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Commentary: Music Therapy for the Soul

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Barely a month ago, after the second of two packed concerts by the Paris Piano Trio at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, a devoted Capital City Concerts audience member called out to me and the musicians on our way out the door. “Thank you, thank you,” she said, placing her hands over her heart. “Our souls needed this.” This was before we were fearful of gathering in groups; back when the cinderblock on our souls was mostly political. By the end of that week, the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, our beloved venue, was shuttered to protect against the rampant spread of COVID-19.

For the past three years, members of the Capital City Concerts community have told me that the concerts have offered a kind of therapy. We’ve even taken to informally referring to our annual fall Bach concerts as “Bach Balm.” Gathering together to share the experience of live music is not just a tradition, but a way of life in Montpelier. 

I think of how the pews in the church gradually fill in the 45 minutes before the concert – a slow and steady crescendo of conversation as neighbors meet in anticipation of the music. Once the concert is underway, there is the amazing engaged listening: the occasional group chuckle after a light-hearted movement, or a collective sigh after a sublime chord dissipates at the conclusion of a slow movement of Beethoven. After pianist Jeffrey Chappell’s powerful performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in January, there was hardly a dry eye as the audience headed out in the winter night. 

Intermissions are a time for catching up with neighbors; trading stories about epically muddy roads, deliberating which variety of tomatoes make the best pasta sauce, exchanging news of students away at college and elderly friends who are struggling with health issues. At the concerts, we share the stuff of life. The music unites us. It opens us up and softens us. We are friends. We are neighbors. We are family.

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For now, the concerts, like so many aspects of our lives, are in limbo. For a long time, I have wanted to offer our audience a workshop in listening. The silver lining of this situation is that I have a chance to do that now.

  • Begin with a short listening “meditation”. Find a quiet comfortable spot. Ring a bell, strike a piano key, clank a wine glass, then close your eyes and follow the sound until it fades to nothingness. Do it again, and a third time. This is your “warm-up” for listening.
  • A few times a day find some sounds to get lost in: rain, wind, your own breathing, the hum of a dishwasher, the crackle of a fire, spring bird song, the hammering of a woodpecker, screaming peepers!
  • Choose some music to listen to. Anything at all. Now channel your inner teenager: Lie on the floor. Close your eyes, and take in the music in any way that you want: Choose just one instrument to focus on. Listen to the bass line. Look for rhythmic patterns. Listen to how notes are released. Most important, close your eyes. As W.A. Mathieu wrote in his illuminating blessing of a book entitled The Listening Book, “The eyes are hungry. They eat brain energy. When you close your eyes your brain opens up to your ears.; sound rushes in to fill the sphere of the skull. Your mother’s lullaby just before you drop off to sleep. Earphones on, lying on the couch, Beethoven’s Seventh, your arm over your eyes…Open your eyes: now the brain is crowded, and the bright screen of sound grows dim…”

Over the course of several days, you will likely find that you are listening more deeply. My hope is that you will experience music in a new, powerful and personal way and that this deep listening will extend into other aspects of your life, from vivid awareness of the natural world, to present conversations with loved ones.

I wish you safety, health, and sweet moments whether you are sheltering with others or alone.

~Karen Kevra, Capital City Concerts Artistic Director

Capital City Concerts is offering weekly playlists featuring favorite performers from the past two decades. If you would like to receive these playlists go to: Capital City Playlist