Healing frequencies

Local musician fights pain with his bass guitar

Nicholas Joel Farrar and his seven strings resonating.

Nicholas Joel Farrar and his seven strings resonating.

Photo by Mason Masis

A Night of Healing Resonance, tonight, April 21, 7 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chico.
Tickets: $5-$18, sliding scale (call to reserve).
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chico
1289 Filbert Ave.

When Nicholas Joel Farrar was an infant, a brain scan revealed a dark mass of atrophied tissue. His parents were told he may never learn to walk or talk.

“My mom will still say … how proud she was when I finally had the hand-eye coordination to put a Cheerio to my lips,” Farrar said during a recent interview at the Naked Lounge. “Because that was a tremendous feat.”

Now 23, Farrar’s brain atrophy—possibly related to being born 10 weeks premature—has long healed. But the Paradise resident is still ill. At the age the of 4 he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and since then he’s struggled with its many side effects—pain, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, depression; he’s counted more than 60 symptoms in all.

But since picking up guitar at the age of 12, he’s found a way to relieve at least some of the pain—by playing music. And tonight (April 21), at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chico, Farrar will perform his music and tell his story during A Night of Healing Resonance, a concert he organized. But he says it will be more than a concert, as visiting guitarists Ian Ethan Case and Adrian Bellue will join him in sharing their life experiences as well, and the focus—as the title suggests—will be on healing. Farrar described it as a “TED Talk, in a meditation class, inside Tommy Emmanuel’s guitar.”

“I really want to make it as immersive as possible,” he said. “I want people to leave and be bewildered at what they just witnessed and to have it be unlike anything they have experienced before.”

Farrar said he has no doubt that music has the power to heal. His first concert was the first time he remembers being free of the chronic pain associated with his Lyme disease. Since then, music has helped him deal with anxiety and depression and allowed him to channel his emotions into something tangible.

Today, Farrar’s instrument of choice is bass guitar, which he used to play with local prog-metal crew Io Torus. Now, he performs solo on a seven-string bass—that’s three more strings than a traditional one—composing complex instrumentals through various tapping and thumping techniques. The sounds range from a hollow and medieval-sounding tone to an earthy funk, and it’s the instrument’s uniqueness and range that appeal to him.

“People relate more to sounds that sound like a human voice,” he said, adding that “the seven-string allows me to go so high up it can be more lyrical and sound like vocals.”

Farrar was raised in a household that was both musical and religious, and his spirituality also has played a major role in his overcoming obstacles. He believes the performance can be spiritual regardless of one’s faith.

“I feel like people who don’t have concrete religious views, when they hear music that hits them in a way, they have a spiritual experience, and that’s what I want this to be—a church of music,” he said. “You don’t have to have any preconceived belief when you come in. If music is a spiritual thing for you, just come and enjoy it.”

As for the other performers: Case is a virtuoso from Boston who will play his double-neck, 18-string guitar, and the Sacramento-based Bellue is a former MMA fighter who suffered a career-ending injury and is now an advocate for the healing and spiritual power of music. In addition to playing a harp guitar and fingerstyle guitar, Bellue is also a practitioner of Tuvan throat singing, in which two or more notes harmonize as they are sung simultaneously.

Farrar’s wish is that the musicians’ journeys will inspire the audience. He said he feels like everyone goes through bouts of sadness, and he hopes his story of overcoming pain on a daily basis will help others. Ultimately, though, he says he wants “music to be the hero of the event.”