I was born during the war and very early in my life had a sense of the Divine watching over me. My parents’ garden and early life in the New Forest fostered my relationship with the natural world and I fell in love with its sounds and scents.
I had visionary experiences and tended an altar next to my bed. I created small songs in my playing which was largely on my own. When I started the piano at seven, again I loved creating new pieces. The one I still have is called The Still Lake – an inspiration from the natural world.
I was taken regularly to church and can still sing much of the hymn repertoire by heart. As a teenager I encountered the Anglican choral tradition – singing in a classical church choir. These pieces did move me into another way of knowing – in the incredible white space of St Mary’s Southampton and the rich acoustics and the impressive organ.
At Oxford University I was responsible for chapel music; this in the end led to embracing the growing folk traditions in worship such as Sydney Carter who was then regarded as relatively radical with songs such as the now very familiar Lord of Dance.
My interest in the joining of spirituality with justice persisted in the heady days of working in Notting Hill just after the race riots. I became not only the writer of anthems (for women’s voices) but also folk songs with the five chords I had learned. In my repertoire, Bob Dylan rubbed shoulders with Estelle White and women who were finding their feet as song writers. I was in a community that wrote songs around current events – developing a spirituality born out of the injustices of that time.
In my teaching in schools, these traditions coexisted, and youngsters started writing their own material. My doctoral research included spirituality as an important part of the process. This research into children’s musical development was translated into five languages and I was delighted to explore this in lecture tours and in-service training. I received an MBE for my work in music and education.
I have published widely on music education, including an edited book on spirituality and music education. With the two children that I bore in my marriage I became fascinated by how connection was made with babies which engaged me using improvising chanting and creating material.
Following a serious illness, I entered the world of shamanism and the so –called New Age where I found a different spirituality filled with drums, rattles, journeys, chakras and general appreciation of resonance. Ideas of embodiment and dance often drawing on various drumming traditions filled this exciting world which opened up new areas within me. I was healed by this world of musicking, ritual, meditation and started to compose in a new style acknowledging systems such as chakras and energies in the natural world.
At this point my academic research took a new turn on the work of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) the medieval mystic and visionary – song writer, theologian, healer, and so on. I caught her connections between music and spirituality, and I started to perform pieces about her using her music around the world. It initiated many discussions of spirituality and gave me sufficient confidence to realise my own performing skills. I became a hymn writer, and my work is used internationally – a collection published by Stainer and Bell of inclusive language and ecological hymns – A Rainbow to Heaven.
Around this time there arose a massive interest in spirituality – in education, in religion, in business, in psychotherapy. I attended various groups and was fascinated about how they overlapped and yet were also distinct. As Professor of Applied Music at Winchester University and an Extra-ordinary Professor at North West University, South Africa I initiated arts projects especially those involving wellbeing with various groups of people.
These community arts events included interfaith dialogue through music. These continued on the ZOOM platform. Others included diverse people. Radical musical inclusion resulted in composed pieces for various cathedrals including professional musicians, community choirs, adults and children with learning difficulties and school children.
I began supervising research into music and spirituality in various contexts. I still lecture internationally on wellbeing, spirituality, and radical musical inclusion culturally and personally. I initiated a considerable series of books on music and spirituality for the publisher Peter Lang drawing on these diverse worlds and the experience of many people from five continents.
These include my own book, Experiencing Music-Restoring the Spiritual; Music as Wellbeing, the edited collection Queering Freedom: Music, Identity and Spirituality: Perspectives from Ten Countries and my own autobiography Freedom Song: Faith, Abuse, Music and Spirituality: A Lived Experience.
I founded MSW – Music, Spirituality and Wellbeing – an international network sharing expertise and experience in this area with members in five continents (website link below).
I became ordained as an Anglican priest with a desire to bridge the various worlds I inhabit in music and spirituality. I am now nearly retired from paid work but with more and more work in composing, performing, and writing and am exploring the resonance of the natural world through the digital technology of The Music of the Plants working with my friends in Living with Harmony and recording improvised music for meditation. I am moving further and further into this world. The visions, the chants, the liturgy, the rituals are brought together in new and (I hope) healing ways.