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A Calling from Afar
Chapter 4: Just a week after we returned from Peru, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra called me, asking if I was open to come play with them for a few programs...
Just a week after we returned from Peru, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra called me, asking if I was open to come play with them for a few programs. Hearing those words, I wanted nothing more than to jump off my chair in excitement, but I had to hold back and remain calm and serious on the phone. I answered with a stern voice that I had to look on my calendar and see if it would fit into my schedule. The woman listed the dates they were inviting me to play, mentioning that the program would include “The Rite of Spring,” by Igor Stravinsky.
When I heard those words, it was as if time had just stopped. I couldn’t believe my ears. As much as I had fully trusted the visions in Peru, for this to happen in 3D reality, just a few weeks after was wild. I stayed silent for a while, not really knowing how to respond, until the woman on the other end of the line said, “Are you still there?”
“Uh … Just looking at my calendar,” I answered politely. “Can I call you back tomorrow with a final answer?” I had learned to play the game so well over the years and didn’t want to sound overly enthusiastic. The next day I confirmed the program, and a new chapter in my classical music career opened up. Everything seemed to be happening in full synchronicity, unfolding just as I had seen in my vision. That moment was an affirmation of my trust in the medicine. It was unbelievable, and at the same time it felt completely natural: of course it was happening!
The fulfilment of that vision made my time coming back to Amsterdam full of magic and joy. The invitation from the prestigious orchestra was another step up the ladder of the classical music world. My initial concerts with “The Rite of Spring” went well, and I was invited to come back and play more programs.
At that point, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra was testing out several different people to fill the position of my former teacher, Guus Dral who had passed the year before. He who had appeared in my visions in Peru, flying through the sky. With these concerts opening up, there was a possibility to secure a permanent position in one of the best orchestras in the world. That for sure would mean fulfilment, I thought! So with a lot of gratitude and eagerness, I accepted the other concerts offered to me and prepared for them as best I could.
One of the concerts was on Christmas Day, 2011. The Christmas matinee, as that concert is called, is one of the most important concerts of the year for the orchestra. It is broadcasted live on television in many countries, and along with the New Year’s concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, it is probably one of the most famous concerts in the classical music world. I was thrilled and proud to be part of that performance, and was very much looking forward to the experience.
At that matinee, we performed a magnificent piece of music, “A Symphony of Alps,” composed by Richard Strauss. That piece puts into music the beauty of the Alpine Mountains of Central Europe. It begins with the rising sun, builds up to a spectacular peak at its highest summit, and then decrescendos down with the setting sun. The conductor leading the orchestra was Bernard Haitink, a musical genius. He was in his seventies and regarded as one of the great conductors of our day.
Here’s a video recording of parts of that concert on Christmas Day 2011. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Bernard Haitink. Can you spot where I sit?
That day, everything I could have ever dreamed of, came true: I was playing in one of the best orchestras in the world, performing a magnificent piece of music, led by a world-class conductor, sitting in a world-famous concert hall, being broadcast live all over the world. I had arrived at one of the highest steps of the classical music ladder.
When I walked onto the stage wearing my black tails, I was in a high state of concentration and focus. I felt the importance of the moment, with the possibility on the horizon of getting tenure, which would allow me to play there for the rest of my life.
We sat down, the orchestra tuned, and “el maestro” walked down the steps to the rostrum, the audience applauding. He turned toward the orchestra, and the concert hall became silent. I was observing my feelings closely, and it almost felt like I was looking at myself from a distance. It was an interesting sensation. “What are you doing?” I thought to myself. “Keep focused! This is one of the most important concerts of your career.” When I had that realization, I snapped out of it. Haitink lifted his baton, and the gentle sounds of the strings and woodwinds started to fill the hall. I was back at the edge of my seat in full concentration.
But twenty minutes later, it happened again. While my body was still playing the bassoon, sitting in the orchestra, my mind went back into observation mode. After a while it was as if I was floating above the orchestra, watching the whole scene, just like it had happened before in Peru. I observed the orchestra sitting on a stage, the audience below listening. I could see the distance between the musicians and the listeners. I could see the games of the ego at play between the musicians. I was observing that some of the people in the audience were there more for the high-society vibe, than for their love of music. Seeing that, I felt a coldness enter my heart, and tension coming into my body. I felt so much sadness and loneliness in that moment. Was it really my destiny to be part of this for the rest of my life? Had I really practised all my life to share music in this way?
