Dancing to the music of time

100_0440 - Copy
I climbed up the rusty fire escape smothered in trails of blue flowering morning glory and stepped onto the veranda of a very big two- storied, shabby white house built on the side of a volcano. The morning glory swung from trees, twisted up the fire escape, and swathed both house and garden in carpets of greenery and purple trumpet shaped flowers. With pillars, porticoes, verandas and banisters all festooned in drooping creeper, it looked like a romantic, deserted Southern mansion.

Once on the veranda I peered through the windows, and beckoned to my slightly reluctant partner in crime to join me. It was obviously the home of students or alternative life stylers on this floor, the only unusual thing about their chaotic living arrangements being the live rabbits who were hopping about the grubby carpets. Downstairs a motor bike gang who seemed to have wrecked the place, had their bikes parked inside the entrance hall.

Reader – to quote Charlotte Bronte – we bought the house. It took time to track down the owner and persuade him to sell, but we did. The room where the rabbits had bred was forever known as the rabbit room during our years in the house. The occupants moved out, but that was all. It was up to us to break down partitions, rip up revolting carpets, clean, scrub, paint and restore – including dozens of missing banisters – used no doubt for firewood. The bikies had left behind more than indescribable squalor but awful energy as well. But for the first time since its original owner the house had become a family home again, not a collection of shabby flats.

The house had been built in 1875 by a French architect for himself, described on the title as Jean le Bailly Hervei, gentleman. The first thing we did was to rip out a partition and remove a door and two huge cupboards. This revealed Jean’s conception of a huge central hall, twelve feet high, thirty feet long and ten feet wide, stretching down the centre of the house, and looking out over the harbour and then to distant hills beyond. When I stood at the huge French doors and watched the flaming sunsets or the black clouds scudding in from the hills so that I knew what the weather would be like in half an hour, I felt close to Jean le Bailly Hervei.

He designed this splendid roomy house with every French window and door opening towards the sun and these magnificent views, and each room led off from the airy hall on both the top and the bottom floors. The floor of the top hall I painted a rich pumpkin colour which picked up the shades of pumpkin and rose and purple and cream in a long Kelim rug which fitted the space. The bottom hall which matched the top, I painted white, including the floor, and blue and white curtains and matching table cloth over a round table obliterated traces of the former tenants and their bikes. My son painted his bedroom floor lime green to go with his colour scheme.

The children and the little frolicking dogs brought life and fun into the house, and music rang through all the spacious rooms – the children played the piano and their flute and clarinet – me – the stereo –  mostly Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, Beatles, Joan Baez and Cat Stevens.

One day while clearing the garden of morning glory, I found a three foot high, concrete garden gnome hidden under the greenery. We dragged him inside, and since we had friends staying and my birthday feast that night, I invited the gnome to dinner too. He presided in a chair at the head of the table and we had lots of laughter at his expense.

When we moved on, children gone, the psychiatrist who bought the house from us, an hour after it went on the market, asked me six months later at a party, what we had done to remove the brutal vibrations of drugs, alcohol, violence and fear which we had inherited. I was fascinated that a conventional medicine man should acknowledge that old energy, and that he had thought about it.

We brought colour and energy into the house, I said, along with all the books and precious things we’d loved and collected, including tapestry and patchwork cushions and crocheted bedspreads I’d made. We had bowls of pot-pourri and flowers, and often used candle- light. But the two things that must have made the real difference, I told him, were that we all meditated, and there was always music being played. I think more than anything, it was the meditation and the music, I said.

These memories came back to me today when I was reading that world-renowned neuro-scientist Oliver Sacks says that music affects the brain more than any other discipline. It is, he says, the only discipline that actually changes the physical appearance of the brain. We are designed for music, for ‘its complex sonic pattern woven in time, its logic, its momentum, and its unbreakable sequences’

In Australia in a school where they have a Music Excellence programme the students spend many hours playing rehearsing and having music lessons. At prize-givings, eighty percent of the top students receiving awards for academic excellence were also music students.

They mostly spend more than ten hours a week involved in their music and have almost no behaviour problems or any upsetting emotional or social issues even though they come from both rich and poor homes, single parent homes and every the other variation on backgrounds which could spell problems for children.

