When professional contralto Jess Dandy suddenly faced a mental health crisis, she turned to music for healing. The Guildhall graduate, used to performing in front of large audiences found herself crippled by anxiety. Next month, SongPath, the West Yorkshire organisation she founded, aims to bring solace to those who suffer from mental health issues.
Music, Jess believes, is not simply beautiful art for its own sake but can restore our spiritual health in a way, which talking remedies and traditional therapies do not.
“We all want connection. Sometimes we try to think ourselves back to good health but sometimes if we talk about out health in everyday terms, that’s not necessarily how we get back to good health.”
How did SongPath start?
Jess was 26 when she thought there must be other people out there who believe in music’s healing qualities. Over the next three years, she got together with other professional and non-professional musicians to create SongPath. At its heart SongPath is an innovative mental health initiative that blends musical appreciation with mindful walking.
The project creates musical walking trails through some of England’s most beautiful landscapes. The first SongPath took place in Cumbria and began at Bardsea overlooking the Leven Estuary and finished at Swarthmoor Hall, the birthplace of Quakerism. Following the success of the first SongPath, a second took place in Oxford.
Now SongPath is coming to West Yorkshire. The latest SongPath will take place at RSPB St Aidan’s nature park, West Yorkshire, on 18 April.
How does SongPath work?
The aim of the project is to bring solace to those suffering from poor mental health by inspiring a reconnection with the natural world. SongPath is not therapy but it does provide workshops and raise money for mental health charity Mind. The project also has a powerful effect on its participants. Jess remembers the first SongPath vividly:
“It was absolutely amazing, seeing people really light up with wonder again. In modern life, mother nature and place is just seen as a backdrop … just look at what’s around you. Some locals who had walked those routes countless times saw it with a new dimension. One of the participants said they felt a powerful camaraderie.”
Jess is keen to emphasise that previous experience as a musician is not required for participation in the event. The aim of the project is to encourage a ‘kind curiosity’ about the world, and that any kind of formal training in music is not necessary to get something out of it. The project, she says, dissolves the boundaries between professional and non-professional musicians. “Everybody has a voice”, she says, “and in that voice there is healing”.
There are few counties in the United Kingdom with as much geographical diversity as Yorkshire. The West Yorkshire SongPath will use the Yorkshire geography to maximum effect. The walk will begin at St Aidan’s nature reserve in South-East Leeds. The notion of healing is a particularly resonant one in the context of the West Yorkshire SongPath because St Aidan’s is constructed from a former opencast pit that flooded in the valley back in the 1980’s. The nature reserve’s enormous population of birds is sustained by the luscious wetlands and reed beds, whose cultivation was enabled by the flood.
Jess says the message is a resonant one for those experiencing acute distress. “Trust in nature, we can reclaim our own impulse, the green pulse in our own lives”.
The message is a powerful one. One in six adults in the UK will experience some form of mental health crisis at some time in our lives. Modern life seeks solutions to problems in complexity but one of the innovations of SongPath is to seek a very simple solution to a very old problem. That music and the natural world, when combined, can bring solace and healing to those suffering. Music is the ultimate mindfulness app.
SongPath will take place in collaboration with Leeds Lieder, Leeds MIND, RSPB St Aidan’s nature reserve on 18 April. St Aidan’s Nature Reserve Astley Lane, Leeds, LS26 8AL. Tickets: £15 including £5 donation to Leeds Mind. Tickets available here: songpath.co.uk