Music has the ability to bring people together. Whether it is to unite in solidarity or to simply enjoy the beat and vibes, there is a quality about music that ignites people.
36 year old Tom Esch is a father, teacher, and musician. Though he was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a semester on a study abroad program during college brought him to Seattle. He was allured by the music scene, which comprised of grunge rock bands, like Nirvana.
“Music is the life-long guarantee that I will always have something to do,” Esch said. “I can always have it with me.”
As he began to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest, he decided to stay and teach at Seattle Central College and Shoreline Community College. But, since he was 12 years old, music has been his passion and that has not changed.
“For the longest time, I didn’t have a clear connection with why I was a musician,” Esch said. “Part of that has to do with various narratives you get as a young boy – what it means to be a man and what kind of man you can be. A lot of the guys I used to listen to in the 90s were guys who didn’t take very good care of themselves, and a lot of them are now dead particularly because of mental illnesses.”
Esch provided the example of Kurt Cobain’s narrative. The American singer, songwriter, and musician died by suicide in 1994.
“The magazines always depicted him as a heroin addict,” Esch said. “For me, I began my personal recovery from clinical depression about four to five years ago and I finally made peace with being a musician, an artist, and a man. I finally accepted it as a whole piece of me instead of what the stereotypes said I should be.”
As Esch was going through his recovery process, he did a lot of research on preexisting resources, programs, and trainings that help people recover or better themselves from depression or other mental illness. That’s how he came upon Forefront Suicide Prevention.
“One of the things that made me whole was playing my music, writing music, and putting myself out there,” Esch said. “I had a personal hiatus from putting myself out there. I wanted to sustain myself musically but also keep myself from slipping back to who I was.”
Esch performs music because it helps him heal but also because he wants it to heal others. The personal touch he brings to his music can indirectly and directly impact people who are going through similar emotions.
“I hope my music helps people heal,” Esch said. “I don’t know what it does to be honest with you. I can tell you how I know how it helps me heal. I know this because it’s the thing that helps me from slipping back into depression. It keeps me busy.”
Esch has decided to partner with Forefront in his next benefit concert on May 19th. Titled, “Tom Esch Live: A Concert to Benefit Forefront Suicide Prevention,” Esch’s mission and purpose for this concert will be accompanied by Forefront’s staff who will be at the concert to share its mission to empower individuals and communities to take sustainable action to prevent suicide, champion systemic change, and restore hope.
“I’m excited for this partnership because I want to reach the community that is often stereotyped and based on the people who I know in this community, the stereotypes aren’t necessarily off,” Esch said. “We do feel more intensely than some other folks on the planet do and if we’re the ones who are creating healing music for everyone else, who’s helping us to heal?”
The music space has the ability not only to help listeners but also the musicians themselves. It provides an outlet for them as much as it gives others the ability to heal.
“My particular struggle with mental illness is in the depression area,” Esch said. “Every male in my immediate family is now clinically diagnosed with something. Part of it was genetic and understanding that it’s no different from getting cancer, but the discrimination in terms of who gets affected by mental illness is not something we can control. How we react and how we tell stories about it is something that has become very important to me, given that I recovered.”
Esch talked about how he was disturbed by suicidal thoughts and one of the things in addition to talk therapy and a medical solution that worked for him, he found that mindfulness meditation has helped too.
“I grew up Christian but I never felt like prayer did anything,” Esch said. “I did one five minute mindfulness meditation and I could feel the difference. It taught me how to observe the thought rather than own the thought, and know how the thoughts in your brain are not necessarily yours and to just let the phrase happen rather than letting it dictate what happens next.”
Esch mentioned how he has seen way too many of his personal musician heroes fall victim to the nasty cycle of mental illnesses. This is why he hopes that his music becomes a source of inspiration and changes the narrative of what it means to be a musician. This is what Esch is trying to sell in addition to experiences and the ability to escape, which music encompasses.
“I want my music to inspire people to be as authentic as they can be because that’s when as an artist, I’ll feel real and fulfilled,” Esch said. “At the end of the day, I hope my music inspires.”
Esch reiterated that even though mental illnesses do not discriminate, we continue to. And, part of his mission is to acknowledge this point and to send this message to as many individuals as possible.
Tom Esch Live: A Concert to Benefit Forefront Suicide Prevention
With Special Guest Glass Souls & Acceptable Losses
Saturday, May 19th
5 pm – 8 pm
21+ $10 Door Entry
645 NW 45th St
Seattle, Washington 98107
Tom Esch presents an evening of musical healing and mental health awareness in partnership with Forefront Suicide Prevention. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to help support Forefront in its mission to help those who need it.