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The Healing Power of Music

Music can be a powerful tool for helping us cope with the loss of the ones we love – especially when our community comes together to experience that music live.” So began the event description that was forwarded to me from a friend a few weeks ago. I mulled it over several times.  

I’ve experienced quite a bit of death in my life over the last few years and am a notorious music aficionado. In mid-August, I lost my Grandmother on my Mom’s side, which I took harder than I thought I would. I have always had albums that I turn to time and time again in challenging times. This event seemed like it would be right up my alley. This ultimately proved true, but it required me to face up to some of my innermost thoughts and emotions. Let me explain. 

Town Hall Seattle is set inside a building that was initially the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist – construction was completed in 1922. The architecture is beautiful, employing the Roman Revival style with no religious symbolism visible inside or out. I could feel the history of the building as I entered through the doors. I wondered what I had gotten myself into, to be quite honest with you. 

shawn smith, death and music, john richards, dr amy richards
Death & Music | Photo for the Auburn Examiner

I bought myself a beer to calm my nerves and settled into a pew near the front of The Great Hall, just two rows away from the stage. I took in my surroundings, a beautiful room that belied its roots as a place of worship. People from all walks of life started settling into their seats, filling up the 1,000 capacity venue.

The lights dimmed, and the room was filled with mournful, yet celebratory music. The Super-Krewe marched through the aisles, playing New Orleans style funeral music. There was a pantomime aspect to several of the performers, which I enjoyed immensely. They were the opening act of this event, and I was absolutely enthralled and engaged. Is there anything worth celebrating when facing grief head-on? I wasn’t sure, but I was willing to see where this event was heading. 

John Richards from KEXP took the stage next. He spoke from a mix of prepared statements and “off the cuff” sentiments. I found it heartfelt and helpful. The main message seemed to be you are not alone – in facing grief, in feeling sad, even in the thoughts of wanting to die in the aftermath of losing someone you love. I found it incredibly moving and could feel my eyes welling up at certain statements. How did he know what I was feeling? 

After John spoke about the humble roots of the events, he talked about his friend Shawn Smith. Shawn Smith was a famous icon in the Seattle music scene, connected to Pearl Jam through his group Brad. He had a larger than life personality, and I could feel genuine emotions creeping through as John spoke about him and what his loss earlier this year meant to him.

shawn smith, brad, live at viper theater
Brad live at Viper Theater | Photo by Fabio Salani

At this point, we were asked to stand up and introduce ourselves to the people around us. I was absolutely terrified. But I could sense that each person I met had their own reasons for attending – their own pain they were carrying. It provided a real sense of community. 

Dr. Amy Richards turns out to be John’s wife – it wasn’t just a coincidence that they had the same last name. She spoke several times throughout the evening. Amy’s life experience has included the death of her siblings – one in an awful accident, the other in a domestic violence murder. She cried freely as she told us about these life experiences. She talked about the ocean and music – the peace they both brought to her.

I was so moved by her speaking, I haven’t really been able to talk about it in person with anyone. But I can write about it here. Amy spoke about the loss of Ric Ocasek from The Cars, and how they played his music in the days after his death. I have often wondered why I play records over and over in the wake of the death of a musician I admire. It was explained so well – I believe by both John and Amy during the event – we have a relationship with these artists. They’ve created these lyrics and music and put it out there in the world for us. We interact with them throughout our lives. I loved that explanation. 

Each artist was given time to perform 2 songs throughout the evening. Oh, Rose is an alternative band from Olympia. Led by Olivia Rose, they were the highlight of the evening for me. In fact, I immediately bought their latest record when I got home that night. Olivia Rose spoke before they played. She talked about the unexpected loss of her mother and how much it meant to be a part of this event. Olivia Rose went from speaking in tears to confidently singing just moments later.

Adra Boo was up next. A soul singer who had recently lost her brother unexpectedly. She was simply the coolest of the cool. Singing her heart out acapella style, her voice gave me chills. There was a noticeable lack of dry eyes in the house when she was done speaking and singing. 

Hey, Marseilles was another indie styled band that played a cover of Daniel Johnson’s “True Love Will Find You in the End,” which was incredibly moving. 

The music portion of the evening was capped off by Puget Soundworks – a beautiful chorus that I found incredibly moving. After the lectures and musical acts, Super-Krewe came back out and led us in a celebratory march out of the venue. 

This event was better than advertised. It provided a true sense of healing for those of us who are hurting. The healing power of music can sometimes be hard to explain to those who are not musically inclined. But it has saved me repeatedly in life. I’d rate this event as:

Death: 0 stars out of 5
Lectures: 5 stars out of 5
Music: 5 stars out of 5 

 

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