Writing and playing music are how I carve my way out of the darkness." -Sandy Leon Vest
This month's AHN News is dedicated to MUSIC and HEALING. I interview musician, Sandy Leon Vest, about her life with music and her recent experience with cancer. There is also a book review of The Healing Power of Sound, and two audio resources by Sounds True -- Healing Yourself with Your Own Voice and Self-Healing with Sound and Music. I also follow up on last month's list of Hurricane Resources by adding a few more.
As always, we welcome your feedback, and would love to hear about your insights, experiences and suggested resources on music and healing. Please email those to me at [email protected]
Wishing you many blessings,
-Danny Hobson, Director, Arts and Healing Network
Sandy Leon Vest, singer/songwriter
"Music gives me a reason to get up in the morning, to work out, to eat the right food, to stay healthy and strong... Writing and playing music are how I carve my way out of the darkness." --Sandy Leon Vest
Sandy Leon Vest
Sandy Leon Vest is a singer/songwriter and political activist who has overcome much adversity to bring her music to the world. During her first performance at age six, she was paralyzed by a stage fright which plagued her for many years. Overtime, her confidence grew, and in her twenties, she taught herself guitar. Later she met and married her husband James Vest, and together they formed the band LeonVest. They have produced several CDs including So Blue and their most recent recording, Leon Vest: Alive by Request.
In August of 2001, Sandy's life took a surprising turn, as she explains, "I was diagnosed with a sub-type of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma considered 'clinically terminal' (because it rarely responds favorably to chemotherapy). Still, I am an optimist and have made it my mission to prove that statistics do not always tell the story of the person. In December 2004, my husband and songwriting partner James Vest was diagnosed with Leukemia -- also currently considered an incurable hematological cancer. Today our primary source of hope and inspiration is each other, our band and the music we write and play together. We both hope and believe we can save our lives through the performance, recording and subsequent sales of our original music."
Danny: How has music has been a healing catalyst for you, particularly in coping with cancer?
Sandy: Music gives me a reason to get up in the morning, to work out, to eat the right food, to stay healthy and strong. It is my primary motivation in life. I think if it wasn't for my music, my world might be very dark indeed. Writing and playing music are how I carve my way out of the darkness.
Nirvana for me is looking out at an audience of smiling faces when we're doing a show -- this is as happy as I ever need to be. I love that we create music that makes people smile.
Danny Hobson: How has having Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma impacted your music?
Sandy Leon Vest: Having a form of cancer that is considered both "incurable" and "terminal" (clinically speaking), has impacted my songwriting in ways I could not have imagined before my diagnosis. These days I write a lot about death -- not in a morbid way, but about living with it and how liberating it is to surrender everything you thought you were for who you really are.
I need to say, though, that when my husband was diagnosed with Leukemia only three years after my diagnosis, the music took still another leap -- I will say with no false modesty that our music has become truly magical.
Danny: You and your husband have produced a recent CD, called So Blue. Tell me about the music on this CD.
Sandy: So Blue is one of many recordings Leon Vest has made, but it was the first one we actually had produced professionally and made into a "product," if you will. The band on So Blue is so diverse, with roots in R&B;, Funk, and Pop, which makes the music a unique musical hybrid. Our guitar player, Garth Webber, used to play with Miles Davis, so that should tell you something about the quality of the music.
The songs on So Blue are very personal...a lot of it is about family and relationships. They are all love songs, but not necessarily romantic love. One song called City of the Angels is kind of a tear-jerker about my dad. There's another song called, If Wishes Were Horses, which is one of my personal favorites -- some might say it is political. I'm basically a diehard idealist. People often say they think the songs on So Blue are sad. They're a lot about the pain and beauty of just trying to get along...in a family...and with humanity in general.
Danny: You were instrumental in the creation of a page on the CD Baby web site of CDs by musicians with cancer and terminal illness at cdbaby.com/flavor/cancer. Can you tell me what inspired you to contact CD Baby and encourage them to do this?
Sandy: I thought it was really important to include our story with our "product," because the story was an important part of the music. So I convinced Derek Sivers at CD Baby to create an entire section of their website dedicated to artists with terminal illnesses. I never thought they'd actually do it...I was just "turning over stones." That's kind of my job, and I've learned to do it methodically without attachment to the result. I think I'm going to talk to them more though, because it's currently set up so it feels to me like it's saying, "these people are sick, so you really should buy their CD," and what I was after was more along the lines of, "these people have an amazing story and it's part of their musical magic." Also, if you click on the very first one at the top of the page, you find out she's dead, so...the idea may need some refining.
Danny: What advice do you have for other artists who are coping with life-threatening illness?
Sandy: I think everyone's process is so personal and so unique. My own process has been excruciating at times, exhilarating at others. I have found out so much about myself, the ways I am fearless and the ways I am not so brave. I guess I would say, never be afraid to look deep into yourself for answers. That's easy to say, but it's the hardest thing in the world to actually do. I think when one is truly fearless, one finds out everything one needs to know -- because it's all there, but most people are afraid to look that deep because they are afraid of what they might find in there. I was afraid, but then I figured out that I was only afraid because I was judging myself according to values that were imposed on me from a culture I don't particularly admire anyway.
I'm thinking about writing a book called, something like, "Cancer for Dummies." It's sort of like an AA 12-step program, and the first step is that you have to really want to be alive. That might sound like a no-brainer, but it's actually very deep. I would submit that the will to live -- or lack of it -- is at the core of all "dis-ease."
Danny: What are you most excited about right now with your music?
Sandy: Writing from a completely different perspective...taking still another approach to our music. The new album is already "old" to me because I have a million new songs in my head, and Jim and I are in the process of taking it all to a whole new level. That's what excites me...always keeping it new, giving voice to the changes inside myself without fear of the results.
To learn more about Sandy and her band, Leon Vest, please visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/leonvest or contact [email protected] Leon Vest's CD, So Blue is available at CDBaby.com or at the Healing Arts Store in Stinson Beach, CA. 415-868-9305.
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