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find: Music Belgium

Michel Verheecke  
singer, songwriter, poet, guitarist, Belgium.


I began playing with music when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I made a stringed instrument out of a cigar box and rubber bands. Over the years I made lots of boxes, and many instruments. I used whistles, glass and even the stairs. Each step cracked a different way when I walked up or down them. From these experiences I became just as fascinated by silences. The silences are like the sea, and the sounds are like the waves. The wave is apparent and performing is like coming out of the sea to use the waves to reach people. I was always listening to these sounds and silences, and was amazed that I could affect these myself. Silence organizes the music, otherwise the music would just be a string of sounds. With music I am always waiting for the next note, often I don't know what will come. I am not interested in just repeating sounds. Music that is reproduced, not recreated, is just dead.

When I was about 13 I bought my first second-hand guitar and started taking guitar lessons at a local music school. I discovered that music had two sides: feeling and mathmatics. If you sing, and then take a pause, the pause has to be exactly at the right time and for the right length, otherwise the effect of the following sound is lost.

image to come
Michel Verheecke to come...

My teacher was very open and understood that I wanted to make music myself and not only repeat notes. We agreed that for half of the lesson, I would follow the set programme and play classical music and for the second half of the lesson I could ask or play anything that came to me and that he would help me in developing this. He taught me the value of listening to myself. I gained both a technical grounding as well as a sense of self-expression from the teacher.

During my teenage years, like many youth of the sixties I played in small bands with exotic names. Between the ages of 10 and 15 I was very ill, suffering from tuberculosis and meningitis. I lived in the terminal ward of a hospital for 3 months experiencing the deaths of sixty people around me and then spent a year in a sanatorium. That had an impact my views on life, as I started to question who I was and began my spiritual quest. Then I had to leave high school because my parents were ill and we needed an income, so from the moment I started work, I lived in two worlds. One was where I worked and earned money and the other was my dream world. In other words, I started to dive into the sea of the spiritual and practised yoga as well. As a tuberculosis patient I had serious problems with my lungs and was told that I could only lead a limited life and so I began my battle with those who tried to make me believe that I was handicapped. I had already realized that I had to concentrate on my inner world or I would die like the others around me. I believe my health improved because I refused to allow the negative things around me dominate my life. A positive effect of this battle was that my health improved but a negative one was that I built a wall around myself. Because of this music and poetry became more and more my means of expression. At this time, I also began to have some of my letter published in a national Belgium newspaper. They were about my feelings about the need for society to become more spiritual and unified.

When I was 18 I worked as a labourer in a supermarket, which was hard in the beginning because I was physically weak. Over the years I moved on other jobs and eventually into tourism after teaching myself Spanish, English, French and German. I enjoyed the diverse mentalities and did this for 15 years. However, I missed expressing my artistic side and after my divorce, moved back into serious music making in bands. This time, I was the centre of the band and it was my music we played. I also played with musicians from a variety of backgrounds such as Gypsy, Brazillian, Classical and Jazz. In the end I realised that it was best for me to play alone on my guitar singing my songs. It is closer to what is whole for me.

In the 70's and 80's I had some poems published in Belgian and Dutch poetry magazines and had my own band. In 1986 I took classes in acting at the School of Theatre and during the following years performed on stage on a regular basis. I created and produced a 45 minute theatre piece called Gezegend zijde gij (Blessed art thou), which also included some of my poetry and songs. Here is one poem from this play spoken by the main character in candlelight.

Michel Verheecke, left,
jamming with Mike Robles
in Brugge, Belgium, 1998.

Hope                 Flemish original: Hoop

I don´t see any mystical fires burning
no brilliant light shows me the way
I must warm myself
on a smaller flame
deep in

These are shy moonlit hands,
that I place in your distant hands,

When I -in silence
that softens the pain,
Again have articulated
your name

Then my mind flows through the walls
of the long seige.

I am unbeaten-

The piece consisted of a dialogue with my alter ego. I played the main character who was a musician. The music was aired on local radio and performed twice.

I took lessons in the old Hindu philosophy, Adwaita, which involved studying parts of the Veda and esoteric interpretations of the Bible, Sanskrit, Calligraphy and pracitcal exercises in self awareness. I stopped this after six years because while they had solutions for the individual, there was no solution for the non-initiate or society or the person on the street. I felt it was also important to look at the problems in the world. I have been involved with Tantrism and Taoism for a number of years as well, as well as having followed a course in holistic medicine. In 1991 I spent a month in a Zen monastry in Canada. Zazen (Zen meditation) allowed me to rediscover the profound silence of my childhood.

In 1992 a producer made a demo tape of some of my songs (Promo Productions, Brussels). Then a few months later I started to have serious problems with my right ear (I was deaf in my left ear from birth) and the doctors told me that I had to quit my job or become deaf. This was because in working in tourism, I was on the telephone 8 hours a day. As a musician I started to panic (a little), as things seemed to be coming together professionally. Contrary to what want would think, I didn't take things too dramatically, as just before this, I became a member of the Bahá´í Faith and so wanted to change my lifestyle anyway. Perhaps this was a way of leaving something behind that was no longer for me. From that moment I decided to make my songs serve the ocean and not the drop that I am.
I've been particularly inspired by the Bahá´í principles because these concern all of society. I´m not the centre of the universe anymore!

Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, September 1994, pages 14 - 15

  • Poem: Arts Dialogue, December 1998
  • Artist Profile: BAFA newsletter, September 1994
  • Letter: BAFA newsletter, June 1993

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands