Wisdom | Listening with Paul Rudy

Spirit of the Woods. Harmony Farm.

Wisdom is a synthesis of ALL parts of being: information, intuition, experience, thought and perception. It is a free traverse between the heart and head, and operates in a balanced space of understanding between knowing and feeling. It is more parts remembering and less parts learning.

– Paul Rudy


I remember listening to Paul just seconds before hearing him.

He simply took a seat at a long and crowded dining table in Rome and there, present in noise, was music; the sound of someone trying authentically to live.

Among other things, Paul is a man who prefers questions to answers.

He's also a composer and professor of music at the University Missouri-Kansas City and recently immersed in the experience of living on his own farm.

During our transatlantic exchange, he kindly shared with us some of his thoughts on sound, plants, and the power of listening and hearing.

When did you begin making music – and how did the natural world enter into your process?

It might be better to ask when my music entered the natural world! :) I was a mountain climber and outdoorsman before I became a composer (I didn't write my first piece ‘til I was 26 years old). As a kid I wandered the woods...played in the creek all day long...loved the crunch of leaves under my feet (a sound I have reconnected with after moving!).

Sounds carry messages, whether intentional or incidental. So, my love of sound has more than likely grown out of my love of the Earth and all relations from plants to animals, to stones and water (the richest sound source, second only to the human voice), birds, insects and stars.

Now living outside of Kansas City on your 70-acre farm, you are increasingly involved with the plant world. Tell us a bit about Harmony Farm and how you found your way to it.

I spent a year at the American Academy in Rome, which had a beautiful private garden. It was an oasis in a crazy city! I knew I wanted change when I returned home to Kansas City and, in fact, had tried to sell my house in town before going to Italy. In March of 2011 (still in Rome), I began looking online for properties in the county.

I had been looking for a while, but the time was never right. Harmony Farm was actually the first place I found, and even though I kept looking, I always came back to it. When I came home, it was still available, and after 4 visits and walking the property, I felt like I already knew it intimately: like I was remembering it from past lives.

I have one principle in existing with plants here: that they seek to live in a harmonious environment and, like me, want to be honored for who and what they are. This has led me to explore the notion that everything that grows in my lasagna beds (whether planted or not) is medicine for me.

I give the soil my urine, blood (from nose bleeds, for example) and my saliva. And when I do so, I gently remind the soil and the plants that this is my information to them: it contains all that I am, and all that I need, and I ask them to please help me with what I need. In return, I give them ceremony. I have three medicine wheels, and try to approach everything as ceremony.

If I need to cut a plant or tree, I honor it, and thank it for its life, and for returning back to the beginning of the circle of life, returning to the forest floor as nutrients for other plants. I am making tinctures out of plants (rose, echinacea, parsley, bee balm, to name a few), some of which grew spontaneously, and I periodically taste things in the woods. An impulse to try something is, to me, a message from a plant. I trust them and they trust me.


Lodge Honoring the Ancestors. Harmony Farm.


The land has rewarded me for my listening. The first year here, my two wild raspberry patches were loaded with poison ivy. This past summer, both patches were completely free of it, and I did nothing to eradicate it. I have worked hard on shifting my relationship with it. I am careful about my energy when, on occasion, I pull it. Again, I thank it for its service to the land, and then ask that it move on, and promise that I will do everything in my power to care for and protect the land.

I also ask the Elementals to help with the plants: especially with the return of the natural prairie grasses. I think they love playing with seeds and spreading them around!

As both a composer and as a man who is attuned to the mysteries of the world around him, what can you tell folks about the acts of listening and hearing?

Great question! First and foremost: listen with your whole being! The ears are amazing instruments, but the whole body is even more amazing! Sound can vibrate every cell in your body. In fact, your own voice can do this. Listen to everything and inquire about it. Listen with your thoughts and intuition – there can be great wisdom in these intuitions!

Listening is receiving and hearing is processing that receiving. The greatest gift I ever gave myself was to start listening without judgment. When I do this, I can hear with my big toes...my ear lobes, my small intestine, and more importantly, my heart.

Composing has definitely helped me develop a more keen sense of listening, but we are often taught to listen "for" things, rather than "to" things. So my process has shifted from one of listening with expectation, to one of just opening to whatever sounds happen to be around me. I can not not listen now. I don't have earlids, so rather than resist sounds, I welcome them. Ringing in my ears becomes a tone I sing (perhaps an Angel...or a plant is asking for this frequency in the world?).

What are the healing and harming aspects of sound in today's world?

Sound is a powerful tool, and like anything can be used for individual gain or for the highest common good. I believe the greatest healing aspect of sound is the human voice.

Your voice is located half way between your head and your heart! It is perfectly suited to mediate that huge 18-inch distance! It knows you better than anyone, and can be directed anywhere in your body. I have given myself chiropractic adjustments and reduced inflammation with my voice. I believe it is a medicine of the future, and the most powerful aspect of it is intention. Harmful intention in anything will create harm. Loving healing intention will reap healing.

We talk about being "of sound mind and body". We talk about "being in tune with each other" and "being on the same wavelength." These are not just metaphors...they are potentials in our listening and transmitting to each other that we can practice and make permanent. We can "tune" our aura to mediate harmful energies (from sounds to entities, etc.), and to help with projecting our own grace into the world.

And! We call it "playing" music. We don't say "thinking music" or "agonizing music" or "feeling music" to refer to the making of music. We call it playing music. So I have become a facilitator of reminding people to play with sound. When I look at the way plants grow, it is a dance upon the air: it is their vibration in the airwave, and theirs is a joy in the way they do it, just like the joy when we sing!

The other week the Modern Herban Wisdom blog investigated plant song (you can read about it here), so I asked Paul to weigh in, as a sort of Part II:

We are just starting remember how to listen to plants, and research is really beginning to show the wisdom of plants and how we can learn from that.

My most performed composition is called "Degrees of Separation: Grandchild of Tree" (homage to John Cage and his "Child of Tree"). It is for amplified cactus and electronics. I put contact microphones on the skin of the cactus and pluck it. People are fascinated by this sound, and by being able to hear a plant in this way. [Click on the below image to listen]. Other techniques go deeper into the subtle vibrational voice of plants: tapping into their energy and translating that into sound.



All of these explorations of the sounds of plants, on any plane, is a great sign that we are waking up to all of the potential of these remarkable beings. We are remembering to listen again, and because plants are so quiet, we have to get quiet too. Listening begins with us getting quiet. I am so glad people are talking about this now! Awareness begins with the idea that something is possible, and people are hearing them!

On the question of listening, he leaves us with this:

True listening, whether to music, plants, animals or stones, requires practice. And the main aim of that practice can focus on becoming aware of what we have been taught to "bracket out" of our experience. As we grow older, we become more fragmented, and so my elderhood is all about returning to who I was at birth.

The child I see in my 6-month-old baby picture is fully cohesive, curious, in wonder at the world, and wholly in love with everything and every experience. That Paul is my homing beacon: the place I seek to return, and plants help me with that. After all, "nature’s wisdom follows the path of least resistance" and no one models this better than plants!


Paul has just finished his first film score and is currently collaborating with composer Alex Shapiro. At Harmony Farm, he can soon be found laying out a 400-foot lemniscate for his third ceremonial space in honor of the ancestors. You can visit Paul at www.paulrudy.com and facebook. You can also listen to his music or see him talk about his work, and his CDs are available here.

Meanwhile, Spring is finally here! Explore our Spring Cleaning Collection.

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