Music has always stirred the most profound feelings that words could never describe.
Is it any wonder that music is so often used as a guide to the journey within, a way of communing with the deeper Self?
Music is generally perceived in two ways: either (a) the technical/mechanical performance of the art, or (b) how we emotionally respond to it.
The easiest way to understand what a word means is to explore its origins and how it is broken down. The author and composer Antoine Fabre D’Oliver breaks it down for us as follows:-
Music comes from the Greek word, ‘mousikè.’
It is formed from the word ‘mousa’ the “muse” (a source of artistic inspiration, or to reflect) that comes from the Egyptian ‘mas’ or ‘mous’ meaning generation, production or the outer development of a principle.
In other words, the manifestation or acting out of what is possible.
This meant that the Greeks originally applied their mousikè to any development of a concept, or to any sphere of activity where thought passes from the intangible to the tangible.
That means that they considered all forms of imitative arts – painting, sculpture, dance, poetry – as an expression falling under this term from which our word music is derived.
So, if we can accept that music in its strictest sense originally did not refer exclusively to sound, can we agree that it is this phenomenon especially, whether produced through nature or imitated through instruments, percussion or vocals, that has the most profound effect on us?
But why does it so?
When humans first discovered their gods, a favourite god, or possibly even a single supreme being we would today refer to simply as ‘God’, they sang.
From the first breath of a newborn child that cries with force and vitality, to the last relief of a soul departing from a well-lived body, life is a sweet song that must end in perfect cadence. Before then however, we must sing it fully.
The musician and musicologist Berthe Nyssens, explains the intrinsic need to manifest our desire to live and express our wonder of life through sound and music.
Great English painter and poet, William Blake tells us there is something powerful and eternal in all art, words and music.
This connection is seemingly ineffable yet so innate to our nature: “Painting, as well as music and poetry, exists and exults in immortal thoughts.”
Now we all know who Beethoven was…even if you haven’t heard the name, you will most definitely have heard at least some of his music!
This prolific composer’s observation is very profound:
Music is a higher revelation than
all wisdom and philosophy.
Music is the electrical soil in which
the spirit lives, thinks and invents.
This answers why music can have such a profound effect on us. Dissecting Beethoven’s two quotes we discover why.
In the first sentence Beethoven recognises that there exists a transcendent quality. He admits that there is an unspoken knowledge transmitted in music, an avowal or exposure of self, an extremely enlightening, personal experience.
In the second sentence he recognises a divine essence in the human spirit and its connection with the creative power of music.
The electrical soil is a curious word usage at a time when electricity poorly understood and certainly not used in its modern context.
So what could Beethoven possibly have meant?
Electric and electricity come from the Greek word elektron, meaning amber. The Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus observed the qualities of this stone.
He discovered that amber, when rubbed with a furry hide, attracted light substances such as hair, a principle to he called ‘static electricity’, a precursor to the science of electricity.
And speaking of science, the word electricity itself was not introduced to the English language until the 17th Century, a century before Beethoven was born. The man responsible for this grammatical inception was no other than Sir Francis Bacon.
We know him well for his contribution to politics, science and Rosicrucianism, as well as the English language as we have just discovered.
But what does this have to do with music?
Well, let us return to Beethoven’s quote equipped with this new perspective and understanding. He understood what the Greeks and Egyptians explained to us in the etymology of word music itself: “…the development of a concept or any sphere of activity where thought passes from the intangible to tangible.”
Music is deeply charged, like electricity, with a creative transcendent power that we are all attracted and connected to, and which stimulates and animates us.
Whether singing, dancing, rejoicing or mourning, music is integral to all of this as Berthe Nyssens reminds us.
Just as the seed of any plant or tree planted in good soil will live and grow to attain its full potential and beauty, so too is our spirit inspired to live, think, create and express the divine nature within us, a revelation we encounter in the deepest sense when we listen to music.
Through its etymology and with the aid of a few notable people from various disciplines we now know what music is and our relation to it.
But how does it connect us with our inner selves? Returning to the title of my article, how does this outward expression reflect this inner desire?
What is the inner desire?
Harmony, attunement, peace.
These are but a few of the many words we use to feel connected with or to feel ‘at one’ with the environment we find ourselves in; but most importantly, with ourselves.
Indisputably, music affects our moods and emotions and even our personality. A cursory search online will prove this point with a myriad of articles. But there is no need to go that far; all we need do is take a moment to observe our behaviour and we’ll know how, consciously or unconsciously, we fulfil this desire and allow the music to guide us.
Unknowingly, have you ever found it necessary to have a selection of music to get through your daily routine?
A playlist to get to work, to exercise, or unwind or even to sleep?
Take a moment to recall your favourite film or a memorable scene. I guarantee that the music plays a key role in its impact.
Try to imagine it without the heart-tugging strings or roaring horns and ask yourself if it would have the same effect.
Conversely, it could be the absence of the music itself that makes it memorable.
Have you ever found yourself asking a friend, or even a complete stranger, the name of the song they’re listening to or that’s being heard? There’s an app for that, and once when the song is found you realise you’ve been listening to the same song for the whole day!
Surely we should be able to recognise ourselves in at least some of these observations and behaviour.
But have we ever asked, why?
Understanding that there is a divine reflex to commune with oneself, we know it’s because within that particular song or instrumental there harbours the key to a feeling, a reunion within you, a therapy, a memory or a meditation.
Two months before his 14th birthday, Friedriech Nietzsche wrote the following:
God has given us music so that above all it can lead us upwards. Music unites all qualities: it can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up, or break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones.
But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate, even to make us tremble… The musical art often speaks in sounds more penetrating than the words of poetry, and takes hold of the most hidden crevices of the heart…
Song elevates our being and leads us to the good and the true.
Nietzsche’s words expose a very enlightened understanding that summarises how music affects us unconsciously and reminds us how it can be a tool where we can consciously return within ourselves.
This is our inward desire!
As mystics and seekers of all things spiritual, we should encourage one another to listen to music that elevates us, that allows us to be more introspective, to yield to this inward desire to commune with our Self.
Music is the gateway, and listening to music, especially the genres such as classical, sacred ambient, etc., including the intonation of vowel sounds and mantras, help us to attune ourselves with the broader purposes of the Cosmic.
By stimulating our psychic selves we become more receptive to the desires and needs of our inner Self.
Such communion with something vastly greater and more refined than us, of necessity turns us into better people.
For our thoughts, words and actions are harmonised with our mystical ideals which in turn are the most intimate expressions of our divine origins.
It comes as no surprise therefore that even on the most mundane level, our connection with music unlocks thoughts and feelings we never dared think existed.
In times when spiritual goods are rarer than material ones, and egotism, envy and hatred govern the world, music will do much to re-establish love among mankind