From time to time, you might hear music playing in the counselling rooms at Arbour. Clients and counsellors are reminded of their favourite songs and sometimes we can't help but take a moment to listen together. These moments can be quite moving as themes of love, forgiveness, sorrow, and loss—that we are working on in therapy—become condensed in beautiful music and song.
This year for our compliation post we asked our therapists to reflect on a piece of music that has impacted them this year. They've selected a variety of genres that speak to the way music can move us in different ways through many different forms.
Recently I had a client show me a music video by an artist I hadn’t heard of—Jacob Collier. The video is breathtaking musically and lyrically. As we sat in awed silence listening to the voices proclaim, “Don’t be afraid of the dark,” and “Don’t be afraid of the light,” I was so stuck by the beauty of those two opposites of life. In this song, Little Blue is the source of strength to hold these paradoxes. I thought of my own places of centeredness and strength when I’m facing both the dark and the light in my own life.
In life it is so easy to be afraid of the dark, hard places, and so easy to not be aware of the light, miraculous places. However, holding onto our own unique “Little Blue” (family, friends, partners, faith, self-compassion) may give us the courage to walk boldly into both. Before Christmas, I returned from helping my daughter in Nova Scotia through a major operation. We are still not out of the dark, but as we try to hold space for the grief, we are also trying to notice the beauty, joy, and wonder. Neither dismissing one or the other, trying not to be afraid of either so we can see them both simultaneously.
I invite you to take a quiet moment to watch the video below and may it inspire you to hold onto your own “Little Blue” as you boldly move in and out of the light and the dark of this season.
Some music that impacted me this year is from The Porter’s Gate recent album “Sanctuary Songs”. I have always loved The Porter’s Gate, but this album hit a home run for me with its focus on mental health and faith. The creators sought to model life-giving and healing ways to talk and sing about mental health challenges.
My favourite song is Take It Easy which is a beautiful invitation to rest and not live in anxiety. I need that reminder all the time! I found myself weeping as I listened to this album on the way to work, on airplanes, in the car, and when I caught a quiet moment for meditation and prayer. The gentle message of grace and hope that each song portrayed allowed me to feel held and known by God, and beckoned me to lay down my worry and hurry.
The album is a soothing balm to my busy heart and busy mind, and reminds me that my faith is the root that keeps me grounded and gives me peace.
Hope you enjoy:
One of the pieces of music that impacted me over the last year was Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3. It is a slowly building, brooding, melancholic exploration of tragedy experienced by Gorecki's home country of Poland during World War II and the Communist occupation following the war.
In one interview, Gorecki says that while the piece is a reflection of unspeakable horror and madness it also contains a spark of light. He says that while he was reading about one of the concentration camps he noticed that a young girl had written on the wall, "Mama, don't cry."
Amidst unspeakable horror and sorrow, we still see glimmers of light. This light doesn't make all tragedy sensible or even bearable, but it does point us toward the beauty and hope that still exists in this broken world. And it serves as a reminder to me to ask the question on my darkest days, "Where is the light?"
This is a longer piece of music but if you do take the time to listen notice how the mood of the piece changes to recognize the light in the darkness.
I surely date myself by celebrating the iconic Canadian artist, Bruce Cockburn, but he’s one of those that even some young people know due to his stylistic diversity and wide appeal. I’ve seen him three or four times in concert over the years, and the latest time, in Victoria BC in January 2018 at the Alix Goolden Hall, I was immediately struck with the sea of gray hair dotted by beacons of bald as I looked down at the crowd over the balcony. Then Bruce wandered (shuffled?) onto the stage, his back hunched with osteoporosis, and he seemed feeble as he carefully slipped his arm through the guitar strap. But, THEN, wow…. the beat came down, the bass kicked in, and the fingers on his guitar went into a flurry of picking and strumming just as his gravelly, mellow voice soared.
I was pleased years later when my friend sent me a link to some shorts Bruce was publishing during the worst COVID years. Some of these became part of his latest album, O Sun O Moon released in May 2023…and I had to smile at one of his songs where he muses, “Time takes it toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll” (On a Roll). That was definitely evident in his 2018 concert.
But the song that really struck me on the album was this one: Orders
I think it’s especially apt that I’m reflecting on this during the Advent/Christmas season. Here we are, two years into a senseless power grab in Ukraine, brutality in Israel and three months of over-the-top retribution in Gaza, fear and polarization everywhere. In my tradition and journey, I pause each year to wonder and ponder on the helpless Christ-child born in a cattle stall some 2000 years ago—this child, who, as he grew, left some distinct orders with his followers, which he himself had modelled: “Love them all”.
I’m kind of done expending my best energy to parse out my position on things. I’m trying to open my eyes to people right around me. See them as beloved, and be authentically curious about their story. Which is why I so identify with Cockburn’s song, Orders. It seems so simple, but the “challenge great”.
Have a listen:
Recently I went on a road trip to Tofino. I love road trips. Besides an exhilarating alchemy of freedom, movement, and adventure, one of the sweetest elements of a road trip for me is listening to music, uninterruptedly. I was keen to try out a new set of
wheels which came equipped with unlimited access to music of all genres via satellite radio. And so, there was lots of music.
There is one genre, however, that particularly calls to me: classical guitar. And one particular piece of classical guitar music (and orchestra) that never fails to stir my imagination: Joaquin Rodrigo and Narciso Yepes’ enchantingly beautiful Concierto de Aranjuez. Written three-quarters of a century ago, this piece of music is reputed to be ‘simply the best-loved guitar concerto’; an intriguing ‘fusion of 18th-century Spanish-Italian guitar music, flamenco, and 20th-century neoclassicism’ (if that means anything to you!). I love it.
I came away from that road trip feeling great; even psychologically transformed. I was
curious to find out why music, which was an important part of the experience, can be
so transformative? Here’s a taste of what I learned (no surprise to many of you!). Music
makes you happier; lowers stress and improves health; reduces depression; elevates
your mood while driving (clearly this worked for me); strengthens learning and memory;
reduces pain; and keeps your brain healthy in old age (this one particularly grabbed my
And so – like the Spaniards say: Viva la música! Long live music!
Choosing a favorite song is like choosing a favorite meal—it kind of depends on one’s context and mood. So I don’t necessarily have a favorite song, but songs I found myself listening to more often because of the seasons of my life. The song, Somebody’s Baby by Jon Foreman, has been one of those songs.
What I appreciate about this song is the way Foreman captures nuanced details of the life of an individual in the margins and brings forth a humane reminder that she is still somebody’s baby. Throughout the song Foreman juxtaposes “dreams”, “nightmares”, “heaven”, and “hell” and contrasts the raw life of this individual with the frailty of a baby that is deserving of love, inviting us as listeners to remember that this person too was once loved and still deserves to be loved.
The song reminds me of Levinasian ethics of care, that it is easier and simpler to ignore others in the margins and treat them as the ‘other’—an object or entity with no personal impact. However, when confronted with the face of the other—the raw humanity that their face brings forth—we are invited to care and to see that they matter.
Perhaps, for me, it may be the season of having young children in my life that makes this song that much more pertinent. That, as I listen to this song, it invites me to think of others ultimately as somebody’s baby and to care in the way that I care for my children. So to that, I invite you to have a listen and to reflect upon how this song may resonate with you.