Many Happy Returns to Child

In MfP Stories by jan_mfp

Music for People has touched many people’s lives and inspired many a dormant or misguided creative spirit. This innate part of each one of us yearns to have expression, to be freed, to be heard, to touch others. As many of you know, finding the means to give voice to your own unique being is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Music for People was given birth by two extraordinary people, David Darling and Bonnie Insull, who held this vision as one of utmost importance. And through their immense hard work, profound teaching and love of music and people, this organization has flourished.
What follows are stories and testimonials, selected from the many we received, about how Music for People has deeply altered people’s lives. I was moved over and over again reading the personal stories sent to us and wish to thank everyone who contributed. I tried to choose those that resonated and represented the whole. I hope each one of your finds a part of your own story here.

Emily Metcalf (Spring 1997)

Naomi Bennet: In July of 1994, I went to a Music for Everyone week in Keene, New Hampshire..

Sadja Greenwood: Inspiration, fun. Creativity, fun. Musicianship, fun. Friendships, fun his could be a song..

Donna Benjamin: Gypsy Fire

Lia Hartzler: Music for People has shown me there is a place for me and my music ..

Marcia Nelken: Twelve years ago, as a non-musician with a vague idea to sing more ..

Rob Bethel: When I first met David and became familiar with the Music for People style of music making, I was (still am) struggling with the damage I had sustained in music school..

Eric Edberg: My participation in the world of Music for People has been of enormous benefit to me as a professional cellist and as a teacher..

Abby Gross: Last year, as I was approaching my Christmas birthday and the age of forty, I was struck with the need at that milestone to be sure I was attending to my body, soul, and mind..

Pam Holmes: My story goes way back before there was an organized Music for People..

Kevin Markarewicz: Music for People began for me one summer when I was 18 years old struggling with a lot of the usual adolescent problems and some unusual adolescent problems..

Mary Knysh: Dear David, It is Thanksgiving morning and I finally have a few moments ..

Naomi Bennet

In July of 1994, I went to a Music for Everyone week in Keene, New Hampshire. On the one hand, I was thrilled to be going. On the other hand, I was afraid that the brochure might be the sheep’s clothing surrounding the wolf; that those happy looking people playing instruments in the picture would suddenly start blowing whistles, throwing volley balls and throwing me back to a place where I’d feel like an extra-terrestrial being expected to conform to alien customs.

Growing up in a household where my prima donna mother had won the Salzburg Festival playing the piano, and where, as in the wild west, there was only room for one of us, I’d grown up feeling that I had a disappointingly unexceptional musical talent. I could try if I wanted to but I’d never make it. But I loved music. I conducted Beethoven in the dark, sang opera in the shower and rock and roll in the car, played water glasses with spoons when not stopped, and thanks to a year-long toning program with Don Campbell, I had even begun to like my own voice. And the flyer definitely said music for EVERYONE which meant there was a likelihood it would include me.

During the first morning’s warm up, David Darling had a smiling face on a stick he kept holding up to get people to smile. “Not me,” I thought. “I won’t smile unless I feel like it.” But then I did. Maybe it was David hitting his head with a fake hammer, maybe it was all the terrific instruments, maybe it was the chance to play with music rather than grimly work at it, maybe it was being monkeys, screeching and scratching our armpits at the other monkeys or maybe it was the sound of all the different groups doing their improvisations. Maybe it was the realization that none was perfect and yet all were beautiful. Maybe it was the thrill of meeting people and hearing their soul sing through their music, rather than hearing they were from Cincinnati and wondering how to respond. Maybe it was about being able to respond from the soul. Maybe it was about being able to hear the voice of God in everyone. Anyway, you can probably tell I was sold. Not that I didn’t have lonely, scared, self-doubting moments, because I did. But all in all I was happy that week in a sustained way that has been fairly rare in my life. It was also that week that a woman named Jan suggested I learn to play the clarinet. I have, and Jan, wherever you are – Vermont I think – thanks, I love it.

So now it’s a few years later, I’m in the leadership training program, and I’m thinking about what I like about Music for People and what it’s meant to me. As a rule, I don’t like or trust organizations. As a child I think I went to one Brownie meeting and could be heard running home screaming, “The horror! The horror!”

