During the Lower Manhattan Songwrights Apothecary Lab (S.A.L.), we studied using many kinds of seeing, into the lived experiences of each lab member, into the longings we carried for a song that could (_______) and/or (_________), -we looked through myriad studies into how our bodies respond to stress, aging, social-anxiety, and how/when music has intervened as a soothing and recalibrating presence…Through this searching, re-searching, and re-listening to myths, poems, song fragments, testimonies, dreams, questions and stories, we wrought 6 formwelas, each with a distinct, yet inter-related salutary intention.

There are many ways in which these researchers in the Lower Manhattan S.A.L. could have chosen to coalesce and re-presente the fruits of their labor - the fruit of which informed each of the formwelas wrought in this iteration of the lab.  Ms. Ravi's collection of poems, and Mr. Jones' intimate journalistic essay, represent the respective personality and knowledge-metabolizing style of these brilliant and generous young scholars/artists/students/distillers/luminocities/dreaming-thinking-&-creating comrades.

NYC Apothecary Lab
Distillation State

by Nivi Ravi


the clandestine mammal
treads below the surface of
the human gaze.

he gently peers over the surface,
submitting to temptation,
aching to feel the air
slice his fins.

rumors say
he was swallowed by the human gaze,
devoured by their thirst to conquer. 

“it is dangerous to be discovered.”

Quoted: Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, and Adrienne Maree Brown. Undrowned. AK Press, 2020.


her branches were once the arms of a woman,
robbed of her right to breathe.

she escaped her human body
and found freedom in the earth’s soil.

her smell saturates the waves of incense;
her leaves ruffle against the sound of bells and bhajans;
her soul blends with the dust that drifts into the air with each gust of wind.

The story of Kanhopatra


                                    she flees his grasp.

in desperation,
she turns toward the heavens,
begging for refuge.

they respond with an amulet.

her feet melt into the ground forming a network of roots;
her arms reach outward and spread into a dense array of branches;
her skin hardens into coarse bark.

in her place
stands a tree,

The story of Daphne and Apollo


Three temptations,
Desire, Pleasure, and Delight
pull us under their spell of enchantment.

We wrestle against their gravity,
seeking an internal spring of resistance
until they transform into beings devoid of allure.

The story of Buddha and Maara


training, exercise

severe self-discipline,
avoidance of all forms of indulgence

The exercise of restraint,
the askesis of asceticism,
embedded in the unseen spirit of the word.

Meditation on asceticism


you slither into my heart,
drinking my blood for sustenance.

you feed off my attention and vulnerability,
insatiable leeches of exploitation.

dear parasitic beings,
my love will not be
harnessed in service of your ego.

my truth and my reality
are too precious
to be warped by your words.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s YouTube videos on Narcissistic Personality Disorder


the sage shields her children
from the evil eyes of envy and contempt.

a cascade of cracking knuckles.
a wise hand orbiting the soul.
a circle of kajal.

“the darkness that protects us from darkness.”

(a) Reflections on “drishti” (b) Quoted: Ganavya Doraiswamy


The stems wilter,

In need of a spell,
they submerge stress and fatigue 
with sounds of empowerment and love.

Beck, Bolette Daniels, et al. “Coping with Work-Related Stress through Guided Imagery and Music (GIM): Randomized Controlled Trial.” The Journal of Music Therapy, vol. 52, no. 3, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 323–52, doi:10.1093/jmt/thv011.


Active noise cancellation technology


a disruption to our ecosystem
exposes the cracks once held together
by control and self-confidence.

to restore balance,
we instinctively fill the wounds
with exploitation and domination,
craving our place above the rest.

when we let time and wisdom course through our bodies,
empathy replaces domination,
overflowing onto the terrain,
shifting the bedrock of instinct
to lay a restored foundation.

