As I sit in a hammock in my backyard playing the guitar, I enjoy the sounds of the birds, wind, and my little daughter singing. I can honestly say, there is no place I’d rather be. As I strum and take in the shade of the oak tree, I begin to consider why we make music and who is it for?
Musical competitions, performances, and shows like America’s Got Talent, make it seem as though music is made for others to enjoy, to judge, and to determine its worth. But, as I sit in the backyard with my little girl, I find that this is far from the truth. Of course, we can say that music is for many things, but in this article I’d like to provide some thoughts on why music is about self-realization, nature, and harmony.
Music Near a Stream: Enlightenment
Chinese musical traditions focus on making music as a form of enlightenment in harmonious environments to achieve tranquility, such as playing guqin, (pronounced koo-chin) a plucked Chinese zither, possibly next to a stream or under a tree (Wang, 2012).
So, why would playing an instrument all alone outside allow you to connect with yourself? One reason is that music making requires focused concentration. Being in a tranquil location (like outside or in a well lit room) enhances this experience by elevating the amount of uninterrupted focus. Likewise, when you make music outside alone or with your kids, you are creating a bridge between your child, you, and the world around you.
Music in a Canyon: Uniting Family, Music, & Nature
Rhodes (1954) stated, “the desideratum of Navajo religion is the attainment of a state of harmony with nature, the cosmos, one's family, and one's self”(p. 10). So, what Rhodes is saying is that traditional Navajo music illustrates the essential connections between harmony, nature, self, and family. In addition, there is a special connection with ancestors and the earth.
Using the Navajo musical traditions as a guide, it seems that our environment can have a profound impact on our musical experience. Have you ever noticed that not all music is good at all times? For example, the music that you’d play to motivate your kid before a soccer match is going to be very different than the music you’d play as you put them to bed. Why is this? Well, the conditions, purpose, and environment have changed.
Too Much Tech
Being outside is also a chance to disconnect from the ever-presence of technology in our lives. The philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1854) stated, “Men have become tools of their tools.” When you make music outside, I suggest doing it acoustically; that is, without electronics.
Now, if you have limited musical ability, just keep it simple. In the early morning my children garden with their mother. As they water plants, pick tomatoes, and dig in the soil, my little ones continuously sing. They are not concerned with getting the correct words or how good they sound; instead, they are just enjoying nature and music. When you go outside to enjoy nature and music, just stick to the basics.
Teaching Your Kids
I encourage you to get outside and make music with your kids. Think about the type of life you hope that they will lead. While we tend to focus on academic and financial success as a society, I hope that my children can find peace and serenity each and everyday. One way to achieve this is making music in nature.
Of course, to make this a part of your kids’ lives, you have to do it too. If you have an instrument, take it outside. If you like to sing, do it outside. But, before you make a sound, take a moment to breathe the crisp air, feel the dirt on your feet, and listen to the birds; then, add you and your kids’ part to the many sounds of nature.
Like this article? Follow me at John Owens Music at Home on Facebook.
Rhodes, W. (1954). Music of the American Indian: Navaho [Archive of folk culture]. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.
Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden; or, life in the woods. Boston, MA: Ticknor & Fields.
Wang, Y. (2012). Cultivating virtuous character: The Chinese traditional perspective of music education. In W.D. Bowman, and A. L. Frega, (Eds). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy on Music Education (pp 263-283). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Wyman, L. C. (1957). Beautyway: A Navajo Ceremonial. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
Young, J., Haas, E., & McGownp, E. (2008). Coyotes guide to connecting with nature. Shelton, WA: Owlink Media Corp.