Music for People works as an organization because I think it genuinely draws and supports people who respect individuality. It is a network of people who are committed to creating a space in which we are all affirmed in our musical birth rights and in our beings. The chance to make music with all sorts of people, sharing and mixing your sacred One Quality Sound with others in an incredible gift in life. It’s also really, really fun.

I personally have loved the chance to make music and to learn to hear it. I’ve moved from the city to the country and allowing a twenty-two career as a psychotherapist to come to an end because I wanted to be receptive to my own creativity in a way that I had encouraged for years in my clients and needed more space to do myself. Believe me, it’s surprisingly tough. It’s tough to stop for long enough to listen. And tough to have faith in the process. Or at least it is for me.

Music for People, for me, has really provided an affirmation of that process. Making music for its inherent value, living life for its inherent value. Trying to turn off the muzak and hear the music. That’s what it’s been about. Just when life is really rough, you make up a little tune and maybe sing it to a tree, and hey, something simple but essential clicks into place and it’s okay.

Sadja Greenwood

Inspiration, fun. Creativity, fun. Musicianship, fun. Friendships, fun.this could be a song. Music for People has brought so much depth, good work, and joy into my life. And has awakened my wild side, asleep since my teens. I want to thank David, Bonnie, Jim, and all the new staff and faculty for their work, their loving kindness, their vision and their beautiful sounds. Here’s to the next ten years and beyond!

Donna Benjamin

Gypsy Fire

No more “I feel pretty.” for me. Give me a Tuvan throat song anytime. Never would I have thought those words would be true. I have learned so much based on my connection with Music for People over the past ten years.

When I walked into my first weekend workshop at The New York Open Center, I was a musically frustrated shut-down young woman. What has emerged is a vivacious, courageous and willing performer and improvisational artist. I love the process of singing one quality sound from the heart and gut. It took me quite a number of years to gain that confidence.

It has been the guidance of David and the support and love of my fellow travelers in the Musicianship and Leadership Program that have helped me get here. Currently being a Leader in the program has proven that there is hope for people like me who didn’t know a diatonic from a chromatic scale before they started!

My musical background is basic – four years of piano from 8-12 years; self-taught guitar and a smattering of singing lessons over the years. Love for and experience in musical theater was a major passion during my teens. Growing up, there was always music on the stereo. My parents shared a deep appreciation for the Broadway musicals, Gilbert and Sullivan and classical music. I too came to love these forms. Unfortunately, a lot of the music died after my mother passed away when I was twelve. It was then that I started to shut down emotionally and musically. On the surface, people might not have noticed but bubbling deep within was a great sadness.

So when I started crying at my first David Darling workshop it was no wonder. The dam had to be broken and the tears had to flow. If they hadn’t, I would still be in the same place. The tears have quieted and the pain has been released. Music is a great tool for recovery and growth. At first reticent to share my inner core, there is no stopping me now after many years of working with this magic. I honor the courage and willingness it takes to participate in such a potentially revealing and empowering process. Bless David’s willingness to be all that he is. He has touched so many people encouraging them all the while to let their own light shine. Well, my light is shining never to be dimmed again. Hallelujah!

Lia Hartzler

Music for People has shown me there is a place for me and my music in this world without having to be an artist or music teacher — there are many others ways to do music with people. That may not sound like much but it has changed my life.

Since I started the Musicianship and Leadership Program, I have quit a well paid executive director job I had for 24 years and am now working with students in an alternative high school music program, taking voice and drum lessons, fixing up a music/work room, and spending more time out around our farm.

Last fall I came into the house, out of breath from pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure and black dirt for some chrysanthemums I was transplanting. I walked into my music room and impulsively said, ” Let’s see if this new microphone works.” I switched on the recorder, hooked up the mike and started singing. Out came a beautiful, powerful improv song that expressed exactly where I was at that moment. I was totally surprised with that song. It would not have happened without MfP.

Sometimes I sit down at the piano to do an MLP homework assignment and end up amazed at what comes out- blues, jazz, soft rhythms, moans, high pitched calls.

The support from mentors, the homework assignments, the MfP philosophy, David’s music and leadership, the examples from other participants — all of this has given me courage to explore my own music and learn ways to launch others onto their music. It’s too soon for me to know how my music will play out in the world. For now, there is joy, music, and deep learning. And that is enough.

