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Ex-rocker discovers secrets of tranquility



Date Published: {J}

Most of us who feel the need to relax at the end of a stressful day or week will probably open a bottle of wine or head to the pub for a beer. On those nights we find it difficult to sleep, there are always little pills to help us.

These short-term measures, however, don’t tackle the underlying problems of stress or insomnia. But Australian composer and musician, John B Levine, who is coming to Galway next month, promises that he has a better solution – one that doesn’t involve taking chemicals. Instead, it’s about listening to a certain type of music known as Alphamusic, which alters our brainwaves to create a calmer, more relaxed state. It’s like meditation, he says, but it’s easier to fit it into your life.

John, who now lives in England, originally trained as an electronic engineer, but always had a passion for music.

“I loved music since aged six when I got a plastic saxophone,” he says. “I wanted to make music and to make people happy.”

John also loved science and electronics and, to satisfy his parents’ wishes, he did an electronics degree, although he subsequently fulfilled his desire to have “music as a profession and electronics as a hobby”, when he trained in classical music composition at the University of Sydney. He then spent several successful years working in commercial music, playing with bands like INXS and Midnight Oil and writing jingles for advertising agents Saatchi and Saatchi and Coca-Cola.

Then his life changed.

“My father started dying slowly of stress-related illness. He had diverticulitis, diabetes, a couple of heart attacks and a stroke and he died at the age of 58. The doctors said it was stress related, but nothing we did or gave him could help.”

John had studied meditation and was taught how people’s brain waves slow down as they go into a deeper meditative state.

“With my science background that made sense,” he says. “I used try to explain it to my father, who was in Intensive Care but by then it was too late.”

His father’s death led him towards wondering whether the techniques used for meditation could be adapted for music. And by that he doesn’t mean what passes for the ‘relaxation music’ you hear in many spas and massage parlours. In fact, he is scathing about it.

“I heard New Age ‘relaxation’ music and it made me cry, it was so bad! It made me angry.”

He singles out CDs that contain whale and dolphin ‘music’ for special ire. He finds it unbelievable that these can be regarded as the basis for ‘relaxation’.

“Whales talk to whales and dolphins talk to dolphins. Their communication is not for relaxing people.”

As part of his music degree, John had studied the psychology of music and the physiology of hearing. With this expertise in analysing music, he listened to ‘new age music’ with a technical ear.

“I analysed why it didn’t work, melodically, rhythmically and production wise . . . and bored my friends about it. They told me to stop talking and do something.”

So he did – with caution – he didn’t want to add to what he describes as ‘noise pollution’ by producing bland CDs.

John had a recording studio in Australia where he wrote his music for TV commercials. It was there he conducted experiments to see what relaxing music should sound like.

“As a composer, you don’t start writing music before you know what your aim is, so I had to choose my aim.

“In my head I saw images of a PowerPoint presentation I’d had at meditation classes of brain waves slowing down. I wanted to do that.”

After experimentation, John established patterns of musical sound that invited the brain to settle into an Alpha state.

Alpha waves were discovered by German neurologist Hans Berger in the early 1900s and John explains that they occur when our brain is in a relaxed state.

The Alpha state is calmer than the Beta state, which occurs when we are awake and involves excitable peaks and troughs. If we continually emit Beta brainwaves, then we cannot unwind.

Brainwaves change a person’s hormonal balance, he explains, and different hormones affect the body in various ways. For instance when you are continually in the Beta state, you get stressed and your immune system goes down.

Beta waves in the brain cause the release of cortisol in response to stress. This diverts blood away from the parts of the body that aren’t required for ‘fight or flight’. And since the stomach and many parts of the brain are not required for this, their energy supply is diminished, leading to other problems – everything from digestion to concentration.

John claims that’s where his music can help. He says the unique sound pictures he paints, bring listeners to alpha state of relaxation within four minutes. As a Westerner, he opted to use instruments his listeners would be familiar with. So for his CDs, he plays a Steinway concert grand.

In the past 25 years, he has recorded nearly 30 albums, some designed to aid sleep and some to help people concentrate.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

First local bragging rights of the new season go to Mervue Utd



Date Published: 18-Mar-2013

Mervue United 2

Salthill Devon 1

Jason Byrne at Fahy’s Field

Mervue United have earned the early bragging rights in the latest instalment of a derby clash with their old rivals Salthill Devon thanks to first half goals from Tom King and youngster Ryan Manning at Fahy’s Field on Friday night.

Old teammates were re-united on the field as the likes Jason Molloy, Tom King, Gary Curran, Paul Sinnott and new Devon signing Derek O’Brien were among the names who used to wear the maroon of dormant Galway United.

Mervue came out of the blocks strongly and Curran unleashed the first meaningful shot after six minutes which failed to trouble Ronan Forde and glanced wide.

Two minutes later, former Mervue striker Enda Curran fired Devon’s first effort from distance but steered well clear of the target.

