By Sue Tiffin
The Awesome Music Project: Songs of Hope and Happiness is a book featuring a collection of stories chronicling the transformative power of music from more than 100 people including Danny Michel Sarah McLachlan Theo Fleury Fred Penner Chris Hadfield and Eagle Lake resident Cam Espina.
The book by Robert Carli and Terry Stuart was released on Oct. 10 World Mental Health Day with proceeds going toward music and mental health research initiatives – a cause near and dear to Espina’s heart.
A few years ago when Espina was in Grade 11 struggles with his own mental health resulted in him being admitted to the hospital in Peterborough for several weeks. Finding few resources that offered the therapeutic support he was seeking as he worked through depression and anxiety his mom advocated for him to be able to access a piano in the chapel there as well as his own guitar.
“In the hospital I wasn’t allowed to bring my guitar for a little bit” he said. “Then I was able to just sit in my room and play. At that time I realized I could channel all of my negative energy into that into my guitar and instead of being self-destructive and harming to myself I could put that energy into something else and get music out of it and get art out of it. So I started writing I started trying to write and learn more things and realized I could convey anxiety and sadness and confusion in my playing. I could write a song about something and store all of that energy in that and have this piece of art but also feel that weight come off of my chest.”
Now Espina has weaned himself off of medications he has found unhelpful for him in the past – antidepressants anti-psychotics ADHD medication and benzodiazepines – and though he notes the benefit of medication for many said for him music therapy was life-saving and helped him get through tragedies in his life including a car accident due to side effects of one of his medications and the unexpected and sudden death of his friend. His hope is that more people can access the benefits of listening to and playing music and music therapy as part of their treatment to help heal.
“I have a hard time putting together words and speaking sometimes” reads his entry in The Awesome Music Project book. “I feel like I can say a lot more with sound and melody. It’s definitely the best way I have to express my emotions to convey happiness sadness confusion. If I’m feeling down or worked up the only thing that can take my mind off everything is playing. I just feed that energy through the music. It feeds right through and out of your soul. My dream is to pass my energy through my music directly into someone else’s soul.”
Interested in music since his childhood Espina said he had let his guitar sit for years before picking it up and putting the effort into learning how to play it.
“One day I was kind of looking at it and realized … I felt like I didn’t do it justice it felt like it had some things to say and I was just looking at it for years watching it silently … I felt bad” he said. “Because you gain an emotional relationship with your instruments. So I just picked it up one day and started learning because … I wanted the guitar to say the things it had to say. It can’t do that unless there’s somebody playing it.”
Espina plays in two bands finding solace in the music he listens to as well as the music he creates.
“It’s a very slow climb getting comfortable and I still have so much to learn” he said of learning to play. “But once you get past that barrier and realize it’s going to be frustrating and it’s going to take a lot of time then it’s worth it.”
For his entry on page 80 in The Awesome Music Project he spoke to Led Zeppelin’s live version of the song Rain – not necessarily his favourite song he said but one that has helped him through troubled times.
“I had been feeling down for a long time and that song just broke through the shell I was trapped inside” he said in his entry. “I had been under a rain cloud for so long. The song says a lot of powerful things: about the lasting coldness of the winter inside us and in the powerful last verse about how the seasons of our emotions rise and fall like the wind; how a little rain must fall on all of us.”
At the book launch Espina had the chance to meet the authors who had interviewed him sign books and see a performance by the Barenaked Ladies.
“I think I just really believe in the whole project how much music benefits everything” he said. “It’s my main medicine and I think a lot of people could benefit from that.”
He said he is thrilled that music therapy is becoming part of the cycle of treatment.
“Music can help you” he said. “It’s not going to solve all your problems neither are medications but find your coping methods and I think music is one of the last things on this planet that’s really true and real. It comes from the soul. There’s something in it for everybody. Regardless of how much it helps I think it can really benefit everybody in some way.”
To learn more about the The Awesome Music Project visit theawesomemusicproject.com.