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Tea Room Conversation, Roots and Wings Yoga and Healing Arts

Alto saxophonist Willie Sordillo has been performing professionally for over 35 years. He served as co-leader of three-time Boston Music award winners Flor de Caña, has worked extensively as a freelance player with a vide variety of groups and leads of his own jazz ensembles. He has performed in concerts and festivals throughout North America and internationally.

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Tea Room Conversation with Willie Sordillo

I read an article recently which talked about a study in which people (in this case, all of them male) were asked to place an arm in a tank of ice water until they reached the highest pain threshold they could stand.  Their pain responses were then measured.  When music was introduced to the subjects, particularly music of their choice, their pain response decreased dramatically.  Which is to say, here’s the science to back up what we already knew:  Music is a healing art.   But the news is even better than that, and I’ll venture this with a high degree of certainty even without running a science experiment that deliberately inflicts pain on its subjects:  The healing which music induces benefits both the listener and the practitioner in equal measure.   For this, as a practicing musician and sometime music teacher, I am grateful; and I believe that gratitude is also a source of health and well-being.   To take it one step further, I believe that creativity, contrary to popular conception, is a communal act, one which may demand many hours of isolated work and practice, but which is ultimately realized in a public setting.


I got an email this week from a former student, someone I hadn’t had contact with for about 10 years when she was in middle school.  Now a young adult, she is re-acquainting herself with the saxophone, which had taken a backseat to earning an MFA in fiction writing.  It was a wonderful email to receive, and it reminded me what an honor it is for people to allow me to enter into their lives doing something I love.   It’s an amazing thing, music;  a means of opening doors into people’s joys and sorrows, crossing borders, cultures and languages-  or sometimes just crossing the street, to find that mysterious common air between us, that thing we can’t quite put into words, but which we all feel.   I am humbled with a great gratitude for this opportunity to meet with you, for your welcome to me, for this recognition of our human-ness together.  Thank you.


I’m sometimes struck by the injustice of the fact that by doing this thing I love, I am often rewarded in ways that other people, equally passionate about what they do and equally hard-working and at least as talented, are not; it so happens that our culture has evolved in such a way that when I and other musicians play a piece of music, if people like it, they provide immediate positive feedback in the form of applause.  Wouldn’t it be a better world if every time a teacher gave a great class, every time a social worker provided some useful assistance, every time a mail carrier delivered a letter, people applauded?  

I like to think that when people are applauding musicians, what they’re really doing is giving voice to the recognition that through this two way street of playing and receiving music (and any performing musician will tell you that the latter is an active process without which no performance can succeed) we’ve named, in a sense, our common humanity.   We’re saying, “Yes, that’s it; that’s exactly how it is with me, and I see it is so with you as well.”  Though applause does not happen in every setting, common recognition can occur in all sorts of contexts, from sitting down with a middle school student who’s becoming familiar with the language of song to a church service to a soul-food bar in Roxbury where the band is getting down on a 50 year old “hymn” by James Brown to celebrations marking great passages through life, and of a life which has come to an end.  Every time, every time, it’s a privilege to be invited into this thin space, to be entrusted with the guidance of a young person, to mingle in the mysteries of joy, hope, affirmation, and profound sadness, to join with you in creatively seeking the ultimate source of creation.  


I could sit alone in my music room and play happily for many hours, and I would receive a benefit.  But that benefit is multiplied many times when you are there not only to witness my playing, but to take part in it, through your active, creative response.  For in this communal act we are creating together something which is far more than the sum of its parts; we are healing not only ourselves, but in our own small way, this broken world of beauty and pain which is our home.  For this, I am grateful.

It is for these reasons that I am pleased to be performing in a concert to benefit Branching Out, the non-profit created by Roots & Wings, an organization which recognizes that the individual and society are inter-related in attaining health and well-being.   On March 15, starting at 7:00 PM, I’ll be joined by two gifted musicians and good friends, pianist Consuelo Candelaria Barry and bassist Doug Rich to provide what we hope to be a healing experience of spiritual jazz.  As many of you know,  Branching Out was established to bring healing arts, wellness and empowerment services to those who may not otherwise receive them.  Beneficiaries have included groups working to end bullying, earthquake survivors in Haiti and families dealing with autism.   What impresses me about Roots &Wings is that they are all about building community.  I’m guessing that a small and relatively newly formed healing arts endeavor with a mortgage to pay is not a quick path to a life of luxury;  yet as they continue to build their business, they devote considerable energy to aiding others in the wider community.   For more information, please visit

Co-sponsoring this event is Open Spirit, a multi-faith center which celebrates our connectedness, promotes healing and wholeness, and provides spiritual nourishment.  The mission of this non-profit is very similar to that of Roots & Wings, with equal attention given to mind, body and spirit.  One of their notable programs provides free yoga classes for veterans.   For more information, please visit

The concert will be in an intimate space at Roots & Wings, 317 North Main Street in Natick, MA.  Admission is free but we’ll pass the hat to raise money for the cause. 

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