Almost immediately at the other end, Mervue thought they had taken the lead when King was released into the box and his shot squirmed under Forde towards goal, but Devon skipper Eugene Greaney was at hand to clear off the line.

Three minutes later, an almost identical move was executed by Mervue as Brendan Lavelle played King in, who this time opted to dink over the advancing Forde for a marvellous finish to give Mervue a deserved 1-0 lead.

Mervue immediately searched for another as Manning picked out Varley, and with his cross he searched for Lavelle but William Enubele cleared just as Lavelle was about to head it.

From the resulting corner, Manning whipped it in to Varley, whose shot was well blocked by Colm Horgan.

A second goal was coming, and it arrived on 18 minutes when King played a neat exchange with Paul Sinnott and he squared for Manning, who shot first-time to bag his first League of Ireland goal.

Following this it looked as if Mervue could further stretch their lead by half-time, but Devon kept their heads up and as a result of their hard work they eventually began to find their feet.

As the interval drew closer O’Brien – who had been eventually signed by Devon just hours before the kick-off – collected a long hopeful ball from Forde and cut inside but blazed over with the goal at his mercy.

Five minutes later, Enda Curran won a loose ball and his pace proved too much for Michael McSweeney but his shot was well saved by Gleeson.

On the break Mervue pelted forward and Lavelle saw another effort blocked by the omnipresent Greaney who was a rock at the back. Lavelle collected again and squared for Manning, but this time he mishit his shot and Forde caught easily.

On the stroke of half-time the teenager had another go at bagging his second but his free-kick sailed well over into the astroturf cages at Fahy’s Field.

A crowd of almost 300 people made their way to the east side of the city to witness the encounter, and perhaps a mixture of the heavy rain in the hour before kick-off along with the racing at Cheltenham earlier in the day affected the attendance.

The second-half failed to prove as entertaining as the first as Devon kept fighting hard to claw back into the contest and prevent a third goal which would have ended their chances of getting points on the board.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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Archive News

Festival whets the appetite for new food experiences



Date Published: 21-Mar-2013

I know it’s hard to believe, but there are well-grounded, consistent reports in recent weeks that Fianna Fáil nationally has been receiving a large number of new applications for membership of the party.

When I heard it first, I thought to myself – sounds like new recruits to join the crew of the Titanic. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if they knew something that the rest of us didn’t.

For, FF showed a bounce in two recent opinion polls. And then George Lee did his walkout from Fine Gael, leaving FG and Enda Kenny to watch anxiously in the coming months as further polls come in, and the Kenny leadership comes under renewed pressure.


Fine Gael is still well ahead in the polls, but you write off FF at your peril. The old Fianna Fáil ‘faith’ still runs deep even among many of those who are now angry at the way the country was allowed to run on to the economic rocks under FF stewardship.

On the face of it, it sounds like FF shouldn’t be an even vaguely attractive prospect for new members . . . you can be damn sure that FF unpopularity was one of the main reasons that Galway West TD Noel Grealish (formerly of the PDs and now Independent) wouldn’t touch joining the FF Parliamentary Party with a barge pole and has been flexing his political muscle in recent months as an Independent.

That’s despite FF Ministers Eamon Ó Cuív and Noel Dempsey courting Grealish for months to join FF, with even speculation of a junior ministry ‘sweetener’ at some stage when Brian Cowen eventually carries out that long-threatened reshuffle.

Wonder if Grealish would reconsider now? For there’s no denying that in recent weeks in FF there has been a sneaking dawning feeling that, if they could just hold off the General Election until 2012, then maybe – just maybe! – at least their bedrock support might have come back by then and the massacre of FF TDs might not be quite as bloody as has been predicted for the past year.

Why, some FFrs believe they might even have enough TDs left to cosy-up to the Labour Party. That’s provided of course they can hold out to 2012 and their government partners, the Greens, don’t tear themselves apart in the meantime with their habit of washing dirty linen in public.

People like Grealish would have been hoping that some of the FF voters might go for the ‘first cousin’ in the shape of a former PD like himself – well weren’t the PDs just a family row in FF? The big test for angry or wavering FF supporters on election day in a place like Galway West would be just how many of them would vote Fine Gael? I have always been of the belief that ‘the hand would wither’ before they could give ‘the blueshirts’ a vote.

Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, the pressure has transferred to Fine Gael. They are the ones who now have to worry about any slippage in support, they have convince us that they could run the economy better . . . and against this shaky new background, they also have to worry about ‘upping their game’ in key areas like Galway West.

One of the most recent opinion polls showed the highest regional level of support for Fine Gael as being in Connacht-Ulster, which was traditionally the area which Fianna Fáil could count on as heartland. That has to be ‘the Enda Kenny factor’ coming through in constituencies close to his Mayo base, where FG had a huge 53% of the first preferences in 2007.

For more, read page 12 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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