Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.4- Depths of Spirituality

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Music, once admitted to the soul,
becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.
― Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Last week I started a series of three posts on music and spirituality. I don’t want to get too out in left-field, New Age-y or whatever. That easily happens since spirituality is such a slippery subject, like trying to catch the wind. To attempt to keep my post from the dangers of such a discussion, I found a few quotes on a website ( ) that I will use to keep me a little focused. The original quotes are bold; my thoughts on it are in normal type.

Many who study and discuss spirituality believe that we are innately spiritual; it is part of the human make-up and serves the evolutionary purpose of helping us form communities of meaning and support, helping ourselves and others when in times of need, and focusing on the broader picture of our world so that we can work together for mutual benefit. At the same time music and song are found in one form or another in most if not all cultures. Music becomes a way, perhaps, to form the bonds of community and support. It can express who we are by telling our stories in ways easier to remember. It may even serve to help form the neural networks in people of the same culture or offer a way for newcomers to join the culture.

Yes, that’s a heavy paragraph. Let me lighten it. Music can emerge from:
… personal education, environment, and experience. It can be inspiring, practical, and form the foundations for enjoying everyday life. When we listen to the secret language of the song, we only begin to understand that music is from a spiritual source.
The “secret language of song.” A few weeks ago I shared a post on my Facebook page about hymns we should stop singing in churches. The reasons were varied but they were usually because the song was simplistic, contained poor theology, or was just too sickly sweet. It sure hit a nerve. Some people thought I was a heretic (exaggeration, I hope!) or was treading on things that were given directly from the very hand of God. For many, the hymns mentioned contained a “secret language” that made sense to them. The post seemed to be attacking that. Yes, the music may be saccharine, the theology poor, the words silly- but for many of us these songs have come from a spiritual source. They don’t make sense- they make soul.
Spirituality is like a seed planted in the soul; when cherished by the heart, nourished by the mind, and savored by the spirit, it can and will give good fruit in due season. Spirituality is central to our life journey.…Spirituality is pivotal to how we interact with the world around us when pursued with authenticity, integrity, and sincerity.
I can’t but think of John Coltrane when I read that quote. His whole life was a quest to find the seed, nourish it, savor it, and discover its fruit. Following his recovery from addiction he jumped headlong into one of the great spiritual journeys found in music. His music expressed what he found in his soul. Many listeners, which is what this post is about, were at first surprised, turned away, finding the music too far from what they were used to. Others heard a connection that literally struck a familiar internal chord. Their lives began to resonated in tune with it.

I found that in a number of places for myself. One is the immortal Jazz standard, Summertime. It doesn’t matter if it’s Janis Joplin’s soulful wailing (which I was fortunate to have heard in person), Coltrane’s spiritual flights, or Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sweaty southern interpretation (among many)- the song contains the authenticity, integrity, and sincerity of the soul. Blues can often do that- and can bring people of different backgrounds and history together. It is expressing variations on each of our life journeys.
[Spirituality] can be born out of a desire to connect with a deeper meaning and purpose in life. Musician and listener share a spiritual connection in the space between silence and sound.
Why do some key signatures sound happy and others, sad ? Why do we want to get up and dance to some and so in the corner and cry with others? Why do some songs connect us with each others pain, take us to heights of joy, or silence us in awe? It happens when the musician touches us with her sound. It happens when we are open to new things, or in need of an uplift. It happens when we move into sync with what it around us and some level of sound vibration. The spaces of silence lead us to moments of introspection that we may not even know we are having. In those connections we may even find that there is more to our own lives- and the world- than meets the eye.
Sound is spiritual. Every action and word has a sound that resonates and vibrates through life that is positive, negative, or neutral.
But be cautious, is also an important reminder. Did the Rolling Stones singing “Sympathy for the Devil” at Altamonte in 1969 have some spiritual impact that ended in violence and chaos, a beating death, and three accidental deaths? Probably not, but the spiritual tone of anything can be changed by music- for better or worse. Some have condemned heavy metal and death metal, rap, or even good old rock and roll for many bad things.
Deep down in the depths of the human soul we are all searching for significance reflecting a desire to discover something greater than ourselves. Every person has asked the timeless question of the meaning, purpose, and significance of life. Music is used as an expression of the deep desire to discover more.
At some level it does feel like I (and others) have been putting a great deal of baggage on music, making it of great significance. After all, it’s only music, only entertainment.

But it isn’t that. It is far more than something to pass the time. We all saw the outpouring on the death of the rock superstar Prince last year. That was not because he entertained a lot of people- it was because he touched people at important times in their lives. He moved them, inspired them, got them through tough times and helped them celebrate happy times. We resonate with the music that moves us- and music that moves us means we are in tune, in sync with it.

Sometimes it’s the rhythm or the groove; sometimes it’s the chord progressions; sometimes it’s the melody and words moving together. The great music comes from somewhere both deep within us and from the transcendent beyond us. Together they bind us to others and help us find ourselves.

How do we musicians develop our own “spirituality” or soul in order to make music? Next week I will look at it from the point of the musicians.

I have to end this week’s post with a wonderful quote credited to Christian Reformer Martin Luther. Never known as one who minced words, his earthiness was often evident in his statements about others who didn’t agree with him. To Luther, music was divine; but don’t disagree with him. I don’t!

A person who...does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.
[Foreword to Georg Rhau's Collection Symphoniae iucundae, 1538]”
― Martin Luther

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