As a zoologist, I like to think that I have a pretty well-developed sense of wonder at the beauty of the natural world. But there are times in our lives when it is all too easy to lose sight of this, and get trapped in the daily grind, stuck in a concrete jungle.
This song was born during Sydney’s second lockdown. During this difficult and stressful time I read Julia Baird’s book Phosphorescence, and it reminded me to be mindful of that sense of wonder – which wasn’t lost, but had begun to dim a little bit simply because I was so busy and living in a very out-of-kilter world. It reminded me that the highlights of my lockdown weeks were my weekend walks in our region’s beautiful National Parks, and my early morning walks or runs where I’d quite often come across a pair of herons living near a local creek.
I was particularly taken with the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, which translates as forest bathing. It simply means spending time immersed in natural places, drinking in the peace, hearing the birdsong, and letting your stress and worries fade away. This, it occurred to me, was in some way what I was doing in my morning and weekend walks – but it allowed me to do it more deliberately, and to really focus on what was around me. I also found the book as a whole to be such a thing of beauty that it inspired me to be creative. I wanted to create something that had a similar feel. And that is where this song came from.
Another highlight of this time in lockdown was meeting with a bunch of cheerful faces on Discord every choir rehearsal night. I conduct a community choir, the Challis Singers. It’s a friendly and supportive group, and keeping up contact during lockdown kept us all going. And that first moment post-lockdown when we could finally sing together in person was blissful. As soon as this song started to come together in my head, I knew that it would need to involve the joyful sound of a choir in full voice – nothing else could express the emotion I was trying to convey. So this song was written specifically for the Challis Singers, and is dedicated to them. Thanks for a wonderful ten years of singing together!
My album is called Oxytocin & Adrenaline in an attempt to express the main influences on my songs from this period. Breathe again has elements of both. The stress of lockdown caused anxiety and corresponding surges of adrenaline, but in this song it is successfully combatted through mindfulness, forest bathing, and the joy of singing together – which has been proven to increase levels of oxytocin.
I think this is a song that I will need to come back to often, to remind myself to ‘slow down… down… down… till you can breathe again.’ I hope that you find the message helpful too.
Listen to Breathe again on Spotify here: