Music and Wellbeing by Louise Barry
Music & Wellbeing
Louise Barry – Singer & Songwriter
I locked myself away in a room for two years singing, expressing my grief through sound. Trying to find the voice I had never been willing to hear…MINE – Louise Barry – singer, songwriter
Challenges of Youth. Ever Shifting Sands
To say that my up-bringing was challenging, would be an understatement. I spent my childhood moving between living with my mother in an abusive home, then to a women’s refuge, an orphanage, then back to my mother. This was followed by numerous foster homesand finally to a home for teenage girls. I was living as an independent adult at the tender age of 15, which I now recognize, as an adult woman, to be quite shocking.
It is important to say at this juncture, that I have no anger shame or blame towards my family and my mum. They did the best they could with the knowledge that they had at the time. I have done a lot of personal work around my challenges, which has resulted in a lot of healing. I have a lot of love for my family. In the end, I have a positive mind set around my past and now feel more comfortable and relaxed in my own skin.
I have had no sense of consistency or stability in my life. No sense of belonging. I felt invisible, afraid to speak up. I have struggled with interpersonal relationships. This became more apparent in my 20s. This absence of security resulted in feelings of low self-worth. I guess if you haven’t had a good foundation on which to build in childhood, you can struggle to find the confidence and self-belief you need to navigate through adulthood.
Whilst interacting with others, I kept things light and fluffy on the surface. Deep down, I was grappling with deep wounds inflicted by witnessing and experiencing abuse within my family. It was graphic and disturbing, and I struggled with feelings of shame. The burden I carried was too heavy for my young shoulders. My heart and mind were broken, and I was in a constant state of anxiety trying to process my past. The only release I got from my thoughts, at that time was through dance and, later, through music.
Coping with Other’s Opinions
In my younger days, I thought I should stick to music and dance after being told that I wasn’t a singer. I was slagged off by a group of girls auditioning for a band. Because of my low self-esteem, I took their words to heart. Looking back now, if I had more self-belief, these criticisms would have meant nothing. It probably would have made me more determined to succeed. Instead, the embarrassment I felt, made me retreat from singing for another 10 years. What a waste! In the words of Dr Steve Maraboli (behavioural scientist), “Don’t let other people’s opinions distort your reality. Be true to yourself. Be bold in pursuing your dreams. Be unapologetically you.
The one place I found release and joy was always in music. This is where I could have fun, sing and dance and become the character in the song (Sandra Dee was now Louise Barry). I found, that through the years, my commitment to music gave me peace. I was most expressive through music. I could find parts of myself; childhood joy or pain and express it. My break came, when in 2003, I studied at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) founded by ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney. I did community art encompassing the following modules; music, drama and singing. Interestingly, I avoided singing until my very last class where, as part of my module, I had to sing to qualify for my grade. I was in such a state, that I turned my back to the room and closed my eyes.
Meeting My Dad for The First Time In 23 Years: Somewhere in my DNA!
I met my dad in the U.K, for the first time in 23 years. My dad was English and came to live in Ireland after retiring from the RAF. He had
a recording studio in Kinsale where he met mum. He filled in the gaps about the family’s musicianship. Dad came from a family of musicians. My uncle Malcolm was a very well- known musician and my grandmother had the honour of being the first woman pianist for the BBC orchestra. This great lady was also a writer and featured on the radio. Dad was a jazz drummer and he lectured all over Europe. He once stood in for Ella Fitzgerald’s drummer during The Cork Jazz Festival. At last, I understood why music ran through my blood and was such a forceful drive. There was a strong desire to express myself through this medium. Now the parts of the jig saw started falling into place. My essence, nature over nurture, started to make sense! It was in me. I had at this stage already made the application to LIPA but knowing my background, gave me more confidence to pursue my training. On reflection, I guess it was in my genes and somewhere mapped in my destiny.
When dad heard about where I was going to train, he advised me to major in music and not dance. I was a bit reluctant at first because it had become entrenched in my mind, that my voice was terrible. He told me that I had a talent for singing and encouraged me to pursue my gift. His words stuck in my mind and I needed to listen carefully to what needed to be expressed and felt from deep within.
Retreat from The World – Healing
My father’s passing 7 years ago, was like a catalyst for my grief. I was grieving my father but also, the life I didn’t have. The potential opportunities I didn’t have with him. With a family, with all the things a young person would long for. His death was so final. My dad wasn’t an easy person to be around. He was a complicated and complex man. I thought I would have more time to get to know him. My inner child met him and the adult in me was confused by what I was hearing. It took me a long time to put it all together.
