Podcast Description from Northern Sounds

Lydia Violet Harutoonian returns to Fairbanks. That’s a first for this musician and activist who often tours, but hasn’t before returned to deepen the link between her and visited communities. She draws inspiration from the teachings of ecologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy. While in Fairbanks, Alaska, she lead a pair of engagements in town, teaming up with local musicians Susan Grace and Aurora Bowers. Lydia was in Fairbanks last year and had the chance to talk with Robert Hannon of Northern Sounds. This episode, we revisit that conversation.

Full transcript HERE and below

Robert Hannon  00:04

Welcome to Northern Soundings. I’m Robert Hannon. This episode, we revisit a conversation with a musician and composer who draws inspiration from Buddhist scholar and ecologist Joanna Macy.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  00:17

I believe that power lives in kindness no matter what happens. I pledge kindness. I pledge trying to understand the world, I pledge creating cultures of mutual respect and understanding and beauty and grace and a good kind of mischief and storytelling and whatever it is, I am going to help participate in and uplift the cultures that are helping to make sure that there’s still ground for life to continue

Robert Hannon  00:45

Lydia Violet Harutoonian returns to Fairbanks leading a workshop that combines music with engaged wisdom. We’ll find out about her work and how she views our times. I hope you’ll stick around.

Robert Hannon  01:06

This discussion with Lydia Violet Harutoonian originally aired last October, the musician and activist returns to Fairbanks this coming weekend to lead a workshop that draws on her path, combining music with the teaching of Buddhist scholar and ecologist Joanna Macy. Lydia is also the daughter of Iranian emigres, and her roots in various cultures seemed to inform her music and work. Let’s get to the conversation.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  01:35

In the pandemic, I’ve had my own kind of bouts of depression. And so I was in one of those bouts and I run a facilitator group online training in Joanna Macy’s work. And I kind of on the fly jokingly said to the group, well, maybe I’ll go to Alaska or something. And Aurora Bowers, who is a local musician and activist who’s in the group said, “yeah, maybe that’s a great idea.” And it was one of those things where my grief was informing me that my work had been locked inside of me, this pandemic, you know, wanting to work with people in person, and maybe to go venture into a very small scale version of it, and come to Alaska. And so I did.

Robert Hannon  02:28

Well, let’s break some of those things down. What did your workshop entails? Obviously, more than music? Yes? 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  02:35

yeah. It’s this one we titled “A Wild Love for the World.” That’s a title of a book that came out last year about Joanna and her work. And basically, the workshop is a combination of doing some community singing, singing songs that come from traditions of resilience and cultivating resilience as a community. And then doing this body of group work from Joanna Macy that she developed over 45 years called the Work That Reconnects, and it’s basically a body of teachings and group work exercises, that helps to just talk about how we’re doing in relationship to what’s happening in our world, what we see happening in our world, both the gift of being alive at all, and the hardship of witnessing behaviors and actions and policies that essentially destroy life.

Robert Hannon  03:39

Talk to me a little bit about that connection with music, I oftentimes think, oh, music, it’s so much in the head. But watching musicians, of course, almost in any genre, you can tell their whole body is engaged in the process of creating music. So tell me what you think that link is.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  03:59

I mean, I think that there’s differentiation as there is everywhere. And I think you’re right, I think that there’s certain performers or cultures that you go to, and you witness this, like full body engagement. And I think that for me, there is a way that I both witness music happening and experience it myself. That not only engages my mind, but it confesses itself to my emotional musings, and my spiritual musings and it like catches me there. And now I’m in it with you. Now we’re in it, you’re you’re singing something you’re saying something that I am also confessing in that moment. I’ve never said like this before, actually. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  04:27

But and we get to this point where we’re now confessing together through the vehicle of music, which seems to metabolize something that needs to be said in to sound and maybe even beauty and harmony and uplifting. For me a lot of resilience music is uplifting hardship, and attempting to bring it out of isolation in some way that is helpful. Whether it’s the tradition of black congregational singing in the United States, or Iranian folk music traditions, or fato, dance and song traditions from South America, there’s just this, this way that it pulls on me, and then I engage in it. And now I just feel better. You know, it’s funny, right before the last election, I was going… I think for a lot of people what you title your workshop becomes a whole thing. And I said, What am I going to title this and it was 10 days before the election, I said, Well, I’m gonna title it “Just Feel Better.” Because at that point, we were just really in the mix of it, you know, and it was like, Oh, I just want to help. Maybe this two hour thing, just help us just feel better.

