Creating a Musically Accessible Culture by Christine Stevens

Christine at New World Fair.1It’s like creating handicap-parking spots.
It’s like building on-ramps.
It’s like making reachable doorknobs.

We live in a culture of musical disability. “Music is healing” a message we’ve inherited from indigenous tribal people seems to be rarely shared. We live within the myth that music is a complicated, discipline-oriented task, filled with grueling practice, lengthy time commitments, constant critiques, and frustration. We have high expectations and we fall short.

Guess what? There is a paradigm shift occurring. It’s time to return music making to the accessibility it enjoyed in hootenannies and jamborees, to its purpose beyond entertainment and performance. It’s about creating safe, success-oriented, fun, playful musical experiences. We call this recreational music making. According to Merriam Webster, the term “recreatio” actually means “restoration to health.”

It just may be the most important revolution our culture has ever witnessed – the revolution of musicality.

Constructing On-Ramps

To create musical accessibility we need to build on-ramps, ways for people to enter music more gradually, instead of struggling up a long, steep staircase. Such construction is already happening in two main areas.

  1. A growing number of music coaches – facilitators of the new paradigm. The names of the professions are many; music therapists, drum circle facilitators, ORFF educators, and Music for People facilitators. They work within their stated professions to create musical accessibility. But imagine the impact of a more concerted effort. Imagine yourself belonging to this inter-disciplinary organization of troubadours, musical coaches, and visionaries of musical accessibility. Notice the difference?

    When you think of what it truly takes to change a paradigm, you begin to appreciate the connections. Last November, in a period of one week, I attended both the ORFF and Music Therapy conferences. It appeared amazingly synchronous. Is it any coincidence that only a few days later, a 200-person drum circle took place at the Percussive Arts Society Conference? Imagine three separate conferences with a similar desired outcome.

  2. Quick-start musical products – More and more user-friendly, non-intimidating instruments are being created. From paddle drums to electric keyboards that light up; boomwhackers to strum-sticks. But perhaps the simplest, most immediate access ramps are the drums. Offering the experience of community rhythm, many untrained people are entering the benefits of active music making. We are no longer limited to noisy kazoos! The quick-start instrument market is growing. Keep an eye out for the newest ideas.

Making Reachable Doorknobs

How many times have you heard people say, “Music is out of my reach?” The ORFF teacher’s pentatonic scale and the drum circle facilitator’s heartbeat rhythm. Both are portals into music making. Both create reachable doorknobs.

When we look across the various disciplines of musical coaches, some overall principles can be identified which create reachable doorknobs.

  1. Improvisation is KEY. Improvising seems to be easier for the “non-musician” and more challenging for the trained musician. How ironic!
  2. Musical development does not require an instrument from the start. Musical development begins with the music within and extends to singing, clapping, banging around in the kitchen, and eventually playing an instrument.
  3. Community support is critical. As opposed to individual lessons, which isolate the musical experience and force a state of self-conscious attention on the “student,” in community music making and group experiences, there is a feeling of belonging, support, and camaraderie.
  4. Musical skills development may not be the primary outcome. Music making extends beyond entertainment, into health, recreation, fitness, and spirituality. Let’s continue discovering and sharing these benefits of music making.
  5. The first music lesson in school is NOT the first experience with music. Children have been singing and playing for YEARS already. Let’s not treat them as if they are inexperienced. Let’s recognize and celebrate the experience they bring through their playfulness in music.

Rebuilding Society

I’m proposing we broaden our professional identity. Envision the larger perspective of musical accessibility, a culture rich with hootenanny-consciousness that once permeated barns, churches and parks of the 1920’s in the Adirondacks and Blue Ridge Mountains. Music making can become part of every medical center’s treatment program, every long-term care center’s activities, every fitness center’s creativity component, and every school’s requirements in every grade. Imagine families playing together, kids drumming together after school in the playground. Councils in every community made up of an inter-disciplinary team of doctors, teachers, musicians, and facilitators working together to create musical accessibility in their neighborhoods.

I leave you with this story. Two stone-cutters were asked what they were doing. The first stated, “I use tools to cut down the stone to form a brick.” The second one stated, “I am part of a team that’s building a castle.”

