Singer’s mind (sourced on, May 2, 2024)

I’m shocked to see that it’s been over a month since I last wrote. The only explanation for this is the particular convergence of events that happens in any post-secondary music educator’s world in the month of April. I’m talking about final performances (jazz, choir, orchestra, gala concerts), grad recitals, juries, grading, auditions. It’s kind of a perfect storm of busy-ness.

With all of that behind me now, and looking forward to launching a new Master’s program (the MMus C3: Collaboration, Curation and Creative Performance) at Laurier in the fall, I’m busy catching up on my reading. This has led me to a very dense and daunting (but nonetheless fascinating) book, The Master and his Emissary, by Iain McGilchrist. No stranger to neuroscience (at least in its most basic sense) due to my Body Mapping training, this impeccably-researched tome (the bibliography alone is about 60 pages in approximately 8-point font!) has really captured my imagination. It explores the effect that left-brain (analytical, divided into parts, logical, deductive) dominance has in our current culture and society. Things artistic, global, intuitive and creative, like singing, acting and music-making, tend to be more centred in the right brain (although messages are constantly going back and forth between the hemispheres, no matter the activity), and this presents special challenges for those of us raised to follow a scheme and be in control of the outcome. While reading this book, I’ve found myself thinking of specific students I’m working with, or times in which I’ve gotten in my own way by not trusting my innate abilities and impulses.

What’s also occurred to me during this reading is how vital the arts and creativity are to a just and compassionate society. Identifying as a musician, a singer, for basically my entire adult life, I’ve so frequently had to defend my choice to others. Or I’ve felt that what I do is frivolous and self-centred at best, and pointless at worst. Yet when I read this book, I realize how much my artist community has to offer to humankind. If we can get out of the competitive mindset, which is never going to serve us long term anyway, music, art, singing, is an act of the profoundest love and connection. As McGilchrist says, “Human singing is unique: no other creature begins to synchronise the rhythm, or blend the pitch, of its utterances with that of its fellows, in the way that human singing instinctively does…everything about human music suggests that its nature is sharing, non-competitive. And so it has been argued by a number of anthropologists that the development of musical skill must have been a product, not of individual selection but of group selection…the whole group would have benefited–in terms of its cohesion as a group–from something the whole group would have evolved.”

Think about that just for a second: through singing, through music, we evolved in community to mutual benefit. Let’s remind ourselves of this the next time we’re tempted to posit that what we do has no value. In fact, possessing a singer’s mind, a singer’s worldview, might be just the thing the world needs right now. Singing, connecting with our deepest, primal urges and expressing them in song, is a medicine for this troubled world. It’s that simple and that important.