will explain later. Much deeper and more meditative than aerobics, the dance scales encourage the relaxed and grounded place from which to receive the full benefit of a later aerobics class.

Sounding the Organs and Glands – using the research of Kay Gardner, Barbara Hero, and Hans Cousto- I developed soundscapes for toning at frequencies of health for particular organs. During the first round of classes, we toned the D as an overall cellular entrainment, then the F# for the “high” heart or thymus. (Tarzan beating his chest is the visual metaphor for “thumping the thymus”, an energetic practice that is simple and boosts immunity.) The final week we pinged our pineal glands to open up all the new energy information coming to us each…minute, second…

Peripheral Massage – each week, Jody lead the group in either foot, hand or facial massage to stimulate those places in our bodies where all the nerves end up.

Jin Shin Jyutsu- an energy and meditation technique that involves holding the fingers of each hand for a certain number of breaths and with different intentions. This technique had a profound effect on several participants, who spoke of using it outside of class to help them focus and ground themselves.

Developing the soundscapes was exciting and challenging as Jody and I became clearer in our focus on really deep level healing. As the sound artist, it is important to me that people in the class feel the vibrations of the music as well as hear them. As the movement leader, it is important to Jody that her instructions be heard by the class members. By paying close attention to each other, I could ride the fader, placing the sound underneath Jody’s voice or out into the room when everyone was moving. This worked well and will be refined and developed along with the rest of the program.

The idea for accelerated harmonics comes from listening closely to the timbres of various electronic voices overlayering tones within acoustic spaces. By combining two voices that share some of the same sonic spectrum and manipulating the mix of those voices, certain frequencies can be given a bump at moments during the playing of the soundscape. This manifests like a singing bowl or a beat wave with a kind of throbbing and swelling of the sound as it moves toward decay. The difference between the accelerated harmonics and a beat wave is in the regularity of the swell. Beat waves have a steady back and forth feel, while accelerated harmonics are more like a bump. I envision it working like a balloon being bumped up in a crowd of people in slow motion. The music that I love – jazz and classical – both use this approach to create swells of sound and unusual timbres in the music.

I got a chance to play with this acoustically when one of the dancers brought a singing bowl to class. We were toning the F# for the thymus. As the woodwinds and strings of the soundscape pulsed a slow F# swell, I pulled sound out of the bowl with greater and lesser amplitude. To my ear, it was as if the bowl sound was caught in a sonic net of frequencies from the soundscape. The bowl sound became like the wind in a sail pushing the soundscape frequencies out into the room a bit longer, then letting them drop off. For me, it was a deep sonic ride akin to surfing or skiing. In addition to the primary F# tone, I provided an improvised addition of the fifth above F#, which is recommended by Kay Gardner to provide balance.

So accelerated harmonics is an area I want to explore with my ears using electronic midi instruments in conjunction with acoustic phenomenon in reverberent spaces. Some ways to explore this are to design more sound experiments in the Sun(Ra) Room, record soundscapes in the rooms where I play them (I can’ t believe I have not done this yet, but I haven’t), study and work with harmonics and overtones, study mixing and mastering techniques, use my voice as an accelerator, learn to read a spectrum analyzer, and many more to be discovered.

Here are two examples of the half a dozen music sketches used in the Embracing Health through Movement class in the Fall of 2014. The first one is Eeeeeepineal which can be used for toning the pineal gland on the syllable “eeeee.” The other is called Displacement and was used for the “brain dance” sequence that Jody lead each week as a warm up. This piece has a displaced downbeat due to the phrase being 3.3 measure long. Even with the foreshortened phrase, the repeating loop creates a regular, if unusual, pattern. The dancers feel the piece as “a little off” at first, but the regularity of the repeating loop invites entrainment. That feeling of getting in sync, that click, that ” oh, yeah!”, can be an indicator of new nueral activity. Pretty cool!

We plan to offer the class again in the Spring 2015. I hope to see you there!

Being in C: A Midyear Pause and Recalibration

Last week I realized that I am half way through this year long celebration of Terry Riley’s “In C” and I want to take stock of where I am. In the beginning I talked of this as a boat launching out into a vast expanse of unknown water. Being in the midst of this piece of music feels more like white water rafting at times, but I am enjoying the journey. I haven’t played it publicly as much as I thought I would, nor worked with other musicians as much as I thought I would, but it all feels OK. I am still envisioning an all night version in the Fall, but the details have not yet materialized.

As the year has progressed, the blog has come to represent something else as well. When I titled the blog in January, the thought crossed my mind that “C” often stands for cancer. In which case we needed a different title than “My Year ‘In C'” Then I got real with myself and called the blog what I wanted and didn’t give it another thought. As it turned out there was a bit of prescience happening, because cancer has made an entrance into my life. The first tap-tap-tap came when I got called back for a follow-up mammogram and was told I have a suspicious mass, schedule a biopsy, and “nice to meet you, sorry it is under these circumstances.” Well, that got my attention! What circumstances? At this point, we really do not know anything. Even though that comment did arouse some suspicion in me, I went ahead and scheduled the biopsy. The nurse accompanied me out the backdoor, making small talk and scanning me for a potential breakdown. When I hit the fresh air, I pondered my experience.