Marcia Nelken

Twelve years ago, as a non-musician with a vague idea to sing more, I took a workshop with David (Darling). This started me on a wonderful journey. Seven years ago, I quit my 9-5 job and started my own business in music teaching.

Today I, happy and self-expressive, have brought MfP-inspired music making to more than a thousand families and recorded more than 2- tapes. What can I say? — I’m very grateful to David and MfP!

Rob Bethel

When I first met David and became familiar with the Music for People style of music making, I was (still am) struggling with the damage I had sustained in music school. It is so liberating to be able to make music in a way where each person is valued for their contribution which only they can give. I also like the ethic that making a new sound is considered a good thing to be celebrated rather than an amateurish mistake or a threat to a long-standing tradition.

After my experiences with rigid classical music training, Music for People was a whole new world of possibility: soul food for a hungry heart. It is not an exaggeration to say that I might have left music behind as a painful memory had it not been for the support and nourishment of my friends and mentors in Music for People.

So, thank you David and everyone else who saved me from a barren, bitter, musicless life! I am currently a mentor in the Musicianship and Leadership Program and hope to carry on these ways of playing and teaching in my future work as a musician. I hope for a world where all music is free of doubt and fear and I hope to have some small role in making such a world possible.

Eric Edberg

My participation in the world of Music for People has been of enormous benefit to me as a professional cellist and as a teacher. The amazing balance of a non-judgmental and nurturing atmosphere on one hand, and plenty of challenge and stimulation on the other, has had a profound effect on my life and work.

As is the case with so many professional classical players, my high level of technical skill and musicianship — refined at many top conservatories — was surpassed only by my self-criticism, fear of making a mistake, and projection of negative judgments I assumed others were making about me and my playing.

Having been in the MfP universe for almost two years now, I have embraced the “no wrong notes” ethos and learned to enter into the sound, to play with and from love. Frankly, for much of this time I’ve done little classical playing, reveling in the delight of creating my own music (obviously a not uncommon phenomenon for burned-out classical players who discover MfP!) while healing my relationship with the cello and my voice. Oh man, I can enjoy SINGING now!

Now I have a series of concerts coming up, some improvised, yet mostly classical. Practicing and rehearsing a Beethoven sonata recently, I suddenly realized that I was JUST playing it and loving it. This is a new liberating experience! I didn’t have my attention on how “well” I was or wasn’t playing it, on what I thought the audience would think of me, etc. For the first time in my life as a musician, I had the sense that I was playing a Beethoven sonata in order to play a Beethoven sonata. Not to prove how “good” I am. Not comparing myself to every recording I ever heard. Just playing to play a great piece, because I love it! Wow!

It has been a great privilege to share the MfP spirit as well as the improvisation games with my students. We have a wonderful improvised chamber music class at DePauw now, and my students and I are discovering together how effective and joyful it can be to learn both an instrument and the language of music in great part through improvisation.

The most profound effect on me has come from the spirit of love and acceptance that underlies the work of Music for People. Love of sound, of music, of one’s instrument, of the human spirit, of each and every unique and special human being. It is this which makes MfP the healing and transforming force it is in our culture. I’ll be forever grateful for my participation in this extraordinary enterprise.

Abby Gross

Last year, as I was approaching my Christmas birthday and the age of forty, I was struck with the need at that milestone to be sure I was attending to my body, soul, and mind. I started with thinking about my soul, and how for a long time, I had been in need of spiritual food in my life. Focusing on this need coincided with my first Music for People workshop.

Somewhere in the middle of that first workshop during a single yet committed note, a deep uncompromised vocalization, I found my soul. I touched a place where I had never been. The openness and the supportiveness gave me the freedom to engage in my spirit. By letting down my defenses I found that vulnerable yet magical spot where one is pure. For the music to be real the performer has to be real, coming from one’s true self.

In Music for People, musicianship is defined by the honest giving of oneself. Whenever I am singing or playing in this way I feel as if the vibrations and emotion of the music literally cleanses my body and mind. This is when I am the most connected as a musician energetically.

Pam Holmes

My story goes way back before there was an organized Music for People. For me this has been a very slow process and certainly not without its share of frustration. Even before the “Next Step” phase evolved into the teacher training program, a seed of hope was planted. Somehow… some way… there was a place for me in music. The list of people who helped keep my dream alive probably includes you, if you are reading this.

