from 1997 Thresholds Quarterly


The Beginning of Aligning Body and Soul

Dr. Pam Blosser, D.M., D.D., is a harpist, singer, composer, choir director and an instructor of music at the College of Metaphysics. Having sung in choirs her whole life, taught children, directed cantatas in the Interfaith Church of Metaphysics, and travelled around the world, she is well versed in the ways that music affects people’s lives. A metaphysician who has been practicing spiritual disciplines for over twenty years, Dr. Blosser reveals how sound, tone, and harmony contribute to expanded consciousness.

Thresholds: How would you define music -- the difference between music and noise?

Blosser: Well, music is ordered; music is sound and it’s in some kind of an order. There usually is some kind of rhythm to it. There’s usually some kind of different tones or it can be one tone, but it’s usually something that’s in some kind of ordered fashion. There are different kinds of scales; the one that we most know about (in the West) is the chromatic or the diatonic. But there many different kinds of scales and different tonal systems that people have used for music that are different from the Western.

Thresholds: And what does that mean when you talk about a tonal system?

Blosser: Well the scale would be like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do that you see on white keys of the piano. If you hit the black keys, that is a scale that is more of an Oriental kind of scale.

Thresholds: There are certain kinds of music that seem to produce calming effects and there are other kinds of music that are invigorating and rejuvenating. There’s been all kinds of research done on how you can use music to improve study habits or to calm prisoners or soothe children. What causes that?

Blosser: Well like you said, there’s been all kinds of research done on plants and animals as well as human beings and there definitely is an effect that different tones have on physical matter, or even living matter. There have been tests that have been done where certain music causes growth in plants or causes the plants not to grow at all.
When you think of the physical body we often think the place that we really hear is through our ears, but that wasn’t the first organ of hearing. The first organ of hearing was our skin, the external body part, the skin of the being. In the case of plants you know their outer surface is where they receive the vibration and they responded to the vibration. So if a plant is listening...if you play some music for a plant, it receives it through a vibration, the sound vibration. And there are certain vibrations and rhythms that are more conducive for health and healing.
However, there are also different kinds of music in different cultures, in different countries. And to our ear gamelan music from Indonesia or koto music from Japan might sound very strange and we would not like it at all, whereas that tune to a Japanese or an Indonesian is the most beautiful music they could want to hear and our Western music would not be beautiful to them. So listening and being able to identify what’s beautiful is a personal -- I think it is a very personal thing that is a learned experience, what you’ve learned in your own culture that you have defined as beautiful.

Thresholds: Is development of hearing and the tones used reflective more of a combined culture’s experience than individual experiences?

Blosser: It’s reflective of balance, wherever it is found. The ear itself was an offshoot of the lateral fin, the lateral line of the fish, and the lateral line was there for balance. So the original purpose of the ear was in balance. And it still is, there still are parts of the ear that are specifically for balance, there are vestibular organs there. They are kind of like gyroscopes within the ear that go off in different directions and they help us relate ourselves to our body; like, because we have that in our ear, I am very aware of how I am sitting, how everything in my body is, where my legs are, where my hands are, where my arms are, how straight my back is, and also relating myself to my external environment. I’ve been thinking what is the relationship of hearing to this sense of balance? And I think hearing is one of the places where we really do enter, where we let our exterior environment enter into us, where we engage in a relationship with our environment. Because of the fact that the feeling or vibration comes in through our skin as well as through our ears there is more of an intimate relationship through the sense of hearing that occurs.
The interesting thing about the ear is that there are many cranial nerves that are in conjunction with the ear that are also in conjunction with different parts of the body. So that it’s not only, when you are able to hear, the hearing is connected to your sight, it’s connected to different organs of your body. Because there are cranial nerves that are near your ear, actually even your outer and your middle ear that send messages to the different parts of your body, your vital organs, your spine, your abdomen, chest that really alert your body to the sound before your brain even registers it. We’re talking about milliseconds when we’re talking about that. It’s related to the animalistic instinct of fight and flight, where the body is already alerted to a sound before the brain receives the information so that the physical body is ready to flee or to fight whatever that stimuli is and we still have that in our own physical bodies, too.
This makes the sound of listening to music a more comprehensive experience. We think of the emotions being part of the music which is true because I know that the limbic system which works with the emotions and the brain is part of what we hear music with, what we interpret the music through, and that’s the older part of the brain that is related to more with the emotions. So we often think of music as being an emotional experience. Sometimes music does want to make us get up and dance or make us feel calm or make us feel alive, more alert. Music has been used for military purposes, you know when people are going off to war they will be singing a song as they go and music will be inspiring them to fight or there’s music like love songs that are used, or mothers sing lullabies to their children.
Not so much anymore, it’s changed I guess, but a lot of folk music in the past was used for dancing and people would use music as a way of entertainment. They would get together around a piano or guitar and sing in the evening before there was television and radio. Or they would get together with their instruments and they would dance and sing, and so that was more of the entertainment at that time. I think that kind of listening and that kind of relationship with music has been lost and I think we’ve lost something really important in our own being because of the fact that we don’t use music in that way any more.