Robert Hannon  05:57

Yeah, music has that social function from the American folk tradition of Woody Guthrie and other musicians, they spoke to the conditions of their time and in a funny way troubadours throughout time, were teachers and storytellers that people were quite popular. Do you think there’s that link to to doing social work in music and song?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  06:23

Oh, yeah. I mean, you just see it in tradition. You know, like you’re saying, if you look back and try and understand what people were some artists were trying to weave together, I think they were trying to both speak truth, the truth about what was happening in the moment, and acknowledge it, so that maybe some integrity could come on board, and then combine it with these traditions of music, that were the music of the people, and maybe by the end of the song, we feel something or know something, or even just feel soothed by the truth telling in some way, or inspired by it in some way, you know, everybody’s different. But we do know, we wanted to keep hearing the songs because we kept asking them to sing the songs, you know. So yeah

Robert Hannon  07:14

Before we go on to Joanna Macy, and your musical career, you’re Iranian American. So I’m so curious about what your family story is

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  07:25

you know, both my mom and dad grew up in Iran. My dad’s family is Armenian. So they left during the genocide, and they went to Iran. And so they’re Iranian Armenian. And then my mom’s side is Iranian. And they both actually left Iran before the revolution. And they ended up meeting in England, which is a lot of people’s experience. And I think what an element that’s important to understand the cultural formation of my American identity is that they both never went back. So they moved to the States started a family. And you know, some Persians go back every year, and some Persians never went back. And my parents happened to be folks who, who didn’t go back.

Robert Hannon  08:10

But it’s played such a pivotal role in US policies in the past. So did the qualities of that life, find expression in your family growing up?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  08:25

You know, I always say the diaspora, being not in the place where your family roots were, for a long time, is a very, very big place. And there’s so many different kinds of experiences. I was very close to being Iranian in certain ways. And I was very far away from it in certain ways. When I went to school, definitely assimilating into white culture, as much as I could, was something that I unconsciously was doing for acceptance and survival. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  08:54

And then when I would come home, there were ways that my parents could never not be Persian, right. And so there were things that I learned and I heard the language and I did respond in English, which again, is a big diasporic experience is to be able to understand, but then you gotta speak in English, because again, I go to school and everything. And then there were ways that my dad raised me on classical music raised me on the Beatles. And you know, so we were in the diaspora. I mean, we were human beings that had these roots, and then also were of the place that we had migrated to.

Robert Hannon  09:35

yeah. When did you feel like music might be a venture? Did you have to take violin lessons as a kid and did it take and then tell me about that?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  09:48

Well, the interesting thing is that so the way I started playing violin, I was three years old, and my dad took me to an instrument shop in Pasadena. And he basically just said feel free to pick one. And apparently there were lots of instruments there. But in my memory is one of my earliest memories. And for me, I only saw the violin in my memory. So that was how I chosen started playing

Robert Hannon  10:12

I bet your whole family glad it wasn’t a tuba or something

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  10:16

No, seriously. I mean, like, I think most instruments are kind of tricky at the, at first sound wise, but then luckily, I kept going with it. And I don’t know why I listened to them, but they told me to practice everyday. So I practice every day. And, you know, we were pretty darn working class for most of my childhood. And I am consistently amazed as I look back how my parents consolidated resources so that I could take violin lessons. And I am eternally grateful, because I never planned on being a musician as an adult. But when it became very clear that that was what was conjuring in my life, I could pick up the violin, and I could go with it. I’m very, very grateful for that. And I fell in love with singing. You know, I was in a good public school system. The first time we lived in Cranberry, New Jersey was I had to leave because of racism in the school. And so then we moved towns moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and that’s where I essentially grew up. And we had choir every day in school and orchestra. So I’m very, very grateful for that too you know, that I had access to that.

Robert Hannon  11:28

So you raised in a classical style. And that’s how you learned. When did you broaden that?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  11:38

So I put the violin down. It’s true, I only played classical and like musical theater as a kid. And then, when I was 24, the story is that I had friends… I’d moved to California already. And I had this very California thing happen, where we were gonna sneak onto the beach and build a bonfire. And people were gonna bring instruments, and I was terrified, because I had a violin, but I, I, I did not know if I could improvise. And I had this big emotional struggle that night about it so much that I walked away from the fire and a friend came and got me. And then it was kind of, you know, I took the violin out and kind person sat next to me with their guitar and said, well, let’s just try. And then it just flowed out of me. And the way I identify what was happening is that I’ve always been quite empathic and that it was just coming through my violin and that improv is essentially musical empathy.

