| Early Years: 1953-1964
Michael Stillwater was born Michael Korns in Washington, D.C.
At an early age he felt a yearning which led him to explore both eastern & western mystic traditions. Visual, verbal, musical and theatrical arts attracted him.
His first contact with media was delivering newspapers to the personalities at WTOP-TV, D.C.'s first television station. In 1960, before his fame as White House news anchor, Sam Donaldson graciously accepted Michael's invitation to attend his 7th birthday party.
Michael would spend hours in class and at home drawing sailing ships and battle scenes from every period of history. A drawing of a clipper ship won an award at the Washington DC Summer Art Fair.
Idealogical influences included early years attending Unitarian Church, his Aunt Mary Perkins, (devotee of Mahathma Gandhi and United Nations advocate), and Mrs. Zenz, next-door neighbor with a library of books on Rosicrucianism, Ancient Egypt, Manly Palmer Hall- and a great name as well. His best friend was a Thai boy named Goodluck Tembunkiart.
The question of mortality and death haunted him. What was death really? Where do we go when we die? He visited cemeteries and funeral homes, asking grown-ups for answers- but nobody could answer his questions. He played clarinet in orchestra and experimented with saxophone for a summer.
At thirteen, with MoTown, Surf Music and the 'British Invasion' pulsing from the transistor, he borrowed his mother's Silvertone steel-string. Reversing the strings (a lefty's natural rebellion to a right-hand dominated world), he inadvertantly ended his mother's nascent guitar-playing career and wrote his first song. A lifelong enchantment had begun.
A haircolor-bleaching that went dreadfully amiss gave him notoriety as the orange-haired kid at Alice Deal Junior High School; this (among multiple incidents) further increased a growing sense of alienation, deepening his attraction to both the musical and mystical.
He befriended a group of college students who moved into neighborhood rental houses, one of whom introduced him to yoga. His first yoga class was on a Christmas holiday in New York City, at the Integral Yoga Institute. It was a deja vu experience, ultimately leading to his yoga life on the West Coast. He practiced all styles of guitar, and at The Hawthorne School in D.C. he jammed with classmate Seth Justman (future keyboardist for J. Geils Band), and took rock lessons from guitar legend Nils Lofgren (guitarist with Bruce Springsteen). He formed a guitar/harpsichord duet, playing Simon & Garfunkle songs in coffee houses. and began a rock band with some musical friends.
He began rifle practice at the NRA shooting range in downtown DC, and rose to the rank of Sharpshooter Bar 9. Then one Saturday morning his shooting buddy asked if he'd like to go and shoot squirrels. When asked why, his friend said- "What do you think we've been practicing for?" That was the day he put down his rifle and picked up his guitar.
Continuing his junior year at Woodrow Wilson High School, one day he was hauled into the principle's office for singing in the hallway. Deciding to continue his education at home, he was encouraged by his father William Korns, staff writer for U.S. Senator Clifford Case on Capitol Hill, to seriously study with the best available guitar teacher in D.C. at the time- master guitarist Frank Mullen.
Journey to the East: 1970-1976
At the end of his self-prescribed 'guitar sabbatical' he read an article about Pacific High School, an experimental school/community in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, and negotiated to spend his senior year there for a payment plan involving teaching guitar to the staff and students.
In the summer of 1970, he travelled with friends to Colorado for a mountain expedition, then hitch-hiked to California for the opening of Fall Semester at Pacific High, where Buckminster Fuller's dome theory was being put to the test throughout a rainy Northen California winter, yoga was the primary exercise & avant garde music was all part of the day's curriculum. For a short duration he was elected president of the school, which provided some sense of what governing a struggling community involved. His term of office did not last very long.
While performing Neil Young's 'Down By The River (I Shot My Baby) with his rock band at a local club, he realized the need to sing lyrics uniquely meaningful for him- thus furthering his songwriting direction.
Awakened by an inner call, and seeking distinction from the intellectual domain of his father, Michael took the name 'Stillwater' after moving into the Integral Yoga Institute in Santa Cruz, California, for the spring semester of his senior year in high school. He graduated while studying yoga, chant and vedantic texts. In the summer of 1971 he moved to Eugene, Oregon, subsequently attending Lane Community College and the University of Oregon, exploring many aspects of music. He also began teaching yoga from his parent's basement, eventually moving into a house with other yoga practitioners. In addition to his music & yoga practice, he designed and marketed Gracenotes, a line of sepia-tone greeting cards.
