Ep. 17 | Marcus Mosely | The Restorative Practice Of Music
~ Marcus Mosely
In this episode, musician and producer Marcus Mosely shares his deep understanding of music as a wonderfully vibrant source of connection to our inner selves and to others. He shares from his 4 prolific decades as a performer, advocating for mutual respect and inclusiveness for all that is common between us.
Marcus MoselyMarcus Mosely was born in pre-civil rights era Texas, where his mother raised him immersed in the southern gospel tradition. Marcus views music as an important practice for healing, and therapeutic in all stages of life believing we each have a musical child within.
He reflects, “Music helps us get in touch with our commonalities and reminds us who we are and what we aspire to be.” A much sought-after performer in the musical and theatrical arts, Marcus brings his infectious gospel sound to concerts around the globe.
Transcript | Ep. 17 | Marcus Mosely | The Restorative Practice Of Music
Rachel Cram – Marcus thank you so much for coming into the studio today.
Marcus Mosley – Thank you for having me.
Rachel Cram – I’m really looking forward to this conversation now as I was preparing for this interview. I have discovered you as somebody who I believe has a deep desire for bringing unity between people. But at the same time you have quite a diverse background. So I’m looking forward to digging into that. So you are a singer, an actor, a writer, producer and you were recently inducted into the entertainment Hall of Fame.
Marcus Mosley – Wow! Who is that guy?
Rachel Cram – Well that’s a pretty tough guy. But then you’ve also been a chaplain during the Vietnam War, working with people with drug addictions. And you were homeless.
Marcus Mosley – I was. Yes.
Rachel Cram – So you’re complex.
Marcus Mosley – Yeah yeah. One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelo. It’s a phrase from Terrence Africana. He was an African who was enslaved back in the third century I think. And he bought his freedom and became a free man. But he said, “I am human, therefore nothing human is alien to me.” And that’s my mantra in many ways. Anything that comes out of your heart can come out of mine. Both good and bad. That’s our commonality. And when we can see that, then we can begin to relate to each other. When I can see that, I can never point my finger at you and say, “I would never do that!” because that’s in me. But the thing is to choose another way. So rather than judging, saying, “OK, I got that in me. How do I respond?
Rachel Cram – Well you have a lot in you because you’ve experienced a lot.
Marcus Mosley – Sixty-six years.
Rachel Cram – You’re sixty-six?
Marcus Mosley – Yes.
Rachel Cram – OK, well just for the listening audience, you do not look like your 66. I would say like fifty, maybe.
Marcus Mosley – Oh stop. Stop.
Rachel Cram – Marcus before we go into all these conversations, can I start with an opening question that we use? Just to give a back around to who you are? Are you ready? You’re breathing deeply. Here’s the question. Aristotle stated, “Give me a child until they’re seven and I will show you the adult.” Is there a story or experience from your childhood that has shaped the adult that you are today?
Marcus Mosley – Yeah. When you mentioned this before, I had a couple of things that came to mind and I’ve been sort of vacillating back and forth. But the one that keeps coming, and it wasn’t exactly at seven, it was a little bit earlier,
Rachel Cram – That’s ok.
Marcus Mosley – I lived on a farm when I was a child and I never knew my biological father. He and my mom separated before I was born. But she had another partner and he was my stepfather. And I remember as a child trying to figure out how to bond with him but I didn’t know how to do that.
Rachel Cram -Were you even aware that you were trying to do that?
Marcus Mosley – Yeah I was. I was trying to get close to him. And this is in pre civil rights Texas. So it was Jim Crow Texas. Very dangerous; very hostile place. We lived in a little one room shack in the back of this big white house. Nobody lived in that house. We weren’t allowed to live in it. We had to live in this clapboard kind of shack. I remember the day we put a hole in the wall and put a hydrant in to make running water in the house. That tells you how poor we were. Anyway, to make a long story short, the house had a screen door and the screen door had a spring on it so that it would close, you know, stay closed. I remember sitting on the floor in the little shack and my stepfather had just come home for lunch. He had been out in the field plowing and I’d worked up my courage, and I remember calling him daddy because I just wanted to…
Rachel Cram – You wanted to use that name?
Marcus Mosley – I wanted to use that word, to call him daddy. I thought I was doing something special. And he turned to me and yelled at me and said, “I am not your father.” And he turned around and walked out the door and the screen door slammed and I remember sitting there on the floor and some part of me broke and went up here above my head like an observer. And I began to live my life with that relationship; sort of an observer. I was on the outside looking in. And that experience I think, has influenced and informed a lot of my journey of my life; becoming an observer, feeling on the outside and trying to figure out how to get in.
Rachel Cram- That is quite a story. Thank you. Marcus, I know you’ve championed music as therapy; as an important part of finding our way, of finding our belonging, and I know that music is a huge part of your life.