Do we know whether the music acts as a stress release, or whether it builds such emotional equilibrium and peace of mind that its practitioners can weather all sorts of stresses without problems? Maybe it doesn’t matter. What does matter to us is that we recognise the value of music, and allow ourselves to receive and enjoy its healing and strengthening properties. Some research has shown that people who learn a musical instrument are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Music is supposed to teach basic skills such as concentration, counting, listening, and cooperation, help with understanding of language, improve memory, and help learning in all other areas. But actually, it doesn’t matter what the benefits are, it’s the sheer joy of music that enriches our lives. Perhaps it should be compulsory in schools, and be ranked along with writing and arithmetic as one of the necessities of life.

And what I find amazing is that music healed a house. Once it had dissolved the top layers of fear and anger and violence, it seemed to penetrate to other layers of energy and atmosphere… reaching through levels of sadness and regret and loss, until finally the sweetness of the music uncovered all the layers of time, and we reached the gentleness and joy of Jean the Bailly Hervei .

It was a voyage of discovery travelling back into the past and becoming aware of the lives of so many who had lived there before us. Music gathered together threads of sweet feelings from the past, and stitched them into the tapestry of life that we were adding our colours to. And it was the invisible vibrations of music which conducted us gently through those layers of time and feeling so we were able to hand on to the next owners the intangible beauty of a well-loved house. .

Food for threadbare gourmets

For these hot, dry, sunny days of Indian summer, sitting on the veranda, cicadas clattering, I like to make a spinach and salmon quiche which is good hot or cold. After lining a quiche dish or similar with thin short crust pastry – though I have used filo too, I simply pour the filling in and bake in a moderate oven for 40 minutes or until gently firm. For the filling I use 150 gm of chopped smoked salmon, a packet of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry, 300 to 400mls of thick cream, three large eggs, salt and pepper. Mix everything together, adding the spinach and salmon last, and either a little grated nutmeg or a little parmesan cheese if you fancy, and pour into the partly cooked pastry case. Good with salad of course…

Food for thought

I think the sages are the growing tip of the secret impulse of evolution… I think they embody the very drive of the Kosmos towards greater depths and expanding consciousness. I think they are riding the edge of a light beam, racing towards a rendezvous with God.

From ‘ A Brief History of Everything’, by Ken Wilber, Influential American writer and philosopher.


Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, culture, family, great days, happiness, life/style, love, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

47 responses to “Dancing to the music of time

  1. They recently started to play classical music at some of our metro stations that had anti-social behaviour – apparently it works. I loved this description of how you changed the energy of an unloved house to bring it back to life.


  2. So beautiful. It would be truly something to transform a home like that…and I wonder if we have even begun to understand the power of music.


  3. Robin Hickman

    Lovely! This was a joy to read Valerie. Thank you.

    Sent from my mobile


  4. Robin – what a treat to hear from you ! I haven’t forgotten the idea of lunch or coffee… would love to rendezvous…


  5. What a fascinating description of the house! I could see the morning glory, the white room and the room with the green floor and the concrete gnome you brought into the house and the brilliant flaming sunsets. It sounded like Bronte’s Ferndean alright from Jane Eyre.


    • Hello friend – good to see you… and so glad you enjoyed the house!
      Hadn’t thought of Ferndean…I had the Deep South in mind – one of those pillared belle- epoque type places !


  6. I could just picture the transformation of that house, and its gratitude! We have just this week finished the last vestige of transformation in our own house of damaged energies. The first couple who built the home divorced after 3 years and the house was never quite finished. The couple who bought the house from them also divorced after 3 years and had no domestic inclinations so the house continued to decline. Tenants in it for another few years before we found it did nothing to help it either. We have lived here for 15 years. I did some Feng Shui when I found the ‘relationship corner’ of the house was missing, but honestly, I think just loving the house and continually repairing and renovating it has given it new energy. Lovely post Valerie.


    • Thank you so much, what a lovely comment – you’re obviously another house afficionado! Houses are magic , aren’t they, and they cry out to be loved – yours must be precious to you..


