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CD REVIEW: Phil Volan and Steve Barta, "Together We Can Heal"

Source Music

Jun 24, 1998
Kimmy Sophia Brown
"Together We Can Heal" is a collection of "12 songsthat communicate and empathize with the many emotions experienced by grieving children and adults." Composed, arranged, and produced by Steve Barta, Phil Volan and friends, the work was commissioned to fill a void.

In the liner dedication, Connie Patterson, the Manager of Children's Connection at Pikes Peak Hospital, (Colorado) says that, "Music speaks when no-one else can. Music builds a bridge when pain, anger and sadness isolate a child or an adult. We had many places to use music...but we had no music. We contacted Phil Volan...and this recording is the result."

Phil Volan, singer, guitarist and composer said, "At first, my own fear of dying or losing a loved one kept me from plunging into the songs, but in a surprising way, my limited research and experience began to inspire me as I observed the range of feelings, depths of spirit and compassion in people when confronted by death. It was not at all depressing like I expected it might be. In fact, the process of writing these songs was uplifting and joyous."

The topic of grief has come a long way in recent decades. There was a time not so long ago, that one did not speak of the dead. "Mommy has gone away" was sometimes all a child was told when his mother died in an epidemic or while giving birth to a sibling.

Douglas Gresham, stepson to C.S. Lewis, said in his forward to the book, "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis: "that if he [Lewis] mentioned Mother, I would always seem to be embarrassed as if he had said something obscene. He did not understand that I was fourteen when Mother died and the product of almost seven years of British Preparatory School indoctrination. The lesson I was most strongly taught throughout that time, was that the most shameful thing that could happen to me would be to be reduced to tears in public. British boys don't cry. I knew that if he talked to me about Mother, I would weep uncontrollably and worse still, so would he. This was the source of my embarrassment. It took me almost thirty years to learn how to cry without feeling ashamed."

It is evident that this is a potent aspect of life that needs more addressing. No matter how many people have been forced into the grieving process, many have never been able to sort out their pain. In the latter part of the twentieth century, more books and essays have been written on the subject than ever before, but there has been very little music composed for the specific purpose of tending the grieving process.

Without being cloying or overly sentimental, these songs address the confusion, pain and sense of isolation that comes from grief, particularly for children.

from "So Cool":

"This was not supposed to happen,
This is totally unfair,
Without any kind of warning,
You're just suddenly not there," *

from "Stories To Be Told":

"Everything is different now
I want it all back the same
I promised God a lot to make it all okay
But it hasn't done a bit of good except sometimes in dreams" *

The topic of death and dying can be awkward, but Steve Barta's beautiful piano playing, and Phil Volan's sensitive voice and guitar playing, blend well with the realistic lyrics. Family members sharing the loss of someone could gather together and listen to this music as a help in the healing process, especially if they are struggling to articulate their feelings. The broad appeal of this music will speak to listeners in a personal way.

C.S. Lewis wrote the book, "A Grief Observed", to help deal with the death of his wife after a long battle with cancer. He said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing."

In her book, "Companion Through the Darkness", Stephanie Ericsson similarly said: "Grief is a tidal wave that overtakes you, smashes down upon you with unimaginable force, sweeps you up into darkness, where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces, only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped."

Not everyone knows how to put their feelings into words. This music gives substance to some of the questions people must grapple with when coping with death.

Seconds after hearing the opening bars of the first cut, "I Had a Dream", tears were streaming down my face. I thought of my own parents who have passed away, and I could empathize with others who have faced the death of a loved one. In fact, listening to this music caused me to take note of my own family, to consciously appreciate them more, and thank God again for each day we have together.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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