It was big news when the New York Philharmonic Orchestra recently played a four-hour concert in Pyongang, North Korea: The unusual exchange struck an emotional chord, resulting in a five-minute standing ovation that left both participants and audience members moved to tears. “We may have been instrumental in opening a door,” said Conductor Lorin Maazel of the cultural accord. The power of music to break down barriers isn’t news to Dean and Dudley Evenson, founders of the Billboard-charting independent music label, Soundings of the Planet, whose mission is “Peace Through Music.” Both were involved in the 1968 peace and civil rights movements when they met and discovered they had complementary talents. Since then, they have collaborated consistently, creating over 50 albums for personal and planetary healing, most in conjunction with outstanding, world renowned artists.
A prolific musician and composer, as well as an entrepreneur and media pioneer, Dean Evenson remembers that, though he studied classical flute from the age of 10 and played in orchestras growing up, “I was encouraged not to become a musician.” Instead, he pursued science, earning a master’s degree in molecular biology. While in graduate school he played in a folk/rock group and wrote film scores for an art professor. It may have been a perfect segue, since Evenson now understands the technology of audio recording and the relationships of frequencies and notes. He grasps the molecular, as well as the multilayered physiological and psychological effects of music. From the scientific perspective, he’s interested in measurable results, and cites the fact that patients using music therapy before or after surgical operations have proven to need less pain medication and require less time to recuperate. He mentions Dr. Barry Bitman, who reported a decrease in fatigue and depression among staff and patients in a Pennsylvania nursing home after they participated in six weekly drumming sessions; and the Remo Drum Company, which researched communal drumming, found that it increased disease-fighting T-cells. “Soundings creates music with the intention of eliciting the relaxation response” (discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard), says Dean. “Our music has been very popular with massage and healing arts practitioners, as well as with everyday people looking to mitigate the stress in their lives,” adds Dudley. “So whether it’s inner peace or world peace, we are involved.”
Using Dudley’s degree in art history, a portable 35 lb. deck and a seven lb. camera, the two taught kids about creating video art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their beginning years together. Later, as a recording engineer in New York in the early 1970s, Dean harnessed Dudley’s photographic abilities to document the emerging ’new’ consciousness. They had hundreds of hours of video, but no distribution channels. When they attended a lecture by Ram Dass and were able to sell numerous copies, their professional alliance began to take off. “In 1979, we decided to blend our peaceful flute and harp music with the sounds of nature and start our own record label,” says Dean. “Little did we know we were pioneering a whole new musical genre.” Through the years, Soundings’ music has helped to build awareness of and support for a variety of social and environmental concerns, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Tibetan and Native American issues. After 9/11, they donated music to rescue workers and grief counselors in New York City.
Though they are against the war in Iraq (war in general, really), Dean and Dudley “support the troops” on the front lines when it comes to care and rehabilitation of disabled soldiers. “It has long been our dream to directly support the troops who have given so much of their lives to their country,” states Dudley. “During the Gulf War we donated hundreds of copies of “Ocean Dreams” to troops in the Middle East and heard back from many of them about how the music helped them to find a moment of calm in the midst of the storm of war. More recently, we have donated thousands of CDs to military personnel and their families through the I AM Foundation. Now, we turn our attention to the individuals who are trying to put their lives back together after combat.” Country singer Naomi Judd, interested in helping wounded war veterans, had discovered the Evenson’s music and thought it could help them. She encouraged Dean, who knew the Chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, to make contact. Soundings CDs were included in the “wounded warrior” kits the center distributed. Not content to let their music speak for them, the pair, having practiced yoga for 38 years (they began in 1970 with Swami Satchitananda’s book on Integral Yoga) went to Walter Reed to teach aspects of yoga, breathing, relaxation and mantra/affirmations. They encountered many warm responses; “One guy said our music and the program we offered were the best tools he’d found,” says Dudley. “Nearly all returning vets are carrying guilt, and have active or repressed traumatic imagery running through their systems,” states Dean. “The affirmations help them create their own positive thoughts to counter such negative mental and emotional activity. The Evensons plan to return this spring to help returning wounded combat troops deal with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other wounds of war.
