Art Beat: The Music Of Plants

May 30, 2019

Music-making cacti in the southwestern U.S.
Credit Janice Marsh-Prelesnik

Janice Marsh-Prelesnik was trained as a musician. But much of her life has been spent in holistic healing, as a midwife, a massage therapist, and a herbalist. Now, Marsh-Prelesnik uses the sonic experience of plant music in her expressive arts/music therapy practice with people in hospice and memory care, during bodywork sessions, and for deep relaxation and meditation.


“When I started out in music, I went to Michigan State University as a music major,” Marsh-Prelesnik says. “My fourth year in music school, at the end of the semester, I had my first baby. She was born at home — that was 38 years ago. And I just fell in love with midwifery. It reminded me of my grandmother and the stories she would tell me about how she would attend births. I loved the natural process and watching life unfold.”

So Marsh-Prelesnik devoted the next 36 years to becoming a midwife, knowing that, someday, she would return to music. She also studied and taught herbalism and massage therapy, aspects of which she combined into healing arts.

At some point, Marsh-Prelesnik says she “realized that my body wasn’t always happy getting up in the middle of the night and being on call all the time, so about 10 years ago, I started transitioning. I came to Western Michigan University to study music therapy and expressive arts therapy.”

The cover of Marsh-Prelesnik's first CD
Credit Janice Marsh-Prelesnik

Marsh-Prelesnik then moved into caring for people at the opposite end of the life cycle, bringing her skills in therapy to work in hospice and memory care as well as teaching herbalism classes.

“I was teaching at a conference, the Great Lakes Herb Fair,” she says. “One of the other herb teachers said to me, 'I know you’re a musician. I have this video of plants making music and you have to hear it!'”

It was the beginning of a new passion. Marsh-Prelesnik was fascinated with what she heard. She bought a machine from Italy that picks up the vibrations produced by plants and translates them into the music.

“The machine was built by people whose focus was more on learning how plants communicate with one another,” she says. “What they came up with are electrodes that attach to the plant but don’t hurt it. One electrode would go near the roots, the other up on a leaf. It measures the vibrations moving up through the plant. It then sends that information to a synthesizer.”

That first, rather large, machine has over years been replaced by a much smaller version that looks like a yo-yo, easily held in one hand. Marsh-Prelesnik has traveled to various parts of the U.S. and Ecuador in South America to record different types of plants. Her results can be heard on the first of what she hopes to be a series of albums. It's called Mystical Music of Plants: Desert.

Marsh-Prelesnik is the author of Wild Herbs for Little Foragers, The Roots of Natural Mothering, and Between Worlds. She lives in Galesburg, Michigan.

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