Readings on Music

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” Kahlil Gibran

Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.
Hunter S. Thompson

When toddlers hear music with a strong beat, they can’t help it—they just have to dance. Their little diapered bottoms start bouncing up and down; their faces break out in a smile. If you’ve ever seen this spontaneous dancing joy, it’s easy to believe in the universal power of a good tune. I mean, really, could “All About The Bass” be so different from a Mongolian tune played with a khun tovshuur? Isn’t this innately human?
Kathryn Drury Wagner

Music was my refuge.
I could crawl into the space between the notes
and curl my back to loneliness.
Maya Angelou

Listening to great music is a shattering experience, throwing the soul into an encounter with an aspect of reality to which the mind can never relate itself adequately. Such experiences undermine conceit and complacency and may even induce a sense of contrition and a readiness for repentance. I am neither a musician nor an expert on music. But the shattering experience of music has been a challenge to my thinking on ultimate issues. I spend my life working with thoughts. And one problem that gives me no rest is: do these thoughts ever rise to the heights reached by authentic music?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

It’s funny, because you can find God in music when you’re gathered together singing a song, but also there are moments that I’ve had seeing people perform where it’s just — that’s God. It’s like, they’re not God, but God’s there. It’s like Patti Smith at Red Rocks, Prince’s Purple Rain tour… There’s just these moments and it’s not the personality of the musicians anymore. Something’s disappeared and the music and the audience and everything has merged and there’s no separation between performer and audience. That is what spirituality is supposed to be. No separation. And so, for me, it’s formed everything, because that’s what I’ve always strived for, is that — not to be that performer, but to have those experiences at shows, you know? Go to a show and have that experience. It’s sweaty and it’s not beautiful. It’s transcendent, though.
Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls

Music is physical. It’s got your heartbeat, it’s got rhythms, it’s got space, it’s a physiological reality, along with a mystical reality. So it’s metaphysical. There’s not many things in life you can point to and go, that’s metaphysical. But music is.
Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”  Ludwig van Beethoven 

“He who knows the secret of the sound knows the mystery of the whole universe” Hazrat Inayat Khan

That idea of music being a spiritual practice… kind of evolved. Because to be a songwriter I had to develop and practice some of the things that I think belong to the idea of spiritual practice. I had to really start to practice presence. You have to be present. You have to show up… To whatever you’re writing, and to your whole life. Human story. We’re so amazing. People, we’re interesting, and we’re inspiring, and we’re bewildering, there’s something about that….
I’ve always had a spiritual current to my work. Some people come to spiritual music and creating spiritual music through the church and some of us come through the bars. It’s a different way of getting there, but that idea that there is something shining in the world, there’s something shimmering just below the surface of things, always. The light in the world as being an artist, as being creative, curious, ahhh. But that idea of curiosity, of question, and asking questions again, and sensing that something just shimmering below the surface of things and going, wow, what is that?
Carrie Newcomer from On Being interview

The voice is a part of us much as our physical appearance is, and the customs that we have, the way we use our bodies. So I don’t wish my grandfather had any other voice. I remember him singing to me in a very kind of scratchy voice. But that means grandpa, the way he sounded. So we each have a sound. And we communicate emotional states through that sound that are impossible to get at any other medium. It’s deep. Sound gives us what is behind the surface. Sight gives us the surface.
What we miss when we don’t have song is the means of creating a community, of creating a whole out of a group of people. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a group of people in an old folk’s home that can’t really sing anymore, or if it’s a kindergarten classroom, or a nursery school classroom, or a bunch of seventh-grade boys who can be fairly hard to get to function as a unit.
Wherever they are, if you get them on a song, you can establish a kind of group feeling that is really — well, it’s exemplified at its most marvelous after a perfectly wonderful concert when the last note is sound, and you get that silence in the room, which is a silence of completion, which is opposite from an anticipatory silence. But it just means that everyone — it’s as if all of our inner ions have been scheduled to be moving in the same direction at the same time.
Alice Parker, composer and conductor

Whenever somebody jokes about “Kum Bah Ya,” my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types, to come and help in the process of voter registration, and Freedom School teaching, and taking great risks on behalf of the transformation of that state and of this nation. There were two weeks of orientation. The first week was the week in which Schwerner and Goodman and their beloved brother Jimmy were there. And it was during the time that they had left the campus that they were first arrested, then released, and then murdered.
The word came back to us at the orientation that the three of them had not been heard from. Bob Moses, the magnificent leader of so much of the work in Mississippi, got up and told these hundreds of predominantly white young people that, if any of them felt that at this point they needed to return home or to their schools, we would not think less of them at all, but would be grateful to them for how far they had come.
But he said let’s take a couple of hours just for people to spend time talking on the phone with parents or whoever to try to make this decision and make it now. What I found as I moved around among the small groups that began to gather together to help each other was that, in group after group, people were singing “Kum Bah Ya.” “Come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.”
I could never laugh at “Kum Bah Ya” moments after that because I saw then that almost no one went home from there. They were going to continue on the path that they had committed themselves to. And a great part of the reason why they were able to do that was because of the strength and the power and the commitment that had been gained through that experience of just singing together “Kum Bah Ya.”
Vincent Harding

It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being. The music is never the same for me, never. Each day is something new, fantastic, unbelievable. That is Bach, like nature, a miracle!
Pablo Casals, cellist

“Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.” Douglas Adams

“After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”  Aldous Huxley

Longer Reads
Sweet Honey in the Rock singer Ysaye Barnwell on music, community and social justice, from UU World magazine.
Folk Singer Pete Seeger sang for humanity in another article from UU World.

This personal essay from the Huffington Post explores music and spirituality from a global perspective.

This article from Greater Good looks at the science behind the human love of music.



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