At this time of year, hearing Handel’s perennial Messiah on the radio makes me nostalgic. His oratorio brings written words to life with stirring music. When I think of angelic voices, I imagine choirs singing:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:13-14)
This music was the key to my formative years. Two marvelous summers in a row at the National Music Camp – a wooded, lakeside retreat in Interlochen, Michigan – I sang in the Festival Choir.
Outdoor rehearsals blended youthful with adult voices and orchestral instruments with the sounds of wind blowing through the pines. Birds joined in, singing from tree tops. Nature and music wove a fabric of indelible memories.
Over time, I built on that early experience, expanding what I learned as a musician to encompass right relationships and effective governance. Harmony remains the consistent standard.
Today, I wish you angelic peace and good will at this annual solstice nadir, with its implicit hope for regeneration in the coming new year.
To that end, I offer two rethinkings on harmony and health that may prove helpful. The Essay on Harmony was written in the year 2000. My style has changed greatly since then, but the substance remains timely. In contrast, comments on The Way Music Works adds my view point to a recent psychological analysis of music’s effect.
Essay 8. HARMONY
The art of music has been especially considered divine, because it is the exact miniature of the law working through the whole universe. For instance, if we study ourselves we shall find that the beats of the pulse and the heart, the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, are all the work of rhythm. Life depends upon the rhythmic working of the whole mechanism of the body. Breath manifests as voice, as word, as sound; and the sound is continually audible, the sound without and the sound within ourselves. — Sufi Inayat Khan, Music
Artistic activity does not consist in art itself, as such. It penetrates into a deeper world in which all art forms of things inwardly experienced flow together, and in which the harmony of soul and cosmos in the nothing has its outcome in reality. — Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do (in The Warrior Within)
When we dance, we are like hobos who jump on the freight train of the beat. Swept along, our bodies automatically adjust to the pace, pulse, and the rhythm of the sound; the music evokes an organized pattern of responses. The emotional pulse of great concert music entrains an entire audience. — Don Campbell, The Mozart Effect
The Greek root of harmony means fitting. Webster’s first definition is a combination of parts fit into a pleasing or orderly, continuous whole. The second is agreement in feeling, action, ideas or interests, resulting in peaceable or friendly relations. Third is an orderly arrangement according to color, size or shape.
Fourth is an arrangement of parallel passages of different authors, especially of the scriptures, so as to bring out corresponding qualities. Fifth, harmony refers to agreeable sounds, usually the simultaneous sounding of two or more tones structured into chords that are satisfying to the ear.
In Old English, carpenters were called joiners because it was their job to join pieces of wood so they fit together into well-constructed furniture or entire dwellings. There is poetic resonance in Jesus being raised in the home of a simple carpenter. It was his calling to link the levels of experience, earth to heaven, humans to their maker, individuals with their brethren.
In the context of all creative endeavors, the resonance of the joiner concept with the Sanskrit word “yoga,” which means “union,” and in turn, their relevance to the “Unified Field Theory” of Einstein’s heart’s desire deserve understanding and application.
On a small scale, social harmony depends on a sympathetic resonance between inner and outer organizations. An individual can not fit in with family, business or government structures any better than she is organized and harmonized from within. This calls for creating a personal lifestyle which allows sufficient time for introspection and atunement to the silent voice of conscience that calls to self-correction and devotion.
From the unfailing well-spring of inner resources, one draws the strength to succeed in daily action. What some people call multi-tasking is the ability to weave many different responsibilities to self, family, business and larger community into a comfortable fabric, tailoring a lifestyle suited to one’s life immediate needs and long-term goals.
From the other direction, harmonious order within institutions depends on the how well their leaders are able to link organizational goals and practices with the aspirations and abilities of individual members.
This depends on the ability to recognize and adjust to changing social patterns and the ability to steer a steady course through troubled times. This in turn requires keen commitment to hearing and doing the will of the unseen Creator as an accountable steward and worthy protector of the community.
The harmony of the whole depends upon respectful cooperation of each and every part. No one can afford to demean, exploit or sabotage others. Anyone who stands apart as if exclusively important harms everyone, self included. For in fact, each part is indispensable to the health, success and well-being of the whole.
The I Ching hexagram called Nourishment advises us to observe whom leaders choose to nourish and in what way. Most schools are equipped to feed the mind. Most do little to feed the heart or spirit. Few give the practical skills required to live harmoniously with fellow human beings much less the larger natural environment.
