From earlier blogs you'll remember that I spent the whole of September at Orchard Gites owned by the very lovely and fabulous Artist who runs courses there, Alison Smith.
At 12pm every day, I sat beneath the Ancient Apple Tree outside my tiny gite.
I recorded most days but although the sun came out every day, it was a case of dodging the showers, marvelling at rainbows and kissing the stubborn breeze that found her way to my little tascam recorder or video camera.
Why is this particular collection of recordings so important to me?
There are lots of reasons but I will share here first, the most personal one.
10 years ago, I was very seriously ill. The NHS saved my life, for which I am very grateful, but along the way, a few 'rare side effects' left me with a blocked bile duct and a damaged pancreas.
I have been managing this new addition to the catalogue of missing or faulty parts of my body just fine, except about 3 years ago, I noticed that when I woke up in the morning, I had no voice. I mean absolutely no voice at all. Nothing would come out.
This makes going to work to lead engaging song workshops in community settings quite tricky. It also meant that performance was not possible because as time progressed, it wasn't just the morning that my voice disappeared.
In the middle of a song, I would sing and nothing would come out; absolutely nothing at all. It was so odd. I would be singing, but no noise came. Not for the whole song, but here and there.
I became more and more miserable because I believed singing and my voice was who I was. Without these things, how would I possibly continue to be me?
It was part of the reason I decided to go back to Uni and do an MA in Drama. Perhaps this would give me a new outlet for my creativity.
And it did. I learnt how to be wonderfully considered, to strip back. It was mind blowing.
Jodie Allinson, my MA supervisor, asked me a question that would change my life:
'I am struggling to see where your authentic self is in this performance. Where is your authentic self?'
Off course, I was wounded. What did this mean? That somehow my performance was fake? When I was putting my whole self into it, heart and soul.
For the rest of the MA, I focussed on ethnography and then auto ethnographic work, deeply searching for a sense of self.
And then it dawned on me. Since my illness I had lost a sense of self. I didn't know who my authentic self was anymore. Instead I lived day by day, grateful to be alive and thanking the universe by spreading myself thin and giving all of myself to anyone and everyone who wanted or needed me. This would surely be why I was saved.
But what if ... the Universe ... had saved me ... just to be me? And who was this me with 'a deteriorating voice'?
When I re-visited the specialist after my MA, he told me that the bile from my duct was eroding my vocal chords and to stop singing all together.
So, I did. I composed stories on the ukulele such as The Tethered Fairy Ring, made books, wrote poems & cried alone in the silence.
And then I bumped into Jim Fox from The Centre in Swansea. I bought a little singing bowl from him and when I used it within my arts research with people who are living with dementia, little miracles started to happen.
People remembered things, laughed, opened up. My little singing bowl could sing for me.
I started to sell my jamboree of instruments collected throughout my life, so as to fund new ones, considered, meditative ones, from around the world.
Then at Christmas, I treated myself to a Sound Bath at Jim's place.
I had never been to a Sound Bath. I was quite nervous. We all sat in a little room at The Centre, Swansea and then Jim came in. He explained what was to happen, showed us how to breathe and guided us into meditation. Then he begun to play all of his beautiful instruments, laid in their own sacred space upon, what can only be described as, a Sound Altar.
It was singularly the most incredible musical experience of my entire life. When I came back to this planet, I overheard Jim telling someone he was qualified to teach others to become Sound Healers/therapists.
'So, I can learn to do this?' I butted in, feeling my heart beat so loud I thought it may have been replaced by a ceremonial drum.
Jim smiled, 'Yes.'
When I got home, I wrote to Jim about the training, which is accredited by the Association of Sound Healers, and booked in.
Now there was the matter of the course fees! Just under £1100.00 for the year if I paid all at once, cheaper overall than arranging monthly payments.
I decided to leave it in the hands of the Universe. I put my Martin guitar for sale on facebook and it sold over night to my dear friend Lorraine King, who is just the most lovely singer songwriter, so I could be sure Lily May, my guitar, was off to a great home.
My new Sound Studio
I decided to do the course intensively and be qualified within a year. You can do this if you are prepared to put in all the work. In hindsight, I can see the benefit of spreading it over a longer period as I have seen such a radical and immense change and growth in my life, that emotionally at times, it has been an exercise in faith that may have been easier over a longer period. Also I did the course on my own. Now this was a great privilege. I felt as though I were coming to see my very own Sound Guru.
My life became filled with immense joy. I found joy in being still, quiet, and journeying to inner self. I began to incorporate this into my work with primary school children, teaching them how to 'be' rather than focussing on 'doing'.
