Mickey Hart is a world famous musician. He owns acres of gold and platinum records merited across six decades of world-class music-making. He is perhaps most recognized as a longtime member of the Grateful Dead and with drummer Bill Kreutzmann formed the daunting duo known affectionately by Deadheads as the “rhythm devils.” The name persisted and that musical offshoot became its own recording entity.
His career is far more expansive than that, however. Rhythm and music are in his soul. His father was also a world-class drummer and Mickey embraced the beat early on. Beyond music played with the Dead and various other permutations, beyond numerous soundtracks and film scores, (including landmark work for Francis Ford Coppola featured centrally in Apocalypse Now), beyond induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, beyond historically crucial archival work for the Smithsonian Institute, beyond traveling the globe to bring the music of varied cultures to the Western world, Hart’s been on a mission to bring the healing energy of music to the forefront. That mission makes a stop in Omaha on December 12.
Big Bang is not a Theory Sound is real. It’s not a theory. So here’s the short version: Everything in the universe is made of energy. The universe is energy, period. You are energy. Your body is a coalescence of energy. The properties that govern your body are the same ones that govern energy because it is all the same.
Sound is an expression of energy and arguably the most accessible form for humans to experience. Our body does more than simply hear sound. It experiences sound. The vibrations, phase characteristics, amplitudes, frequencies and wave shapes are all sensed by the body. The energy of sound meshes with the energy that is manifest as a body.
When sound is coherent, it is harmonious. When sound is disjunctive it can be jarring or contrapuntal. That’s a simple way to put it. The healing effect of sound, music, rhythm on the body nearly defies description because it is experiential rather than empirical. Nonetheless, scientists scurry to explain why it does indeed meet William Congreve’s historical claim that “music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” Explanations pale in comparison to experience.
Throughout recorded history, man has used sound, music and dance in healing ritual. Even today, startling healing events have been documented by Harvard researcher Richard Katz in his study of the Kalahari !Kung. The !Kung tribe of central Africa still uses night-long singing and dancing circles to heal what we would consider terminal illnesses and injury. Katz describes the healing of life-threatening wounds suffered by a tribesman in a lion attack. In Katz’ description, the bleeding stopped, the wounds closed over and were barely visible by sunrise after a circle of 20 or so healers sang, chanted, drummed and danced around him throughout the night. Experiences like that are documented in Katz’s book Boiling Energy.
Western medicine is catching on. Music has struck a chord with conventional practitioners and found a place in hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centers. Modern-day music therapists slinging guitars and pounding pianos are bringing the notion of notation as therapy to a healing-starved Western world — this about five thousand years after music was first described as an essential accompanist to health and healing.
The beat goes Om Back to the Big Bang. Literally or not, Western scientists refer to that moment as the inception of the entire physical universe and describe the beginning of things as a sound.
Some energy theorists maintain that the basic energy of life, the truly elusive Unified Field that Einstein sought to find, is actually a universal sound. The subtle energy that weaves through the fabric of all substance is believed to be a tone that is both audible and experiential. That tone could be called the resonant echo of the Big Bang, the primordial drum beat, in some cultures known as the sound “om.”
With sound as such a pervasive energy, then the application of it in structured or semi-structured organizations of pitch, rhythm, amplitude and harmonic content would indeed have a resonance that can be in synchronization with our perfect health.
The message of music and health was written long ago. By adapting and bringing ancient sounds, rhythms and tradition to a modern sensibility, Hart and his many recordings offer examples of how music, rhythm in particular, can play a role in healing. In 1991, Hart appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging, speaking on the healing value of drumming and rhythm. Later, he organized a 2000-person drum circle at the College of Marin, where he was joined by Carlos Santana, Shiela E, Hamza El Din, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. In 2004, he organized an event that established a Guinness World Record for the largest drum ensemble with a 5000-person drum circle, also in Northern California. Hart is now on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Hospital.
Entertain the idea of healing All the technical jargon aside, most of us know music as a form of entertainment. How true that is. And what better form is there than one that reaches to the energetic core? Hart is currently on a national tour of modest club-size venues. Compared to the arena and festival settings of a Grateful Dead tour, having the opportunity to interact with the musical talent of such world renown in an intimate and accessible showcase is a rare opportunity. Hart will be in concert one night only at The Waiting Room in Benson on December 12. It is certain to entertain and entrance. And if some healing happens along the way…
Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at www.HeartlandHealing.com