Hypnotherapist and sound-healer Peter Blum talks about the 60s and the sacred healing force of music

"Music/art, prayer and healing all take us inward into our inner world, the world of imagery and emotions, of visions and feelings."

Peter Blum: Sacred Echo Of Universe

Peter Blum lives in Woodstock, New York, where he maintains a private practice in neo-Ericksonian hypnosis, and shamanic sound healing. As a Certified Instructor for the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) since 1993, he has trained and certified hundreds in the art of hypnosis. In 2004, Peter was named Certified Instructor of the Year by the NGH, the largest professional organization of its type in the world. After completing extensive study of the world’s major spiritual traditions, Peter was ordained as an Interfaith Minister in the seminary program of the Foundation for the Living Earth in 1995. He considers the practice of hypnotherapy to be a spiritual art form. Known for his humorous and engaging presentation skills, he has been a popular lecturer, trainer, and seminar leader for the NGH, International Medical and Dental Hypnosis Association (IMDHA), The International Hypnosis Federation (IHF), as well as offering numerous programs for schools, prisons, hospitals, mental health and substance abuse counselors, and personal growth programs. In 2002, the IHF honored Peter with the Award of Excellence in Integrative Therapies.

Peter started his journey as a folk singer in New York. During the early 1960s he traveled down to Greenwich Village. From 1962 he took in performances of Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, Happy & Artie Traum, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix around the Village at venues like the Night Owl Café and the Café Au Go-Go. The son of an operatic baritone, Peter has had a life-long love affair with music, and has been involved in the study and practice of sound-healing since the mid 70’s. Since 1999, he has released 6 CD’s in the Sounds for Healing series, mostly featuring the extraordinary sounds of the Himalayan Singing Bowls – either played solo, or in concert with other trance-inducing instruments (including spoken healing meditations).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Peter Blum sound and music? How would you characterize your music philosophy?

I have had a life-long love affair with music. When I was in my crib, my parents used to play recordings of Brahms for me to fall asleep. My father was an operatic baritone, whose dream was to sing at The Metropolitan Opera. He never made it, but had a fairly successful career performing in numerous “second tier” venues (i.e. The Amato Opera House in NYC). There was always classical music playing on the radio, and my parents often sang duets of Broadway show tunes.

When Don Cherry was a guest artist in the 80’s at The Creative Music Studio, he hung a large banner behind the stage that said “Music Is A Healing Force In The Universe”. The German music critic Joachim Berendt has written a book entitled “Nada Brahma”, which translates as “God Is Sound”. Duke Ellington said “Music is my mistress”. My own philosophy falls somewhere in between all of these.

How can the music and sound crush the shackles and heal the human spirit and mind?

Okay - your wording, not mine. My relationship with different types of music and different musical teachers has led me to a place where I perceive all of our relationships with other people, with God/Spirit, our health, etc. in terms of “being in tune”. Mickey Hart says, “The human body is a rhythm machine”. When we are in tune, or in correct rhythm, we are in right relationship with ourselves and our world. Thousands of years ago, anthropologists and sociologists say everyone sang and danced and played music. With all the members of a community singing or dancing together, an important ritualistic and ceremonial purpose is served - a purpose representational of the harmony and weave of social interaction in everyday life.

Which is been the relationship between music and mind/soul? What are the secrets of music mandala?

In fact it now known by neurophysiologists that music (art), prayer, and healing all come from the same source in the body, they all are associated with similar brain wave patterns, mind body changes, and they all are deeply connected in feeling and meaning. Music/art, prayer and healing all take us inward into our inner world, the world of imagery and emotions, of visions and feelings. This journey inward into what used to be called the spirit or soul and is now called the mind, is deeply healing.

What were the reasons that made the 60s generation start the esoteric and artistic searches and experiments?

Every decade and every generation “starts the esoteric and artistic searches and experiments”. We were riding a wave that began with the surrealists and the bohemians, continued through the “beat generation”, of pushing the boundaries of art and music. Certainly, two things contributed to the explosion from a small, fringe culture to a much larger and more mainstream one. First: Mass media - the increasing spread of recordings of artists and cultures that had been hard to hear/experience... FM radio as well as LP’s, and portable tape recorders (later cassette). And secondly, the explosion of knowledge of, and availability of psychoactive substances (LSD, mescaline, psylocybin, etc.) on a massive, hitherto unknown scale.