Robert Hannon  12:40

Ah, what an interesting way of phrasing it…

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  12:43

and we feel into each other and try and go together. And once I realized I could improvise and I was hooked, and I wanted to play all the different styles I could and I was starting to fall in love with like American folk music, roots music.

Robert Hannon  12:58

You’re listening to Northern soundings. I’m Robert Hannon. I’m airing a conversation with musician and activist Lydia Violet Harutoonian who is returning to Fairbanks this week to lead a workshop will lead into a short break with an excerpt from Lydia’s album Already Free.

Song  13:18

These women who are bound to you they’re gifted with sight. they can see you now as they saw you then. They come to you with the night and say, keep her moving, keep her shaping, keep her safe. safe in this life. Keep her speaking. Keep her feeling. Keep her safe, safe in this life

Robert Hannon  14:16

Welcome back, that tune is Keep Her Safe from the album Already Free by My guest this episode. Lydia Violet Harutoonian. Let’s get back to the conversation. So it’s sort of like you’ve carved out an interesting niche. It isn’t like, well, I’m going to study this combination of social and psychological work with music. And there aren’t many programs out there, I guess that do that. So how did that come about for you, Lydia?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  14:49

So I’m trying to come up with a short version of basically I…

Robert Hannon  14:56

It’s a long form show was so you can take your time!

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  15:00

So, I was playing violin for fun.

Robert Hannon  15:04

were you in college at this time, what was your situation?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  15:07

I did all kinds of things that were not maybe traditional. I transferred three times in undergrad, I went to undergrad for seven years, I moved all around the country. And I think I just I have this like voracious appetite for travel and cultural immersion. So that was maybe the beginning of it. And, and I, I was going on accidental tours, I called them where I would meet a group of people from New Zealand and jam with them. And they’d be like, You should come to New Zealand and come on tour. And I would. And it was just for fun. It was not a central thing in my life. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  15:10

But when I went to grad school at the California Institute of Integral Studies, I had signed up for this master’s program in philosophy, cosmology and consciousness. And I show up, and I realized, I have no idea what we’re going to talk about the first week. And I think, what have I done, I sign up for this program that sounded like a cool combination of spirit and science, but I don’t actually know what’s going to happen. And I had signed up for this course called The Great Turning. And Joanna Macy was teaching it along with Sean Kelly a professor there. And as soon as she said, the phrase, our pain for the world, something just broke open inside of me. And  immediately tears were coming. And what was happening was that a quality of me that had been misnamed, my entire life, was finally named appropriately.

Robert Hannon  16:54

And what was that name?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  16:55

That it was not that I was too sensitive. It was not that I cried too easily. It was not that I was weak in any way. But that the empathy that I felt for the suffering of people, places, communities beyond myself, was actually completely intelligent, understandable and beautiful. And simply an expression of my empathy and connection to giving a damn about what happens to each other. But that had never been named appropriately in my life, and therefore I had never self identified it as such. I thought, Oh, I’m too sensitive, and I’m all this, you know, what am I gonna do about it and everything I need to not think about those things as much. I was. It was very helpful. And so anyway, I ended up studying with Joanna deeply and training and facilitating her work. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  17:56

And then a few years ago, went to this music festival in Costa Rica called Envision and just one as a participant ended up meeting Penny Livingston, a permaculture teacher and Leah Song from Rising Appalachia. And I got a vision of combining Joanna’s work with music for resilience, which I feel you know, Leah’s project, Rising Appalachia carries a lot. And Penny’s nature connection and put it all together in a retreat and have been combining music and the work that reconnects ever since but I had brought Leah in to do it. And now, you know, it took about a year to realize, well, I, I have I can do that myself as well. I got invited, I was in school to become a therapist, I decided to be humble and become a therapist to help folks one on one. And at the same the same week, I was invited to join a woman named Ayla Nereo’s band, she was playing quite big shows. I had this river of my music career just take off that I had never planned. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  19:14

