Debbie Danbrook and the healing power of music


Debbie Danbrook. Photo by Suzanne Park.
Debbie Danbrook. Photo by Suzanne Park.

Two Leaside friends aren’t letting dementia and a move get in their way.

Debbie Danbrook, an accomplished and world-renowned flutist, and her former across-the-hall neighbour Norma like to get together for tea every now and then.

Though Norma (who happens to be my mother) suffers from memory loss and moved away from Garden Court two years ago, Debbie continues to find time to enjoy tea with her. “It used to be Norma’s home-baked cookies with our tea,” Debbie said. “Now we enjoy my store-bought lemon cookies.”

Debbie is a performer, composer and recording artist who specializes in the healing properties of music. She also teaches the first Shakuhachi flute master class at the University of Toronto, and mentioned humbly, “I get to carry on a sacred tradition passed on to me during my 10, condensed into two, years of intense study in Japan with Tadashi Tajima, who is Japan’s leading international Shakuhachi performer.”

Debbie speaks passionately about “the Shakuhachi’s revitalizing and powerful vibrations inducing a relaxed meditative state where comfort and healing can take place for both the player and the listener.”

She confided to me that she had studied classical piano for seven years yet always felt something was missing. “I discovered the source of my discomfort when I headed off on a budget trip to the Bahamas. The first day of the trip, the mast of the boat I was travelling on broke. I ended up on a small island, and while there the whole regime of classical music just melted away.”

Debbie then returned to Canada and explored a wide range of music and performance arts. She confessed, “Life was a bit wild. I experimented with jazz and rock and performed in many bars. At one gig in Vancouver, I heard a Shakuhachi flute and from the first note, I knew I was called to learn this art form. I packed up my things and one week later headed off to study in Japan.”

Yet her challenges were not over. “I was surprised to encounter so many obstacles which could have discouraged me but instead fueled my passion even more,” she told me. “It seems there had never been a woman studying the Shakuhachi and the master teachers were not interested in permitting me to study with them. Undaunted, I pressed on and finally after several months Tadashi Tajima consented to take me on as a student.”

Debbie now has a dedicated international fan base and has produced 22 CDs (which can be found at Yet what pleases her most is the growing awareness of the vital role of music and meditation in easing pain and bringing comfort to end-of-life passages and ceremonies. She is also invited to perform at joyous occasions like weddings, music festivals and meditative retreats.

Despite her growing international reputation, Leaside remains Debbie’s home and cherished community where she can relax and recharge over a cup of tea with friends and neighbours.

About Suzanne Park 60 Articles
Suzanne Park is a leadership and conversation coach and writer who enjoys bringing to the pages of Leaside Life the unique experiences and community contributions of her Leaside neighbours. Her daughter Zhen, a student at Leaside High School, is also a contributor to Leaside Life with a fresh perspective on her community.