Recently I had a conversation about meaning and purpose in later life with Dr. Rod Paton from the University of Chichester, England when he was in Los Angeles. He mentioned that he was supposed to retire 8 years ago but had not. Instead, he re-directed some of his time and energy. His is now a self-described “phased” retirement and he attributes the meaning and purpose for his life to incorporating his core values in his work. He continues his university involvement two days a week because “there is still something for me to do there!”
He has had time to write a second book (Lifemusic: Connecting People to Time. 2011.). In this book he explores the archetypal properties of music, challenges cultural norms and advocates for an inclusive, non-elitist philosophy of music and communities. Therein lies his statement of Core Values.
Rod is passionate about music and while he continues to compose and play many different kinds of music (notably Ascension JazzMass) on a variety of instruments, he also promotes involvement in LifeMusic, which was why he was in Los Angeles.
He says “It is always difficult to describe exactly what happens in a LifeMusic session. Improvisation is so under defined, nobody quite knows what to expect…… But the group …….picked up the ideas as I explained them and entered into the spirit of the improvising immediately. The LifeMusic method works by providing an anchor or framework for the each improvisation (a holding form) but then letting this go or at least pushing it into the background so that the really creative stuff can be fore-grounded.”
He has been collaborating in LifeMusic with Hedda Kaphengst of Klawitty Theatre in Ireland and he recently joined her in visiting Southern California where I introduced them to several groups of seniors..
The first was in senior housing in North Hollywood. He unpacked a suitcase of intriguing percussion instruments and invited the group to “pick one, any one, …there is no wrong way to play these instruments in this workshop.” he assured people. The group tentatively experimented with sound for a short while, and then LifeMusic stories began when he asked people to share their first memory of music. Several remembered, with pleasure, being constantly surrounded by music as children and described their musical family members. Others recalled riding in the car listening to the radio with a parent as a special experience. Each account evoked recognition and even more stories from their listeners and we saw how the bonds of shared experiences began to form.
When playing resumed, it became obvious that the music-making was now a collaboration. The participants were no longer following a “leader” but, by listening to themselves, they began to trust their unique contribution to the music. Gradually members spontaneously stepped into the circle, some danced around, stopping in front of other members and communicating with their instruments. A dignified silver-haired retired psychologist swayed into the center and, with arms raised, gracefully danced in obvious delight.
In another workshop, a shared acapella Sammi folk-song brought the whole group to their feet to move enthusiastically to the beat and, when it was finished, to roar with joyful laughter.
At a final performance Hedda sang a fitting Irish tribute to The Lord of the Dance. Only then did Rod reveal that he had put a couple of poems written by a group member to music. As he played and sang, the poet’s face became illuminated and she was engrossed in absorbing the full experience of hearing her poems sung. She and all of us present were touched to tears by the beauty of the words and music together. How satisfying to bring such an experience to fruition!
Later Rod commented about being in Los Angeles and seeing tourists taking “selfies ” at the gates of famous people’s houses. “Nowadays, we take our inner hunger for meaning and purpose, which we used to serve ceremoniously to the gods, and project it onto screen gods (and goddesses). But why not celebrate our own awareness?”
Hedda and Rod have departed for the United Kingdom secure in the knowledge that they involved groups of participants in celebrating an expanded awareness of music-making, and through the process connected people to music, forged deeper ties between neighbors and brought moments of timeless joy to those they touched with music.
There is indeed something for Rod “to do there”, which also gives him a feeling of meaning and purpose as he models how integrating core values into our lives is a tool for regeneration.
What core values are you bringing to your work and daily life?