Inside of me, things were shifting on a deep level. For so long I had believed that the level of excellence of the orchestras I played in, was directly connected to my feeling of fulfilment. For years that feeling compelled me to keep improving and advancing in the classical music world. And there I was, playing in one of the best orchestras on the planet. There was not much further to go. Floating there over the orchestra, I could see that the calling to excellence had led me to this moment, but being there didn’t make me feel more fulfilled. What I saw actually made me really sad. Slowly I started to contemplate why I had started playing music in the first place.
And while that might seem a very obvious question to ask, I had simply never tuned into that question before. The answer came very clearly and naturally. It felt so true that I had to smile at the realization: I wanted to touch people’s hearts with music.
All of this was happening, while I was still sitting on the stage, playing the bassoon. In the midst of the concert, it became clear to me that I was not on the right path. A new understanding of the vision in Peru started to pour in. Instead of showing me that I would be playing in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for the rest of my life, it was showing me that playing here would deepen my understanding of what music meant to me, and bring clarity to my future. Guus must have known it all the while; his laughing took on a completely different meaning at that moment. With that realization, I felt a rush of warm sensations moving through my body.
I felt a deep respect for the medicine at that moment. For sure I would have not believed Madre Ayahuasca if she had told me in Peru that I was going to quit my musical career. She had guided me masterfully to this insight. A deep respect for her wisdom was coming in. My body relaxed, and I started to experience a new feeling of freedom. All the possibilities of my future were opening up. I felt certain that my time as a professional classical musician was ending. A new path was opening, one I had already been exploring in my travels and in the realm of healing. Although I had no idea where that path would lead me, I felt full of trust and excitement for a future yet to come.
Understanding at last why I never felt complete fulfilment in my classical music career, I finished playing the concert and returned home, full of both insecurity and excitement.
Despite my initial fears of bad music in Peru, some of the songs there had stuck with me—so strongly in fact, that I bought a guitar, learned some simple chords, and started to sing. I never really had sung in my life. My career as a professional musician had made me a bit of a perfectionist, used to very high levels of music and many hours of practice. With my voice not being at that same level, I felt a lot of apprehension. But my love for singing became stronger, and over time, the songs I learned became more and more meaningful to me.
Upon leaving Peru, I felt that my ceremonies were a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hadn’t felt a calling to return to that space. But with all the things that were slowly unfolding, my curiosity was again piqued. I started to look around, found some ceremonies in the Netherlands, and signed up. I received a very warm response, and the last part of the email said, “Aren’t you a musician? If so, why don’t you bring your instruments, and maybe you can play some music in the ceremonies.”
Those words brought me back to my experiences in Peru, lying under a blanket, unable to move. How could I ever play music in that state? But the emails were very reassuring, letting me know that there would be no pressure at all, only an open space to play, if and when I might feel like it. The communication softened me, and just a few weeks after the Christmas concert, I showed up with my bassoon and my guitar, ready for another journey into a world that was so new to me, yet at the same time, that felt so familiar.
When I unpacked my instruments in the temple, my heart was beating with excitement. The space was open and big, with a mattress for each participant circled around the room. A man from Brazil, Norberto, was leading the ceremonies. I liked him from the first moment. I could feel his gentleness and peace.
I had been so busy preparing my spot, unpacking my instruments, and making sure they were protected later on from puking people, that I missed my initial conversation that was supposed to happen with Norberto. When he finally walked into the ceremony space, ready to start, he walked up to me and said, “Ah, you’re the guy with the flute. Welcome! Why don’t you play the first song tonight? We will drink the medicine, leave some silence, and then whenever you feel the calling to play, you can start. Okay?”
We looked each other in the eyes. I was remembering the last time I had been in ceremony—when I couldn’t even move my fingers. The first sounds that had broken the silence had been so precious and had set the tone for the whole ceremony. How could I ever find the right way to start? How could I play music in that state? Once again my mind was full of doubts about “performing,” but I kept silent. Feeling into my body, I detected warm, tingling sensations. I had to trust. Gently I nodded my head to Norberto and went back to my space.
The ceremony opened, and we all drank the medicine for the first time. The opening was very different from the one in Peru. And as the experience in Peru had been so profound, I noticed my mind comparing the two situations. I kept reminding myself to trust and to let everything unfold. The lights were dimmed, and a few candles stayed lit. That candlelight stayed with us throughout the night. I curled up under my blanket like a baby. In less than twenty minutes, my body relaxed and my breath started to deepen: I was back on the force of the medicine. The patterns and the colours came in, and I felt my body tingling with electricity. Life was breathing through me. I felt so, so good to be back in that space again.
After a while, I could hear music very clearly inside of me. Tuning into it, I noticed it was the sarabande of the first Cello Suite of Johann Sebastian Bach, a piece of music I love dearly. Bach’s music carries so much depth, so much profundity. I listened to the piece of music in my vision until the words of Norberto came back to me: “Whenever you feel the calling to play, you can start.”
