Making music and self judgement

I’ve been making music my whole life, basically. I had a boy alto voice and sang my first solo in church when I was 6 (Ave Maria). How cute? I think I still have a tape with the recording that my mom made.

My generous parents sent me to the Drakensberg Boy’s Choir when I was 10 and there I received singing training. Music was simple then. You stood next to the other boys and sang in beautiful harmony together twice a day. There was also much to do at that school, like riding horses, and swimming in the mountain streams. I was a boy in heaven, the majestic mountains of the berg, creating an unforgettable backdrop to my daily life.

At age 15 I wrote my first song. i wrote about loneliness and my friend ‘Mary Jane’ hehe. Then it was time for school musicals like The Sound of Music and Grease, Oliver and such. I also started to sing in bands. I was in this metal band called “Virtue Metal”, how hilarious. We opened for Steve Hoffmeyer once and as we started our second song, the crowd started chanting “Steve! Steve! Steve!”. I had to throw beer off the stage to placate them. I think we were really bad.

In my early 20’s I decided to make a go at it to be a musician and started writing songs in earnest. I spent hours, days, months, years writing songs and in my mind, they were never good enough.  Internally, my dialogue was very strict and I criticized the song as it arrived in me, all the way onto the stage, where my performances were also never good enough in my own opinion. My voice was never good enough, my playing was never good enough and the music caused me much frustration and anguish. I became terribly unhappy as a musician.  My unhappiness was also fueled by my addiction to various things but that is a story for another day.

As a result of the constant criticism, the flower of creativity in me withered and I spent the next decade waiting for songs that never came. Here and there something would get through the cracks but if it was not sufficiently brilliant in my opinion, i would stop the process immediately. This caused my song writing to stagnate in the checkmate of my mind. The music was blocked by my inability to accept how I sound.

The music dried up completely and every attempt at performance or composition became increasingly painful, so I decided to stop.

Creativity and connection to the source, I have learned, is much like a sea urchin. When you stick your finger in a sea urchin, it contracts. Even if you just stroke it lightly, it will shut itself. I learned this valuable lesson through the medicine of cylosibin. The medicine showed me that my criticism is like a finger in my mind, going around touching my creative “sea urchins”. I started to become aware of what I was saying to myself as I was playing my instrument and singing. I was surprised at the harsh attitude and language that was present in me whilst playing. The need for perfection was really causing much damage to my ability to connect with the etherial music expression mechanism from where the songs come. I decided that, as hard as it might be, I have to let go of what I thought I should sound like and just sing. I practiced letting go of the need for perfection; I realised that “perfection” is not real. I would always shift the goal posts, no matter how good I become. I would always be lacking unless I find acceptance. Perfection is not the way you perform something, but rather you ability to accept everything about your performance.

When I stopped criticising the songs, they started to return. After about 10 years of no songs, the songs started to emerge again. They were simple, powerful and every time I play them, I feel the medicine of each song. Some songs had no lyrics, just an essence, a feeling, a vibration that creates a reaction in me. I started focusing more on the songs than on the way I perform them and the simple joy of playing music returned to my life.

Sometimes I relapse and find myself saying “you sound utterly shit”. At these times I try to be aware of the dialogue, stop the dialogue and redirect it, starting with an apology to myself. Music is joyful in and of itself. When we impose our expectations on it, whether at a song circle or on a stage or sitting alone at home, we miss the music.

Love your voice, speak positively to it and let it be what it is.