By Susanne Olbrich Music was present in my life from early childhood on, and I loved every expression of it. I was termed “musical,” and the wide-ranging classical training I received from elementary class to university degree both gave me a solid foundation for what now is my profession, and it left bad bruises and paralysing self-judgment. In years of breathing, smiling and looking deeply, Thay and Sangha friends helped me to untie those knots, reclaiming joy and creativity in my music practice. Now, by sharing it with others through playing and teaching the piano, performing, composing and improvising music, I can see many lovely seeds being watered within and around me.
Deep listening is key and a source of delight, too: Listening inside as music arises to be discovered and shaped into a new composition. Listening to the subtle interplay of body, movement, and sound while playing. Fine-tuned listening to my fellow musicians so we can anticipate each other’s breath, playing truly together. Listening to my students, each one of them having their own approach to music and individual learning style.
In my own pieces, mindfulness practice has found different manifestations. “Just Clouds” is a jazzy waltz inspired by watching thoughts and emotions coming and going. Thay’s poem “Contemplation” I suddenly heard set to music while reading it. “Night is Falling” is a mantra-like love song to the Earth, “Beyond Gone” my cradling of grief after a friend’s suicide. Each piece feels like a mini Dharma sharing, reﬂecting deep moments of life.
Two years ago I was invited to share my experiences as part of the “Festival of Arts and Spirituality” in Edinburgh, which gave birth to the workshop “Sounding the Source: Deep Listening and Intuitive Music as Spiritual Practice.” In a church with beautiful acoustics a very mixed crowd joined me in sounding their voices and experiencing walking meditation and deep listening exercises as taught by the wonderful composer/musician Pauline Oliveros. Just as mindfulness produces miracles, sounding and playing music together in mindfulness is a miracle within a miracle!
Offering “Sounding the Source” workshops now has become part of my regular teaching. I ﬁnd it very rewarding to help people
(re)discover the joy of music, as well as support musicians in bringing a spiritual and creative dimension to their music.
I would love to be in contact with other practitioners in whose lives music plays an important part. If you would like to water the seed of a Music & Mindfulness Network, please contact me!