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Mary Mullen: Soul Music

Photo by Alyssa Nicol

Singer-songwriter Mary Mullen is out to teach the world to sing — and make it better at the same time. Now settled back in L.A. after a decade spent touring with her folk-punk duo, the Hesitations, Mullen recently began to teach what she calls “healing song” classes (www.marymullen.com), which incorporate her years of experience in Native American ceremonial singing and drumming along with tai chi as well as her studies with pranic healer Master Cho and the African drummer Francis Awe.

Her interest in healing music started when she left her Norwegian settlement in northern Wisconsin as a teenager during the Vietnam War and hitchhiked around the Southwest, camping out at Indian reservations. But it wasn’t until years later, when she heard the sound of the ceremonial drum at a Southland sun dance, that she knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. “I started crying,” she said. “It went right through my heart.”

At a typical ceremonial drumming-circle class, Mullen first burns sweet grass to bless her drum. “The ancestors love chocolate,” she notes as she brings out her offering. Under the watchful eye of her rescued mutt, Tika, Mullen brews sage tea while two friends prep their drumbeaters. Tonight’s music is a mix of Guatemalan, Buddhist, African and Native American tribal songs. Her students range from those who want to change their lives, to singers who never learned voice techniques, to those who seek feeling connected to a group. Mullen acts as a spiritual detective, helping clients identify their problem, then incorporating vocal techniques and meditation exercises.

“These songs come from someone making a sacrifice,” says Mullen, who’s continued to perform solo and has a CD, Blue-Headed Girl, coming out this month. “They have powers to heal and transform. As you struggle to learn the song, healing takes place.”