Thresholds: And as societies. What do you think the personal loss is?

Dr. Blosser: There is something that occurs when you sing. Singing can stimulate or vibrate different parts of the body and bring them into harmony. There are different words that have been incorporated with music, like harmony and vibration and rhythm, tempo, words that relate to harmony. The dream symbol for music is harmony and it does bring a kind of harmony into first of all, the physical body, into the emotions, some kind of emotional effect. It may not bring harmony, but some kind of emotional effect that at least aligns the consciousness with an emotion. In the beginning, I think it really is the beginning of aligning with the soul.
You don’t need external sound to go fact external sound is a distraction to go into meditation, but it can set the stage. Mystics have known this for years because there has been all kinds of chanting that has been done through different kinds of religions, the Gregorian chant, the chanting of the Tibetan Buddhists, the mantras that are sung by the Hindus, there’s all kinds of different chanting that people use. I believe that what that does is helps to align the outer consciousness because it’s not only a sound but also usually it’s a sound and a word -- a holy word, like ave, ave Maria or kiria or something like that in the Gregorian chants. And then it’s either a Sutra, for the Buddhists it’s a sutra, which are words of the Buddha or it’s holy words for the mantras in the Hindu religion. So it’s not only a tone or a sound but also a vibration of a word that is a holy word that has a heightened vibration to it. So I think both of those help to heighten a person’s consciousness and prepare them for meditation or to soothe them if they are feeling agitated. I’ve used mantras to help soothe my consciousness when it’s been agitated or I’ve been reacting. Just the sounding of the word not necessarily even singing it but the sounding of the word.

Thresholds: When you say that it soothes the consciousness or heightens the consciousness are you talking about something that happens in the conscious mind or does it affect the subconscious mind, too?

Blosser: I think it’s mostly in aligning the conscious mind to what is in the subconscious mind. I don’t think it’s affecting the subconscious at all, but I think it’s helping the conscious mind be more open and receptive to the vibration of the subconscious mind.

Thresholds: Is there a universal purpose for music?

Blosser: All the fine arts of the world were created in order to understand and heighten your understanding and clarity of one of the five senses. Actually feeling, seeing, and hearing more than tasting and smelling; although you can smell sounds and smell a picture, you know a painting, or smell when something is written in a poem. But for the most part especially the fine arts of drawing, painting, sculpting, dance, and music have all been created to help us in our own evolution to really understand and become clear and more discriminative of one of the senses. And music, definitely music is there for learning to listen and learning to feel or experience. People who are musicians hear more. The people who are artists see more in nature, they see more colors, they see more texture than someone who has not been trained or has not had any experience in that way. Music helps us to heighten and complete that understanding of listening.
When I teach music, most of what I teach is about how to listen, because I came to realize in one of my classes, one of the first times I started teaching listening that people don’t know how to listen. And just like I said, a lot of things we’ve done in the past that were part of our society of dancing and singing and listening to music has been lost. I mean when you think about how in our society we can go to a record store and buy a CD (compact disc). We can bring it back and we can put it on and listen to it while we’re cooking our dinner or washing our car or cleaning up our house. In the past before we had recorded music, it was a special time when people got together. And even in the medieval times, people might travel weeks or days to get to a place where they might hear the beautiful music of the cathedrals. It was very special. Whereas today we can listen to just about any kind of music anytime we want to anywhere in the world.

