Divine Sound

A gaggle of young men were playing catch across the road from me on the Labour Day weekend, complete with baseball gloves and an official MLB ball, undoubtedly signed by some contemporary hot shot pitcher like Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw. I would have preferred a Roy Halliday signature or Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson, but I’m veering off into left field. I leaned back into my comfy chair on my porch and listened to the ball strike the gloves, the ball whistling as it sliced the air, the sound steady and familiar and soothing, and it got me thinking.

We could each create a soundtrack in our heads of favourite sounds and though there might be similarities and crossovers, the collection of sound would be quite unique. When my mother passed away, my sister and I played a collection of her favourite music while we bathed our mother’s body and placed her in her favourite pink nightgown. I found the sound comforting, an appropriate send off. I like to think it eased my mother’s transition from her failed body to wherever it was she was going.

I think of those living in small spaces, oftentimes in institutions, with over-powering industrial sounds – the whirring of giant fans and air conditioning units, of steel doors clanging, the dreaded beep-beep-beep of commercial vehicles backing up. Those sounds are harsh and jarring, relentless. I think of those confined to bed or children who struggle with behaviour problems, and I wonder how their favourite and unique sounds would help calm and soothe them.

I recently read about a pilot project in Australia called Listening to Country, a project aimed at helping incarcerated indigenous women. CBC Radio’s Tapestry discussed the details with members of the research team. The project was implemented in the prison system, its aim to provide sounds that would bring comfort to prisoners, sounds from their environment, from their culture. Each of the fourteen women involved chose sounds that connected her to life on the outside. The results were positive and brought these women comfort and healing. The sounds from the landscape, from nature, from the quiet, promoted “well-being, relaxation and a strengthened connection to culture and country” and served as a reprieve, a time of rest and reconnection.

The project leaders explained that we must hear with all our senses for the sound to be truly beneficial to our health. We’ve known for some time of the scientific evidence that tells us how sound can reduce heart rate, slow breathing, help calm the spirit, the reaction almost immediate. Much research has gone into developing sound strategies that heal. I admire those who think outside the box when problem-solving.

As our urban areas grow and access to green space shrinks, we should be concerned about the healing opportunities that are lost. I grew up lying on a thick branch of a fallen tree that reached out over a water course that led to the river. Aside of the sense of safety I felt in my tree fort, it was the sound that comforted and soothed me. I spent hours on that branch, the water trickling beneath me, the leaves gently rustling in the wind, woodpeckers tap-tap-tapping, insects buzzing, the wind moving through the trees, the owl’s wings whooshing through the air, the rain hitting the hollowed log and ripened apples falling to the ground with a gentle thud. I had the sense the forest was breathing. I travel to that spot in my mind when I need comfort.

Children are far more aware of sound than adults are. When we are young, we feel the sound with our bodies. In 1967 the Pan Am Games were held in Winnipeg, with the Equestrian events at Birds Hill Park. My sister and I had the great fortune of sitting close to one of the cross-country jumps in the Eventing discipline and there we sat for the entire day, not moving for hunger or bodily functions. I can still feel the vibration in the ground as those horses galloped toward the massive jump. I can hear the leather saddles strain, the steel bits jangle, the horse’s breath coming in bursts, the rider’s groan as her steed took flight. My heart beat in time with the hooves striking the ground and in the moment of flight, I too was airborne, my leg lifting without instruction from me, my eyes closed taking in every sensation. The sound was magic.

I wonder what sounds would form your soundtrack – the paddle bumping into the side of the canoe, the zing of the fishing line cast, the lap of the water against the rocks, the laughter of your children, the soft bang of the screen door, the bull frog croaking, …