In 1968, I was gifted with two seats in the second row at a Ravi Shankar concert at Lincoln Center in New York. My girlfriend and I were doing a lot of experimenting with psychedelics at the time and decided to take mescaline before attending. The experience of being that close to one of the greatest living exponents of North Indian classical music was life-changing! With my senses enhanced, I had an authentic experience of synesthesia and watched as rippling waves of rainbow colors flashed out from the strings of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s instrument.

Another experience that had a strong effect on my musical sensitivities was being introduced to the practice of yoga in 1969. The practice of Hatha yoga led to an interest in other branches of yoga, including Bhakti, Karma, and Raja yoga, and eventually to Nada Yoga. Nada yoga is the study and practice of union with oneness through the universal sound currents.

Are there any memories from the Sound-Outs and Woodstock Festival ‘69 which you’d like to share with us?

I did not attend the Woodstock Festival, which was actually held in White Lake, about 50 miles away. But I did spend weekends in summer of 1969 in Woodstock, and heard some great music at the Woodstock Sound-Outs. One of the first people I met when I visited Woodstock was Cyril Caster. Cyril was a songwriter and guitar player who was hired to organize the Woodstock Sound-Outs, mini-concerts held on an open field a few miles outside of Woodstock. I believe Cyril accompanied Allen Ginsberg on one of his early recordings of “Rags, Ballads, and Harmonium Songs”.

By the fall of 1969 I had moved out of New York City and up to Woodstock, NY. Woodstock at that time was home to an amazing community of musical giants. Besides Bob Dylan and The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Tim Hardin, Van Morrison, and two of my harmonica heros - Paul Butterfield and John Sebastian - were all living in the area! Jam sessions at the local clubs were amazing - you never knew who might show up!

One of the folks I brought up to Woodstock to form a band with was Alan Hand. Alan was a gifted keyboardist who had moved to New York City from Atlanta, Georgia, and had had all his worldly belongings (including his instruments) stolen from backstage at a Greenwich Village club. The house we moved to was down the block from where Daoud Sha’ar (David Shaw) and his wife were living. Daoud was Van Morrison’s drummer and bandleader. Eventually, through connections made by jamming with Daoud and friends, Alan ended up recorded with Richie Havens, and touring and recording with Van Morrison. So I can say, Van Morrison stole my keyboardist!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don’t really miss much from music of the past - I believe that my own evolution as a musician and healer was shaped and formed by my experiences. Perhaps I miss a certain innocence of youth culture - too many young folks today are out of touch with live, acoustic music - there is nothing wrong with techno or DJ or drum machines, but it can never take the place of participation. Here in Woodstock we have a community drum circle every Sunday for two hours on the Village Green. I know that there are small groups of singer/songwriters who get together to share their music and support each other. I hope this continues, and that more children are encouraged to participate in music.

In 1950, Roger Sessions wrote (In “The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener”): “In fact, composer, performer and listener can, without undue exaggeration, be regarded not only as three types or degrees of relationship to music, but also as three successive stages of specialization. In the beginning, no doubt, the three were one. Music was vocal or instrumental improvisation; and while there were those who did not perform, and who therefore heard music, they were not listeners in our modern sense of the word.”

Photo: L. Garrick, Les Visible, D. Mowry, G. Kupper & Peter - Woodstock Town Hall, 1974

What are the lines that connect the Greenwich Village with the legacy of Blues Folk revival and Beat culture?

During the summer of 1966 my blues-loving friends and I made frequent trips to The Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, where we were privileged to hear blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bukka White, and Son House. A block or two away at the Night Owl Cafe an evening’s entertainment might feature Ritchie Havens, Tim Hardin, Fred Neil (with Buzzy Linhart on vibes), or John Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful. We were also big fans of the newly formed “Blues Project” featuring Al Kooper and Danny Kalb, an early guitar hero who had transitioned from the folk scene.