And there was no way I could both keep training to be a therapist and do this music thing. And so I said, Well, I’ll leave school for one year. And almost to the day, a year from that week, I was playing Red Rocks in Colorado. And so it was going well. And I said, Okay, well, I’m gonna try going down this path. And that’s kind of history. And so many of my friends were like, Oh, we’re so relieved, like duh. You’re supposed to play music! And I was like, well, I didn’t know! you know? I didn’t know. And now it’s yeah, it’s more obvious, I guess. So. I don’t know. I just all these parts of me were being asked to be brought together but I didn’t really know it until I did it. And now that’s what I do. And now I’ve done it for You know, five, six years, and I see the impact of it, and I see how much it helps people. So I’ll keep going.

Robert Hannon  20:08

Okay, so Joanna Macy. So, you know, if you look her up, she’s like this ecologist slash Buddhist slash, you know, I mean, again, another hybrid teacher. And so why were you drawn to her? What drew you to her teaching?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  20:28

My experience of Joanna just as a human being, was her acuity and talking about really complex subjects in a really human, practical, grounded way. And there was nothing that felt elitist about her when she was giving a spiritual teaching, or when she’s talking politically about what’s happening in the world. And she just has his way of integrating the conversation that, for me, felt humble, yet incredibly intelligent and onpoint. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  21:04

And I would watch her facilitate, and I’d experience it, and I would learn so much in the course of a workshop with her. And I would experience by the end of the workshop, definitely moving from a feeling of powerlessness to empowerment, even though that wasn’t even a phrase that she would use, experiencing, building a higher capacity to hold my own empathic grief, when I would see different sufferings in the world. And it not totally knocking me off my rocker, but being able to simply witness, stay with the suffering, and try and understand it as being a part of my world and keep moving in the world. I will clarify my own intentions of how I wanted to show up and what I wanted to do. There’s so many different parts. And, you know, all she’s also 92 now, and so the opportunity to study with elders is so vital. And I’m very, very grateful that I’ve been able to study with her for 13 years now and have the perspective of someone who was born in 1929, who has always had a bit of a, an eye on what’s happening in the larger world, and just to  listen to her reflections, and that she valued mine so much, it was so reciprocal in that way, I never felt less than in any way. Something I always witness about her, she’d always ask so many questions to new people she was meeting and really, really listen to them. And I just, I don’t know, I just thought that was awesome.

Robert Hannon  22:46

But, you know, there’s a wonderful Buddhist idea of codependent arising. And it for me, in a shorthand fashion, it just sort of suggests that things are linked so intimately, that we often don’t appreciate that. And in it seems like in our Western culture, especially in the current political environment, it’s always me, me, me, it’s my freedom, why should I wear a mask, this idea that I kind of stand alone. And, and there’s this rugged individualism, that sort of things. But that’s so contrary to the wisdom that I think this Buddhist idea supports or suggests, have you noticed that sort of tension between our customary cultural values and this deeper ancient teaching,

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  23:44

I just think about the psychology that would have to be present in order to sustain something like slavery, and how separate we would need to be from, you know, if I was a slave owner, I would need to almost thoroughly think of myself as separate. And my existence as a separate from those who I am enslaving, in order to justify that kind of treatment, I would have to think of myself that way in order to justify it and carry it out. And then we’re talking generations versus the conversation you and I are having right now. I can feel how in order to feel into what I want to say next, I need to really hear your question. And understand that we have a power with each other in trying to understand each other and talk to each other and while remaining unique, irrefutable individuals. You know, here we are coming into collaboration is pretty different than the kind of power-over dynamic that needs to be justified in order to oppress each other.

Robert Hannon  25:09

Well, also, I know her work is been influential in the ecological movement as well. And there is another paradigm that suggest this vast interdependence. So that no life on Earth would exist if you take out significant strands out of that kind of fabric, right?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  25:29

Yeah. And clearly, we have allowed capitalism and the shadow side of what’s what’s called scientific materialism, essentially treating the world as a collection of objects rather than subjects. So you know, atoms that are randomly interacting with each other and that don’t have any kind of interiority. And so therefore, they come together and the tree doesn’t have interiority, because it’s just made up of atoms. I studied with Brian Swimme. And he said this one thing in class that caught me so much one time, he said, you know, anthropocentrism is a thing. We say, well, we project human like qualities on to the more than human world. And that’s maybe not so accurate. And he said was, you know, it’s interesting, what happened with the industrial revolution, plus scientific materialism plus the loss spiritual centers was all it is, we have mechan-amorphized the world, we seem to project machine light qualities onto the more than human world and go Well, that’s the way things are.