I thought that it was interesting that this young radiologist had already marked out the path my life would take from that moment onward because it looks like I might have “breast cancer.” He knows the varied ways this journey can unfold and he is the usher for the first step on the path. I am very grateful to him for overplaying his part, tipping his hand and prompting me to look a bit more closely at “these circumstances.”

As it turns out, there is alot of shifting going on in the whole cancer screening industry. While I know in my heart that the intention behind cancer screenings is a helpful one, cancer treatment itself has become a product and, as consumers, we are encouraged to buy in. So, while the technology for screening evolves faster than our understanding of what we are seeing, an industry has been built around cancer prevention and treatment. And once things get institutionalized, new information has a harder time getting in. This is especially true if the new information indicates some problems with accepted protocol and/or goes against the mission.

In my research, I found that breast screenings are now searching for “Stage Zero” cancer in the form of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). In 2012, the National Cancer Institute issued a paper stating that DCIS is not an actual cancer. Now this information, based on an overview of studies and measurement outcomes from the 1970s through the present, is not making its way into the minds of those who do screenings. The main reason for that is that they are in the “business of preventing breast cancer.” That is their mission and they go at it tenaciously with surgery, chemo and radiation. This was the path the young radiologist envisioned as my new “circumstances.” The business of cancer prevention is thriving, and it is efficient and effective. And research that suggests anything else is not given much credence. Look, this is how we do it, and that doesn’t fit what we believe to be true, which is what we are basing what we do on.

My brother, Paul Casseday, gave me the idea of technology evolving faster than our ability to understand what we are seeing. Some of the most recent scientific thought has been focused on actually trying to see and understand cancer. What exactly is it? Most people know cancer as an “invader.” There is this sense of a hostile takeover of the body. Our current understanding creates mistrust between mind and body, as if there isn’t enough of that already. I understand cancer to be our own sweet body’s cells, doing what they do, but way over doing it. They can only keep going and they have forgotten how to die. A tumor is a proliferation of cells. So- not an invader- just our bodies trying very hard to maintain their existence. And there is evidence that cancer cells can begin to form and then go into spontaneous remission. Why are the cells reacting in this way?

One theory that is just beginning to be investigated is that the cells are having a primal response to a hostile environment in the body. The body processes have gotten so out of balance that the cells go into an atavistic reaction mode and just reproduce. It is like all the smaller creatures that create lots of babies for survival of the species. The cells are on overdrive because they feel threatened with extinction. And, of course, there are all kinds of theories as to what might trigger this reaction. Environmental toxins, processed food, bound emotions, and Monsanto products all are key figures in creating the toxic soup that feels threatening to our bodies.

Another theory that dovetails with the one above, is that cancer is an autoimmune response. This is the Functional/Integrative Medicine approach to cancer. So the toxic outer environment triggers an aggressive immune response which creates backlogs of mucus, acids, fungus and changes in cells. Detailed blood sample panels can indicate imbalances in the body. These imbalances can be successfully treated with diet, exercise and minimal supplementation. Here I must point out the one component that few people give much credence to, but it is the linchpin in all disease – thoughts and emotions. Guilt, anger, contempt, grief, anxiety and fear can lodge in the body as a variety of illnesses including cancer. I believe cancer in particular to be an emotionally driven disease. So I cancelled the biopsy, and am working with a Functional Medicine practitioner to make changes in my diet, taking certain supplements, and using journaling, Emotional Freedom Technique and meditation to help me process emotions to a free and clear space. So my path has brought me brilliantly to here.

While I was reviewing my situation, a good friend was going through the exact same thing (even the same breast) but she had the biopsy. I accompanied her to meet with an exceptional oncological surgeon who seems to honor the idea that there might be more options than the one offered by the cancer-prevention community. While my friend’s biopsy indicated DCIS, the fact that it did not show up on an MRI was good enough to warrant a “wait and see” approval from the doc. Oh, yes, and this doctor said that statistics indicate that DCIS has a 30% to 40% chance of developing into “invasive cancer” (an oxymoron to me.) So I flipped those stats to see that there is a 60% to 70% chance that DCIS will not develop further, which my gambling gene says are pretty darn good odds.

Then a woman with whom I have a relationship that I can not even describe in words was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She and I have not communicated in over twenty years (although I have paid attention to her various moves and achievements and we are Facebook friends) but I felt an immediate rushing back in of our loving friendship. She is blogging about her experience and I eagerly read and reread her eloquent expressions of herself and her daily experience. I comment sometimes, but mostly I am a loving witness to her process.

So “My Year ‘In C'” has resonated into the realm I had momentarily acknowledged in the beginning. But you know what? By setting aside my fear and naming the blog as I wanted, I am seeing this as an expansion of the adventure of this amazing year. I am even more interested in sound/vibrational healing and making connections between the harmonics of “In C” and healing the body.