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Music as Medicine 


n William Butler Yeats' poem "Among School Children" the poet famously asks "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" Watching Gareth perform left us with the same confusion Yeats had; The music and the musician seemed to be one and the same. Nishnaabeg theorist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson argues in her book, As We Have Always Done, that the purest form of art is one that is embodied. Language, in its essence, is a contradiction, a tool that conveys meaning by manipulating it through signs and signifiers. Art, on the other hand, is a naked form of expression that does not rely on grammar or rules. Art is the thing itself; an immediate unmediated expression, which makes art, and the artist, a threshold between truth and language. Gareth affirms this. When we asked him about the dichotomies in his lyrics, he replied, “I think that we live between contradictions, and I find a lot of power in them.” The cover of Gareth’s latest Album Heal Your Mother, offers a fascinating metaphor for the contradiction that humans have been living in. The cover shows snow-capped mountains and beautiful clouds on the shore of a pristine lake that is reflecting towering factory chimneys and industrial smoke. Heal Your Mother tells us that the state of the world today is the consequence of “cutting corners and not listening to signs that set the world on fire.”


Live performance from Mister Bird on Oesa Sessions

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Before traveling the world, Gareth grew up in Canmore and dreamt of becoming a painter:

“I thought I was going to be a painter. I loved painting, but I got impatient. With painting, you pick up a brush and sit alone for days and days to get something out. First time I picked an instrument, the expression was immediate. I didn’t know I had a musical talent, but as a child, I always hummed to myself and made music out of rhythms that came from brushing my teeth or the laundry machine. The world is so full of music, and I used to think that everyone listened to it, and I do still believe that everyone can still find it if they want to.” Aside from being a musician and a painter, Gareth is also a writer, “I have so many stories, but I don't have time to write them.” One of the stories Gareth shared with us is the fascinating origin story of his stage name, Mister Bird:

“I was hitchhiking the Great Ocean Road in Australia when I got picked up by an East Indian family. It was quite novel for them as they’ve never picked up a hitchhiker before. I had just come from Nepal, so I knew a thing or two about their culture. The first question they asked me was ‘are you married?’ I laughed, ‘no I’m not married.’ Then they asked ‘Do you have a job?’ I replied, ‘no, just busking on the streets.’ They looked unsure. ‘Where do you live?’ I told them that I actually just woke up in the forest not too far from here. They pointed at my mandolin case and asked, ‘what’s that?’ I showed them my guitar and they were relieved that I was a musician rather than someone nuts, or maybe they still thought I was nuts, who knows. But I sang them a song and whistled, and by the end of the song the man said, 'You go wherever you want to, you do whatever you want to; You are like a bird, mister bird.' It was such a powerful moment. When I played at shows before, they introduced me with my name, Gareth Bruce, and I felt naked when they said that, so I was on the hunt for a stage name. And I have always loved birds. They're messengers. Birds always arrive at auspicious moments in time. They make me feel protected, and watched, and being learned from. Birds are close to spirit. They fly close to spirits.” 

Gareth’s words come out from a deep place in his heart. He speaks slowly and warmly, making his answers more philosophical claims than mere responses. When we asked him what Music meant to him, he said:

“Music is medicine. It is healing. When you're sad, you put on your favorite song and it changes your mood right away. Through music, I want to touch people’s hearts and inspire them. To make them look twice at the world around them.”

Gareth’s music can be found on Spotify and Youtube. And his Oesa session is in the link above. 

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