Robert Hannon  26:35

I’m just gonna riff off of that for a second. We use now computer metaphors to examine our interior life. So it’s not even like I’m thinking it’s sub routines are being processed. And I can’t even think of myself as a person as a, as an organic living being, I’m really a collection of programs that are running or apps.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  27:00

Yeah, we’re wincing. I mean, and for me, it’s not that, that way of knowing and trying to attain knowledge in the world didn’t give us certain things, because it did, it’s just that it had a shadow side that we need to look out for, which is, well, we can treat the earth as just stuff that we can, you know, Joanna says we can treat the earth as supply house and sewer, rather than the primary mysterious, essential ground of life from which we arise. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  27:35

And that there is a value in the mutual belonging that allows life to continue, which many cultures did already know. And we. And there were other cultures and powers that justified for the sake of capitalism, building capital for the sake of dominance, for the sake of whatever it was, you know, in Buddhism, the sources of suffering are greed, hatred, and delusion. And I find that to be very applicable, when trying to understand the human condition. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  28:09

You know, we say, well, mutual belonging doesn’t quite work for me, so I’m gonna snuff this out or I’m gonna destroy this, or I’m gonna murder a group of people. And I’m, I think, part of what I have said, well, you know, what I want to do with my life is well, while I’m here, I believe that that power lives in kindness no matter what happens, I don’t actually need to know what happens to know what I pledge myself to do. And that’s been very liberating of the paralysis that I was feeling from overwhelm. I pledge kindness, I pledge trying to understand the world, I pledge, creating cultures of mutual respect and understanding and beauty and grace and a good kind of mischief and storytelling, and whatever it is, because I’m not going to let these other cultures only create themselves, I am going to help participate in and uplift the cultures that are helping to make sure that they’re still ground for life to continue. And for me, that’s part of the empowerment that I’ve received from Joanna’s work. And you know, Joanne always says, Don’t let anybody tell you, we’re going to make it out of this. And don’t let anyone tell you we’re not that we live on that knife’s edge of uncertainty in the current moment, and that’s quite a thing to try and operate within. But that part of what that can do is it can liberate the knowing of your truest intention independent of outcome. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Okay. So what do I want to do anyway?

Robert Hannon  29:46

You know, that’s so interesting, because I think, you know, you expressed a sort of a depression or sorrow leading up to the last election. And this whole pandemic has struck me as a Am I challenged to our equanimity? Maybe? It seems like we have to fight so much for just basic considerations of common decency, for charity, for compassion, and that it can be overwhelming. And I don’t know if we recognize the emotional toll that kind of divisive gnus creates, do you think that’s true?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  30:35

From what I observe, we live in a time that is unique because of the convergence of crises we are facing. And as it intensifies, it seems that the reactions to the crises and the polarities also intensify. And as someone who wants to try and live with an open heart, yeah, it is more intense. I have to keep cultivating a sense of community and in our sanctuary, that allows my compass to stay focused and clear on you know, how I want to keep showing up. And yeah, I’ll have certain days where I just shut down. And I’m like, That’s it gone to bed, you know, and for me, I’m an extrovert. So the sense of isolation of the pandemic has been really hard for me, which is part of why this trip to Alaska has been so healing for me, because I’ve been with Aurora and my comrade, Eva, you know, and we have on a small scale, just tried to have meetings, lunches, teas outside, building community and connecting with folks. What it has reminded me of, is how ready some folks are, to come back together, and keep weaving, and keep building and keep forming solidarity and keep falling in love with the earth and keep singing songs together. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  32:20

and that we can simply acknowledge, yeah, that polarity does feel like it’s increasing, that is also a part of my world. The contamination of the waters is a part of my world, the fires in California being the forest fires in California, that is also a part of my world. And my concern for that is evidence that I give a damn. And that if I follow that caring, I re enter my relationship with the web of life, if I just if I just try and keep going in some way. I think of also why I kept kind of falling into this depression is because just being with people helps me personally Orient. And so I get feel so disoriented because I would read the news. And I would see all these and be like, Why is going on with the mascot we aim? Or wear masks? Like, why is why are we gonna? And I always say, the majority of the people that I am in collaboration with in the world I will never meet, but they’re there. How do you mean, I mean that by was the only person who cared on planet Earth, I probably be pretty worried, I probably wouldn’t give up. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  33:40