Thresholds: When you first started talking about that you said there’s been a lot of changes in our society and we’ve really lost something in our being. What have we lost?

Blosser: What I think has been lost is the use of tone, first of all, the use of tone because it does have a physiological effect on our bodies. If you were to say a vowel sound like a or e, and slide your voice up and down the scale, you would notice at certain points you could feel vibrations in your body. And at certain points where there was tension you might even begin to feel like that tension’s just falling away and relaxation occurring. And I think that definitely music is not used. People used to sing in the fields, they used to sing when they worked. There are many times when people will put music on or listen to it when they are working, but they don’t sing themselves.
There is also the idea of gathering around a piano or some other musical instrument and singing creates a group consciousness different from sitting around a TV and watching. Where you really do enter into an interaction and a communion with other people as you sing. If you’ve ever sung in choir or played in a band you know the joy of relating to people on a musical level, especially harmonizing having different parts. There’s a lot of communication that occurs between the singers or the musicians. There’s a lot of listening that occurs in order to harmonize with the other musicians or singers and because very often we don’t sit around and sing we don’t have that in our lives anymore, a way to experience the creation of music together. Even going to a concert is different from doing that, or even a small group where you go and listen to a small group and interact with them. I think it’s become thought of as old fashioned to do that which is kind of sad.

Thresholds: Some people think of it as childish, too.

Blosser: Right.

Thresholds: I know that you have done quite a bit with children and taught children. How does music help children?

Blosser: I just discovered something in a class one time where I was giving them instructions and they weren’t responding very well, so I thought well I’m going to sing. I just started singing the instructions and they immediately responded to what my instructions were, and I found out later that there is a different part of the brain that receives musical communication as opposed to spoken communication. That’s why some people if they are retarded in the spoken language, they can be very gifted in the singing. In fact they can communicate in singing.
I heard a story of a man who was in an opera. There was supposed to be a whole troupe of retarded adults who were singing and the listener thought that one singer was just an actor in there, obviously not retarded at all because he was singing so beautifully and so well. And so she went up to him later and said, “You’re not really retarded, what troupe are you really in?” And he turned to her and didn’t understand what she was saying and tried to speak to her but couldn’t because he was retarded. Then she went, “Oh, okay.” So she started singing to him and he started singing back and later that person was put into an operatic troupe and the only way he could communicate well whether to receive information or to give it was through singing. So there is a different part of the brain that is activated and utilized when you are singing as opposed to when there is spoken communication.
Music, this is true for anybody, but for children music teaches, it gives them a place to hear their own voice. It gives them a place to begin to tap into their own vibration or their own identity. It gives them a place to learn rhythm and balance. It gives them a place of a very special kind of self expression, singing. There are many beautiful words that have been put to music - so it gives thoughts. When beautiful thoughts are put to music it is different than just saying them. If you think of a song that you particularly like, the words are still beautiful but when they are put to music they are even more beautiful, there’s something about them that changes.
I think because of the fact that sound is a more comprehensive relationship that we enter into when we work with music, it incorporates more of the individual physically, emotionally, intellectually, and to some degree, spiritually. The individual or child can enter into a more comprehensive experience through the world of music; dance is a close second. Dance is definitely there, too, because it’s music and the body moving, so there’s a lot to be said about dance, but it does include music when you’re dancing. It does give individuals a place to enter fully into an experience and be free in their expression. I think children who have music in their lives are happier and probably express more easily their thoughts, and probably listen better than children who don’t have music in their lives.

Thresholds: Do you know if there are certain kinds of music that help to enhance memory when they are played?

Blosser: I’ve heard that, too. I haven’t done any research on it myself. It would make sense that certain kinds of music...I know that Mozart is supposed to be, there are many things about Mozart’s music that is supposed to enhance people’s intelligence or their memory ability and if you listen to Mozart it is very ordered, mathematical. It’s also very bright. Bach is very ordered, some of his music is bright, but not the same kind of brightness that is in Mozart’s music and I know that there have been tests that have been done where college students have listened to ten minutes of Mozart and another group didn’t and they went in and read something or heard a lecture and the ones who heard Mozart could remember more. So again I think it has to do with aligning the consciousness to a clarity because of the fact that Mozart is so orderly and so bright it causes the consciousness to be more alert and bright and be able to receive information.

