Musicians’ Liberation

I have just arrived home after a powerful weekend workshop on musicians’ liberation. It was held near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and was led by Heather Hay, the International Liberation Reference Person for Musicians.

Canadians from the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta were a little over half the participants. Other people came from many different parts of the United States.

Heather’s leadership was relaxed, joyful, and playful. As at any workshop, chronic distress came bubbling up for discharge, but because music was the focus, and music is such a part of the benign reality, it was natural to counsel with attention away from the distress. I felt joyful while I was sobbing.

One of my highlights was when Heather talked about how capitalism and racism affect music. Western music is seen as better than other music and is imposed on the rest of the world. Though Western music itself is benign, we lose the richness of many other cultures.

One topic group was for classically trained musicians. In their report they noted that because their training is harsh and isolating, and they are told that they are better than other musicians, they end up with patterns that are similar to those of the owning class. There is also a complicated hierarchy based on which instrument one plays.

I had a personal re-evaluation about why I am attracted to the blues. I was raised middle class, and it was mainly classical music that filled my house as I was growing up. There were also lots of unspoken rules about presenting a happy face to the world at all times. When I play or sing the blues, I get to experience a wider range of feelings and it allows me some rest from pretense.

My biggest highlight was the creativity and culture sharing on Saturday night. Instead of each of us coming up to the front of the room and performing, we sat in a large circle and went around, one by one. People could choose to sing a song or play music on their instrument, alone or with someone accompanying them, or lead the group in a musical activity.

Internalized musicians’ oppression usually has us feeling better than or worse than other musicians. This format contradicted those patterns. The result was almost indescribably moving. As we went around the circle, the preciousness of each human being was revealed. Each person was completely in charge and had the full attention and respect of the rest of the group, and we all followed his or her lead.

Music is a powerful tool for changing the world. It helps us reach for connection across our differences and connects us to hope, goodness, intelligence, power, cooperativeness, and our zest for life.

Phyllis Beardsley
  Vernon, British Columbia, Canada
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
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Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00