Said, "I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm
Gonna join in a rock and roll band
Got to get back to the land
And set my soul free" (Joni Mitchell, 1970)
Today (August 15, 2009) we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the famous Woodstock Art and Musical Festival, held in a huge alpha field at the Yasgur Farm near Woodstock, New York on August 15th and 16th, 1969. (http://www.woodstokstory.com) The festival included many great performers like the Grateful Dead, Jimmy Hendrix, The Who, Joan Baez, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young, and many others.
The lyrics above, composed by Joni Mitchell, and recorded by Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young in 1970 capture the moments of this historic event in the United States, still the largest music event in history. Soon a movie, "Taking Woodstock", fictionalizing the Woodstock Festival will be released.
I wasn’t there. Well, I was almost there, actually. On this weekend, 40 years ago, I was in a traffic jam on the New York State Freeway that had turned into a parking lot from New York City to upstate New York. I was one mile away from the alpha field. My former husband and I were on our way back to New York City from Saratoga Race Corse in Saratoga Hot Springs in upstate New York, not exactly hippie territory. In fact, I had been well coiffed and well dressed in my seasonally appropriate white hat and dress to match the affluent ambiance of the horseracing culture. We were just frustrated that all of the gas stations were out of gas and the 7-11s were out of food. Only later did we discover that we were brushing against a historical/cultural phenomenon with a half a million young people celebrating music, peace, and love on a farm nearby. That was 1969.
One year later, Woodstock came back to me in the presence of Michael Fles, the man who helped to initiate the activities at Woodstock by the sounding of the gong each morning (Kenny, 1995; Kenny, 2006). I met Michael in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1970. Along with Nancy McMaster and six others, Michael and I initiated a social justice manifestation of Woodstock through the Children’s Spontaneous Music Workshops in Vancouver. I had become a late-blooming flower child.
And though I was not a dope smoking, naked mud-sliding hippie, I found my Woodstock in the marriage of free expression and social justice for marginalized people like the disabled, my own First Nations Peoples, convicted juveniles, psychiatric patients, and other marginalized groups in what we came to know as "music therapy." Later, I took the formal music therapy education at Loyola University in New Orleans.
The values of expression, love, and peace were at the core of my being. Ironically enough, these were the values that I had learned from both Native Elders and the Jesuits at Loyola. The Jesuits, either through theory or practice, were actually hippies at heart in the 1960s, well, and even historically speaking. They questioned authority. For Native Elders, the interconnection of all things and the ethic of caring were core values that I had learned from my Native American mother and other Native Elders.
Everything converged in music therapy. A few years after the Children’s Spontaneous Music Workshops disbanded, Nancy McMaster and I received massive funding from the Canadian government to do a Music Therapy Evaluation Study in 1974. After this project, in 1976, we started the first Music Therapy Training program in Canada at Capilano College in Vancouver, British Columbia. (An Interview with Two Pioneers of Canadian Music Therapy: Carolyn Kenny and Nancy McMaster)
We were adamantly dedicated to the values of free expression that we had experienced in the Children's Spontaneous Music Workshops, one of the many legacies of Woodstock. Our improvisational methods, in music therapy were clinical. However, in their origins, they were cultural and generational. They were a product of Woodstock and the Summer of Love.
I am so grateful that I was part of the Flower Power generation and that I was part of a powerful youth movement that has not seen its equal, even today. The ideals of peace, love, and expansion through free expression are core to my being and to my music therapy practice. As far as changing the world, well, I can’t say that we have peace yet. And maybe we won’t have world peace in my lifetime. However, there is a part of me that I can access through meditation, prayer, and what we might call "positive psychology", in clinical terms, that allows me to still hope for the best for my clients. I haven’t given up on the notion of world peace for my grandchildren either. The power of love is strong. The power of music and free expression is strong. And the concept of unity or a mystical reality where we are all connected is an ideal whose time, I hope, will come, "in time."
Kenny, C.B. (1995). Listening, playing, creating: Essays on the power of sound. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Kenny, C. (2006). Music and life in the field of play: An anthology. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishing Company.
Kenny, Carolyn (2009). Remembering Woodstock. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colkenny240809