At last, I felt as though I were coming close to the authentic self I had searched for on the MA and I realised that the way to find self, was to not search at all, but to enable myself to 'be'.
When I was very small, about 2 or 3 years old, I remember singing. I remember it feeling as if I were coming alive. Being so lost in the music, in the song, in the universe that I felt joined to it, as one to the whole. That nothing else existed.
Sound Healing brought me right home to this child, this inner seed inside me that shines when she is lost in sound, except I am not lost in sound, I am found in sound.
And then Jim and I got to the part of course where we would study Mantra.
'I can't do this Jim because my voice is deteriorating. The Consultant has told me not to sing.'
In fact, because the Consultant had told me not to sing, I had decided that next September I would take a month out to be silent in France.
'Let's see,' said Jim, 'you might be surprised.'
And he was right. My voice loved mantra, the mindful repetition of sacred and spiritually connected melody ... not only gave peace to my mind, but my whole body rejoiced at welcoming home the vibration of my voice throughout my chakra.
And this was the birth of my intimate and integral relationship with the absolute joy that is Mantra. I knew immediately that mantra would be integral to my life from then on. Because of my daily relationship with mantra, my voice is no longer deteriorating. It is my healing voice. And this makes me smile a smile, like I have never smiled before.
So much so, that when I went to France for a month in September, instead of being in complete silence, on the contrary, I went as a qualified Sound Healer and Therapist, chanting mantra to give love to the Universe for enabling me to 'be', to return home to self, to see the joy and love in the world, to understand that if we are doing what we love, then all avenues open to make it possible. To live my authentic self rather than a representation of her.
And that is why after a lifelong career in music, this CD is the most personal, the most loving, the most raw. It is just me, my healing voice, meditative music & mantra. It is not a representation of me, nor a me that I think I ought to be. It is who I am in the now.
The Universe has long tried to ignite a mantra relationship within me. When I was working as a Volunteer Musician in India 15 years ago , I set up a project for girls to learn the rites of passage mantra and was taught mantra alongside the girls by local women who kindly came to the orphanage. But I saw it as something I was enabling for the girls and I did not see how one day it would come to enable me. And I cannot help but think of those beautiful girls now they are young women. I often wonder about them, where they are and how there's lives became.
apples in the rain
My new CD is a hand- picked, hand -made collection of authentic live recordings from under the ancient apple tree, with whom I fell in love and also secret recordings at St. Quentin les Chardonnets church in the village, where the doors were left open in the daytime, just long enough to pop in and record mantra.
I have completely handmade the album using my water colour pencils and my lovely little printing kit. And nothing in my entire life has given as much joy, other than perhaps collecting shells from the beach or acorns from the forest floor.
I have called it 'apples in the rain'
My friend Miles asked me why.
When I was playing with my paints, designing an apple design, I spilt some water on my work and it made me smile. It reminded me of those September showers in St. Quentin les Chardonnets where I had to keep ducking into the little gite in-between the sunshine, to miss the showers, or rushing in to put on a cardigan against the weighing breeze.
And then I thought about why I am here, in this studio, making these very fragile, yet somehow beautiful contributions to the universe.
Apples need rain just as much as they need sunshine.
As I listen back to my recordings of this new voice, this healing voice, it seems to me that the apples are an analogy for life.
I took my voice for granted. I won't do that again. Reiki has taught me that I deserve to love myself and for the first time ever, I love myself enough to do what I love, and in so doing, I pass the love to you, my friends.
1. Gayatri Mantra sung in the little church at St.Quentin les Chardennets one morning when the doors had been left open.. The Gayatri mantra is the oldest known Sanskrit mantra thought to be the universe herself.
2. apples in the rain: Sound Healing with my meditative instruments sat under the ancient apple tree at Orchard Gites with a handful of beautiful guests.
3. OM Hiranya on the lawn with Fudge the dog & my African Djembe, under the old apple tree, joined by the bird chorus. This is an ancient heart mantra.
4. Om Kali Vimanas calling upon the assertiveness, wisdom, strength and resilience of all womanhood, acknowledging all her suffering in asking her to mend my broken heart.
5. Less is more sung with my shaman drum from Canada and Tibetan Singing bowls, stood bare foot in the vegetable patch at Orchard Gites, Lower Normandy.
Many thanks and so much heart love and reiki light to Alison Smith for welcoming me to her Orchard gites as a resident Sound Healer.
So much love to Jim Fox for being sent to me and his beautiful wife Kiera for teaching me to love again with reiki.
Biggest respect to Jodie Allinson for having the courage to question, nurture, expand and encourage the growth of this middle aged woman.
You can download your copy of apples in the rain from Bandcamp. Here's the link:-