Jonathan Frahm:Do you believe that music can play a part in the healing process? If so, could you elaborate on why you feel that way?
Gabriel Ayala:What a great question! “Can music play a part in the healing process?” If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it, man. First and foremost, as a musician, it’s created so much healing just for myself, to continue on. Most people start playing guitar because they just want to look cool, and then they realize “Wow, man. I was really sad today and I picked up my guitar, and I expressed my sadness without having to say anything.” Or they’ll say, “I was so happy that this song made me play this way.” It creates so much emotion, even through our own selves as musicians, even without having to use our voice. It’s a beautiful thing because instrumentalists hate having to speaking in front of people. [laughs] It’s more like we’re forced to do it, but there’s so much healing that has to do with music, and I’ll share a story with you… I was performing at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There had to’ve been like thousands and thousands and thousands of people. It was just a sea of madness, man. There I was on Veteran’s Day, and here I am, maybe in my late 20s … I’ve lived the life of maybe a 400-year-old man in my years as a musician because of all of the amazing life stories I’ve heard, and not just the venues I’ve been to around the world. …But I’m there on Veteran’s Day and I’m told “You can play one tune, and then you’re done and have to get off stage.” I was like, “You got it,” and chose “Elegie” by a Hungarian composer named Johann Kaspar Mertz (1800 – 1856). I hardly ever open my eyes when I perform, but I happened to open my eyes at this time and look out at this sea of people in military uniforms, and I caught eyes with this one guy by accident. There were tears running down his eyes, man. Even as I’m speaking about it now, I can feel the emotion of that entire afternoon. I looked at his tears running down and I looked at his chest, which had—good God—the guy had so much metal on his chest. I remember thinking to myself, “Good God, what has this man done? I wonder what he saw in his life that this song evoked to him in his mind’s eye… What did this song bring out?” It made me sad to think that he probably saw something and did something in his life that he never had to be a part of. I said to myself, “What an amazing feeling this is that, maybe, this song is helping him finally let go of even just a piece of that,” and it was so, so incredible. I closed my eyes back again to try and get back into the song, and I just tried not to look back in his direction. I finished my song and ended up getting a standing ovation of applause from this sea of people, and I walked off and was just like, “I’m done, but what an amazing moment I just had…” I put my guitar away and closed the case, but as I stood back up, this man embraced me. He gave me this giant hug, and I just embraced him back. I just held him and I could just feel all this energy… There’s no words in the English language or even in my own language that could describe what was happening there. He finally pulled away, and I looked… and it was that man. It blew my mind. He put his hand on my shoulder and we just stared at each other. Again, time got lost. We didn’t say a single word to each other, and eventually, he just turned around and walked away, and I felt like I finally started breathing once he just left. I was like, “What the heck just happened?” It’s reasons, it’s stories like that that make me like, “Is there healing in music? Oh my God, man, all kinds!” Sometimes, it gives you that healing in yourself that you didn’t even know that you needed. It’s those affirmations of moments like that no dollar amount, no endorsements from any companies in the world, could really take place over. It’s truly the reason I play music – for those rare, emotional experiences in my career. Though I say it’s a rarity, I’ve had plenty of them along my long career, and for that, I’m already a millionaire. To end this interview, I’ll say something that I don’t just close my concerts with, but something that I live by every day: love your children, honor your elders, and respect your women. You can follow Gabriel Ayala through his official site and Facebook page.