The next time you facilitate a musical event, in your home, school, or workplace, remember you’re not just creating one brick after the other. You’re part of a team that’s building a castle, an incredible culture of musical accessibility. As our team builds more ramps, more parking spots and more reachable doorknobs, we are witnessing the recreational music making revolution here and now.

Happy Revolutionizing. See you in the watchtower.

Drum your Prayers – Spirituality and Creativity – by Christine Stevens

“Life can become boring when the spark of creative fire is not lit in the soul of our spirit.”- Music Medicine, the science and spirit of healing yourself with sound

Christine Stevens and the Healing Drum KitWe all listen to music. Many of us dream of playing an instrument, yet most of us don’t. How do we move from being only consumers of music to becoming music creators?
Creativity is our birthright, an organic medicine of healing. No matter where these limiting beliefs originated, you are the one who can remove them and take action! Otherwise, you may never express the song of your soul that wants to be sung. As the old saying goes, don’t die with the music inside you.

The Science of Creativity – Mind & Body

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to look at brain activity, surgeon and jazz pianist CJ Limb compared improvised piano playing to a rendition of a rehearsed piece of music. The results showed that when musicians used their own creativity, a very specific small area of the brain’s frontal cortex — the medial prefrontal cortex — became activated. This part of the brain functions in self-reflection, introspection, personal sharing, and self-expression; it is often thought to be the seat of consciousness. The medial prefrontal cortex area is also activated when we talk about ourselves, telling our personal story. Simultaneously, a deactivation occurred. The two larger areas of the frontal cortex — the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — were deactivated. These areas deal with self-monitoring, judgment, and self-criticism. It’s a paradox; the larger parts of the brain inhibit our self-expression, while the smaller part reveals the greater self. No wonder it’s a challenge to express ourselves creatively in music.
Are you ready to begin to be a creator; not just a consumer? Try these guided practices and awaken your Creative Spirit through rhythm.
This video demonstrates creativity. Done in collaboration with a friend, this shows a nice balance of masculine and feminine. This is improvisational and multi-cultural. Our prayer is for the beauty of dialogue of cultures, in this case of middle east and Native American. Music is the dancing ground in the center that unites people.

Here are a few more ideas to enhance your creativity;
1. Dance to the Beat of your own drum

Drumming is an immediate portal into musical expression. Everyone can be successful immediately. Whether you are more comfortable drumming or dancing; both are great tools for awakening your musical creativity.

Select Rhythm (Chapter 3). Scroll to the bottom and play the last two tracks: Reviving Rhythms and Beauty Groove play-along tracks. Get out a drum, rattle, or homemade percussion sound and play-a-long, improvising the beat that only you can play. Each track is more than seven minutes, giving you time to get out of your head and into your drum. Remember, there is no right or wrong here; simply the joyful feeling of self-expression.

2. Tone your note
Toning comes from “tone,” a single note that is an inner sounding. Give yourself permission to sing your note, whatever it may be, and let it resonate your whole being. Trust yourself. Don’t think about it. Just take a deep belly breath and exhale a note. Now, sing the same note only louder! Repeat. When you complete the toning of your note, allow yourself time to sit with the vibration. Feel the resonance of creativity, of musical freedom reverberating through your body, mind, and spirit.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapy consultant to REMO drums, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles. Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music.

Group Prayer Ceremony at Shambhala Mountain Retreat Center

Group Prayer Ceremony at Shambhala Mountain Retreat Center


You Are Musical – by Christine Stevens

Christine celebrating her musical spirit in Santa Fe NM

Christine celebrating her musical spirit in Santa Fe NM

The UpBeat Philosophy
You Are Muscial!

Being musical does not have to be difficult.
The ability to be musical comes from within.

You don’t have to play an instrument to be musical.
You already ARE an instrument.

You are a naturally born musical being.
As a child, you made up songs.
You explored the world of sound and rhythm daily.
There is musical spirit waiting to be rediscovered in you.
Musical expression is everyone’s birthright.

Music is not reserved for concert halls.
It can be an everyday event in everyday places.
Your performance in the shower or car is what matters most.

Making music is within your grasp.
It’s about living a creative and spirited life.
It’s about the choice to awaken your musical spirit
and create harmony in your life.

