Medicine Walker, by Sendegehya:t, Thomas Anderson (photo Kimberly Barber, September 29, 2022)

I was reading this morning in the Globe and Mail about the healing power of drums in Indigenous culture, and what a balm they have been for so many native peoples (and perhaps all of us) in these troubled times. Today is Orange Shirt Day in Canada, where we recognize and own the terrible truth of harms done to generations of Indigenous peoples in so-called Residential Schools on their own lands. For settler folk on Turtle Island, owning this truth is hard. But if we look at the other side of that coin (and as one of my Indigenous students has reminded me on more than one occasion), we see the tremendous power and resilience of the first peoples through their practice of culture and creativity. I found creative inspiration in this sculpture I photographed yesterday; I noticed it for the first time outside of Waterloo Lutheran College on the Laurier campus as I waited to attend a stunning noon hour concert by my colleagues. Called Medicine Walker and created by Sendegehya:t, Thomas Anderson, it speaks to the Haudenosaunee teaching of the ancient knowledge of the Bear Clan; the bear being seen in the wild to be healing itself through plants, roots and berries. I thought to celebrate this teaching today as I thought about the healing arts and music/singing itself.

I just finished up writing an article for submission to a journal, together with my former student (and research superstar!) Sarah Stapleton, who has been featured on these pages before. One of the central points in our article is our recognition of the possibility for self-healing through voice work. This past week, I’ve been diving into breathing technique with many (most) of my students; the practice and ongoing mastery/mystery of breath is one of the central tenets of good singing. It just never ends. And I am continually reminded of the potential for self-knowledge, compassion and care through this practice. In one lesson, a student entered the room truly unsettled; she was mourning the recent loss of a beloved pet, and not wanting these feelings to interfere with the unfolding of the voice lesson, she was extremely anxious, disconnected and upset. I suggested we take time to pay attention to the breath, and used a practice to break down the breath process into four distinct, tangible steps. As she attended more deeply to the path of the breath, and was able to slow it, noticing the quality of each phase of the cycle, she noticeably calmed. What a gift such a practice is! And as singers, we can investigate it every moment of every day if we wish.

Today, as we take a moment to pause and remember the deep pain we as settlers have caused the First peoples of these lands, we can slow our breath to correspond to the heartbeat of the ancient drum. We can begin to unwind and release pain, and we can move forward together on a path of healing. This is my hope.