Marcus Mosley – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – Do you think that is connected to your childhood journey feeling like an outsider and trying to fit in?
Marcus Mosley – I think it’s connected. I think it’s part of it. Of course. Yeah I well I was introduced to the concept music therapy through a friend and I thought I know that. I had that experience.
Rachel Cram – Like you felt that therapy happening in your own life?
Marcus Mosley – I had not only felt it but I had been engaged in doing it just through the experience and through my own life and in my own life. And I saw the parallels. The more we talked about it I could see this really fits how experientially I see my life.
Rachel Cram – Can you explain some of those parallels?
Marcus Mosley – Well, one of the first things that was taught was that within each person there is a musical child. That’s a central tenet of music therapy. And the idea is that if the therapist can connect with that musical child you can then begin to build that therapeutic relationship whether it’s a child with autism or whether it’s a senior who’s in Alzheimer’s or in various stages of dementia. If you can connect with that musical child oftentimes they can become animated and they connect with themselves. Example put a bass drum in the middle of a room with an autistic child and just sit there and go boom boom and then if they do a boom you do one you do two and if they do two then you start to build a relationship. They’re coming out of their isolation and for a moment you can create a time of bringing them out to experience the world around them. If dealing with the person who’s got Alzheimer’s if you can find some music that was very popular during some time in their life start to sing it to them and it’s amazing this person who’s been sitting almost in a vegetative state will suddenly begin to come along and they will sing the whole song all the lyrics and they’ll be dancing with you they’ll be swaying with you smiling present their quality of life is enriched by that experience right.
Rachel Cram – And you could identify with that kind of enrichment, through music.
Marcus Mosley – I totally identified with it because I had already been doing a lot of that. Whenever I stand before an audience that is part of my internal process I want to get out of the way be sensitive to what’s going on in the room and hopefully be able to say something do something that’s going to have an impact on people in the audience individuals and the audience just before we move on.
Rachel Cram – Marcus can I just go back to ask you just a little bit of a question about your childhood experience?
Marcus Mosley – Sure.
Rachel Cram – How did the music come into your young life? How did you discover its power to heal you or to comfort you?
Marcus Mosely – OK, those who have seen me in concert over the years, I very very often talk about my mom and how she always had a song going underneath her lips. She’d always be humming a tune or singing a song very softly when she was working out in the fields. She also was a housekeeper. So when we would go to these white people’s homes and she would clean their homes she always had a song going. I observed that. And so to me breaking into song was like breathing. And so it was nothing for me that I would be out in the field and I would just sing at the top of my lungs to the cows the plants the trees whatever it was. That was me.
Rachel Cram – Do you think that’s part of the musical child inside of you.
Marcus Mosley – Absolutely.
Rachel Cram – But you were like you were giving a voice.
Marcus Mosley – Absolutely. that’s when I discovered my inner voice, it was my inner higher voice and I learned over the years that when I listened to it things go well. Out on the farm and sing it out loud. That was my way of connecting and that’s what I learned about my mom. The reason she would sing all the time is because it was her way of staying connected and focused and centered in her spirituality, her sense of God. So that if somebody came at her with some slurs or with something that was hostile which was not uncommon she could keep her peace. She could know how to respond in that given situation.
So I learned that from her by example. I watched her do it day in and day out and it became a practice for me. Mm hmm.
Rachel Cram – You’ve been talking about we all have a musical child inside of us. How do you keep that child alive as you age, even into teen years? How do you nurture that kind of vulnerability to sing wildly in the fields and not feel embarrassed about that, when you’re a teenager, but it is normal to put on a headset and start listening to music, loving to spend the whole day listening to music. How do you trace the therapy of music during those years?
Marcus Mosley – One of the things for me was the changes all of those big emotional changes are inside you and to find a way to put that to sound. And sometimes a song would resonate like oh yeah this song is expressing this aspect of what I’m feeling in my heart. And so when I sing it it’s not just a feeling inside but it becomes. Externalized. I’m saying it to the world. I’m saying it to the universe.
Rachel Cram – Well and as a teen you don’t have the words to put that in place.
Marcus Mosley – Yeah yeah. And music can do that for you. When I felt like nobody else understood what I was feeling and if I could sing it if I could put it into sound. That would ease some of the pain, the struggle. That was my connection to God or to my inner voice was to be able to put whatever was going on in my gut inside my spirit putting it into sound.
Rachel Cram – I was listening to another interview you did and you said this, “Art,” and I’m especially thinking music in this case, “Art helps us get in touch with our commonalities and reminds us about who we are and what we aspire to be.” What to you is the necessity of getting in touch with our commonalities?
