Not everyone is a performer. There are plenty of music lovers who haven’t learned to play an instrument, or have learned but only play in private. It’s all about engaging, however it brings the most benefit.
A new lesson and creative space in San Antonio called Southtown Music Studio aims to connect music and wellness more explicitly, offering instruction in a variety of instruments and opportunities to sing with communal choirs and engage in experiences, like sound baths. A grand opening event on Sunday, September 5, Tuning In: Music & the Nervous System, gives newcomers a chance to acclimate to the new space and sound-meditation practices. The event is billed as “an introduction to sound meditation and somatic experiencing.”
“I love that word, ‘practice,’” says co-founder Pamela Martinez. “The practice of music is the same thing as the practice of meditation: spending some time with sound [or any] amorphous thing that really reflects you back.”
Before Martinez, a music educator and reiki practitioner, moved to San Antonio, they had been wanting to build a space for fostering both physical and creative wellness. She started by searching for community, and immediately linked with yoga teacher Olivia De Jesús, who also taught music lessons.
Both were working independently at Mercury Project, a women-dominated studio gallery in the Southtown Arts District. Deciding to pool their tools and talents, the two women got to work opening a new shared space. Creating a Latine-run space within the collective is an important distinction to the duo.
“I think being in this art scene and art world opens the doors to a lot of different communities [compared with] the wellness or the yoga world, and I really don’t identify with those circles,” says Martinez. “I love that they exist because that’s where I learned about wellness, and realized how naturally they can integrate with art and music.”
To encourage that kind of diversity, Southtown Music Studio is building in accessibility options, including online sound baths and non-cash admission options. Some events need a staff, creating volunteer opportunities. Parents have bartered other services for lessons; one exterminator provided a memorable and useful trade. In addition to its group classes and sliding-scale rates, Southtown Music Studio provides need-based scholarships.
“Wellness and music have a tendency to not be very reachable for a lot of people,” says De Jesús. “It can be an elite thing, and it doesn’t have to be. It can be totally accessible.”
In comparison to other places they have offered sound baths, Martinez has already started noticing a different crowd showing up. She has seen more diverse faces, proving that putting in the effort to create a wider appeal is worth it.
Even though education threads through all of the studio’s offerings, it is not always lectures or teaching. One of its most unique experiences, the Y’all Sing! Choir, invites people of all levels of experience to sing together in three-part harmony. Once a month for two hours (and outside, for now), the Y’all Sing! Choir meets up to learn and record a cover version of a popular song.
Considering the commitment of most choirs, not to mention the usual prerequisites of some music education, the “drop-in choir” may offer some people an opportunity they never thought they’d get outside of school extracurriculars.
“Getting together to sing right now can seem frivolous — and dangerous — with everything that’s going on in the world … [but] singing is a great way to harmonize folks’ nervous systems, which we could all use right now. So there’s depth to it too,” explains De Jesús. “It’s really a way to get people together to hang out and ground ourselves in community, especially people who might not usually spend time together.”
Instead of framing the choir’s performance as an end goal, it’s a fun, low-commitment learning experience that happens through doing rather than just listening. It’s hard to get around performing entirely, but thinking of it as lighthearted practice gives new and casual musicians a chance to bypass the nerves and social pressure. This way, the co-founders conclude, the musical healing goes underway without a hitch.