Being fed by music

by Sarah Pearson

Canada experienced a collective sadness a few weeks ago when it was announced that Gord Downie, the lead singer from the legendary band The Tragically Hip, has a terminal brain tumour. The news was sad, and yet with it came the announcement that the band would go on a final summer farewell tour. Tickets for the tour have been under “overwhelming demand”, according to the band’s Facebook page. Venues have been adjusted to accommodate more seats, ticket limits per person have been instated, and the CBC has partnered with the band to broadcast the concerts. Everyone, it seems, wants to be there for The Hip’s last show.

Encouraging people to connect deeply to their own music is something I try to do in every workshop, course or presentation I give on music in care. It’s so vitally important to feed ourselves with the music we know we love, if we are to use music to connect with others. Because of my professional life I’m constantly outputting music, so I’m mindful that I remember to input it too. Making time to self-care with music – to truly receive music – is something I try to prioritize. It can be a challenge, but always worth it.

So when I heard the news a few weeks ago about Gord Downie, I knew I had to set aside some time to listen, just for five minutes, to my favourite Hip song.

I’ve never been the biggest Hip fan, but their music has been a part of my life since I was a kid. They have been staples on the radio, around campfires, on MuchMusic, mix tapes, road trips, and summer music festivals. The Hip are an essential part of the Canadian aural landscape and Gord Downie is as constant a Canadian in many of our lives as Peter Mansbridge or Don Cherry. And I don’t doubt that Downie is a musical genius.

I don’t even have my favourite Hip song in my iTunes CD collection. It’s not one of their biggest hits. But for some reason I really, really love it.

The song is called Something On, and it was the second single released off their 1998 album Phantom Power, which was released, coincidentally, the same year I started prolifically watching MuchMusic before going to school each morning. Something On is your typical 90s rock tune, and yet has a dreamy, melodic quality to it that kept me from changing the channel whenever it came on MuchMusic. I later learned it was a song written about the 1998 Ice Storm of Quebec and Eastern Ontario – an event that was a magical, unforgettable part of my adolescence in Montreal.

While I’m happy to sing along to Ahead By A Century, Wheat Kings or Bobcaygeon around a campfire, or tap the steering wheel when New Orleans Is Sinking comes on the car radio, for whatever reason, Something On has always been my favourite Hip tune.  I hadn’t heard it for years.

Life was real busy for me around the time the Hip announced their bittersweet news. It took me a few weeks to get around to it, but last week, I finally made the time. I looked up Something On on YouTube, and hit play while I did the dishes. The song was glorious and made me so happy. I played it again. And again. And let myself get fed by music.

Who knows what’s in store for this legendary Canadian musician, but as we reflect on the incredible legacy of Gord Downie, I can think of no better way than to just make time to listen to the music that moves us, for reasons we don’t always understand, and simply marvel at the gift of his music, and the gift of music itself. And I can think of no better way to connect to our deeper selves, for even just a few minutes, than to feed ourselves with the music that we know makes our souls very, very happy.

Sarah Pearson is a music therapist working in oncology and palliative care in Kitchener, ON . She is the Program Development Coordinator for the Room 217 Foundation and Lead Facilitator of the Music Care Certificate Program.