Through the growing interest in nutrition research, we’re becoming increasingly sophisticated about feeding the body. Music, however, nourishes in ways physical food can not, especially at levels empirical science doesn’t acknowledge. It is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to expand awareness of natural order and atune the mind-spirit to invisible harmony.
Opposites of harmony are unison, and, in the extreme, silence. Both have positive and negative potentials. If people speak in unison because they’ve been brainwashed or intimidated, it is a violation of free will. If they agree from common understanding, it is ideal. If people are mute out fear or indifference, it bodes ill for the future. When they maintain respectful silence in the presence of their maker, all goes well with the world.
In sum, perversions of harmony are called conflict. Dissonant, clashing sounds are displeasing to the mind, hurtful to the ears and harmful to the nervous system. Similarly, differences of ego-driven opinion and self-interest that cannot be respectfully, peaceably resolved disrupt the collective good.
So now, I will take up where I left off in a recent post on Psychology’s Blind Spot. I’m responding to a video called Why MUSIC Has The EFFECTS It Has – Jordan Peterson With Howard Bloom. The descriptor reads, “Jordan Peterson talks about the effects of music, what it represents and what it does to your brand [sic] and soul with Howard Bloom.”
I posted this comment:
Logical, clever, even pompous but gravely limited and misleading. The I Ching is the ancient and ultimate map of universal patterns. The 64 hexagrams (number not coincidental) correspond and resonate with DNA. You intuit this but unfortunately lack practical knowledge. You’re addressing effects, not root causes. This info is way outside the parameters of empirical science. Harmony of the spheres is the stuff of chakras detailed in the Vedas. This is not said lightly, or disrespectfully.
Please forgive me that I haven’t the patience to transcribe word-for-word what I find particularly annoying nonsense. In sum, they’re describing patterns in brain structure as if they account for music’s psychological effects.
Mistake #1. Saying patterned mechanisms in the physical brain account for music’s psychological effects is roughly the equivalent of confusing a physical record player with the sound coming out of it.
Mistake #2. They hold that music is a sociological phenomena specific to particular classes or culture. They also seem to associate it primarily with mating rituals. In fact, music vibrations have psychological effect because they resonate with the internal structure of the subtle chakra system. The second chakra has to do with sex, but there is a full spectrum of other centers with equally essential functions. I’ll continue what I started earlier to show you here a bit of what I mean.
In the Blind Spot post I stated:
Bottom line: mystical experiences and genuine psychological transformation are not accomplished by mental speculation or even acts of sheer will power. They occur in the deeper layers of the Life Wheel which have, disastrously, been made taboo in Western civilizations. Einstein called the blind spot “the fateful fear of metaphysics.”
I described the chakras, the energy fields revealed in the ancient Vedas.
Chakras . . . are “spinning wheels of light.” Seven basic ones are aligned along the human spine. In ascending order, each is associated with an increasingly more sophisticated developmental stage, state of consciousness and related psychological issues.
. . . music moves us because its sound sets the chakras in sympathetic vibration. Inspired music has a healing, uplifting affect on the nervous system, the emotions, and the soul. It is not coincidence that the seven notes of the Western chromatic scale correspond with the vibratory rates of the seven major chakras. Indian ragas intentionally draw on chakra correlations to soothe emotions or lift the spirit. In the West, similar effects of inspired music have been described as The Mozart Effect. [Links to music videos give a hint of what’s possible through music.]
For purposes of this discussion, here’s a summary picture of the issues associated with each center.
Even at a glance, this picture suggests on the one hand, the universal nature of music, and on the other, different levels of musical effect. For example, military bands or battle calls rouse the fighting spirit. Other ragas, by time, season, or purpose stimulate the mood of love or spiritual upliftment.
One field study I recall reading many years ago disproved the specificity of cultural background to psychological response. An anthropologist played Mozart for a tribe of cannibal listeners. They were delighted and tapped their feet to the music. He then played Beethoven. They frowned and became agitated.
In many cultures and in different contexts, music has been used medicinally for healing effect. One example is the lyre to which the young shepherd boy David sang, soothing the feverish madness of King Saul.
This second picture is suggestive of ways chakra energies are blocked as well as how restoring vital circulation lifts oppressions:
In this necessarily brief “tip of the iceberg,” merely suggestive hint of the oceans of wisdom resting beneath the surface of Western psychologies, I’ll leave you with just one more teaser to ponder.
The chakras are correlated not only with notes of the musical scale, but also with specific archangels and the heavenly host who sang:
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men.