In retrospect, we were little white groupie boys who were in complete awe of the older black musicians who came through, playing the blues. One of our biggest thrills was being invited back to the Hotel Albert to have some drinks with Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson, and other members of the Muddy Waters blues band. One friend, Rich, was an aspiring blues piano player. He befriended and took lessons from the legendary Otis Spann, Muddy’s cousin and the piano player in the Muddy Waters band.

Which memories from John Hammond, Jr., Bob Dylan, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix makes you smile?

I discovered Bob Dylan’ first album shortly after it was released, in 1962. Still in high school at the time, I and a few other folkie friends immediately recognized genius. Saw him twice during that period of time - once as a guest of Joan Baez at one of her summer tour concerts in the Berkshires, and once at his own solo concert in at Carnegie Hall in NYC, in October of 1963. He didn’t do much commentary but did say at one point that someone had asked him what that song meant, where he said “the answer is to blow in the wind”...

In the summer of 1966, John Hammond, Jr. was playing a week-long engagement at The Cafe Au Go Go. I went down to hear him on opening night. John had new back-up band for this gig, a group that had been playing in the Village called Jimmy James and The Blue Flame. From the first guitar solo, we barely noticed John Hammond on the stage... all eyes and ears were glued to the young black left-handed guitar player with the Jerry curl; not only was the most amazing guitar player I had ever seen he played with his teeth! He put the guitar behind his head and played upside down. He took it to another dimension entirely. Every night that week I was in the front row - word got out... we dragged all of our friends who loved the blues, or who played guitar. Who was this guy? Turns out that another person who was in the audience that week and who was also suitably impressed was Chas Chandler, of the British rock/blues group “The Animals”. He took Jimmy off to England, changed the spelling of his name to Jimi, and helped him get the Jimi Hendrix Experience formed and off the ground.

I got to attend one of the sessions when Alan Hand was recording with Richie Havens in NYC. Richie was always very kind and generous and made everyone feel welcome. At the time he was studying some Asian martial art and before recording he took out a large sword and went through an extensive series of katas (detailed choreographed patterns of movement) with it.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I am forever indebted to my teachers of sound and music, starting, or course, with my father. During the period 1978 to 1981 I moved with my wife and two young children to Amsterdam, Holland. While working there for a large medical data base, I found my Indian music guru - Ustad Jamaluddin Bhartiya. Mr. Bhartiya, Ravi Shankar’s first and oldest disciple, was a master vocalist and sitarist who had moved from India and established Tritantri Vidya Peth, a school of classical Indian music in Amsterdam. The impact of his teaching and personality over the three years that I studied with him was immeasurable!

North Indian classical music is a huge field, with a repertoire of about 72,000 ragas. My teacher described it one time as a “pulling system...” in that there is a tremendous amount of bending and pulling of notes. The Indian scale has shrutis, or microtones - there are 22 in an octave. I once read an interview with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield where he said that it was the same note bending in blues as he heard Ravi Shankar play on the sitar.

One small anecdote from that period... In the “guru/chela” relationship between teacher and student in India, the student is available to be of service in whatever way possible to the teacher, in gratitude for the priceless gift of musical transmission that the teacher is sharing. My duties included driving my teacher to concerts as well as having the privilege of accompanying him on the tamboura - a drone string instrument.

Once Mr. Bhartiya was scheduled to perform in Rotterdam. Before leaving Amsterdam and driving a couple of hours to the concert, we tuned both the sitar (22 strings), and the tamboura (4 strings) - both wood friction pegs (no machine heads). When we arrived at the concert hall and unpacked the instruments in the green room, another 10 minutes were spent tuning again. Finally out on stage, Mr. Bhartiya fussed with an additional, third tuning of 5 to 10 minutes, before starting the first composition. In the car on the way home I respectfully inquired why we had to tune on stage, having just tuned backstage. “My son”, he responded, “we were tuning the audience. We were tuning to the audience. We could not have done that before that situation”.  I had what I believe they call a “Zen moment” then.