Odell-Miller, Helen. “Value of Music Therapy for People with Personality Disorders.” Mental Health Practice, vol. 14, no. 10, Royal College of Nursing Publishing Company (RCN), 2011, pp. 34–35, doi:10.7748/mhp2011.


we carry the blood
of generations of powerful women.

the stories and memories of our
reside within us.

with wisdom and strength as her raw materials,
she weaved for us a forcefield of protection,
an indestructible silk cocoon.

Matrilineal clan system of the Leni Lenape

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Soft, wrinkling skin,
dark, malicious grin,
grey, glistening hair,
blinds the child’s nightmare.


The aging maternal figure,
strict and policing,
yet nurturing and protective.

We are programmed to fear
one side of the Janus.
Programmed to transform
the face of feminine authority and agency
into the image of evil.

“Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?” Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Inc. (NPR), 2015.


fifty-five million souls
float in a liminal space,
in search of a sanctuary to call home.

as the noise of the world meets the sound of their joy,
the collision sows seeds of home into their hearts.

(a) Cappelen, Birgitta, and Anders-Petter Andersson. “Musicking Tangibles for Empowerment.” Computers Helping People with Special Needs, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 254–61, doi:10.1007/978-3-642-31522-0_38. (b) Lenette, Caroline, and Naomi Sunderland. “"Will There Be Music for Us?" Mapping the Health and Well-Being Potential of Participatory Music Practice with Asylum Seekers and Refugees Across Contexts of Conflict and Refuge.” Arts & Health, vol. 8, no. 1, Taylor & Francis, 2016, pp. 32–49, doi:10.1080/17533015.2014.961943.


with open ears, minds, souls
to the elder women that surround you.

Release her from the clutches of capitalism,
the oppressive systems that bestow value
upon her labor and productivity.

Inside her hands
lies a constellation
of people and places.

Each wrinkle, line, callus, crease
marks a soul she has touched.

let these hands
retire to the forest,
reaching out to guide
the hands of those behind her.

(a) Vanaprastha: the third stage of the Vedic ashram system (b) Calasanti, Toni, et al. “Ageism and Feminism: From "Et Cetera" to Center.” NWSA Journal, vol. 18, no. 1, Indiana University Press, 2006, pp. 13–30, doi:10.1353/nwsa.2006.0004.


Rhythms and melodies
vibrate and resonate within us.

the lullaby mom sang to us each night;
that song we danced to at our wedding;
the chant we repeated in the space of worship;

Reach into these memories
for a musical elixir.

Instruction: when feeling physically weak, listen to your favorite tunes. Sing along or close your eyes if you want! Observe your muscles, your exhaustion, your strength.

Elzen, N. van den, et al. “The Power of Music: Enhancing Muscle Strength in Older People.” Healthcare (Basel), vol. 7, no. 3, MDPI, 2019, p. 82, doi:10.3390/healthcare7030082.

Reflections on the New York Songwrights Apothecary Lab

by Grant Jones

I wish for the following words to provide a glimpse into my experience as a researcher in the New York Songwrights Apothecary Lab. Below I describe a series of “steps” that, in reality, unfolded simultaneously and much less neatly than described below. In truth, many of these “steps” are still unfolding. Nevertheless, I hope this framework can support an understanding of this ever-so-idiosyncratic, ever-so-magical journey that I took in Lower Manhattan in June 2021.

My journey starts with Joyfear.

I was elated indeed. As a researcher, I would be stewarding a different kind of inquiry – one that melds first (“I”), second (“you”), and third person (“they”) research methods, mixes ancestral wisdom with peer reviewed articles, and complicates psychoneuroendocrinology using my mother’s teachings. These efforts would ultimately inform the creation of music imbued with healing intention. It was an invitation to bring myself, to show up authentically and bring together many strands of knowing in the service of supportive artistic creation. How beautiful.

I was also terrified. It was an invitation to bring myself – authentically? How scary. What if I said something(s) problematic to these people I really respect and admire? What if I didn’t know something that I was supposed to or forgot something I was supposed to remember? What if I caused or experienced harm? What if we didn’t vibe? What if, what if, what if?

