My Journey with Music as Medicine by Claire Crehan – Part 1

The journey of music begins…

I have been playing music all my life.  One of my earliest memories is playing an old piano in the garage, trying to read the music from my older brother’s piano tutor.  I began lessons and ‘ate’ music! I loved nothing more than getting new piano books so I could play and discover something different to play.  The piano was in the same room as the tv, so I would play on the ad breaks, much to the annoyance of my sisters!  My passion for music brought me on to study for my Bachelor of Music at the University in Cork, where, alongside the more traditional elements of music in academia such as harmony and the history of music, I was introduced to jazz, popular music ensemble, and the musics of different culture through my ethnomusicology and ensemble classes.

Alongside this new experience of different styles of music, I also met with the world of criticism.  I played piano all the time before entering university.  I never thought about being good or bad – I just loved to play.  My first month in college, I put myself forward to play at a jazz and popular music recital.  I played the theme tune from the film, The Piano.  I loved to play that piece as it was emotive and it flowed from my fingers.  Within the concert, I was preceded by a prodigious jazz trio and followed by a  woman playing a wild Rachmaninov prelude.  After the concert, a fellow student asked if I was ok, given that I was placed in the midst of obvious virtuosity having played something quite simple myself.  I was horrified!  My voice was closed down.  A self-consciousness arose within me around the difficulty of the music I was performing.  The students were talking about left hand technique books and I was questioned on my classical repertoire.  I had never heard the word repertoire before!  I was in the midst of conservatoire students and my perception of my own ability was now filtered through the perceptions of other around quality and criticism.

My response to this criticism was to stop learning anything new on the piano, and to find other avenues for musical expression.  I began to sing jazz under the tutelage of pianist Paul O Donnell.  It was my first taste at improvisation and I was terrified!  I could always read music fluently and suddenly I was being asked to compose and create something new!  I found it difficult on the piano, but the voice had a freedom in it that could improvise.  The voice is the primary instrument through which any improvisation flows.  If playing an instrument, it flows through the voice into the fingers.  If improvising at the piano now, I am singing the improvisation, sometimes silently, sometimes audibly.   There was a new relationship to music unfolding within me.

Mel Mercier joined UCC in my second year and opened my world view of music drastically.  He took the classes in Ewe Dance Drumming, Gamelan and Indian music, both under ethnomusicological academic classes and ensemble courses.  Undertaking these courses I was introduced to a whole new world of music performance and musical ideology.  There was a gamelan room that housed the gamelan orchestra, the instrumental ensemble tradition from Indonesia.  There was gongs and metalophones and xylophones.  Shoes were left at the door so as not to bring in the dirt from the outsdie world.  It was a place of retreat, silence and sacredness.

I also had my first taste of the classical Indian music tradition, an introduction to the world of raga – the Indian scale, and a view of music from another culture that resonated with my own heart.  The improvisations we were listening to from the Indian classical music tradition resonated with my own heart and desire for expression.  At the time, my only outlet for this improvisation was through my study in jazz.

A world of study

From Cork I went on to study at Newpark Jazz College, but something was missing – in this whole new world of improvised music, I was looking for something different – I was looking to express my own voice, and without the structures that jazz study was imposing – free from chord progressions, and improvisatory patterns.  One night, I was at a party with a friend and we were just singing – improvising freely.  Her voice was soaring and I found myself encouraging this free expression, and her voice soared more – up and down, in and out, the music of the moment, her music.  After what seemed like hours, we stopped and lay on the floor, and a voice inside me said ‘this is it – this is what you’re looking for’.  The next Monday morning, I rang Newpark to say I wouldn’t be returning and, despite the stern words of my vocal coach urging me to reconsider, I followed my heart and a new path unfolded.

It was in Peru in 2008, in a small hut outside of Iquitos during a meditation that I heard another voice saying to find Chloe Goodchild.  And that I did – I began a new journey of voice within the training of the Naked Voice method and a whole new world of music has opened up as a result.

I loved studying with Chloe.  She too was a musician from a classical background and she also wanted to find a new way to work with voice, with music, and following her heart she went to India, awakening and re-emerging with a new perspective.  For the past 20 years or so, Chloe has been working to merge Indian singing practices within a Western framework, and as more and more people train with her as facilitators, we too are merging our training within our own cultural and musical fields.  I have found a freedom within my relationship to music that connects me to myself in such a deep way and, in turn, strengthens my connection with the world.

Continue reading Part 2..

Post Author
Claire Crehan

Claire Crehan

Claire is co-founder of SpeakUp SingOut. She's a community music teacher, piano teacher, composer, performer and musical director. She also arranges all the music for our choirs, creating bespoke arrangements for each group she works work.
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