I came out from under my blanket, sat up straight, and put my glasses back on. I scanned the room and saw Norberto calmly looking at me. I nodded at him, pointing to my bassoon, to ask if it was time to play. He nodded back in quiet encouragement.
I took my instrument and placed the bamboo reed in a small glass of water. It took me a while to get ready. The medicine was very strong inside of me, making it difficult for me to focus. It required a lot of concentration to move with the care and precision needed to get everything ready while at the same time not making too many sounds and disturbing the silence. I clicked the bassoon into my shoulder strap, inserted the reed, and was almost ready to start. My hands felt strange—as if water was running down my fingers. I tried to dry them by rubbing them on my clothes. But after a few times, I realized it was just a sensation and that they were not wet at all. I pulled myself together, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and started to play.
Sarabande, 1st Cello Suite, Johann Sebastian Bach
Dennis Notten - Bassoon, 2008
From the first sound that came out of the bassoon that night, I could feel that the music was just flowing through. It felt if as my body had become an instrument, and that something, or somebody, was playing through me in that moment. My body was trembling, and it took a lot of concentration to stay focused, but as I had practised many hours a day for years, I was in top shape. My fingers and lips knew exactly what to do. The deep sounds of the bassoon filled the room. It was incredible to feel the music in that space; I had never played music like that before.
I played with my eyes closed, and the visions became more and more intense. Between the colours and the patterns that were becoming more familiar, I started to see a woman in her forties and, farther off, an elderly man. I kept playing with all my concentration, focusing on those two people. In a way, it felt like I was playing music just for them. They came closer together, and I understood that they were father and daughter. They were in the middle of a terrible fight. Seeing their struggle, I started to play with all the love and peace I could find within myself. I played with the intention of calming them down and bringing them back to love.
As the music progressed, their fight started to soften, and slowly their energy settled. I could see that their words became gentler, and when the piece of music was close to ending, they embraced each other in a big, long, loving hug. Then they let go of the hug, said their goodbyes, and each went off in their own direction. When I stopped playing I couldn’t see them anymore; they had disappeared into the horizon.
I sat there with the bassoon in my hands, eyes closed, feeling my heart beating in my neck and chest. I sat there for a while, replaying all that had just happened. It had been such a profound and new experience. My body started to tremble, and I couldn’t sit any longer. I opened my eyes, put my bassoon back in the corner, and curled up under my blanket. My journey continued.
Five hours later I sat up again. The ceremony had closed. The force of the medicine was still strong inside me, and I was trying to grasp what had just happened. People started to move around, and some conversations were happening. I stayed on my mattress, not ready to engage just yet. From the other side of the room, I could see a woman coming toward me. I reached for my glasses and put them back on. When she sat down in front of me, I saw she was the same woman I had seen in my visions earlier in the ceremony, the woman who had been in a fight with her father.
To see her sit in front of me there, was unreal. She gave me a long hug and asked if she could tell me something. I nodded but didn’t say a word, as I was so astonished to see this woman from the vision. As it was a group of around forty people, I hadn’t met everybody before the start of the ceremony. This was the first time I saw the woman consciously in 3D reality.
She took a moment, and after a while, she began: “I want to tell you something. I decided to come here just a few days ago. My father passed away earlier this week. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a good relationship. A few decades ago we had a bad fight, and since then we haven’t spoken. We were both too proud to ever contact each other again.” I listened with full attention.
“When I heard of my father’s passing,” she continued, “I decided to come here to see if I could find any resolution within myself. I feel so sorry that I never had contacted him again.” She paused, and I could see she was very emotional. “When the medicine came in tonight,” she followed, “I saw my father clearly in my visions, and when we came closer, we immediately went back to the fight. He was furious. It was almost as if we were reliving that same fight we had so many years ago.”
Listening to those words, still being under the influence of the medicine, I felt dream reality and 3D reality come together in a way I had not experienced before. “When you played your instrument, it was as if the music was lifting us up. The higher we went, the softer we became toward each other, and the clearer the situation became. In that space, we communicated about many things, and we were able to find peace, forgiveness, resolution, love, and compassion for each other. We closed with words of gratitude. Then we separated in full understanding, in full love and appreciation for each other. It was a beautiful closure after his death. Your music made this all happen,” she said. “It lifted us up from the heaviness into the light. Thank you so much for your music.”
As I listened to her words, tears rolled down my cheeks. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. Goosebumps rose all over my body, and my heart was so warm and tingly, that I had to do my best to sit still and listen. Perplexed, I couldn’t do anything else other than give her a hug, I was sobbing. We stayed in that hug for a long time.