Following my father’s death, I locked myself in a room for two years, singing expressing my grief through sound and trying to find the voice I had never been willing to hear…….mine. A lot of things came up for me. I had a lot of things to come to terms with. It has been said that, what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger! I remember falling to my knees and saying, I don’t know how much more I can take. I needed to find room to get peace to digest everything. I felt so much sadness and grief around this time. I was exhausted.
This was the impetus for me to go and record my voice and write. I reasoned, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will keepgetting what you’ve always gotten. It was time to make changes, to break the mould. I couldn’t keep walking the perfect line just to suit and please others around me. This was a turning point for me; a fundamental change.
I listened closely to the sound my voice made as it journeyed through the various emotions I was expressing. Happiness, sadness, anger, haunted, shameful and hopeful; a whole spectrum of feelings looking for a way to be expressed, heard and healed! I recorded these sounds and really listened without judgement to what was being said. It was cathartic! I stopped trying to sing like anyone else. I wanted to know me – copying others could not give that to me. My voice had to mirror my own unique feelings.
In music, I found the home I longed for. My people, a place where I could express myself without limits in a transcendent language that is universally understood. Hopefully it transmits beyond the words into feelings that help us all feel a little closer to each other. That is what the creative process does for me. It helps me connect to myself. The beauty is, somehow it has helped me become closer to people, and to myself.
People I work with and perform the music to. It is an endless joy to see something inside being birthed into the world. It very often has fragments of the past, future dreams and hopes all wrapped up in neat package of 4minutes of music. It can take a life- time and many attempts at other tunes for this one song to finally be, the one that has the magic to convey your message to the world.
My Approach to Music
Coming from an unconventional background, it has been no surprise to me that I would choose an unconventional way to approach my music. I don’t really attribute or follow any style to my music, nor do I understand the structure / rules of other’s approach to it. I am an improviser, maybe a bit of a rebel, probably influenced by my family history and walk in life. When I write, I try and find the feeling I want to convey and then immerse myself in it. It is released through the sound my voice carries. The more honest I get with the music and don’t over think it, or as I say, ‘get out of its way’, the more connective it is. The listener knows the sound of honesty and congruence. I think Artists have that sensitivity in them, a reflection of what they absorb from the world. They are driven by the need to convey their observations through their work.
Find your own voice through whatever medium feels most natural for you. I am dyslexic, but I express myself through music Give yourself space and time to find your own ‘song.’ Don’t emulate others. You have a unique gift and way of expressing yourself in the world. Other’s opinions are of no importance unless they are constructive. No matter what the past looks like, you get to decide the future. Don’t listen to anyone who blames or shames you. This is not coming from a place of love. Nothing in this lifetime has come easily to me as a dyslexic person who had very little education. A legacy of family addictions and abuse. I am trying to find the voice within to connect back to the world, to get out of my head. Connecting with my voice and body is where I grow. I have been down and troubled by my memories and feelings of, I am not enough. I have blamed myself for the mental, physical and sexual abuse and neglect. But, isn’t it good to know, that we can all find our voice in the world, that there is hope for us all? If we just take the time to nurture ourselves. Take the courage to say, yes, this happened to me, however it is not my fault. I am going to grow. I am going to use my voice where-ever it leads me. An example of this, was when recently, I wrote and produced music and soundscape for “No Borders,” which brought much needed light to the Syrian refugee crisis. I performed in some of the most prestigious venues in Ireland. I can now proudly say that I have turned my life around but also realize that, I am very much still a work in progress. I am learning how to live with the honesty I found in music to not hide where I came from or who I really am, because of what I went through. I am embracing my life, getting to know myself. Discovering how perfectly imperfect I am and yet still knowing I am worthy of a place in this life, in the world. Being treated by others with respect dignity and love has been pivotal to my mental health. I work confidentially, with helping young people. I go around giving talks to the young about my life, explaining how addiction looks within in family or friends when you are a teenager. I often get invited back to help these people and it is something I am passionate about. I use community music to illustrate to people how they can use this medium to express themselves. I got so much from this myself, that I wanted others to have this opportunity too. I love to collaborate with Artists and musicians to create work. It brings new elements to each other’s work. I have also studied sociology and counselling. These are areas I would like to explore and pursue further down the road. We can all do this and through this book, give others hope for a better future. We have, the ability to shine a little light on each other’s path in the journey of life. Design your own ending. I stopped trying to sing like anyone else. I wanted to know me. No one could give that to me.
*Acknowledgement: I wish to thank my ghostwriter, Giselle Marrinan, who worked closely with me in the telling of my story.