Music - to bring us to the present
Updated: Mar 20
I am fortunate to have spent much of my life giving concerts as a singer and also directing theatre plays. I love doing both, not only for the opportunity to be creative and express myself, but also for the way these activities keep me in the present. This is particularly so when performing a concert. If I do not sing something very well, I have to instantly let go of critical thoughts or they will stop me giving myself fully to what I am singing at the time. Similarly, when I catch myself anticipating something that is to come, either with pleasure or nervousness, I need to let go of such imaginings. I cannot give a good performance if I dwell on the past or future. Both performing and directing keep me practised at bringing myself back to the present when my mind wanders.
Performing live music invites the performer to engage with the audience and the music at every moment, and this is even more so when improvising live jazz. I was discussing mindfulness with my cousin recently, Tony Woods, a professional saxophonist. Maybe performing is so uplifting and therapeutic because it keeps us in the present. I find it much harder to stay in the present when I am in an audience and listening to live music, to hear the sound as it is in each moment and not be totally taken off by my thoughts. Much easier when I am the one onstage!
Listening to music, or any sounds, is a delightful way of meditating. Seeing if I can simply hear the sound and notice textures, rhythms, pitch, tone, harmonies as they are, just as vibrations coming and going. Some might be pleasant and some unpleasant. Can I let them arise in my awareness without the automatic tendency to label, to give opinions, or to let them carry my mind far away from any sense of what I am hearing? The constant bringing ourselves back to the present, whether we are creating the music or absorbing it, is the heart of mindfulness practice.