It’s not just the personal pain the Evensons are trying to alleviate—they see cultural implications as well. “People are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and are entering professions that involve guns; they’re handling lethal weapons,” Dean points out. “They’ve been taught to relate with violence as a form of communication. If we don’t help them, they’re going to respond to stressful situations in ways that aren’t appropriate.” Switching into neurophysiolog-ese, he brings up the Triune Brain, a model developed by Paul MacLean, former director of the Laboratory of the Brain and Behavior at the National Institutes of Mental Health. The lower, ‘reptilian’ brain handles automatic functions of the body, like pulling your hand off a hot stove. Basic impulses. The mid-brain, known as the ‘limbic system,’
is the seat of emotions from anger and hatred to love and compassion. It includes the amygdala, which is important in the association of events with emotion. The higher brain is what we think of as being our brain: the neo-cortex, where ‘executive’ functions like planning are processed. “We need to increase compassion or we’ll become self-destructive,” notes Dean. “Love and compassion become very practical when you’re dealing with the mental/memory systems of warriors with wounds so debilitating they can’t fit back in to society. Violence stems from the reptilian mind.”
Commenting on the recent exposé— of Walter Reed’s poor responses to soldiers’ needs—the Evensons state: The people we engaged with were totally dedicated; they’re just overwhelmed. The problems come from private contractors providing housing, etc. “We saw rehab therapy being conducted for two women amputees—Walter Reed is good with prosthetics and high-end rehab care.” But the 5,000 employees could use some assistance themselves. “It’s very important that the community rise up and help these people,” Dudley declares. “We’d like to see massage therapists, acupuncturists, yoga teachers and psychotherapists donate time and talents to help wounded vets recover.”
The Evensons offer presentations and interactive workshops to soldiers, their families, and the staff at Walter Reed and other VA hospitals, as well as in other settings. The Soundings’ Eagle River DVD was created specifically to help people deal with trauma and stress. In addition to an hour of beautiful music and a nature video (featuring gorgeous images of the northwest with eagles, spawning salmon and footage along a wild river), three additional tracks address breath, muscle relaxation, and affirmations. The package also includes a relaxation training guide. “People have something to watch and listen to while they breathe and relax,” says Dean. “And it’s all the more powerful for this audience that the Eagle is the U.S. National symbol.” Bernie Siegel, MD, author of Love, Medicine & Miracles, exudes enthusiasm for the work: “This [Eagle River] DVD is perfect for everyone because life is a stressful event. If it were up to me, it would be played in every hospital so people would heal faster, in every office to reduce the risk of heart attack, strokes and illnesses and in every home to reduce conflict and enhance relationships. The natural water images and music are therapeutic; research reveals their value. The images and sounds can help a person flow through difficult times and find a sense of calm as they reconnect with the sea of peace.”
“There’s a sweetness, a soothingness about Dean’s flute playing,” notes Dudley, adding; “he plays more in the lower range.” These lower tones reflect those generated by the ocean—tones that incorporate the ‘earth resonance frequency’ (“Think of blowing across the top of a bottle,” suggests Dean. “That is the resonant frequency.”). To be a bit more technical, he explains that the earth is surrounded by space, an atmospheric cavity which has a resonant frequency; (this has been mathematically projected and has been measured at 7.83 primary frequency Hz cycles per second). Whales, dolphins and crickets respond positively to this frequency, and human nerve cells fire near this number. The mind is in the Alpha state near the 7.83 Hz, a meditation space. Feed that frequency into the personal environment, and you trigger a healing response in the body. Dean stresses that this is a very safe, natural transition. By contrast, most of us spend a majority of time in the 60-cycle-per-second hum of our beeping, bleeping Beta society. With Alpha we’re awake, alert and receptive, but not too deeply meditative. According to Dean, the use of the Earth Resonance Frequency is unparalleled in the recording industry.
