Loss - Music to Grieve to

Loss - Music to Grieve to

I stopped playing after my father died.

It didn’t feel right.

While I was eventually able to transmute grief into music, those first few months - I had nothing.  

The word most prevalent in my journals at the time was “discombobulated” - and I was.  Weird, confused, unsure, unsteady - yes the world continued - jobs, families, lives - but everything seemed under a blanket - kinda like those allergy commercials where there’s a fog over the screen.

But there’s no pill for grief.  

There’s just time.  

It took me 3 months to play again and this was the first theme that came out.

Sad Music

This was written long before the idea of Music to Grieve to came about and the subsequent insight into how sad music can make you feel better.  It was written with my Dad firmly in the forefront of my mind.

I was thinking about his love of music - of his insatiable curiosity into how and where the music came from.  His library covered the lives of the great composers and dived deep into the (often times to me,) impenetrable world of Opera.  And while he appreciated all kinds of music and could dance to ELO or Alesha Dixon as well as anyone, it was Beethoven that remained his first love.

I remember the story of him as a medical student, volunteering on the ambulances in Edinburgh, riding down Princes Street singing snatches of the Eroica, whistling the opening themes of the Pastoral and yes - belting out the final movement of the great 9th Symphony.

They are joyous memories.

But this isn’t a joyous track.

This is a sad track.

It takes the uplifting triad of the Moonlight Sonata and flips it around, it takes the simple time signature and complicates and confuses it.

It’s descending, it’s in a minor key, it’s soft and delicate and it tears my heart out.

The end of the track, well - that’s wishful thinking.

The idea that I can take this melancholic feeling and turn into something hopeful - it almost works.  The last quarter of the track is indeed in a major key and while the piece is striving to finish hopefully - the final resolution at the end - the final notes of the track - resolve into a descending walk towards the bottom of the keyboard - and that's where they leave you - feeling down...

The Bench

Chris McCluskey, In Memoriam - The Bench - 6th Hole - Milnathort Golf Club, Scotland

This is Scotland. This is my Father’s bench.  My Mother had a local artisan create it from the managed forests and here it sits - looking down the 6th hole of Milnathort Golf Club - right where he was hit by a golf ball in 2014 and indeed where he had his fatal heart attack in March 2016.

“The Bench” had been the working title of the track but I knew that it wouldn’t make sense to people outside our family.  I was struggling to get the track names to fit neatly into the Kubler-Ross model and had initially thought this could fit “Denial” but once again it didn’t ring true.  When I finally abandoned the idea and thought what this track represented - what it meant to me - where it came from and how it was manifest - it was clear that this track is about loss.

Loss - when it’s still visceral - when you still think you can call them - when you’re still discombobulated and not sure when it will end.  

Loss - when it colors your every move and burns hot in your heart.

So yes - this is about loss, the loss of a loved one, my loved one, my Dad.

Find Us On Spotify

We're going to be focusing a lot on Spotify over the coming year - it is by far the biggest revenue source for Musicto and music2work2 and the best way for you to support us is to listen to and share our playlists.

We will be developing the Music to Grieve to playlist by adding new tracks so make sure you choose to follow.

Aside from following Musicto and music2work2 on Spotify you can of course sign up for the email list.  We only ever contact you when we have new music available.

Frustration - Death Of A Startup

Frustration - Death Of A Startup

Have you ever put your heart and soul into something for years and yet it didn’t work out?

If so, this track’s for you.



I was on my dream job - working for a small independent record label, writing songs with the talent, arranging the music for and playing in the band, designing and executing on the marketing strategy - I was living my dream.

I still love and miss everyone on the gig and don’t regret a second of my time, but when it became apparent that I had to move on - this is the track that came out of me.

Death of a Startup

Grief is intensely personal - sure, you can experience it in tandem with family & friends but ultimately how it affects you is unique.  I always thought that grief was special, that it was something reserved for tragic events like the death of a loved one or the loss of a limb, that there was some kind of "grief threshold" that you had to pass before it was OK to feel bad.

But that's not true.

Nobody died on the gig but man did I weep when I thought of what should have been, of how things could have been different, of how much energy & time was spent to pursue what turned out to ultimately be, unreachable. 

When your venture fails - not only is there the loss of status, of position, of income - there is the horrendous guilt, the vicious inner voices that strip you naked and blame you for everything.


I wrote this track just before it got really bad, before the depression kicked in and I spent months barely keeping my shit together.  

They tell you that when you “go for” something you shouldn’t leave anything on the table - that you need to be all in.  Well - the only problem with that is when it ends, and you have nothing left, it’s practically impossible to stay out of “the hole.”

Sure you function, you maintain family relationships, you move forward, you - to quote my Father “screw it up another notch” but inside you’re falling deeper and deeper with no rope, no ariadne thread and no flashlight.

So yeah - that’s fun isn’t it!?

Grief isn’t special

I grieved for the loss of the gig - for the loss of my dream and my time and for everybody else.  It took me a while - a good 6 months at least - but I did come out the other end and yes - thankfully, was all the stronger for it.

Grief can hit you whenever

Don’t let anyone belittle your grief - getting that shit out of your system is what it’s all about.

Why Frustration?

The frustration I’m referring to is not the angry, cheated emotion – it is the sad one.  The frustration of not getting what you want - to be frustrated in one’s efforts.

It's the emotion that quietly grows inside of you, ignoring your pleas of mitigation and requests for more time.  It's the emotion that leads you through the awful decision process which results in you having to share with people you have lived and loved with for years that you can no longer see the future.