Being dyslexic presented huge challenges especially since I perceive sound differently than other people. Year after year, I seemed to hit a wall which no amount of effort could penetrate. There were tears because I was hearing the overtones of notes being played by others clashing against my own. It was often too hard to feel self-confident and to be willing to “put it out there.” I might compare the risk of playing to that of a blind person trying to negotiate a New York City street at rush hour.

In spite of this, learning music became a “quest.” Many times it seemed crazy to continue yet it was just something I had to do. I tried to stay open to whatever might happen and to be ready to take a path not planned. This past year something happened that causes me to sit back and marvel at the power of trust — both my own and that of this organization, Music for People. Perhaps eight or ten years ago, I told David Darling that I had learning disabilities. His reply was “What a gift.” Those were not the words I was looking for. Although it has taken years, I finally respect my learning difference as a gift.

Quite by accident last year, my saxophone teacher discovered that I could figure out the scale of the modes in any key faster than he could with his Ph.D. in music theory. Since it was so difficult for me to learn any scale, I’d developed my own little system. After testing me until he was convinced that my method really worked, he encouraged me to write a book describing my method. It is so simple yet unconventional. What started as very humble project, has taken on a life of its own and it just keeps growing.

Sometimes I step back and wonder, “How did this happen? How can I be sitting here reading theory books from the fifteenth century and enjoying them?” But the answer comes easily. I am part of an organization that believes a musician lies within all of us and that there are many ways to express it.

Now I am in a place I never dreamed possible. I am a Leader at long last. At one time I might have felt embarrassed admitting that it has taken me six years, but I tell you with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Yes, David’s comment has proven to be from a place of wisdom, and I am grateful that music was a “path taken.”

Kevin Markarewicz

Music for People began for me one summer when I was 18 years old struggling with a lot of the usual adolescent problems and some unusual adolescent problems. I made it to a music workshop of David’s and a certain private secret world opened up and I became part of a community. Hope and vision were kindled. I could dare to dream. Thus I was launched. The world of music opened its sweet gates to me and let me in.

Many times since, MfP has helped to reopen, or open wider, those mysterious gates of the soul. Once when my self-esteem was pretty bankrupt and couldn’t even consider taking out a loan, Bonnie pointed to a wealth inside me, gifts I dare not even dream I had. I decided if she could see this, maybe I should start looking. Perhaps her vision of me was clearer than my own.

Somewhat recently, MfP asked me to teach a Sunday morning of the Musicianship and Leadership Program. I accepted this invitation into a larger arena than I was used to. The event called out the best in me. I did better than I ever thought possible.

So the gift Music for People has given me, actually not MfP but rather the people who make up MfP have given me, is to see me larger and hear my music more deeply than I knew how to hear. This listening has helped me to grow. And this is the gift we can give to one another, to hear that deep mystery in them called music.

Mary Knysh

Dear David,

It is Thanksgiving morning and I finally have a few moments to put some thoughts down that I have been wanting to share. And this being Thanksgiving also seemed very appropriate. First of all, Happy Thanksgiving.

When I came to Music for People four years ago, I had no idea and the power and depth of this work, but over the past years, and particularly during the past few months, I have been struck by the power, the importance, the relevancy and the magic of music improvisation, of providing a space for and inviting people to speak through their music. What I continue to discover on my life journey is that the most profound truths are usually so simplistic in nature that you wonder how or why you never noticed them.

As I was working with my session groups at the Memphis Orff Conference, I realized this invitation to express themselves musically was delightfully new to them. Although they have been teaching and using Orff techniques in their program, which talk about music improvisation, many of them have never been given the opportunity to improvise freely. These teachers had such a wonderful time at the session, they talked about it for the next three days and there was great interest in this process.

And here is where the simplicity of this work strikes me. In a culture where we are rarely asked to express how we really feel and where words often fall short of the true inner experience…music provides us with a bridging of the inner and outer worlds, a voice to speak with that can be universally understood on many levels. As a facilitator of this work we are so moved by our own improvisational experience that we can enthusiastically invite them to explore the possibilities, provide them with tools and techniques and BELIEVE in them…the rest is wherein the magic of this work lives…within each person, from preschoolers to adults, this is a facet of life that I feel is essential to providing us with a “whole” life experience.

On this Thanksgiving morning I am eternally grateful to you for your dedication and love for this work…you inspired me to take the journey, through your music