Marcus Mosley – When we find out at the core that we’re the same, then we can relate to each other. We’re not divided when I can see you when I can see myself in you or to make it even bigger when I can see God in you. When I can see my humanity in you that I can relate to you.
We can we can have a conversation we can we can dance we can sing we can do the things that I think humans are meant to do. And art and music are gifts that are given to us, places that we can discover that with each other. Sometimes we’re not ready to have a conversation a verbal conversation but sometimes a song a piece of music playing. Where I can see you go oh I’m doing that at the same place. Then we have that moment if I can act I get it and you get me we’re not that different.
See all of my life, the message that I’ve gotten is that I’m other so my journey has been to call out to say no I’m just like you. Unfortunately I wasted a portion of my life defining myself in the negative. I’m not that I’m not that I’m not that I’m not that but I wasn’t affirming who I am but that was all because of fear and all kinds of other stuff but basically the core of it is you’re like me I’m like you and here’s how we’re the same. So let’s put my heart out there and I’ll sing about vulnerability I’ll sing about alienation I’ll sing about fear and trust and love. Someone will resonate to that because I’m singing it from a place of knowing what that feels like. That’s what I love about gospel music. Gospel music gives me the platform to share those emotions and they are supported on a foundation that is built in the black experience in North America.
Rachel Cram – Gospel music does seem to transcend culture and experience and religious belief non religious belief in a really unique way. Why do you think that is?
Marcus Mosley – Because it comes from a real experience, a real deep experience of suffering of oppression that it it’s finding a way in. In the depths of oppression to still find a way to look up and to find joy to find purpose to find direction to find comfort or solace the experience in the black church is I remember growing up as we were living in hostile territory you know were outside the building separate bathrooms step off the sidewalk and white people are walking by separate water fountains segregated schools. People would look at you and tell you that you were nothing you were you. You were less than human but in that space everybody was equal and everybody stood before God as it were. And we sang our hearts out and we encouraged each other. And as a child you children have a very special place in there and you’re encouraged to get up and sing get up and speak out and there. That’s all right baby if you make a mistake they’ll go.
That’s all right baby just keep on saying and you know but they embraced you with encouragement to be and I think that’s part of the power of gospel music. I know that it can be dogmatic. Some people can take it in a direction of trying to preach at people. But my experience of coming through the civil rights era was the music became a reflection of our desire. I want to be free. I want to have the same freedoms as anybody else. I think that’s a human experience universally that desire to to overcome the desire to connect the desire to be free the desire to not be on the bottom to see endless possibilities as opposed to your life this stuck and this is always going to be. So I think that’s part of the power of gospel music and that’s why I do it. It can be so joyous. It can be so joyous and in fact my whole Pentecostal Church and new gospel music was designed for one thing and one thing only to bring you to the place of ecstasy so that you can transcend your present experience and get to a higher experience. We used to say if you don’t feel that they’re not going to feel it. So you have to sing it from a real place. If you’re going to do it right you have to sing it to where it is real to you. Coming from a real place.
Rachel Cram – So as someone who’s listened to Gospel Music I think that I can sometimes think that music is so soulful it’s so amazing and it comes from a place in the past where people suffered, but clearly it is not in the past.
Marcus Mosley – No.
Rachel Cram – Can you talk to me about that?
Marcus Mosley – I think there is a deep and rich and dark past but I also think that in North America especially, we still haven’t dealt with that past. There are still things that are just so painful to look into on both sides of that discussion.
Rachel Cram – As we raise our children, I think we like to believe, or to hope that every generation strives to do things better, strives to love better.
Marcus Mosley – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – But there’s always, there’s obviously so much more to learn as we look at raising this next generation of children, how do we raise children to see that interconnection that you’re talking about? How do we raise children in touch with our commonalities?
Marcus Mosley – I think number one you model it. You show them you live it yourself in front of them. I think of individuals in my life who were living and walking in that truth.
Rachel Cram – What did that look like?
Marcus Mosley – Again, going back to my mom. I observed her and how she went through her life. She would have somebody be very abusive to her verbally or whatever and she would deal with it. I’m not saying she was a doormat because she was not she is very strong woman. But having this song going under her lips and when the onslaught happened she was ready and she would just deal with it and move on and the song would continue. And I observed that gave her an equilibrium in her life. Kids watch us and they learn by what we do more than by what we say.
Rachel Cram – That is so true, even in response to discrimination and prejudice Yeah. What’s the character; what are the actions of somebody who looks beyond difference to see what’s common or to see the inherent value in others?