This is for everyone who was ever told they were not musical,
Not good enough,
Silenced and excluded from music-making,
Yet still yearning for musical expression.

Unlock your musical spirit,
Quench the longing to bring music into your life,
Create harmony in your life and reconnect with the music
that allows your soul to sing.

Group Drumming for Public Health

“I have found this protocol to be not only fun, but also instrumental in improving the health of vulnerable, hard to reach populations. ”
- Dr. Jessie Jones, Chair of Cal State Fullerton’s Health Science Department

“Introducing HealthRHYTHMS to our health care partners provides yet another innovative and powerful wellness tool to help our members and community.”
- Sandra Rose, director of Community Relations, CalOptima.

As the health care landscape changes, CalOptima, a public agency that provides health coverage, is exploring drumming as an evidence-based tool to reduce stress and boost well-being in the diverse Orange County, Calif., communities that the agency serves.

“Working together with community organizations and agencies is essential for our members as it provides them with additional resources in our community,” says Sandra Rose, director of Community Relations, CalOptima. CalOptima provides health care coverage to one in seven Orange County residents and a third of Orange County’s children. Health plans include Medi-Cal for low-income families, children, seniors and people with disabilities; OneCare (HMO SNP) for low-income seniors and people with disabilities; and the Healthy Families Program for children of lower-income families who do not qualify for Medi-Cal.

It Takes an Orchestra
A unique symphony of agencies worked in harmony with Cal State Fullerton Department of Health Sciences to create the HealthRHYTHMS™ weekend training program for over 35 health care professionals and community leaders working with diverse populations from delinquent youth to breast cancer survivors to Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and chronic pain. The participating organizations included;
• CalOptima
• Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA)
• Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
Dr. Jessie Jones, Professor and Chair of Cal State Fullerton’s Health Science Department and expert on senior wellness programs, gave a presentation on HealthRHYTHMS for more than four hundred health care providers at a conference in June, 2011 that inspired Cal Optima to collaborate on bringing HealthRHYTHMS to their members.

The Science of Rhythmacology
“Health Rhythms is a true and tested activity that demonstrates that the use of music and drums in particular can add to the well being of the human condition,” stated Remo Belli, founder of Remo Drum Company, the parent organization to HealthRHYTHMS. HealthRHYTHMS™ is an evidence-based approach to whole person care that weaves together proven health strategies with group drumming. In controlled research studies published in peer-reviewed journals, HealthRHYTHMS has been shown to enhance immune function, decrease employee burnout, build a sense of community across diverse populations, and reduce anger in at-risk teens.

The Beat Goes On
Following the training, CalOptima hosted a forum on Creative Strategies for Healthy Living through Movement and Music where over 100 health and social service providers experienced components of the HealthRHYTHMS program. Cal Optima trained facilitators helped lead, uplifting the crowd with their enthusiasm. Inspired by the presentation, Nancy Hendrickson, program manager of the Braille Institute in Orange County, brought HealthRHYTHMS to the annual conference for over one hundred teachers, staff, and volunteers of all five branches of the Braille Institute.

Trained facilitators brought the program to staff, clients, and agencies. DeAnna Carpenter, MS led HealthRHYTHMS at the Orange County Juvenile Hall, middle and high schools throughout Orange County and Girls Inc. of Orange County board of directors meeting. Lola Sablan Santos led HealthRHYTHMS with Chamorro breast cancer survivors, patient navigators and women who are rebuilding their lives due to a divorce, death or other personal tragedies. Youth Development Director Caryn Blanton brought HealthRHYTHMS to Costa Mesa low-income, immigrant families, in an innovative health program; Creating Our Selves, for self-esteem, self expression, self image, and communication style. She also led 8 drumming programs a day at a summer camp in Big Bear, serving kids from San Diego and Compton.

Dr. Jones continues to facilitate HealthRHYTHMS with women veterans. She stated, “When I asked the women to express something on their drum about their experience in the military, the thunder of drums and the release of pent-up emotional filled the room. The release of emotion was cathartic and the healing process clearly began.”

Group drum circle training at Cal Optima

Group drum circle training at Cal Optima