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India – Music: A healer of ills, and souls (DNA – Daily News & Analysis)

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on January 29, 2012

Music: A healer of ills, and souls
Mallika Sarabhai | Sunday, January 29, 2012

I am in an old people’s home in Rome; actually in a Roman suburb. It is a stark building, modern in this city layered with 4,000 years of history. We see nuns flitting about, helping elderly women, some very sprightly, towards the chapel. A gleaming piano sits in front of alter in the chapel. The pews slowly fill up with a motley group, all women. I sense restlessness, as though the audience of inmates don’t quite know what to expect.

I am accompanying Elizabeth Somabart, pianist and founder of Centre Resonnance, who is in concert here. Elizabeth gets up and says she is going to play Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy. May she start? A murmur of mild approval. As she begins, the chapel fills up. I am seated in the third pew with most people behind me, out of sight unless I turn around to obviously gaze at them.

In about 10 minutes, I sense a change in the audience. A certain calm fills the chapel as the beautiful music takes its effect. The applause at the end of each piece gets louder. After 55 minutes, faces are wreathed in smiles, tears glistening in some eyes. A sense of being together on a long journey prevails in the space.
Elizabeth is an extraordinary woman, a deeply spiritual lady born of personal grief and experience, and a total believer in the power of music. She started the first of her centres in Paris in the late nineties. Centres are now in Rome, Beirut and Madrid besides in her hometown of Lausanne in Switzerland. Their primary focus is singular: to bring succour to those in need through classical music. The centre in Rome is connected to over 50 institutions – orphanages, hospitals, hospices, prisons, remand homes and their ilk, and performs 80 times a year in them. Elizabeth also teaches master classes to especially talented musicians who then play at these concerts as well. “More musicians must realise the power of music, not just for concerts but for life,” she tells me.

Besides this, the centres teach anyone who wants to learn the piano; her students are from five to 93! But it is not piano as one would imagine. This is piano playing connected to the deepest prana and breathing. “The fingers are the last extension of what happens with music in the body. One really plays with the diaphragm, the breath. Anyone who thinks piano playing is about the fingers and technique misses the point.” Thus, for her students, there is a long course in the body, in understanding the physiognomy actually be able to use breath to play.

That is what has drawn me to her. The first time I heard her play was in a conference in Zermatt when she was onstage for the opening. Within seconds, I noticed her breathing. I turn to my companion and said, “She is using pranayam to play!” Indeed I am not far off the mark.

Doctors have told her how patients become serene after her concerts, how those with psychological ills calm down, how the violent seem absorbed in something positive, for several hours.

For Elizabeth, getting more and more classical musicians to join this movement is her life’s work; that and getting lost in the transcendence of sound that she is bestowed with. As I see women of diverse ages listening and playing intently in her master class, I dream of Indian musicians making such a mission theirs, to alleviate the many pains and horrors that so many in our country face.

The writer is a noted danseuse and social activist.

(Source: 01/29/2012 – DNAIndia | Column)


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