Marcus Mosley – Oh, that’s a good question. Someone who’s willing to say, “I don’t know but I’m willing to try. I’m gonna make mistakes but I’m willing to say I’m sorry.” And to say, “I don’t know.” Somebody asked me, “So Marcus, how do you feel about Canada. You know and you’re telling us about all the racism and all this experience some of the states. What do you think about about Canada. I was very honest. I says racism is alive and well in Canada. And this man stood up and he was angry. He goes If you feel that way. Well should go back to the states. There’s no racism here. And he goes I’ve got black friends and I thought Oh okay I’m just sharing with you my experience and my observation that racism does exist here. It’s it takes a different form. And it takes a willingness to able to see it just because you have a black person come to your house doesn’t mean you don’t have things to work on.
I met this young white woman by the name of Penny. And we this really kind of connected that we just were just like we just really kind of got each other and we were having great conversations and she looked at me and I could see a light bulb go off in her head and her jaw kind of drop and she said You people really can think. And it was like slow motion there for me and I thought wow she really said that.
She had been raised to see black people in a certain way. She still held racist views. She still saw me in a certain way through a certain lens but through our interaction that shifted. And for her to say you people really can’t think what I got from that was from that day forward when she got married when she had children she was gonna raise her children with a different view of the world. So I felt like something wonderful that happened. She was able to see more of my humanity that I was like her.
Rachel Cram – Well there’s a choice in that moment not to take offence.
Marcus Mosley – It could have. Yeah. Other people said I that sort of you you didn’t get mad. No I didn’t because I guess I sensed in the moment that something was happening and it was wonderful.
Rachel Cram – Is that part of what you’re talking about? Fighting for your commonalities then?
Marcus Mosley – Yeah.
Rachel Cram – That’s that sort of sacrifice play. That’s hard won.
Marcus Mosley – I’ve been formulating this idea that whatever it is that you need, give it because I think there’s a myth that there’s not enough. There’s a myth of scarcity that pervades in the world. There’s abundance in the world, everything we need is here. If we access it.
So if I want love, I give love. If I want compassion I must give compassion. If I want to see joy in the world I must give that that’s where it starts.
Rachel Cram – So I mean it starts with addressing that myth of scarcity.
Marcus Mosley – Yes. Absolutely. To dismiss it. It is not true. It’s a lie. It’s a myth. It’s not real. But everything around us is reinforcing that every day there’s not enough. There’s not enough you’re not enough. Honestly, there is abundance we all are looking for love we’re all looking for connection intimacy.
Rachel Cram – You sing a song entitled In Times Like These. From your perspective, what do you see in these times that makes this song timely?
Marcus Mosley – I think that we are in perilous times right now. There is this division that is happening in the world where people are becoming tribal, nationalistic.
Rachel Cram – What do you mean by tribal?
Marcus Mosley – Tribalism – Yeah, it comes down to us and them. It comes down to my people our people those who think like me and look like me we have to keep ourselves safe from ya’ll whoever y’all are them. Those folks out there – and that divides that separates. That creates a sense of a gulf between us and what’s important and very very needed now is something that says no, we’re in this together. We are connected. The myth of scarcity. The second myth is separation. We’re not separate. We are connected in this planet. We need each other to survive. That’s our hope.
Rachel Cram – So with that in mind, and knowing that we need to start to wrap up, how do we actualize that hope? You’ve said, “We may not be able to see eye to eye but we can see heart to heart.” How do you Marcus? How do you have a heart this open to connection? How do you keep it there?
Marcus Mosley – It can be painful. Having an open heart means you’re open to the possibility of being betrayed, of being hurt, of being misunderstood, of being rejected. And sometimes you close those areas off because we don’t want to feel that degree of pain sometimes trauma can do it. In my case it was abuse. It was other things which really hurt me. And so it made me pull away but I think we start by being willing by having the willingness to take that journey.
Rachel Cram – The journey to connection?
Marcus Mosley – Yeah. It can feel chaotic, it can feel threatening but it’s important to make that journey because everything that we suppress and hold back, it’s like carrying around 10 pound weights. You’re wondering why you’re burdened down. It’s because you’re carrying all this stuff.
Rachel Cram – How does connection release the burden?
Marcus Mosley – I think it’s connected deeply with our inner life, our inner voice, that inner part of us you want to call it God if you want to call it spirit if you want to call it our higher self that is always calling us, come deeper. Deep calls unto deep. For me, one of the physical things that has represented God to me is the ocean, that it covers the world and it’s so powerful, it’s so deep, it’s so immense. But yet you can stand and put your feet in it and be connected to it and thereby be connected to the whole world.
We’re all looking for that sense of belonging of a real intimacy of real connected ness. This is what you’re looking for. It’s there.
Rachel Cram – Marcus thank you so much for going deep, for our conversation, for sharing like this. I really appreciate it.
Marcus Mosley – Thank you for the opportunity to kind of revisit again some of those places. And thank you for listening and I’m glad we had this time. Thank you.