Stone Flowers: the Power of Music to Heal

Stone Flowers is a North West UK-based music group whose members have experienced torture in their lives. Members are clients of Freedom from Torture North West and the group is led by Musicians without Borders. The 21 September 2013 was this year’s International Day of Peace. To mark this, the Imperial War Museum North in Salford hosted a special event, inviting Stone Flowers to perform.

Stone Flowers first sang at the Imperial War Museum North two years ago. They have also performed at the Manchester Peace Festival and Food & Drink Festival in Manchester and at St Giles in London. Each song performed has reflected both the consequences of war and the way in which music and singing can help people cope with them.

This is the third year of the project, with membership changing each year. Initially the members split into small groups with a common interest or language. From these come ideas for the lyrics, and suggestions for music which has significance for them. Gradually these grow into pieces which the whole group learns.

The nature of torture is that it dehumanises people. Music brings them back into contact with feelings that have long been missing from their lives. One members of Stone Flowers said, ‘this year, music has been the best medicine for me.’ whilst another explined, ‘We went every Thursday to change our mood because we’ve been upset during the week.”

It was exhilarating and moving to hear the performance this September. At first everyone looked anxious, singing tentatively but gradually they gained in confidence. By the end of the afternoon performance they willingly stood up to sing, swaying to the music, with smiles on their faces. The audience loved it – responding to the quality of the singing, the feelings expressed through the lyrics and the demonstration of the strength of character of each of the participants.

For many, being able to attend a group regularly is itself therapeutic. Beginning to build up relationships again is also positive. Realising that they have skills they can use brings an increase in confidence. Singing or playing to an audience can take away thoughts and fears that they have lived with for years. For a few it has opened a door to a future in music – the offer of free lessons has enabled one member to start playing the cello and others have also taken up an instrument.

During the first six months of 2011 the group wrote, learnt and performed nine songs, which were later recorded. Proceeds from the sales of the CD go towards continuing the work of the group. The repertoire now includes enough new songs for a second CD – if the money can be found to do this.