Songs of Birds

Revered cellist Pablo Casals promoted peace consistently throughout his long career as an international concert and recording artist. Though known for his early advocacy of the unaccompanied cello suites of J.S. Bach and his unparalleled performances of classical repertoire, it was a simple folk tune from his native Catalonia, “El Cant del Ocells” (The Song of the Birds), he most often played to express the human longing for peace.  

Inspired by Casals, "Songs of Birds" suggests a unified intent to cultivate peace in our lives, in our music, and to extend peace to our families and communities. Our daily private and personal performances are the context in which we invite music to speak through us in, what C.G. Jung called, “the language of the present.” 

Part meditation, this practice is the suspension of critical evaluation in favor of deep listening and acceptance, both of which are enhanced by an inner stillness. Our stillness invites all we’ve studied to meld with all we are. This is a kind of mastery that can be attained by players at all “levels,” and is the spring from which inspired performances flow. 

Improvisation – following the dictates of this creative current – is a natural blossoming of this practice, but performances of composed or familiar material benefit from this deep guidance as well.  

Why do this? Traditional training emphasizes the objective values of music with scientific precision, and musical interpretation is learned by emulating various paragons of style. Left undiscussed is how to nurture original interpretations, how to summon the “tao,” find “the zone,” channel the collective unconscious: attain the presence that can transform a single note into breaking news. 

Mornings can be conducive to this practice, entering wakefulness with reverent inner listening. Before you check your tuning, hold your instrument as you become aware of your breathing. Take a minute to regulate your breath as you balance with your instrument. Tune with long, beautiful tone, regarding the beauty of sound along with the frequency of vibration. Become aware of the rich overtones pouring into the room. Feel how your instrument vibrates, how every object in the room - including your body -  vibrates with the sound.  

This is how love listens.  

“The Song of the Birds” was Casals’ love song. What’s yours? A sonata, a hymn, a pop song, something your mother sang? A freely improvised tone poem? Bring a purely positive reverence to it. You will hear it differently. You will play differently and sound different. 

As you explore this practice, you may find a new quality of presence with your instrument along with generally improved focus and a sense of calm that carries into your day, into problem solving, relationships, your teaching, and sense of self. 

But first in the playing, in the sound, as you move the center of your attention toward the heart of your expression. It will feel like a tiny step, but it’s a step through a veil that reveals your truest music.  

The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best.” - John James Audubon
In music, in the sea, in a flower, in a leaf, in an act of kindness... I see what people call God in all these things.” - Pablo Casals