It's the emotion that ultimately leads to loss - and that's why it is on this playlist.

Music to Grieve to Playlist on Spotify

CODA: ______________________________

As for the gig…

It was a Country gig - I love Kelli like a sister and no matter how you cut it - we write well together.  We wrote over a hundred songs and worked up over 50 with a live band.  I reckoned we had a killer album and possibly two great ones.

Kelli was always clear she wanted to sing in front of a great band.  The quality of the players that came through was astonishing, cats that played for Diana Ross, Eddie Money, Ben Harper, Stirling Brig, The Clash, Serj Tankian, A Perfect Circle, Eagles of Death Metal and more, for me it was an amazing education.

Unlike founders of tech startups my product is still kicking around the internet.  If I want to remember how we looked and played I can go here - but my favorite memory is a loose rehearsal right at the beginning of the project - two microphones in the room - nothing fancy - just a song and a band beginning to come together:

And now - although I still reflect on what could have been - now I remember the good times and remember what was.

And smile.

Memories - 137 Bpm - Music to Grieve to

Memories - 137 Bpm - Music to Grieve to

In February 2016 I had the opportunity to buy the domain name Musicto.com.  Musicto had been trademarked as a record label in 2005 but the trademark had lapsed in 2008 and was available.  My father had died the previous March and I spent the last of my inheritance on establishing the label.

By May we started brainstorming album names.   I’d been grieving the loss of my Father and couldn’t help but resonate with the idea of Music to Grieve to.  I’m a Psychology major, had volunteered for the London Night-Line as a student, my Mother had been a Samaritan and I had worked for a patient advocacy group for EDS, I thought I knew about Grief.

How about an album based on the Five Stages of Grief - I would sit down and think of each emotion and how it related to my own grief.  There would be 5 tracks delivering about an hour’s worth of music - everyone goes through the process so it would be totally relatable.  All I needed to do was produce the music.

How Not To Write Music

If you don’t how I create, I’m like the Elizabeth Gilbert of music - I have to show up everyday and hack through it.  Sure I might get the idea for a theme in the shower or a snippet of melody in a dream but you won't find me rushing to mark that down on manuscript paper with a pencil - all music2work2 is hammered out on the piano.  I record everything and spend more time listening than I do actually playing.

After my daily playing sessions I take the tracks that I think might have a hint of something and move them onto my daily listening playlist.  While I’m helping businesses grow  I’m listening to the music and when I get lost – when a piece of music sends me away to that space where I flow – where I’m rolling and producing my best work – that’s a theme I hone in on and listen to again.

I’ll listen to it on repeat for as long as I need to until it seeps slowly into my consciousness.  The next day’s session at the piano I’ll take the theme out for a spin – I’ll start to examine it – I’ll play with tempo, with time signature, – and I’ll play it until I find something that works – consistently.  Something that sounds good – something that sounds good to strangers.

Struggling With the Five Stages 

I already had the first and last tracks - Loss and Acceptance were both about my Dad and felt right starting and ending the album.  Depression wasn’t a problem, I already had a theme that matched that perfectly - what was bugging me was Anger and Bargaining.

I knew that I didn’t have an Anger track - I had tried to find a theme but nothing would come out and I was starting to question the whole idea when I found an acceptable solution - Anger was similar to Frustration in many ways - my most popular track, that had been listened to for over 1 million minutes on YouTube alone, was called Frustration.  Great - I’d have that remastered to fit the album - which left me with one track to create - Bargaining.

No Pressure.

And I struggled, I struggled because I couldn’t identify with the emotion.

Who was I trying to bargain with - what was I bargaining for?  My Dad was dead, gone, not coming back - and it was natural - it was right.  There was nothing I could do to change that.  The more I played the track the more I started remembering my time with my Dad:

Jungle expeditions in Singapore, driving to the South of France, visiting Surgeons, the bottles from grateful patients, “Father Son Barbecues,” playing golf, playing snooker in The Mess with a half pint at 14, These Things Shall Be, the man in the mirror, worker or wanker, conversations, discussions and laughter, so much wonderful laughter.

This wasn't me bargaining - this was me remembering.

They're memories and they're beautiful, but sad and they make me smile and cry at the same time - but they're not bad - they're the good things that for now wear a blanket of sadness, but soon will become sustenance and treasured and joyful, but for now - they make me cry.

Breaking The Kubler-Ross Model

It's incredibly stressful - trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  The idea of a track for each of the 5 stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance was elegant but I couldn't honestly deliver a track for each element.  Once I had got my head round that, everything started to flow again.

We still ended up publishing an album called Music to Grieve to and yes some of the tracks share the names of the emotions in the 5 stages but not all.  But funnily enough, it got me to investigate the original Kubler-Ross idea only to find out that the 5 stages stemmed from research into how terminally ill patients react to a diagnosis.  So it seems that I and probably many millions of others have been wrong about applying the 5 stages to our grieving process, particularly when it comes to how one feels after the loss of a loved one.

This was one of the driving factors behind our decision to launch The Grief Directory - you should check it out.

Find Us On Spotify

We're going to be focusing a lot on Spotify over the coming year - it is by far the biggest revenue source for Musicto and music2work2 and the best way for you to support us is to listen to and share our playlists.

We will be developing the Music to Grieve to playlist by adding new tracks so make sure you choose to follow.

Aside from following Musicto and music2work2 on Spotify you can of course sign up for the email list.  We only ever contact you when we have new music available.