Given the name 'Maitreya', (meaning a 'friend of everyone' and 'the future Buddha') by his teacher Swami Satchidananda, he legally took the name 'Maitreya Stillwater'. When recording artist Alice Coltrane, a disciple of Satchidananda, was touring through Eugene, she offered to pitch a recording of his to Columbia Records. Stillwater studied arranging with pianist/choral director W.A. Mathieu in Marin County, California, and in 1974 moved from Eugene to Santa Barbara, CA with Kristin Mathews, whom he had met at a yoga retreat and later married.
In Santa Barbara he continued his artwork and songwriting, recording demos of his songs and pitching them in Los Angeles. A sense that his music and spirituality needed to merge continued to guide and inspire him. In the Fall of 1976 he moved to Marin County, California. Eventually acknowledging their need for different paths, he and Kristin separated and amicably divorced.
Turning to the West: 1977-1989
Michael dedicated his music to healing. Inspired by A Course in Miracles, together with Maloah Devi he co-founded Heavensong, a non-denominational music ministry focusing on contemporary Western chants evoking an ecstatic, non-dual state of consciousness. They married in 1980.
Wings of Prayer, Set Your Heartsong Free, and Celebration were recorded and released. He published Windows of Nature, a story-coloring book of parables and inspirational tales. In 1982, he and Maloah moved to Maui. Heavensong Celebration Live!, Serenade, and Shores of Paradise were recorded.
The Heavensong ministry flourished, becoming a center of fellowship for locals and visitors drawn to the exuberance and universal spirituality. Voices of the Heartwas released in 1985, giving a classical performance of several of the sacred chants. (On the 20th anniversary of its 1986 recording, the chant 'Heart of the Mother', was awarded best chant in the New Thought Songwriter's Awards) A 1985-86 world tour brought his music to Europe and Australia/New Zealand. One Light and You Belong to Love were recorded. The Celebration Songbook was published. A Course in Marigolds, a humorous parody, was written and published, and he reclaimed the name 'Michael'. In 1989 he and Maloah separated, closing the Heavensong ministry and opening a new chapter in their lives. Maloah has lived in Maui and California. Michael moved back to the Mainland, first to Santa Cruz, California, then to Washington State.
Dancing with the Mystery: 1990-1997
The 90's was a time of deepening, soul searching, and exploring the edge of life and death. Interest in tantra and emotional healing opened new pathways of expression. Michael's intuitive music developed as a central dimension of his ministry, beginning with the release of Sanctuary in 1990. Together with Lee Ann Macdonald, he began a new life. In California he shared intuitive concerts with former Moody Blues keyboardist, Patrick Moraz. His work with the dying, those in grief, giving birth, and all life transitions, unfolded steadily, with the wild expanse of the Pacific Northwest providing a backdrop and catalyst for his inner journey. His father's death in 1994 was a significant experience for him, awakening a recognition of the power of music at the doorway.
SongCare, the name he used for intuitive song within a healthcare framework, met with welcome, respect, and admiration within both the medical and hospice communities. Arc in Time- A Retrospective, his first CD anthology, was released in 1992, followed by Everywhere A Child Is Born (now titled BirthSongs)in 1995, intuitive music for birthing. Song Universal, a multi-artist release featuring Michael's music sung by the World Choir and the song Body of the Goddess, was published by Seventh Round Records in 1996.
In 1996 he began sharing music at the bi-annual Centerpointe Research Institute retreat, the meditation technology company of founder Bill Harris. (His performance and facilitating at these retreats continued, for the next twelve years). He also began his European travels, introduced to Norway through publisher Reni Hagen and in Switzerland with depth psychologist and spiritual guide, Doris Laesser. He began to co-lead Art of Presence Retreats with her in Europe and America, and Dark Retreats in Switzerland.
Renewing residency in Santa Barbara, California after 20 years absence, in 1998 he recorded and released Rocked in the Cradle (now titled JourneySongs), along with Woven, commissioned by a national healthcare system.
Above the Horizon: 1998-2001
In 1999, together with longtime friend and Emmy-award winning film composer Gary Malkin, Michael founded Companion Arts, Inc., a media development company for creating a more heart-centered world. Supported by another longtime friend, David Lieberstein, Michael moved back to the Bay Area in early 2000, expanding his musical ministry through ChantWave celebrations, SoulVoice: Intuitive Singing Workshops, SongCare songportraits, and further development of Companion Arts projects, as well as presenting at conferences nationwide.
