life purpose

Carry On

So a couple of nights ago, I was cooking dinner for my live-in family like I often do. I love being in the kitchen, and I love listening to music while I cook. “Rock Me Amadeus” came on, and I began to reminisce a bit. I told my wife that I had searched for 30 years for this particular version of the song. Today, it's known as the “Salieri Mix”, but in 1985, on that cassette tape I had in upper elementary, it was just “Rock me Amadeus."

When I bought a CD of the Falco 3 album several years ago, I was disappointed. The version of Rock Me Amadeus was not the version I loved so well. This began an exhaustive search for my beloved version of the song. Year after year I was unsuccessful.

I recently discovered that in 2016, a 30th anniversary album of Rock Me Amadeus was produced. At last! There it was! Track 2: Rock Me Amadeus (Salieri Mix)!

As I was relating the story of this journey to my wife, it hit me… I've had similar relationships with several songs over the years.

Songs that for one reason or another connected with me on a soul level. Songs like Kylä Vuotti Uutta Kuuta by Värttinä, and The Thing by Phil Harris.

The stories of how those songs came to me are for another time.

I learned about the concept of carrying songs by participating in song circles for the past few years. I realized I had been carrying these songs for years.

It was at that moment, standing there in our tiny kitchen, cooking an amazing cabbage dish, I was overcome with chills. I've heard some people called them "truth tingles." The idea is that in those rare times when we stumble across a concept that resonates so completely with universal truth, our bodies and minds are overwhelmed with physical sensation. Usually for me, this type of sensation send chills down the back of my neck, and maybe makes the hairs on my arm stand up.

This time, my entire body was overcome by the tingling sensation.

I realized, I am a carrier!

While at Music Medicine training with Christine Stevens, I learned the concept of carrying drums.

A friend at that training brought a powerful, and unique drum with her. The voice of this drum inspires community, and togetherness. We discussed the fact that my friend does not own this drum, but rather carries it. She has been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for and sharing the beauty of this drum. Eventually, she will pass on this responsibility to another.

In that one moment, while cooking cabbage, I realized that I have been carrying many things for many years.

I am a song carrier, I am a drum carrier, and I am a story carrier.

While working as a music therapist in long-term care, and hospitals, I learned about the responsibility of carrying stories. People would often share their stories, or part of their story with me. With honor, I was able to bear witness, and when appropriate, share their stories with others.

Of course, with this new realization, comes a greater sense of responsibility.

I have known for years my life was to be a life of service. I realized quickly that the songs, drums, stories, and medicine I carry are not for myself. I carry them to serve others.

Maybe that is why I often end prayers with something I've read is a favorite of the Dalai Lama: guide me, and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others.

What do you carry?

What gifts are you meant to share with this world?

To quote Manifesto by Nahko and Medicine for the People, find your medicine and use it.

Carry on my friends.

What my fingernails taught me about my life's direction

Frequently my mind creates what my beloved refers to as "non-sequiter." This may be the only mention I make of this, or not, but I won't make a habit of prefacing when one of these seemingly random thoughts is coming up. When discussing with my loves the nature of our personalities, for the first time in my life I was referred to as "high maintenance." I thought that surely this was an exaggeration, so I decided to confirm this with my office mate and trusted adviser who happens to be the massage therapist at the hospital I work at.

She was working at the office computer and I was buffing my nails in a chair further behind the desk. I said, "If I ask you a question, will you give me an honest answer?" She replied, "Sure."

"Do you think I'm high maintenance?"

"Yes" she said evenly, with no hint of emotion in her voice.

With some mock indignation, and some authentic indignation, I again protested. We discussed it a bit and after hearing her reasons for the label, I conceded. I have learned if a majority of the important women in my life are all voicing similar opinions, the degree of validity is certainly high.

The reason I was buffing my nails, was not one of aesthetics, or vanity however. It was one of practicality and necessity. I am a classical guitarist, and use the nails of my right hand to play. They require regular filing and buffing to be in good shape for playing.

I had to laugh after the discussion I'd just had with my office mate. When she asked what I was laughing about, I said, "Note to self: don't ask someone if they think you're high maintenance when you're buffing your nails!"

We both got a good laugh out of that.

I would like to thank my fingernails for the moment of insight they provided just the other day.

I'm in what I consider to be, for the most part, a dream job. I've long wanted to provide music therapy services in a hospital, and I when I started this position little more than a year ago, my supervisor told me, "I don't know what a music therapist is supposed to do, so you do what you think you should do."

Bingo! I get to create my own program from the ground up! My vision can become my reality! Woo hoo!

But I still tell people that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up (I'm 36).

I have SO many interests! How do I figure out what I want to devote my time and energy to?

I was recently discussing my education and plans for it with my beloved. I am currently finishing a MAE in visual impairments (I used to work for the Iowa Braille School) and I'm trying to decide what my next step is. Temple University offers a PhD in music therapy, the only program in the country currently. Colorado State University offers a Master of Music focusing on neurologic music therapy, something I'm fascinated and passionate about...and most of the work is online, so I don't have to spend time away from my children. Then there's the EdD option at my local university.

I wondered though if a PhD would lend more weight to getting my research and my ideas noticed. My beloved explained that the PhD was more of a scholar's degree and the EdD was more of a practitioner's degree.

That fateful day when I was filing and buffing my nails I thought to myself, "This is an awesome length for performing, but I need a practitioner's length."


I'm a practitioner. I am a clinician and educator and researcher and a practitioner. I am not a scholar. I may engage in scholarly pursuits at times, but I am a practitioner.

My nails need to be of a length that they may not optimize the sound from the guitar strings, but they also do not get in the way of drumming a variety of instruments or interfere with other healing work.

I am a practitioner.

To give you the raw realizations as they occurred to me, I'm including excerpts from the email I sent to my beloved where I was processing this new insight:

I also had an insight about my fingernails that I broadened to my life as a whole... Thinking again about advanced education and the idea of the EdD being a practitioner's degree...I need to keep my fingernails at a practitioner's length, not a performer's length. No, I won't get quite the same sound out of the strings, but the nails will be a better length for more things, like hand and frame drumming. I have to decide what areas of music I want to be a performer and what areas I want to be a practitioner. I may be satisfied with not being a real performer in any areas...I was watching old Simon and Garfunkel videos this morning...Paul with the guitar singing and Art singing...that's it. Simple, clean and very nice. But I also thought about learning the Middle Eastern rhythms on riq and doumbek to accompany belly dancing...But really it's about the practical application of those things for me. Yes, it's fun to perform in church, but I see that more of a sharing of skills and talent for the benefit of the Society as opposed to a true performance. How can I use what I learn by learning the Middle Eastern rhythms in my work? How can I translate those skills to drum circle facilitation and healing and journeying? Some MTs are performers. On their websites they list private MT services and offer themselves as performers for weddings, funerals etc...that is not my calling. I think I am a researcher at heart because my intense curiosity and constant questioning but I am also very much a clinician...a practitioner.
All of this from the realization that I needed to shape my nails.