By Vita Forest
Last week sitting in The Cutaway at Barangaroo, a place that I’ve been so many times before and seen “dressed up” is many different ways – with a cardboard city, with hundreds of yogis, with thousands of white balls converting it into a dry beach. But for Aurora Eora, the space was mostly physically empty and yet it was transformed. It became a space to linger in, to reflect in, to close your eyes and be in (and in my case a space to get lost in a drawing in.) What made it so? What changed this big cavernous space, made people want to walk slowly to its centre and sit down? Lie down? Stop?
It was music.
The voices of the Australian Children’s Choir echoed through the vast interior reminding me of monks singing acapella incantations in a sacred space. With speakers placed in a circle facing the centre of The Cutaway (to which we were encouraged by a pathway made up of strings of electric bulbs, like giant fairy lights, standing in for church candles), voices and rich harmonies washed over you from all directions. People sat and looked about. Looked up at the ceiling, looked at the rock cliff face, strolled quietly up and down. There was nothing much to take a selfie with, it was just a quiet place to linger and reflect.
(Later as I wandered over the hilltop I heard the music again, this time drifting out of the large vent that opens at the top of The Cutaway. Again, it altered the mood of the people who heard it, turning the Frisbee players into ballet dancers as they spun and leapt. It called a gentle invitation to curious passers-by to try and locate the source of music – like a benign Pied Piper.)
And later, as I drove somewhere or other, I was listening to RN and caught the extraordinary story of Andrew Schulman who created Medical Musicians after music saved his life – literally. He was deep in a coma with nothing more to be done when his wife played his favourite piece of music (Bach’s St Mathew’s Passion) and the medical team watched in amazement as his vital signs changed before their eyes. They had verifiable and measurable scientific data that proved the power of music. Schulman went on to create Medical Musicians playing Bach and other carefully selected pieces to patients in trauma wards as an “effective, non-invasive treatment” which “produced certain chemicals in the body” and “allowed the body to relax and heal”.
And I remember years ago, doing a meditation course and the teacher talking about “cleansing” your home by playing calming music in it – even if you were not there. Leaving on some classical music and going out and letting the sound change the energy.
And think about my students over the years and how they love “doing Relaxation” where I put on some Vivaldi or Bach and they lay down on the floor and closed their eyes for a few minutes. (If we missed it one day for some reason, they were quite put out). How kids with behavioural problems would choose listening to music as one of their strategies for calming down, settling themselves. They even started doing it at home, their parents reported back to me.
And even my cat Zadie, flopping down on this table on which I write, choosing to curl up right in front of the portable speaker from which Richard Tognetti plays the Bach Violin Concertos, the sound making the whole table reverberate, I can feel the physical sensation through my arms as I write.
There is something quite amazing about music. You can’t listen to it in the past or the future, it makes you “be” here in the present. Right here. What is your soundtrack for calm?