In November, 2000, with support from Nathan Cummings Foundation, Fund For Global Awakening, and a large community of advocates, advisors, and networkers, Companion Arts released Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying, a book and 2 CD set of spoken word & music. Together with distinguished speakers such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Zalman Schachter, and other mentors, Michael delivered a guided meditation for relaxing into the ground of being, accompanied by symphonic music and choir.
Designed to model heartful living and the practice of presence in an intimate way, Graceful Passages became the most widely used audio resource for palliative care and hospice. Invaluable guidance was provided to the project by Doris Laesser.
In August, 2001, the MasterPeace Conference at Stanford University was a landmark in the use of music with spoken word, bridging the head and heart, featuring Michael's ChantWave music together with Gary Malkin, Christina Quinn, and other musicians.
In September, 2001, Care for the Journey was launched, initiated as a donor-sponsored program to bring Graceful Passages and other helping resources to individuals, families and healing professionals throughout the nation. Turn to Me received a 2001 award in the John Lennon SongWriting Contest.
In Service: 2002-2005
Moved by the humanitarian impact of Graceful Passages, a nonprofit entity (Companion Arts) was determined the best form to serve the ongoing educational and service dimensions of the work.Grace In Practice was the initial program, bringing the awareness of healing music to palliative end-of-life care providers. A Lloyd Symington Foundation grant supported this work in cancer clinics in America and Canada. Under the guidance of healthcare consultant Mary Matthiesen, the focus towards healthcare professionals was reinforced.
Care for the Journey: Sustaining the Heart of Healthcare is an educational initiative designed for healthcare professionals. Both programs are offered through healthcare organizations around America.
Invited into public schools through poets in the California Poets in the Schools program, Michael began regular visits to elementary classrooms throughout the area, giving young children an experience of their poems turning into songs. See Poetry and Music.
Invitations for presentations continued through the Care for the Journey program, from Harvard, Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Dartmouth, and other institutions, interested in new applications of the arts into healing sciences. Michael received the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross award for Excellence in End of Life service, together with co-creator Gary Malkin, Roshi Joan Halifax and Frank Ostaseski, from the Chaplaincy Institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministries.
After ten years of spoken word/music project development, Michael produced and released ChantWave at Grace Cathedral (Inner Harmony, 2006) his first Chant CD in twenty years, since Voices of the Heart (Inner Harmony, 1986). For people drawn to a trans-traditional spirituality, this recording delivers a uniquely powerful and evocative celebration of Oneness via music.
He also co-produced Winterfaith (Wisdom of the World, 2006) and The Heart of Healing (Companion Arts, 2006), both in collaboration with Gary Malkin.
His marriage to longtime teaching partner, Doris Laesser, coincided with a relocation to Zurich, Switzerland, establishing a European base for his music and ministry. Twice-annual American tours kept him linked to the communities had longtime connection with.
During this time Michael created hundreds of SongCare Originals, wrote Passports, provided consultancy to healthcare organizations, co-facilitated retreats with Doris Laesser Stillwater, and offered healing music and community transformational events and workshops worldwide.
During these years he also was a keynote speaker at conferences, guest minister in churches, and delivered training for musicians in the healing application of song.
Song Without Borders & The Honoring: 2008
The Honoring Ceremony emerged in early 2008 as an evolution of SongCircle, a group sharing of SongCare. 'Song Without Borders' was Michael's vision of a world awakened through song.
He offered TeleSong ceremonies of spontaneous song as a gift to selected individuals and organizations, and then as community events featuring The Honoring Ceremony.
Sing It Forward was the name of the gifting opportunity recipients were given to pay for another community to have this experience.
Companion Arts offered to provide fiscal sponsorship of Song Without Borders activities ( transferred to Living Bridges of Santa Fe in 2011). Through additional donations to this vision in the summer of '08, includng seed funding from Ursula Lamberson, The Honoring CD: Songs of Healing, Empowerment and Awakening, was co-produced by Michael and Doris with harmony vocals by Holly Croydon.
In the Fall, O Great Spirit, a live concert recording of chants, was released. The universal chant Feels Like Home was created together with Seattle musician/producer Rick Bakken.
SongSourcing & Filmwork: 2009
SongSourcing, a method of integration through spontaneous songmaking (formerly SoulVoice), developed into multi-cultural educational practice for adults and children.
Honoring Ceremonies, supported by Song Without Borders, began to be offered in Europe and America, and over the phone (TeleSong).
Art of Presence Retreats for healthcare professionals were offered in Assisi, Italy. European and American tours continue to be offered (see schedule).