A first step was to practice opening to all of it.

A second step was arrival – to walk into The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center and begin. To greet dear ones after a year and a half of quarantine (“is that Grant Jones?!!” | “esperanza!!!”), to finally see folks in person that I had only known virtually (“Hey co-researcher Nivi Ravi!”), and to meet all of the beings that I would be going on this journey with.

There were many subsequent arrivals beyond the physical. There was the formal arrival/opening stewarded by Dr. Marisol Norris and Britton Williams, which involved collective music making, naming our shared agreements for the space (i.e. “assume best intent, but also honor the impact of our actions”), sharing our desires for our time together (i.e. “lasting friendship”, “dope songs”), and reflecting on various prompts about being in community (“what does it mean for a space to be unwell?”). They held us in opening (slowly!) to one another.

There were our initial arrival meetings with esperanza, in which Nivi and myself received the formwela/song seedlings that esperanza was tending, and pondered together some research directions that could inform these works.

And, there was arriving to initial zoom meetings with Ganavya Doraiswamy – the senior researcher who joined us daily from Italy. Here, we received her carefully selected poetry selections that invited me/us into further opening to this journey, discussed the formwela seedlings, and received caring guidance/structure to support our research inquiries (Ganavya, I appreciate you.)

And we were off.

A third step was exploration. Each day, Nivi and I waded through peer reviewed articles, YouTube Videos about Narcissism, Greek and Buddhist mythology, wise words from our mothers and aunties, and our own personal knowing(s) – all in the hope of gathering “data points” for the research process. These “data points” were distillations of resonant research findings and were offered in the service of supporting the growth and emergence of the music.

A fourth step was connection, because relationship-building was at heart of this work. Nivi and I would bring our data points to the artists (esperanza, Matt Stevens, and Leo Genovese) and we would sit, chat, connect, and travel to any worlds and/or associations our data points activated within us. We would travel in our imaginations to Morocco to hear stories about furiously dancing female elders, explore Buddhist myths that illustrate metamorphosis (into a tree!) can be a means of escaping enchantment, and dive into reflections on why the “dominant” in Western music is always encouraging us to go somewhere to feel at home (“maybe we could make music so comfortable we don’t need to move from that home place…”). Bringing our experiences together sparked further inquiry and inspiration – the work was happening.

And everyone kept connecting. Over our daily shared meals. With audiences, who peered into and shared into our lab process during the nightly sharebacks/matinee. Through song, conversation, laughter, dance, silence….

A last/unending step is transformation. We watched esperanza’s seedlings transform into (near) fully-bloomed formwelas, watched the plastic bags that adorned the Clemente sprout otherworldly mycelial networks (mushrooms!), and watched the co-weaving of a communal web of care and appreciation. We watched the actualization of our shared intention to show up, care for one another, and make dope music.

It remains to be discovered how this experience has changed me – it is all still moving through, and many of the changes will certainly remain unknowable. But I can say what I feel right now, as I prepare to leave the Clemente for the last time and a formwela (8?) plays in the background.

I feel that much more in awe of life, spellbound by how much abundance we can actualize when we decide to truly care for one another. I feel blessed beyond measure for the chance to be in this work with so many kind, caring, and unspeakably talented individuals. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel.

I also feel all of the familiar, heavier things. I still feel my insecurities (“you all have so many Instagram followers...”) and I still feel my fears (“I hope [  ] doesn’t deeply hurt me one day…”). I feel confusion (“did that really happen?”) and I feel uncertain because I do not know where things will go from here (“I really hope I kick it with all these people again!!”).

I feel myself longing to concretize the magic – to be able to replay the experience at whim, whenever life is feeling dull or I’m feeling lonely. Yet, I am being invited into release, into trusting that the sacred forces holding this journey will continue to guide me where I need to go, if I simply allow them to.

surrender is a ceaseless practice.

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