And the reality of why I don’t know what’s going to happen is because there are still so many people in the world, millions and millions of people and the more than human world that are living in a way where they are still trying to support the sustaining of life on this planet, whether it’s through slowing down, destruction and buying time, whether it’s through the generating and the remembering of life sustaining ways of organizing life, like food and water and all that, whether it’s intending to the emotional and spiritual wellsprings that give rise to any idea and consciousness that sustains work in the world. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  34:21

And it is critical, both for my work and the work of those people that I do not invisiblize them. To do that would be such a tragedy at this moment. And even though I will never meet them, they’re there. I mean, look at what happened on this trip. I met a whole bunch of people in Alaska that I’ve been in collaboration with I just hadn’t met them yet. And now I will keep being in collaboration with them. I just know them now.

Robert Hannon  34:52

If you’re just joining us, I’m replaying a conversation with Lydia Violet Harutoonian and that originally aired Last October, Harutoonian returns to Fairbanks this week to lead a workshop combining music and the teachings of Buddhist scholar and ecologist Joanna Macy. We’ll hear more following this break which features Lydia song Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around. This is northern soundings.

Song  35:40

Not gonna let nobody turn me around.. gonna keep on walking. keep on marching up to freedom land. ain’t gonna hatred turn me around. Turn me around. not gonna let no hatred turn me around. Turn me around, I’m gonna keep on talking marching up to freedom land

Robert Hannon  36:20

Welcome back, we’re airing again, an episode with musician and activist, Lydia, Violet Harutoonian  who returns to Fairbanks this week to lead a workshop. Let’s get back to the conversation. I want to ask you a little bit about this idea of marrying art and social action. JRR Tolkien once said that… I’m paraphrasing this badly, but… that we’re all called to be sub creators, his idea of God was that that was the creator, and that we’re called to be creators. It’s an intriguing notion. And I know that there are a lot of people who say to themselves, I could never do that, or I couldn’t sing or I couldn’t draw. But that in some fundamental sense, it’s so satisfying to some deep core in us, when we do pick up a pen or sing a song, I see what Tolkens kind of driving at. Does that make sense to you?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  37:23

I think of it on two levels. One is that everybody’s always creating whether they’re aware of it or not. In every action that we do, we create culture, in our homes, in our bedrooms, in our coffee shops, anywhere, because we exist within a network of the way we treat each other and that we have, most of us grown up in cultures that reserve artmaking for “professionals” on a stage or in an art gallery. And it’s not that we shouldn’t honor the craft that those folks have collaborated. But that also to not forget that something like access to singing together in a way that seems to help heal some aspect of hardship in the community is a birthright. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  38:25

Being able to immerse yourself in that if that is something that feels good to you without having some kind of professional degree or whatever it is, that that was the majority of how we would make music in human history. And that specialization was also there. But so was all this other way of, you know, singing together or whatever the art form was, and that there was an acknowledgment.  

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  38:54

mechanamorphism does not acknowledge that we have internal landscapes, does not acknowledge that we have relationships that have qualities to them that appreciate, you know, nurturing in some way, it doesn’t acknowledge that there might be something spiritually mysterious about what’s going on. You know, and, and for me, I always say use whatever word you want consciousness, psyche, spirit soul, but just that there seems to be some kind of invisible landscape to human connection, that is worth feeding. And when we feed it, there is a coming online and morality are there I should say there can be because consciousness can also be pushed to go in other ways, which is exactly what you’re talking about with the actions maybe some people are choosing to make that maybe are harming each other, not maybe that are harming each other. That consciousness can also be supported in moral development in the feeling of connection to beauty, which I think as you’re saying does seem to benefit us in some way, a feeling of connection to grace, which seems to benefit us in some way. And I think that music is one of the last ways on a mass level that we self soothe. When we put a song on the radio, you know, we’ve got pornography, and we’ve got alcoholism, and we’ve got the shadow ways of pleasure, that with addiction and obsession, and a lack of a moral compass, seems to harm us on a mass level. But then there’s these ways that I think we try and self soothe like, you know, whether you’re listening to Metallica or you’re listening to Woodie Guthry, you’re listening to whoever it is that we’re just trying to touch something that’s inside of us that yearns to be touched.

