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Your music can transform lives: an interview with A Sound Life

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

A Sound Life is a charity that aims to bring the healing benefits of music, yoga and meditation to vulnerable people around Australia. Their work highlights the power of community and art, and how it truly enriches everyone's lives.

Playing gigs and dreams of stardom are not the only ways music can impact your life and others around you. A recurring theme I hear amongst musicians living the #artistlyf is that the spark has gone; it feels like a never-ending battle; they don't feel like anybody cares, that they aren't making a difference. If you relate to any of those feelings, never fear! Perhaps the answer you are looking for is with A Sound Life (ASL).

Two musicians playing guitar and singing for a patient in a hospital bed.
A Sound Life volunteers playing music for a patient in the hospital.
"You see how powerful you are as a musician."

ASL was born in 2014, after Jo Mall and Edo Kahn, both musicians and yogis with over half a decade of experience in humanitarian work, realised that they could bring these hugely healing outlets of music, yoga and meditation to vulnerable people around Australia. They first started at Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick 8 years ago, which they still work with today.

Jo Mall and Edo Kahn, founders of the charity A Sound Life
Jo Mall and Edo Kahn, founders of A Sound Life

Interview with ASL Music Program Manager

ASL's Music Program Manager and former volunteer, Gabi Brown (aka Gailla), gives us some insight into the beautiful work they do around Australia and how this can genuinely transform your life and perception of music.

Girl with glasses and long brown hair sitting cross-legged, barefoot playing guitar in a studio space with wooden floors and white walls.
Gabi Brown, ASL Music Program Manager and former volunteer

What services do you provide?

We provide completely free music, yoga and meditation both in-person and online in 45 min to 1 hour sessions, typically once a week, to a variety of facilities around Australia. We also provide these offerings for teams in corporate contexts, whether that is through a keynote talk, a mindfulness/yoga session, or a team-building workshop.

We also have The Sound Mentoring Program which provides free music mentoring sessions to young people aged 10–26 with the mission of empowering them to achieve their potential as artists and as people.

Who do you aim to help with ASL?

We aim to help vulnerable people in society who face loneliness more than others - this can include people in hospitals, people in aged care homes, women in domestic violence refuges, and young people at risk of harm. Our society can be a very lonely one, especially when you’re struggling, and we have seen first-hand that creating community around music, yoga and meditation is a way to help people heal and feel.

Our goal is to bring people together - both our participants and volunteers - so that they feel that they have people who love them and care for them. We aim to hold space for and help facilitate the joy of each person we connect with, and to meet them where they’re at.

How did you come to work with ASL? What drove you to that path?

I found out about ASL in late 2018, when I saw an ad posted up at my uni. I was immediately interested as it combined my two greatest loves: music and caring for others. At the time they were running a weekly choir in Surry Hills, which I would attend. We went on to perform our songs throughout the wards at Sydney Children’s Hospital (SCH). I then started to volunteer my time mainly at SCH online over Zoom once a month and started as a mentor with the Sound Mentoring Program (SMP) from 2020-2021. In 2021 I came on board as a co-facilitator of the program, and in early 2022 when Simon Jankelson left the role of Music Program Manager at ASL, I took over.

" fuels you as a musician and artist"

Why did you stay at ASL?

I stayed because the moments you find at ASL are like no other. When you come into a session, it is already a space where you and the participants know you’re there to connect, have fun and bond over shared feelings, thoughts, experiences. Every intention behind ASL is to respect, love and connect, and that is something so magical and needed in our world.

Every session is different, too. The volunteer gatherings are also so much fun! We have dinners, jam sessions at the beach, workshops, masterclasses, talks, everything. There are so many opportunities to grow and connect with ASL.

A group of volunteers from the charity A Sound Life posing for a group photo
A Sound Life volunteers

Why should other musicians volunteer at ASL?

For a variety of reasons! One of the most underrated impacts in my opinion is that it fuels you as a musician and artist so much. When I am writing a song with a person in hospital, or with a mentee, for example, it gives me energy and inspiration for new musical ideas.

I am held accountable to be a kind and open source of joy and musical fun for that person - it is such a powerful responsibility. To play music to the other people in your session transforms both of you in that moment; it makes you both so present. You are healing each other by both being in there in that moment together, listening and responding. You see how reciprocal music is meant to be, and how it is the most fun, and you get the most out of it when everyone feels welcome to participate.

What impact have you personally seen through ASL's work?

I have seen people release emotions they weren’t letting themselves feel until I chose that one song and played it - and I saw the expression on their face change right in front of me. I feel like I have validated people’s feelings and experiences just by holding space for them with music and conversation.

In the Sound Mentoring Program, one of my mentees started out with a lot of self-doubt, as their friends would mock them for wanting to be a musician. I worked with them for over a year and stopped over 6 months ago. Then a month ago, out of the blue, they sent me the new music they were making. To know that I motivated them to keep going in their dream to be an artist - and helped give them the tools to do so for themselves independently without needing my guidance anymore - means the world.

How has ASL impacted your perception of music and being a musician?

As a musician/artist, you know that playing music is healing to you and helps you to process things you’re going through, but it is just as, if not more, incredible to see you help someone get through their emotions. You see how powerful you are as a musician. Even just the second you start playing some chords, people’s body language changes, and the vibe in the room immediately shifts. I have noticed on both a conscious and subconscious level that I am so much more aware of the impact I create in this world.

Are there other ways people can contribute to ASL's mission?

We always welcome donations! We really welcome people who would like to volunteer their time in other ways to ASL - whether you have a cool fundraising idea, a potential new partner/facility, or just a general creative/marketing/facilitation idea - we are so open to collaborating with people in the community on ways to expand the vision and mission of ASL.


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