V/A ~ Healing Together: A Compilation For Mental Health Recovery

While much has been written about the use of ambient music as soother, sleep aid, or background, little has been written about its therapeutic qualities (Isabella Herrera’s recent article in The New York Times one exception).  Cynthia Bernard seeks to expand perceptions with this 23-track, all female compilation, whose proceeds will benefit Sounds of Saving.  Health, healing, and hope recur in the track notes, providing personal evidence of an additional facet of the genre.  The set is also a celebration of female artistry, from Bernard’s art to the vast array of talent on display: familiar names happily mingling with the underground, all healing together.

The past two years have seen a rise in cases due to a wide array of issues, from pandemic to politics to war, but many suffer in silence, fearing stigma.  Each artist was asked to record a song that would help a struggling listener realize they are not alone.  The flow of the collection is exquisite, highlighting the power of music to cast a spell, lift a mood, and perhaps motivate a listener to reach out.

Sofia Birch’s “Willness” is a microcosm of the set, beginning in quietude before introducing the healing power of chimes, proceeding to adopt an upbeat electronic pulse, a blossoming of soul and sound.  She mentions finding a “point of focus” and holding on with all one’s might.  Hollie Kenniff offers wordless voice on “Embers,” an extension of The Quiet Drift.  For Kenniff, healing arrives through artistry, a pursuit not common to all but available to all.  Clariloops writes of “focusing on and appreciating every aspect of the present moment, good and bad.”  Already three artists have offered three different ways to look at the world: access points to joy, or away from anguish.  To listen is to feel; to read is to appreciate each individual’s voice and to accumulate action plans.

Drum & Lace recorded “Felt” at home, letting the birds have their say.  She focuses on the thought of togetherness, even when one is alone: remembering that those who care for us still care for us, wherever they may be, a crucial reminder in times of quarantine.  Sachi Kobayashi reminds her listeners of the “Scent of Roses,” and by extension the healing power of scent.  Belly Full of Stars turns loss into remembrance, and remembrance into gratitude.  Compiler Bernard, recording as marine eyes, reflects her moniker with local California waves and is one of the set’s witnesses to the healing power of nature.

But how does the album make one feel?  The answer will differ between listeners.  This reviewer’s unscientific test was to play the music when stressed and to see what happened.  Would the music produce calm, lethargy, sleep?  Only the first.  IKSRE embeds the Schumann resonance, purported to prompt healing, but a softening of emotional edges occurs before that.  The calm led to increased productivity, as I returned to work with the music playing, occasionally noticing specific sounds, in IKSRE’s “You Will Find” the strings more than the binaural beats: healing by any means necessary.

Clarice Jensen lets her title do the talking: “Getting Lost Is Okay.”  Giving ourselves permission to admit imperfection, to be lost, to fail is an initial step on the road to recovery.  One in five persons suffers from mental illness, and this figure doesn’t include those who suffer from mental anguish.  This can happen to anyone.  At some point, it does happen to everyone, and the only reason many don’t know this is that we don’t talk about it.  What if we were to greet each person (perhaps in our heads) with a “Hi, I was/am/will be mentally ill, and you were/are/will be mentally ill too!”?  We’d be letting the bird out of the coop: the scary yet liberating truth.  “I know it is hard,” sings Karen Vogt over and over until it sinks in: acknowledgment as medicine.

By the time the set reaches Cat Tyson Hughes’ “Almonta,” it has circled back to calm, described by The Wire‘s Catherine Sinow as “inner peace.”  This trajectory is a promise that such things are possible: that music can heal, and can lead one to healing connections.  The key word: together.  Here are 23 voices, whispering, singing, serenading, you’re not alone.  (Richard Allen)

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