  7. How beautiful that you restored a home. And yes, I believe music is restorative and creative. It somehow seems a glue of the universe that holds much more than the single notes.


  8. wow, so perfectly timed. I have only just introduced music to the barn to calm Daisy (the milking cow) and Poppy a little piglet who has been unwell. And it is wonderful. (Though I have to admit that they are happier when I play the country radio stations). I am presently casting about for bigger speakers that will not mind being .. um.. pooped on by the chickens! Thank you for saving such a wonderful old house.. you saved someones dream! c

    On Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 5:46 PM, valeriedavies


  9. Oh Celi – lovely to hear from you… hope darling little Poppy is coming along. When I lived in a country house in Essex, the farm was along-side, and I was awakened to the sounds of Viennese waltzes coming from the cow shed every motning… forty years ago !


  10. Oh, my goodness. This post is so beautiful! I feel transformed just from reading it. Even before you took possession of the house, it was lovely–the roominess, the orientation toward the harbor, the French doors, the morning glory. And then your lavish use of color–pumpkin and rose and purple and cream. The white hall with blue and white curtains–so clean and pure.

    I listen to music when I write and drive and when I dance for exercise. But after reading your post I want to be more careful with music, choosing it well and enjoying it more fully while it plays. Thank you.


    • What a lovely comment, so vivid, thank you so much… I know what you mean about listening mindfully to our music, it can so easily become wall paper, or just background can’t it….


  11. Oh how that sad building must have loved you. The change from a feeling of squalor to being a house, a home with all the rhythms of love must have given it life and meaning again.
    The journey you undertook sounded fascinating and thankfully you didn’t skimp on description so we were able to follow this huge transformation.
    Music is capable of so much, can bring such emotions to the surface that nowadays we know it can help prevent vandalism and even prevent gangs of youths from hanging about outside shops making people feel threatened. That you used it in such a positive way to breathe life back into desecrated walls is no surprise.,
    Thank you Valerie for sharing the journey with us.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx.


    • David, what a lovely comment, I so enjoyed reading it – thank you, you really made me feel as though you’d entered into the story!
      Yes, isn’t it interesting that we can use music so positively to move negative vibrations… thank you again for making me feel it was worthwhile to write the story


  12. Your view on the healing power of music is music to my ears.


  13. I would have loved to have seen this home of yours, it sounds lovely, happy and peaceful.

    I think some do not understand the value and importance of music in our lives, yet we can look across every culture and see it plays a pivotal role. We may find the music of another culture doesn’t sit well against our ear, yet it fits perfectly in the rhythm of their lives. My home, it is filled with music and what plays often reflects the mood I wish to achieve rather than the mood I am in.

    Wonderful, as always Valerie.


    • Hello dear friend, lovely to have your thoughtful comment as ever…yes, music has so many different styles and moods, and so many ways if quieting the soul, and bringing peace into the world – I often think of some of the historic moments of music, like the man playing his violin at Sarajevo where his friend was killed….


  14. Our Aussie farmhouse is nearly 100 years old, it has had a chequered history and we have now restored it in a shabby chic style complete with speakers on the verandahs. This means I can hear music (or the radio) from a lot of the garden and also, having lots of land, no neighbours to annoy and the wallabies dont seem to mind it either. I would love to have seen pictures of your home. I originally lived in Loughton, Essex until I was 16. Joy


    • Dear Joy
      Lovely to read your description of your house – houses are irresistible aren’t they… yours sounds lovely – shabby chic is my thing too ! anything smart doesn’t feel homely to me… you’re an Essex girl are you! I only lived there for a couple of years, but in deepest glorious countryside – I wrote a blog about it – places in the heart…


  15. Amy

    Such a beautiful and eloquent way to describe the house. Yes, music, always music…. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Valerie!


  16. I remember visiting my son’s kindergarten classroom early one morning as the children were arriving. I’ll never forget the sense of peace that pervaded the room, as beautiful classical music was playing, the teacher was calmly sitting at one of the small tables and cutting out shapes from colored paper. The children sensed the atmosphere too, and as they entered the room, they peacefully hung up their coats and sat down to read, color, or play: quietly! That’s the magic that music can achieve.


