Talking Post Trauma Blues

A few weeks ago I visited an online forum for veterans and their families dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their stories are very moving. Looking a bit more deeply, I learned recent studies suggest that one out of four coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan bring with them PTSD or related problems. The popular press describes it as a “hidden injury”. Incorporating some of the stories and press, this song erupted over a period of a couple hours. You may also recognize a few actual classic “Bushisms” that I took the liberty to put into this context.


August, 1986

When my son was four years old (1986), we took our canoe to find blueberries at the island in the lake where we spend many lazy summer days. Although we were both awkward with our paddles, we did finally reach our goal. My son made a remarkable observation, which inspired me to write a poem. Recently, reflecting upon that day as an older man with a grown son, I rewrote the poem and set it to music. I recorded this on an early Saturday morning in my normally noisy study room near Boston. If you listen carefully, you can hear the birds outside my window, and the cars whizzing by on the street. The video was recorded in my kitchen on Father’s Day, 2007.


Blind Fiddler

Tom Smith playing “Blind Fiddler” (Click to play audio)

Jehile Kirkuff playing “First Two Ladies Cross Over”
(Click to play audio)

I think of Jehile Kirkhuff when I sing this song. I met Jehile in Northeastern Pennsylvania about 1974, making several more visits during that summer. I think I may have made myself a nuisance, though he did allow me to accompany him on guitar during a show at the local school cafeteria. He was indeed a blind fiddler with a great breadth of tunes and skill with his bow. He was also a dance caller and entertained us all night with his magical story telling. On his mantle he proudly displayed a trophy that read “World Champion Fiddler”.

I learned this song from Jody Stecher. On this recording I play guitar and banjo. The conga is a software instrument loop (couldn’t resist).


The Uses and Benefits of Music Therapy

Sound healing therapy uses aspects of music to improve physical and emotional health and well-being. The person being treated partakes in the experience with a trained practitioner. Music therapy may involve:

-listening to music
-singing along to music
-moving to the beat of the music
-playing an instrument
-Healing with sound is believed to date back to ancient Greece, when music was used in an attempt to cure mental disorders. Throughout history, music has been used to boost morale in military troops, help people work faster and more productively, and even ward off evil spirits by chanting.

More recently, research has linked music to a number of health benefits, from boosting immune function and lowering stress levels to improving the health of premature babies. We all enjoy music, but there are a lot of benefits of music# you may not know about.

Music Increases Happiness

This might seem obvious, but the natural chemical reasoning is pretty incredible to think about. If you are ever in need of an emotional boost, let it be known that it only takes 15 minutes of listening to your favorite tunes to get a natural high. This is because your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that leads to increased feelings of happiness, excitement, and joy, when you listen to music you like.

Increase workout endurance.

Listening to those top workout tracks can boost physical performance and increase endurance during a tough exercise . This works partly through the power of distraction: When we’re focusing on a favorite album, we may not notice that we just ran an extra mile

Speed up post-workout recovery. One study found that listening to music after a workout can help the body recover faster. While slow music produced a greater relaxation effect post-exercise, it seems that any kind of music can help the physical recovery process.

Improve sleep quality.

Listening to classical music has been shown to effectively treat insomnia in college students, making it a safe, cheap alternative to sleep-inducing meds

Music Decreases Stress While Increasing Overall Health

Music has a direct effect on our hormones. If you listen to music you enjoy, it decreases levels of the hormone cortisol in your body, counteracting the effects of chronic stress. Stress causes 60% of all illnesses and diseases, so lower levels of stress mean higher chances of overall well-being.

One study even showed that a group of people playing various percussion instruments and singing had boosted immune systems compared to the people who were passively listening; while both groups’ health was positively affected by music, the group playing instruments and/or singing had better results.

For maximum benefits on a stressful day, turn on some music and sing along. Don’t be shy to break out the air-guitar!

Guided meditation is a form of sound healing in which you meditate to voiced instruction, either in a session or class, or using a video or app. Meditation can involve chanting or repeating mantras or prayers.

-stress reduction
-decreased anxiety and depression
-improved memory
-reduced blood pressure
-pain reduction
-lower cholesterol
-decreased risk of heart disease and stroke

Happy/sad music affects how we see neutral faces:
We can usually pick if a piece of music is particularly happy or sad, but this isn’t just a subjective idea that comes from how it makes us feel. In fact, our brains actually respond differently to happy and sad music.

Even short pieces of happy or sad music can affect us. One study showed that after hearing a short piece of music, participants were more likely to interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, to match the tone of the music they heard. This also happened with other facial expressions, but was most notable for those that were close to neutral.

Something else that’s really interesting about how our emotions are affected by music is that there are two kind of emotions related to music: perceived emotions and felt emotions.

This means that sometimes we can understand the emotions of a piece of music without actually feeling them, which explains why some of us find listening to sad music enjoyable, rather than depressing.

Unlike in real life situations, we don’t feel any real threat or danger when listening to music, so we can perceive the related emotions without truly feeling them—almost like vicarious emotions.


New Hampshire Traveler

New Hampshire Traveller (Click to play audio)
Tom Smith performing an old fashioned recitation, with banjo

The tune, of course, is the famous “Arkansas Traveler“. I first heard this little rustic dialog from Sam Hinton, circa 1974. I localized it for New Hampshire and added some dialog picked up from Michael Cooney “The One Man Folk Festival”, and others. This was recorded in our little cabin in Jaffrey, NH.