When not traveling, Dean typically gets up early, grabs his tripod and camera and heads out to “go hang out with the eagles” near the couple’s cottage home at the end of a road near the Nooksack River. Surrounded by forests and gardens, he attempts to capture the healing power of nature. “We enjoy watching our own ‘dailies’ after dinner,” smiles Dudley. Their recording studio isn’t too far away, located on the outskirts of Bellingham, WA in a second growth forest. The large building houses state-of-the-art digital equipment; floating (rubber) floors and triple walls that allow distinct separation of vibrational tones. There are rooms within rooms; mixing is done in a separate facility. The studio, which blends with and respects the surrounding environment, might instead have been 100 houses. The pair of musical activists, who have three grown children, moved here in 1990 and were instrumental players in an urban forest protection effort which had been gong on for over 128 years. “The community raised 64 million dollars to counteract the development,” says Dudley, noting that residents of the area also established a community-based radio station. “We really want to encourage communities,” she states. “We’ve done a great job on personal development, now it’s time to take it into the world.”
The couple has certainly taken their strong partnership into the world, extending their love and respect for one another not only through the music they make, but through the professional alliances they foster. Over the years, the Evensons have created a musical family that comes together in various combinations for different projects and is constantly expanding. Musicians with whom they work include trance guitarist Scott Huckabay (who has ‘opened’ for such artists as Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Sarah McLachlan and Bonnie Raitt). Pandit Shivnath Mishra, one of the most respected Indian sitar masters, is sometimes on board, as is Deobrat Mishra, who recently received the Jewel of Sound Award, the Indian equivalent of a Grammy for his sitar playing. Fulbright Award-winning drummer Daniel Paul blends both ancient classical and modern folk drumming styles of India with western music, instrumentation and influences on the tabla tarong.
The Soundings lineup also includes Li Xiangting, considered to be the world’s leading authority on the guqin (an ancient seven-stringed zither), Native American elder Cha-das-ska-dum, Japanese keyboard artist/master music therapist Fumio, and Hungarian-born pianist and composer Tom Barabas. The group has even been graced with the contributions of the Dalai Lama, featured on “Prayer: A Multi-Cultural Journey of Faith.” A video of him is included on the enhanced version of the CD “Ascension to Tibet.” The membership repertoire isn’t limited to individuals: Innovative groups like Malkuri, an Otavalo Indian group from the Andes of northern Ecuador and world-fusion phenoms Shapeshifters add upbeat, joyful traditional music to the albums. Sonic Tribe brings a spicy synergy that moves the spirit.
In any combination, these accomplished artists employ harp, trance guitar, soaring flutes, exotic vocals, didgeridoo, tibetan bowls, and tribal percussion to create music that is lush, organic, and mystical. One of Soundings’ latest releases is “Healing the Holy Land,” a collection of Christian, Jewish and Muslim music from the Middle East. It is a timeless, inspiring spiritual album with appeal for those seeking a more universal approach to the holidays or who want to focus on the sacred throughout the year. This musical merging of ancient devotional singing with stunning contemporary arrangements includes kirtan singer Jai Uttal and Iranian-born world singer Azam Ali, as well as a peace singer from Jerusalem. Other popular albums include “The Tao of Peace,” “Sacred World Chants,” and “Global Rhythms Collection.”
The Evensons are currently working on a DVD about the sound healing movement, incorporating cymatics (see Jeff Volk’s article elsewhere in this issue), and the work of Doctor Masaru Emoto (The Hidden Messages in Water) and Larry Dossey, MD, along with a Chakra Healing Tones CD designed for vocal toning with the intention to “activate the whole person as part of nature.” To learn more about Dean and Dudley Evenson’s Peace Through Music mission, or to donate to their Partners in Healing program (which sends CDs of relaxation music and the Eagle River DVD to VA hospitals and others in need), visit the Service Section at www.soundings.com. The web site also offers an At Ease: Relaxation Information for Service Personnel page that explains “Relaxation Basic Training” techniques.