Her sharing touched me deeply; it felt so true. Exactly as she had experienced it in her vision, I had seen it in mine. I felt so much gratitude for music and its healing power at that moment. It was my first glimpse of what was possible in the ceremonial space. I that moment I felt strongly that this way of sharing music was in my future. All the years of study, practice, and experience in music started to make more sense. A new phase was opening up for me.
Music had always been my first love, and at that moment I understood more deeply why.
My girlfriend had not been with me in the Dutch ceremonies. Her experiences with Ayahuasca had been completely different from mine. She had a bit of an adverse reaction, and it had been difficult for her to let go of control. So when I felt called to return to that space, she was very clear that she didn’t want to join me. In the beginning, she let me do my thing without many comments, but in time the ceremonies became a tense subject between us: “Why do you need to go back? Didn’t you receive already enough from the time in Peru? Isn’t it time to continue our lives in Amsterdam? When are you going to stop?”
These questions were very difficult for me. My ceremonies had been some of the truest experiences of my life. They brought me so many insights, so much understanding, and so much connection. I could feel for the first time a sense of belonging growing inside of me. My perspective on my career in the classical music world had changed profoundly, opening up a completely different way of making music. The medicine helped me to see why I had felt unfulfilled in my career and maybe even in my life. To me, the medicine was such a gift.
To feel those questions and judgements from the woman I loved so dearly was very difficult for me. Tension started to build between us and in our home. Things started to shift. I lost my interest in classical literature and started reading more inspirational nonfiction books, and with that, the common love we had felt for poetry and classical literature started to fade. The same started to happen with music. She was an amazing classical violinist with a huge level of dedication. Every day she studied for many hours with a lot of discipline. I felt not so drawn anymore to the classical music world, and although I was still playing in the Dutch Radio Orchestra as my day job, I found myself spending more time with the guitar and singing ceremony songs. And although these seemed like superficial changes in the beginning, in time they had a deep impact on our relationship. Slowly the disconnect was becoming more obvious.
On top of the tension in our relationship, her family started to question whether I was becoming a drug addict, and if it would be a good idea for me to look into rehab. Those comments made me furious, and as I loved her family very much and had a good relationship with them, they hurt me on a deep level. Hearing them speak about the medicine as a drug made me feel sick to my stomach. Couldn’t they see the gifts that came with the medicine? Couldn’t they see the truth in all that was unfolding? I started to feel less comfortable at home and could notice that I was really looking forward to the ceremonies coming up.
After a few weeks of tension at home and in the orchestra, I went back to ceremony. It felt so good to be surrounded by like-minded people that shared a love for Ayahuasca. They helped me to find my centre again. Quickly I regained trust in the medicine and the path that was revealing itself to me. It was so good to be with Norberto again in those days. I was so grateful for his encouragement to share music in ceremony, and he continued to be a teacher and a guide for me. Soon I was regularly attending ceremonies, and the visions and teachings continued to come.
In one of those ceremonies, lying under a cosy blanket, deep on the force of the Medicine, I received three clear messages. It was not a conversation: it was as if Madre Ayahuasca started by just repeating a word:
“Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá, Yawanawá…”
She whispered that word into my ear for about half an hour, very calmly, very gently, and at the same time crystal clear. I asked her what that word meant, but she just kept whispering the word, repeating it over and over. When she finally stopped, I had a vision of a man with one arm. He looked down at me from above, watching me. I saw him in my vision, almost like being in a dream. He didn’t say anything or make any sign or gesture. He just stood and watched me. In that space, it seemed clear that inside he held a lot of knowledge and wisdom.
After a while, Madre Ayahuasca started to whisper in my ear again:
“Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul, Cruzeiro do Sul…”
She repeated that phrase into my ear over and over.
When she finished, there was a pause. Then I heard one word. I didn’t understand it as well as the others, and it was voiced just one time:
The word was pronounced deeply, strongly, unlike the gentle whispers that had preceded it. It carried a force, a vibration, that I couldn’t remember feeling before in my life. The strength of the word, in a language I didn’t know, shook me up a bit.
After that particular ceremony, when the weekend came to an end, I stood outside the ceremonial space, talking with Norberto. When I told him about the messages, he responded that Cruzeiro do Sul was a city in Brazil. The Daime that we had drunk that weekend had come from Cruzeiro do Sul. There was no mention of Yawanawá. “Why don’t you come to Brazil this upcoming summer?” he said. “I can connect you with some people there, and you can travel around a bit. It would be a great opportunity for you to learn more about the medicine and see where it comes from.” My body tingled upon hearing those words, and in that moment I just knew where I would be going the following summer.