    • What a wonderful kindergarten – if only all schools and kindies could be like that – what peace of mind you must have had when you left your son…
      Lovely comment thank you Ronnie, which will stay in my mind…


  17. I so love heavenly blue morning glory…to read how it grew and twined and added to your lovely home and garden lifted my heart up. Then I read about the music…and my soul soared!

    Lovely post, as always.

    ❤⊱彡 Linda


  18. Dear Valerie,

    The house sounds fascinating and what you did with it nothing short of miraculous from your descriptions.

    My father loved classical music and growing up I remember Sunday mornings being filled with it. Schubert, Brahms, Mozart and Chopin were childhood friends. Later I fell in love with the Beatles and various folk singers. Your article reminds me of how important music is. So often it just is, or I forget to even listen. Thank you for the gentle reminder through your lovely words.




    • Hello Rochelle,
      I am very late replying to your lovely comment – finding life is on top of me at the moment… Sounds like you had a lovely childhood… and yes, I loved the folk singers – all gentle music,
      so good to hear from you, and thank you for your appreciative words, Valerie


  19. I love that the gnome joined the dinner party!


  20. Thanks for posting, I enjoyed reading that.


  21. Valerie, as someone in love with Frances Mayes’ “Under the Tuscan Sun”, I loved your piece, only wishing it were much longer. Your poetic prose flows by so beautifully and easily that more would be better. I’m also a big fan of making a house your own, something we did successfully I think for the 28 years we lived in our first house. We’re in a rental now, which makes things more difficult in many ways.

    As for the effect of music, I would think it depends on the kind of music. Or does it? What have you read? Classical music would seem to fit what you’re talking about but there are some types of music, or “music”, that are filled with anger and so tumultuous that it seems they wouldn’t have the same effect.

    An aside: sometime after July of 2014, we’re planing a three-month trip to (mostly) New Zealand, which sides of Oz and Fiji thrown in. If you have time at some point, and inclination, any hints, tips, best time to visit, suggestions of what to see, how to travel, etc., etc. would be greatly appreciated. Of course, tea/coffee with you will be on the agenda, too. 🙂 My email is TeaNatious@gmail.com and feel free to share with anyone who might have helpful input.




    • Hello Janet,
      So sorry to take such a time replying to your lovely comment… I’m very behind with everything at the moment…
      When I read your comments I wished we could have a conversation, there was so much to say… yes, I’m a Frances Mayes fan too… the stuff of dreams ! Thank you so much for your lovely words about my writing… music… another conversation…yes, it’s a shame that like so many aspects of modern culture music has been used to convey alienation and violence like other art forms… we know when music has good vibes… and as you say – classical, and folk music seems to have these in spades.
      Re NZ – would love to answer your queries, but will do it through your e-mail and will look forward to actually having a conversation with you when you are here ! best wishes, Valerie


  22. Hello Valerie, I couldn’t agree more. Whether writing it, playing it, or simply listening to it and enjoying it, music is a very powerful force for good!


  23. Beautifully written, as always, Valerie. I believe that music often can put us in touch with the kind of peacefulness that can only be found in our soul. You and your family also brought into that house the energy of all your positive emotions, love, nurturing, kindness, appreciation of beauty, etc.


    • Dear Shirley, thank you for your lovely warm appreciative comment, I think you’re so right about music putting us in touch with our souls… I love that quote from Stella Adler ‘Life beats down and crushes our soul, and art reminds us that we have one..’.


  24. Juliet

    What a beautiful story, Valerie. ‘Music healed a house.’ That is so true, and believable. I’ve always loved music and have often witnessed its healing power. Thank you.


  25. Hell Juliet… lovely to hear from you – hope all is going well in your neck of the woods – I’m counting on you to set a date !!!!!


  26. Michele Seminara

    The home you created sounds magical, Valerie. Your comments on music brought to mind the Australian Aboriginal people, who ‘sing’ themselves and the landscape back to health. There is so much wisdom in this (and a lot of science too!)


  27. Whoa! I have been really negligent here at your site, haven’t I? I sincerely apologize.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s