BLOG – November 23, 2013
*Interview re-posted here, as the Arts by the People blog is no longer active.
“Downtime with Stephanie Rooker”
When did you first know that music composing/performing/teaching would be your calling?
When I was very young –maybe 3 or 4—I remember seeing Whitney Houston on TV and, very clearly thinking, “that’s it – that’s what I want to do.”
What attracted you to them?
My family was very musical: my mother & her sisters always sang together – both her sisters became choral teachers/directors and my dad is an avid music-lover. So, my sister & I were surrounded by music growing up and encouraged to sing & even perform. But something drew me very deep into music. From a very early age, I would imitate my favorite singers –Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Carol King, Joni Mitchell—soaking up every minute detail of their style, tryin to get to the essence of what was so good about them. I wanted to get into the center of the magic of music.
Everything is vibrating, all the time –us included—our breath rises & falls at a particular rate; our heart beats at specific pace; our nervous system hums at a certain frequency as it sends information to & from all parts of our body; our cells breathe & grow & split in precise cycles; the electrons of our atoms are circling their nuclei at a certain speed… Sound healing is the intentional use of vibration to shift the frequencies of our lives – including physical, mental, emotional, neurological, as well as other states of being. There are many modalities of sound healing: some people use singing bowls and other instruments, while others practice chants or harmonic toning; some people focus on the psychological intersections of sound & well-being, while others emphasize a meditative approach. Despite the differences in approach and method, all sound healing modalities are based upon fundamental concepts of the nature of sound, perception, and entrainment. This is nothing new – more & more scientific studies are coming out now showing what indigenous cultures worldwide have known & practiced since ancient times.
What do you like most about working with music?
I like that music speaks to everyone on some level & often multiple levels – some very obvious & others more subtle / subconscious. Music is an art, a science, a sociological phenomenon, a spiritual practice, and more – it is an ingredient of every culture.
Did you have a mentor that guided you?
I have been & continue to be blessed by many amazing teachers & mentors. My high school choir director in Virginia was a big one –Lois Castonguay– she helped me experience the juice of music in a communal setting and called me out as someone to carry on the lineage of sharing this with people. Along my path, there have been so many people who have guided me through the twists & turns – many of whom I maintain relationships with and still consult for guidance. My current teacher, Silvia Nakkach, has been an important mentor for me since I have been studying and working with sound healing.
What inspires you?
Nature inspires me. Growth from suffering / healing from expression inspires me. Evolution of consciousness –whether it be individual or collective– inspires me.
What artists do you like and why?
I like artists that innovatively pave their own expressive paths, while honoring a creative lineage. This is why I like old soul singers –like Otis Redding and Donny Hathaway, blues musicians –like John Lee Hooker, and jazz vocalists –like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Betty Carter. I like hip-hop artists that honor the essence of that same lineage and evolve it –like Mos Def and The Roots– and more contemporary R&B musicians –like Erykah Badu. I like Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin – because they are both great writers, who carved out very unique places for themselves in the folk & singer-songwriter worlds.
Is there a genre of music that you like to incorporate into your own style?
I have always been pulled to the music of the West African Diaspora –especially the African-American lineage– in my music as well as my scholarly work. This music has always spoken to a deep part of me & has been important in my own healing.
What do you want people to take away when they see or read or hear your work?
I want people to feel something within calling them to creatively express themselves. I want people to realize that it is their birthright to exercise that power. And I want people to realize how interconnected they are and that sound & music can strengthen that connectedness – when an individual refines self-awareness & frees up self-expression, it shifts the community of people that they touch and that effect ripples out into greater circles of influence.
What do you do with ABTP?
I have co-created music & poetry workshops at Lester Retirement Community with Paul – offering the multi-sensory experience of sound and music in conjunction with the power of poetry.
How does your work with ABTP make a difference in people’s lives? Can you share with us any experiences that support this.
My work awakens people to dimensions of experience that they may not have been aware of or had access to and provides them with tools to continue to explore those dimensions. I believe that this occurs on conscious & subconscious levels. People often express amazement after guided exercises with sound, saying that they had never felt that way before or thought about sound or music that way. In one very special session, a participant who suffers from dementia and rarely engages with the group heartily sang all the lyrics to a jazz standard we were working with. The focus and intentionality of this impromptu performance was unprecedented for him – it was as if the music literally awakened him. For that moment, he was able to creatively express himself and strongly connect with the group.
What is your latest project?
I have recently launched Voice Journey Sound Center – an entity that offers a wide array of workshops, lessons, programs, and events to enhance the holistic well-being and empower creative expression through contemporary and traditional forms of vocal sound healing. I also have another recording project in the works – a musical work deeply integrating my own creative expression with the fundamental elements of sound healing in my teachings.