Martha’s Birthday Message – Finding Hope in a Ukulele

Martha Richards with Ukulele

Martha Richards, WomenArts Executive Director

I am celebrating my birthday this week, and it is part of my tradition to pick out one substantial present for myself every year. Usually I get something practical – a computer upgrade or a new outfit for work. This year I got a ukulele.

I have often written about the healing power of the arts, and I knew that I needed a big dose of that medicine myself this year. There have been too many times lately when I found myself screaming about the news, and then sinking into a sense of helplessness.  I have been looking for something to fortify me against those negative feelings, and I am happy to report that tackling a new instrument is a powerful antidote.

At first I wasn’t sure why I was feeling such a strong urge to play something new, but after only a couple of weeks, I can see the ways that making music is building my stamina and resilience. Some of our political leaders claim that the arts are a dispensable frill, but I am learning that the  opposite is true – creativity is an essential survival skill, especially when times are hard.

Here are three things I have discovered so far:

  • Agency – First of all, making music is restoring my sense of agency.  I get to decide how long to practice and when I am ready to move on to the next piece. I am acting rather than reacting, and it is such a relief to step off the emotional roller-coaster of responding to one crazy thing after another.  I am remembering what it feels like to be focused and  centered.
  • Progress – Although I have been diligently practicing for the past two weeks, I still hit a lot of wrong notes.  Sometimes my fingers are stiff or don’t move as fast as I would like. But when I get all the way through a song with no mistakes, I can see that I am making progress, and it reminds me that progress is possible in other areas of my life.  I just need to remember that perseverance is the key.
  • Joy – Finally, I feel so happy when I play.  I have been practicing a lot of the old folk songs that I grew up with, and it is stirring something deep inside me to play those simple melodies that have been passed down from one generation to the next.  It makes me feel connected to all the amazing artists who have brightened the lives of our ancestors.  Even in these chaotic times, their music keeps making people happy because art is life-affirming.

I know it is not easy to be an artist these days, but I truly believe that artists have an important role to play in getting our society back on track. Whatever your art form is, you have access to powerful tools to help people understand each other and to heal the divisions that are threatening the planet. I hope you will find ways to use them! 

I feel blessed that my work with WomenArts has given me the opportunity to work with so many amazing and creative women over the years. I hope that all of you will continue to find hope and strength through your art in the days ahead.  The world needs your imagination, skills, and perseverance now more than ever!

Sending Lots of Love, Martha Richards

P.S.  We will be announcing the 2018 SWAN Day Song Contest later this month.  Start working on your songs!!