Music is the shorthand of emotion…the language of souls – Leo Tolstoy.
When we seek to express or evoke emotion we turn to melody. It is on this premise that entire movie industry is based on. How else do we account for heroes & heroines breaking into a song at the drop of a hat :). There is an inner connection between music and the spirit. When language aspires to the transcendent and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song. Music, said Arnold Bennett is “a language which the soul alone understands but which the soul can never translate.” It is, in Richter’s words “the poetry of the air.” Goethe said, “Religious worship cannot do without music. It is one of the foremost means to work upon man with an effect of marvel.”
Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul. Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body, said Oliver Wendell Holmes.
We use music in every aspect of life and one of music’s most prominent and most important role has been within the realm of religion. In various world religions, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism, music plays a significant part in the way that the believers relate to their Gods, to other believers, and in how they understand and pass down their religion. Music works as a means of expressing passion and gratitude to the subject of worship and for religious adherents to convey their feelings to the deity of choice.
Every day, in Judaism, the morning prayers are with Pesukei de-Zimra, the ‘Verses of Song’ with their magnificent crescendo, Psalm 150, in which instruments and the human voice combine to sing God’s praises.
The most important texts in Hinduism are the Vedas. The Veda “is regarded by some Hindus as a timeless revelation which is not of human authorship, is eternal, and contains all knowledge, while others regard it to be the revelation of God.” The original four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda are all comprised of hymns, songs, and mantras. Hindu devotional music is called Bhajan and finds it roots in Sama Veda. With easy lilting flow, the colloquial renderings, these are sung in a group comprising devotees, with a lead singer.
Christian music is music that has been written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life and faith. Most Christian music involves singing, whether by the whole congregation (assembly) or a specialized subgroup—such as a duet, trio, quartet, madrigal, choir, or worship band. One of the earliest forms of worship music in the church was the Gregorian chant. Pope Gregory I was acknowledged as the first person to order such music in the church, hinting the name “Gregorian” chant. The chant took place around 590–604 CE (reign of Pope Gregory I).
While the question of permissibility of music in Islamic jurisprudence is historically disputed, and there are two perspectives, music nevertheless does exist as part of offering praises to the Lord. Certain sects of the mystic Sufi Muslims, believe that music impels a person to seek the spiritual world. It is said that, “the nature of music’s influence on man very much depends on the basic intentions of the listener (Shiloah, 1995). Therefore, music is not inherently evil: rather, the listener’s interpretation of musical experience can be evil.”
Irrespective of what the source is, whether it is religious music, instrumental music, pop, rock, classical etc, one common factor is transcending racial, cultural, and ideological boundaries, music is a universal language that brings together human beings from all different origins, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Used in many cultures and traditions as a vehicle for inner reflection and contemplation, music invigorates the spirit and strengthens higher love. In addition, in recent years musicologists have explored numerous therapeutic and psychological benefits of music.
In his book, Musicophilia, the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks tells the poignant story of Clive Wearing, an eminent musicologist who was struck by a devastating brain infection. The result was acute amnesia. He was unable to remember anything for more than a few seconds. As his wife Deborah put it, ‘It was as if every waking moment was the first waking moment.’
Unable to thread experiences together, he was caught in an endless present that had no connection with anything that had gone before. One day his wife found him holding a chocolate in one hand and repeatedly covering and uncovering it with the other hand, saying each time, ‘Look, it’s new.’ ‘It’s the same chocolate’, she said. ‘No’, he replied, ‘look. It’s changed.’ He had no past at all. In a moment of awareness he said about himself, ‘I haven’t heard anything, seen anything, touched anything, smelled anything. It’s like being dead.’
Two things broke through his isolation. One was his love for his wife. The other was music. He could still sing, play the organ and conduct a choir with all his old skill and verve. What was it about music, Sacks asked, that enabled him, while playing or conducting, to overcome his amnesia? The answer was that when we ‘remember’ a melody, we recall one note at a time, yet each note relates to the whole. Victor Zuckerkandl, who wrote, ‘Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once. Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown.’ Music is a form of sensed continuity that can sometimes break through the most overpowering disconnections in our experience of time.
Music is also like faith. Music integrates. And as music connects note to note, so faith connects episode to episode, life to life, age to age in a timeless melody that breaks into time. I will say music is a signal of transcendence. So, every generation needs new songs. The history of human spirit is written in the songs we sing. The words do not change, but each generation needs its own melodies.
When the soul sings, the human spirit soars!