Robert Hannon  40:55

For me, it’s like Brahms or Mozart. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  40:58

Yeah,  like my dad. Yeah. 

Robert Hannon  41:01

And so when I hear that, it’s Oh, yes, again, that’s, that’s it. That’s it. I want to, I’m just throwing these quotes at you… I just started another book. And this author sort of suggested that in the act of imagination and creativity, we’re not only drawing on maybe precedents, or examples or models from the past, but there’s something from the future that impinges and mixes into that. His point is that imagination has this alchemical power to create something mysterious, or mirror that mysteriousness you talk about, Does that ring a bell with you?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  41:45

Yeah, I mean, it immediately makes me think of the writer, doula activist, adrienne maree brown. And she is an incredible facilitator and writer, she wrote a book called emergent strategy that’s had a big impact on me, she wrote a book called pleasure activism, that’s had a big impact on me. And something that she writes about is the importance of black science fiction writers. Because in order to live into the type of liberation that is truly a birthright, we have to imagine something so far beyond some of what has already happened. And, for me, part of what I understand from some conversations with Joanna and studies of consciousness is that there is nothing a human being ever says, or does, that isn’t first seeded in consciousness, whether we are aware of it or not. And consciousness is also the realm of the imagination. And I do believe that it’s in our imagination that we mirror, the things we love about the world, the things we we are learning from that we don’t love about the world. And that which is emergent, which we didn’t even know we could imagine. But we go there because things are swimming together in our minds. And because the imagination is this place where certain things can exist that maybe can’t exist. Yet in the world. The workshop, for instance, combining Joanna Macy’s work that reconnects and music lived in my imagination first, then I made it happen. Now, look, it’s what I’m doing with my life. It’s what has seemed to have helped hundreds of people 1000s of people at this point that I’ve come across and done the work with. So very much I think that that is true. Because again, we are beings of consciousness. We maybe don’t know how to talk about it, acknowledge it, but we’ve been trying to work with that – the whole existence of humaneness.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  41:48

Are you heartened for me? A guy like me that takes a couple of newspapers online and listens to NPR… The news is relentlessly grim, it strikes me, as you point out, we’re in this confluence of crises. And, and it’s really hard to hold on to hope. But here you are doing these workshops with all these collaborators, whether you know them or not. Are you hopeful that these steps will resonate downtime?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  44:36

I know that the steps that I take, give us a better chance of making it out. I’ve also, years ago, I think through these conversations accepted that it all might go down. So I in my own mind, I know that I might watch the world recede from my view in my lifetime and that and perhaps I’m a hospice worker who is trying to sing the world and celebrate what has been here, that might be disappearing. And I also know that I don’t know that for sure. And that also, this very same steps that I’m taking could be the steps of a midwife could be the steps of someone who is blowing on a flame of what will actually help give us a better chance. And that helps everyone’s work, who is working to support life have higher impact. And that’s why it’s important for me to see myself as existing within an ecosystem, I think the time of being like, Oh, my God, I have to do everything. It’s just over. It’s just done. 

Robert Hannon  45:46

Phew! Thank you. 

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  45:47

Yeah, all you need to do is see the people you’re in collaboration with and find your part, uplift them, uplift yourself, and see if there’s a way that you, if you value life, if you value the continuation of life on this planet, then we can find our own ways of collaborating with that. And I do think that if we want to be honest, we have to be honest about the fact that we are living in a time where 95% of life could go extinct in the next 50 100 years. That is an incredibly heavy statement. That is an incredibly existential statement. And part of what these workshops are for. Part of what my school for the great turning is for is to help us metabolize that reality in a way where we don’t just collapse into isolation, panic and paralysis, because it is a difficult truth. And we, Joanna, when she started writing about it, notice, oh, we were afraid to talk about that we didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer. We didn’t want to overwhelm each other and fall into our depression. But then the incredible thing she discovered is there was a way of coming together and talking about it, where we would leave feeling more connected and more empowered than when we came together. And that’s what the work that reconnects does. What a gift to my generation. What a gift to our generations, that this tool exists in the world. I have goosebumps as I’m saying that right now. You know,

Robert Hannon  47:21

that’s musician and activist Lydia Violet Harutoonian, who returns to Fairbanks this weekend to lead a workshop. We’ll hear more following this break featuring Lydia song lullaby This is northern soundings and I’m Robert Hannon.

