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Exploring the Power of Music for our Health and Wellbeing

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

After a rather hectic day, Tisiola opened the evening expressing how much she was looking forward to being energised by Julie’s journey through life with music. Which is one of the many transformative powers music has.

Julie says playing music has enabled her to express all her emotions, and for those of us who only listen to music, we also know the power that music has to transform us from one mood to another, and to harbour our strongest, deepest memories.

Plato put it well: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

Since joining EWP in July 2019, Julie has shared with us her passion for music, by engaging us in song at our monthly Focus Group meetings. Sometimes she performs one of her own compositions, other times she has us participating in songs we all know. Either way, toes start wriggling, and tongues start wagging.

On this night, she opened on the piano, singing one of Miten and Deva Premal’s beautiful songs called “Sing Your Own Song”. She had played it for us once before, so we were able to join her in the chorus, and as the title indicates, it is an inspiring song.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Julie before she joined EWP, when I was a small part in one of her choirs, and I loved it! I have seen how her passion for music can bring out the best in the people she is collaborating with and it is magical to see and to be a part of.

I believe music and Julie are synonymous, so after knowing but not knowing Julie for some time, I was keen to learn where her deep love for music originated.

She is the middle daughter of three girls, from a mother who came to Australia when she was sixteen, from Vienna, at the outbreak of the Second World War, and an Aussie dad. Her parents enjoyed a loving and affectionate fifty-year marriage, and her father, who was a gentle soul, loved singing and music. He sang constantly, usually just with words he made up, and it was from him Julie’s love of music began. Not, as Julie pointed out, from her mother, even though she came from Mozart’s birthplace in Vienna.

Through the generosity of an aunty in England, Julie’s mother received some money and purchased a piano for the family when Julie was seven years old.

All three girls learnt the piano, and her parents loved to hear them practise, on various instruments. Family singalongs around the piano, with Julie playing, have been a life-long tradition. Her father loved the singalongs, and in his memory, Julie played a song she wrote for him after his passing, in 1996.

I have to quote a couple of the lyrics of this song, because they are so beautiful: It is called, “My Dad. My dad sang, with lyrics unattached. My dad sang, with spirit unabashed. My Dad never, won a prize, but my dad sang with a sparkle in his eyes.”

Such loving memories for a daughter to have of her father.

Another tradition the three sisters engage in, is that Julie writes a song for all the nieces and nephews when they get married, and it is performed at the wedding. Magic!

Ah but I’m running ahead. At the tender age of thirteen years, Julie gathered her high school friends around, and taught them Madrigals. For those of us who didn’t know, we learnt that Madrigals are harmony songs that were played around the sixteenth century, with lutes and voices. Julie and her friends would perform these songs and other folk and popular songs, down at the Warringa Mall in Brookvale, Sydney, on Saturday mornings.

Since the age of fifteen when Julie taught her friends piano, she has taught hundreds of people music, from the very, very young, to the very, very mature. Over the last fifty years, she has run music schools in country NSW, Sydney, London, Los Angeles, and for the last fifteen years has been and still is a very active teacher and musician in the Southern Highlands, NSW. She has worked with numerous choirs and ensembles both here and overseas, and facilitated singing workshops, early childhood music classes, run drum circles, and taught, piano, guitar and ukulele to all ages.

Both of Julie’s children are musicians and teachers, and her son also composes music. Not surprising given that both their parents are musicians.

Over that entire period, music has been Julie’s constant companion. Her best friend, and comforter, when struggling and suffering loss or stress, and her most joyful companion throughout her life. A life, which she cannot imagine living - without music.

Knowing the pleasure music has brought her, and knowing the ripple affect it has, is one of Julie’s greatest rewards. As you and I would read a book, Julie gains great pleasure and comfort from reading the notes on a page.

When she was sixteen, in Teachers’ College, and had her own band, she found that writing songs came to her very easily, and it was wonderfully cathartic to write love songs to get over a broken heart.

Because song writing came so easily, when teaching pre-school children, she wrote ninety children’s songs, and now still reaps the thrill (not to forget, plus 0.2 cents), every time someone streams one of her songs anywhere, across the globe.

Victor Hugo, whose stories I love, said “Music is what tells us that the human race is greater than what we realise.”

To shine a light on Hugo’s words, and to demonstrate the power of music to overcome barriers, Julie showed us an amazing event captured on film, where three thousand Jews and Muslims, together sang a song called “One Day”. It was so powerful and awe inspiring.

But back to the music-room. At an early age, Julie experienced one of the hardest times in her life, with the break-up of her first marriage. There she was, a single mum with two small children, and as indicated above and later by Julie, most musicians are not big earners.

Fortunately, for her mental and emotional wellbeing, she had Bach, Mozart, and Chopin alongside and accompanying her on the piano. And at that bottoming-out time in her life, they were the three companions who pulled her through.

But neither Debussy nor Grant, her second husband, were going to allow Julie to sit alone playing Bach and company forever, so eventually, Julie played Clair de Lune at her second wedding.

Thirty-three years later, Grant and Julie are living down here in the Southern Highlands, and in addition to her singing choirs (conducting a joint choir of three hundred people at one stage), and teaching, Julie has been Musical Director for a local theatre group, SHYAC (Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council), for ten years, as well as working with dementia patients at Abbey House a local nursing home.

Even though she knew the power of music, seeing the instant transformation in the dementia patients when the music played, astounded her. To go from a vegetative state, so quickly, to singing every word and joyfully participating in life, was magical she said.

Participation in any type of group is very good for our wellbeing and health, and singing in particular, is very good because it is such a mindful activity. Our stream of consciousness is distracted, and our mind turns off negative thoughts and instead focuses on the sound, the action, the breathing and the sheer exhilaration of singing.

Julie loves to get everyone participating, and almost sleight of hand, she had us doing body percussion, then line after line singing, and before we knew it, we were all playing cowbells, chimes, cymbals, castanets, wooden-blocks, shaking thing-a-me-bobs and singing – “If I Had A Hammer”! We were transformed from sitting in the audience, to performing on stage. All before we knew it. Not only were we a choir, we were our own orchestra too! And we loved it! So much so, that eventually on reverting back to the audience again, we gave ourselves a rousing applause!

We would have demanded an encore, but time was marching on. There’s no doubt about it though, in the hands of a maestro, even the singing-illiterate can sound like virtuosos.

This was indeed, another great evening, of what EWP–TLC does so well; sharing with one another, the stories, gifts and talents of our members, to transform, and boost our health and wellbeing.

But as always, it was too short, and all too soon we were wrapping up by way of discussing the power of music to energise, transform, provide unconditional love, life-long friendship, companionship, comfort, healing, memory-catching and all manner of its amazing and complex, culture-defining, social-cohesive aspects.

Mandy said she would love to be able to make a patchwork quilt of her life, embroidered with the memories of music and events which are forever intertwined, woven together into a tapestry of Her-story. What a brilliant idea! Sounds like a wonderful project.

Borrowing a line from Oprah Winfrey, Julie closed the evening with, “What I Know for Sure”, Is That: Music lights up a soul; Music can build up our confidence and self-esteem; Music can heal and improve our health and wellbeing; and finally, Music can comfort us and bring us together in a positive and peaceful way.

Well, before I go, what I know for sure, is that the generosity of a certain great aunt in Bristol, many years ago, keeps on giving, and rewarding, rippling out and enveloping all who fall under the spell of Julie’s love and life-long passion for music.

Thank you both, and

Toodle pip for now,

Bella H

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