While on tour in Calgary, Canada, in the Fall of 2009, Michael began to develop a film- In Search of The Great Song, to inspire and encourage viewers to reconnect to their inner song. As part of this vision, 'Honoring Our Ancestors', an Honoring Ceremony at Fernwood, a 'green cemetery' in Marin County, was filmed in November.
In December, Michael flew to Melbourne, Australia, to interview world spiritual leaders at the Parliament for the World's Religions and indigenous elders in Byron Bay, Australia.
In Search of The Great Song: 2010-2011
Throughout 2010 and 2011, In Search of The Great Song filming continued with interviews and performances in Switzerland, Italy, Estonia, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, USA and India. Included were Brother David Steindl-Rast, Nobel laureate Richard Ernst, and entertainer Whoopi Goldberg.Inspired by the Oscar-nominated film, As It Is In Heaven, Michael interviewed the director Kay Pollak in Stockholm. Inspired by the touching documentary, The Singing Revolution, Michael visited Estonia and interviewed people from that film by Jim & Maureen Tusty. Invited to Hyderabad, India with Doris for the Cortona Conference, Michael developed a short film on the subject of creativity from interviews with teachers and students of the confernece. One, theme song for In Search of The Great Song, was produced and released, with Holly Croydon as vocalist.
Michael and co-producer Doris Laesser Stillwater produced their first feature-length film, Shining Night, dedicated to the work of American Choral Composer and National Medal of Arts recipient, Morten Lauridsen.
Art of Presence Retreast for healthcare professionals were offered in Assisi, Italy, and Healing Power of Song retreast were also offered, co-facilitated with guest artists. To revitalize the nonprofit Companion Arts, offices were moved to Boulder, Colorado. Beginning in 2011, Song Without Borders moved its fiscal home to Living Bridges/Green Hospice in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The world premiere of Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen, co-produced with Doris Laesser Stillwater, screened in Palm Springs on February 7, 2012. Receiving multiple awards,including Best Documentary (DC Independent Film Festival, Eugene International Film Festival, Friday Harbor Film Festival, Asheville Cinema Festival) Nominated Best Documentary, Cincinnati Film Festival), Bronze (Oregon Film Awards) and Honorable Mention (Los Angeles Movie Awards), Shining Night was named 'a heartening rarity' by The Wall Street Journal.
KCET, Los Angeles, filmed a hosting segment for broadcasting Shining Night to Southern California (the largest public television network in America).
International premieres screened in Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, England, Wales, Denmark, Poland, and South Africa, often hosted by choirs, choir festivals, and film festivals. Responses to the film have proven overwhelmingly positive (see responses here).
YouTube views of clips from Shining Night and the series, In Search of The Great Song, exceeded 150,000. Due to its popularity, three editions of the DVD of the film were printed between May and December, 2012. The Shining Night Collection, the soundtrack of the film on 4 CDs representing four choral interpretations, was made available to the public. A companion book of images and text from the film, 'Morten Lauridse's Waldron Island Reflections' was published by GIA Publications.
Song Sanctuary seminars are hosted across Europe and America. Art of Presence Retreats co-facilitated with Dr. Christina Puchalski, founder of George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and Edward O'Donnell, along with Song Sanctuary retreats, are hosted in Assisi, Italy. Film production continues on various subjects as part of the overarching theme, 'In Search of The Great Song'.
In Spring, 2015, The Stillwater Collection was created as an online gallery of Michael's landscape and nature photography. Prints, greeting cards and photographic books may be ordered as they come available.
Catalog: Michael has composed and recorded a body of healing music and continues to bring forth new recordings and films. In addition to his independent record label Inner Harmony, he continues to create therapeutic songs for individuals and couples.
Retreats: Michael offers workshops on intuitive singing and facilitates Art of Presence and Song Sanctuary Retreats in America and Europe. These retreats are for healing and honoring of the whole being, an inquiry into the nature of living truth, conducted in partnership with his wife, Swiss psychotherapist Doris Lasser Stillwater.
The Honoring: Michael also creates intuitive songs for individuals, couples, gatherings, groups and teams, a service which he provides in-person or via phone/Skype.
Conference Speaking and Music: Michael performs and delivers keynote addresses and workshops at conferences and retreats both in America and internationally with an emphasis on themes of presence, the healing power of song, transitions, creativity, and personal/planetary transformation.
Photography: Michael is a photographer of nature and abstract imagery; at the Stillwater Collection you can view and order prints of his work.
Film: Samples of Michael's filmwork can be seen at Song Without Borders or on YouTube.