Robert Hannon  48:38

Welcome back, you’re listening to Northern soundings Alaskan conversation. Let’s get back to my conversation with Lydia Violet Harutoonian. 

Robert Hannon  48:46

That whole question the way I phrased it about hope, you know, Buddhism, it’s not so much hope it’s just being present in the moment and being compassionate at the moment and bringing yourself at this moment, when I say it like that, that is totally must be what music performance is all about. Because you have to be there in that moment, hit that note at that moment and play off your other musicians.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  49:14

It’s true, like when I perform, I care about how it goes, I want it to go well. And all I can do is do it and then dependent co arising. See the impact that it has. I’m not the only one who gets to decide if I’m doing a good job. If I’m offering something that’s conducive to life if I’m, I need to pay attention to the other people in the room. And the cool thing is through that feedback through me keeping that feedback open, it gets better and better and better. That’s how it gets better.

Robert Hannon  49:47

So you talked about the great turning, tell me about that.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  49:51

So Joanna coined the phrase, and it’s just one phrase that you can use. She talks about both A great unraveling, which is the unraveling of systems that support life that’s very real, it’s happening, it’s where we have big emotions about it or difficult reactions, and that at the same time, we have the great turning happening. And that is the movement from ways that are destroying life to a life sustaining society. And we here we are at the intersection of those two happenings. And we now need to figure out from there, how to navigate the world, how to navigate who we are, and how we want to show up. So the great turning is simply a phrase that we can use to talk about the trajectory. All the different organizations and people and, and places that are attempting to support the continuation of life. So I’ve named my school the school for the great turning, because that’s what I think I’m trying to help support. And because we do a lot of Joanna Macy’s work, so it makes sense in that way. And we bring music into and that’s unique and just do our little part. Some days. Sure I struggle with Damn, this just seems to be going down.

Robert Hannon  51:23

You know? Yeah. Damn iceberg.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  51:26

I know. And it’s it is it is hard. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Absolutely. And I’ve sat with that enough to that it doesn’t necessarily render me feeling powerless. Because I already know it’s happening. And I’m doing what I’m doing. Independent of outcome, as I had mentioned earlier, taught that I don’t care about what happens. You know, I also love the paradox of having the kind of equanimity that Buddhism teaches about where I am at peace with the world as it is, I accept what arises, as it comes as it falls, yes. And I am the earth caring about what happens to her. I carry both of those, as I move in the world, I find both of them invaluable parts of my human development to try and carry with me, it makes sense to me to carry both of those in the world.

Robert Hannon  52:25

So what’s ahead?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  52:27

Well, I got to keep tuning in to what we can do as we’re in the pandemic. And I think so much of doing our work, my work is about adaptability. But I will keep teaching online with school for the great turning, I will keep organizing online, I will keep seeing how and where and when like we just did in Fairbanks, we can do some in person work together. I’d like to use the experience I’ve had here to now inform.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  52:59

 I might not teach as often as I was before the pandemic, but in the next year, where and how can I start putting together workshops in person music as medicine salons and concerts in person, so that we can simply just gather again and be together again, and just keep understanding how to carry on Joanna Macy’s work in a good way…

Robert Hannon  53:23

Keep playing music?

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  53:24

Keep playing music and keep weaving together the strands of justice, that are attempting to come together and liberate us and the planet and nature in a way that achieves what we are looking to achieve. That supports this affirming and sustaining of life even in our groups as we meet. And that affords us opportunities to really live into the world that we’re imagining the world that we’ve witnessed that we want to remember and to make it accessible like I said, you know, I I think about things I might use some big words and kind of draw from these different fields of study. But at the end of the day, part of the reason why I love folk music. It’s just the everyday story is just the everyday communication of the people and I hope to live there because I do find a lot of value in the question Is this relevant? And that will continue to be a compass for me. So I will continue to try and find an offer that which is relevant, healing and helpful in the world.

Robert Hannon  54:39

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today.

Lydia Violet Harutoonian  54:41

You’re welcome. My pleasure. 

Robert Hannon  54:43

That was musician teacher and activist Lydia Violet Harutoonian. links to her work and the upcoming workshop are on the northern soundings and KYC website will go out this episode with one of Lydia songs keep her safe I’m Robert Hannon thanks for listening.