Many people ask how I got interested in pursuing sound healing. This story of musical companionship touched me deeply and explains it all:
My journey to practice sound healing has been a lifetime, but I hit a major turning point in February of 2013 when I met Karl Erb. Karl was a loved and respected yoga and philosophy teacher in the San Francisco community and he had been sick with cancer for three years when I met him. When he discovered I was a musician, he was visibly excited and immediately asked me to play music with him. I had mixed feelings. I didn’t know this man. Part of me was flattered and curious, and another part was nervous and shy. I figured he could choose from plenty of other musicians in San Francisco, but he wanted to play with me. My shyness got the better of me and I resisted, but he persisted, and so we played.
Sometimes Karl would come to the rehearsal space straight from chemotherapy sessions, barely able to see. His body looked frail, but he carried two huge amplifiers and a guitar with him every time, lugging all of it up and down the winding staircase into the carpeted rehearsal room. Once everything was plugged in, I sat behind the drum kit. He smoked some cannabis for relief and then delved into song with me, singing his heart out and holding nothing back. Karl’s sickness progressed and his body got weaker so I started visiting him at his apartment. At this point, the cancer had spread to his brain and he was taking steroids to maintain his body through the radiation treatments. His energy was visibly jittery and frantic, and he was desperately, feverishly writing music. There were papers taped up all over the walls with scribbles of writing on them. He brought out the harmonium that day and we chanted: Ganesha sharanam sharanam ganesha.
Karl grasped onto music like a lifeline. He eagerly wanted to play his songs for people, to spread his message, to realize his dreams. He gave his final talk at the Yoga Tree in San Francisco and we played his song “Calling Down the Dragons,” a song about the element of fire, inspired by his experience with chemotherapy. The performance that day was a bit of a mess, but that didn’t matter. It was the heartfelt outpouring of musical love from a dying man and it was beautiful, life-changing, and sacred.
A couple of weeks later, I heard that Karl was in the hospital. Without a second of hesitation, I found out where he was and brought my guitar to go see him. On my way there, I thought about my Mom, and how many times she has been there for friends and family as they transitioned into death. Other people were too scared to stay and she is always the one to show up, offering her loving presence during a time of major transition and grief. As I thought of her I could feel that loving presence inside me too and it became clear that this was my calling, that I was meant to be here for Karl in this moment. That I am the one meant to show up, and sing.
Karl’s hospital bed faced a big window with a vista of the city and mountains outside. I set down the bouquet of sunflowers I brought with me and made my way over to the side of his bed. He was lying very still and having some trouble breathing, but he was happy to see me and even happier when he saw my guitar. “What is that?” He jokingly asked, bringing his sense of humor through all that pain. I played my guitar and sang a few songs for Karl. He didn’t have the energy to sing along this time, but he lay there and listened, smiling all along. Nurses and visitors from the hallway poked their heads in to listen, giving me the thumbs up. Obviously the sound of music was a welcome boon in this land! We sat and talked for a while after I played. “You’ve inspired me so much,” Karl told me. He was still writing music, pen to the page in the hospital bed, scribbling pages of lyrics and chord progressions into the song “Mockingbird.” He handed me the pages and asked me if I would sing it and record the song after he was gone. I knew I had been given a gift and would honor his wishes in due time. On my way out the door that day, Karl said one last thing that I will never forget as it has set me on my path. He said, “Rachel, your voice gives me a reason to live.”
Singing, chanting, and drumming with Karl was a milestone in my life, guiding me towards my calling as a sound practitioner and musical healer. After playing with Karl, the egoic fear of playing music with other people was dissolved and replaced by an eagerness to play and sing the vibrations of pure love, compassion, and human connection. We are human beings. And human beings are meant to sing!! And dance!! And drum! Music guides our lives. We are vibrational beings. Karl helped me see my voice as my vehicle towards the divine light, steered by love, and fueled by passion and desire.
I still feel Karl’s presence when I sing and chant. I am eternally grateful to him for leading me on this path and I am honored to sing his song, which I see as a divine gift. Karl’s message is clearer to me now, and I see that singing and creating music is my act of Karma Yoga, my offering to the higher power. I offer myself up to music. I surrender to the song. I know now that I am the song and I can always sing myself home.