jim murdoch
jim murdoch


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"..and so I began to understand how music and especially singing can be forms prayer. Not so much to ask for something but as a way to align ourselves with the natural order of the universe..."

OJ To Joy...

© Jim Murdoch 2008 all rights reserved


In 1998 I played music for a patient, Ralph who had never had any formal musical training but wanted to learn to play the basic melody of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." "How ambitious and how wonderful," I thought. I brought our portable keyboard to his room and we figured out the tune by singing the melody slowly and then finding the corresponding note on the keyboard. We broke the song down into short phrases and within about fifteen minutes he could pick out the melody with one finger. He was in his forties and was facing a serious diagnosis. There were several very painful tumors on his head and neck and even in his throat. He had a teenage daughter and a younger son, a lot of reasons to live. "I am so thirsty but there is so much pain when I swallow. What I would enjoy most would be a cold glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. But right now it would burn too much, like drinking acid or draino . . . That's why I wanted to learn the Beethoven song. The thought of the glass of OJ that I hope to be able to drink soon, is my "Ode To Joy."

He told me he was a practitioner of a Japanese form of Buddhism. He taught me a mantra, which is a repetitive phrase used in a meditation practice and then explained what each of the Sanskrit syllables meant, "the symbols mean, 'clear..., action..., heart.' So when you are playing music on your accordion for people, you can imagine the music coming directly from your heart, which it really is because the accordion is right there on your chest and play with the clearest of intentions, directly from your heart. Then try to extend that feeling to your actions throughout the day." I liked his suggestion very much.

"You know Ralph, there is a Native American woman, Nellie Two Bulls from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She is a singer and a songwriter who goes out into nature with a little tape recorder and sits quietly, listening to the sound of the wind through the trees or the sound of water flowing in a creek over the stones and creates a melody based on the sounds of nature, which she sings into her tape recorder. When she gets home, she writes words to fit that melody. We should create a melody based on the mantra you taught me." And so we sat at the keyboard and recited the mantra softly over and over and gradually we turned it into a simple song which he learned to play on the keyboard.

When I read that Larry Dossey, an MD has an altar in his office and says prayers for each of his patients that he will see that day, I thought, "what could I do with music that would be similar?" So I began playing music on my cedar flute for a few minutes when I first arrive at the medical center, a short "morning song." We have a beautiful glass ceiling 3 story atrium lobby with a 30 foot ficus tree growing in the center.

I sit on a bench under the tree and play a melody I made up for the cedar flute based on the sound of a mantra to Tara, a widely loved Tibetan female deity, symbolizing compassion, healing and protection. (see the audio section, 'Tara's Song,' & have a listen) The tune has four phrases and is based on the sound of her mantra, .... 'Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha' ... I play it as an invocation or prayer for healing, a kind of musical tonglen.

There are other cultures who also view music and singing as prayer. The Vedic tradition of India believes there is sacred knowledge that is heard or sung, ie music. I learned from Native American traditions the concept that music and singing are forms of prayer. Florence Nepose a Native American singer and songwriter believes, "every time you sing, you are praying." And so I began to understand how music and especially singing can be forms prayer. Not so much to ask for something but as a way to align ourselves with the natural order of the universe.

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