Another very important teacher for me was Pauline Oliveros. A peer of folks like Terry Riley and John Cage, Pauline expanded and extended my ability to listen and hear music everywhere. Some of the Deep Listening meditations I practiced under her tutelage included sitting in public areas (like a large urban bus terminal) and attempting to hear and reproduce vocally every sound in that environment.

For several years I was the “chorus master” for the Deep Listening Chorus when Pauline was away travelling the world to teach and perform. Many of these evenings were spent with 10 to 20 people lying on the floor like spokes on a wheel with our heads towards the center. Directions for different sound meditations would be given and then the next hour or two would be spent in free form exploration. Here’s a simple one called “Circle Sound Meditation”: Lie on your back with your head toward the center of the circle. After relaxing and easy breathing, listen then sound. Alternate between listening and sounding.

The starting point and revelation of these types of Deep Listening Meditations is that all beings are innately musical. You don’t need special training or skills to be able to collaboratively make interesting improvised sounds with other humans. And by giving ourselves permission to become playful and childlike, we can temporarily lose a lot of limiting self-consciousness. From Pauline I learned that music is everywhere and in everyone.

In terms of where my interests have taken me - over the past 25 years I have been increasingly involved in collecting, and performing and recording with “Sacred Singing Metals.” In the late 80’s I met a young Belgian named Dirk Gillabel, who was a student of a Hungarian shaman named Joska Soos. Dirk had a nice collection of Himalayan metal “singing bowls”. He would have small meditations in his studio and play them as people meditated or drifted off in daydreams.

I began the study of hypnosis in 1985 and have had an active practice using hypnosis therapeutically for almost 30 years. Early on, I had a revelation. What became more and more clear was the connection between trance states and music - a line on a map that I had been tracing for most of my life. Way beyond entertainment, sound and music had been a portal, an entranceway to “higher” states of consciousness. This was the same outcome as a successful hypnosis session - to change frequency; whether it is perceived as the tangible, scientifically provable ones of brainwave, pulse, or heartbeat; or the more mystical ones of aura pulsation/coloration - the goal is the same!

When I examined all the different musical sounds that I had found most “mesmerizing” - most effective for inducing trance, I realized that most shared a few common characteristics. First, they were rich in overtones. And second, there was frequently a long “decay”. The tamboura, the “magical voice”/overtone singing of the Tibetans and the Mongolians, and now Sacred Singing Metals. I began immediately to seek and purchase antique singing bowls to build a collection with which I could start to make those incredible sounds.  My collection includes over 35 bowls ranging in size from 4 to 16 inch diameter. In addition I have several large gongs, tingshas (paired small cymbals), bells, a few sets of tuning forks, and a full chromatic set of Sabian Resonating Bells.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and folk culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Originally I learned to express myself - both in the privacy of my living room and in concerts for others. I learned that I love to make music - it heals me and has the potential to heal those who listen to it. Folk music is music of the common people. Blues melodies and rhythms express primary emotional feelings that can be easily communicated, and the form is simple, allowing many to learn to play it, while also capable of incredible complexity, richness and variety. Specific intervals affect us emotionally in different ways - a minor third and a major seventh are “bluesy” feelings.

Although these days I mostly perform on tamboura, frame drum, djembe, gongs, and singing bowls; I still have my cherished 1964 Martin 0028. And there isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t pull it out of its case and play some old fingerpickin’ blues. It was the first music that I learned to play on an instrument and still has a place of honor in my soul.

If you could change one thing in the world and people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

In 1975, my spiritual search led me to “take refuge” in the Three Jewels of Buddhism - Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha - with Karma Kagyu meditation master Kalu Rinpoche. The “Four Noble Truths” that are the foundation of all Buddhist practice teach that all human beings suffer, that suffering comes from attachment, and that there is a way to cut attachment at the root. If I could change one thing, I would have that understanding, of the route to the cessation of suffering; enter the minds of all humans.

Photo: Peter Blum, 1964

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I’ve always liked the story in Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” where Huckleberry Finn fakes his death and then hides to observe his funeral. I think I’d like to go watch who shows up at my funeral and what they say. Is that weird? 

Peter Blum's Sounds For Healing - Home

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