Thresholds: You also talked quite a bit about listening and how most people don’t even know how to listen. How do you teach someone how to listen?

Blosser: Listening obviously begins with the ability to hold the attention. Studies say posture doesn’t make a difference. Some people hear better lying down; some people can hear better standing up or sitting down; they haven’t found any one posture, one physical posture that helps. But I disagree because I think that there is a posture and the best place to look is at animals. Because there are points where they listen. Their body is completely still, their body is erect, if they’re sitting their body becomes erect. Their ears perk up. They look to the direction of the source of the sound, where the sound is coming from. And by looking at animals, we can see that that is the best state of listening because listening in and of itself is a highly alert state.
We often think of listening as something that’s relaxing, where the body is in a relaxed state. There is some truth to that, but I think the best physical posture for listening is with your spine straight with your face in the direction of the source of the music and looking at the music. I wear glasses and if I can’t see well, if I have my glasses off and somebody talks to me from across the room, I can’t hear them as well, because I don’t have my glasses on. And I know that it’s because of some of the cranial nerves all working together all working so closely together. Cranial nerves of sight and hearing are very closely connected and there are different cranial nerves that go down the spine and into the body, into the mouth. If your body is stiff, if your body is tense, if your jaw is tense, when you think about it when you hear a loud sound what do you automatically do? You tense your jaw, your neck you might cover up your ears but before that your whole body would become really tense. That really is like a safety; again it goes back to the instinct of the animal where the stimuli enters the outer ear and the middle ear and when it enters the outer ear and the middle ear there is so many cranial nerves there that go to different parts of the body, the body already is tense and that helps if a sound that is extremely loud, it helps muffle the sound inside the inner ear. It closes it off a little bit. That’s why yawning is such a good exercise to do to hear better, because it helps relax the muscles of the jaw, the neck, as well as when you yawn, you really give yourself an inner exercise all the way from your mouth down. You can feel it tensing. And also if you tighten your jaw, you’ll feel the area around your ear all tensing up. So having a relaxed body, especially the jaws, helps to be able to hear better.
Physical posture is important. Attention is the mental posture. Attention begins the process of listening, otherwise the body is just hearing, receiving vibrations and the mind is unconscious of what is occurring. Attention is the basic idea and learning to give your full attention to something, learning to still your mind, is the first step to listening.

Thresholds: What would be a good first step for somebody who does not listen? For example, you could be sitting right next to them at the table and when you say something, they don’t even hear it. While there are other people who could hear something that is clear into the other room.

Blosser: I think that happens because it’s something they didn’t want to hear in the first place and it became a habit where they don’t hear. I think the first step would be creating a need and a desire to want to hear more. Whether it’s wanting to be more aware of what’s going on in your environment or wanting to hear the sounds of nature, or wanting to be able to hear when you’re listening to sounds of music, being able to hear the music and the different instruments and the way the music all fits together. I think a person needs to first of all have a sense of need and desire and wanting to be able to hear more, to see how they would be benefitted by that because that would be the motivating force. Then giving conscious attention, because any time you change something you have to give some kind of conscious attention to it in the beginning. So to practice sitting up straight with the idea of wanting to listen to what’s being said around you or what’s happening around you, where you’re more aware of what’s going on around you.

Thresholds: Is there a difference between hearing and listening? In the case where you’re asleep, or the person who I was talking about before who is in a room but doesn’t hear that you and I are talking... they’re sitting over there lost in thought. What happens to the sound?

Blosser: Listening is giving your consciousness and your attention, hearing involves the body not necessarily consciousness. When you’re asleep the physiological process is still going on, but there’s no consciousness of that. The same thing is true with sight. Where someone who is preoccupied walks into a room and does not see anything although the brain may register it, the eyes may read the information and register it in the brain but the consciousness isn’t there. So I think it probably is a piece of lost information in the brain but it can not be retrieved.

Thresholds: You wouldn’t be able to remember it then?

Blosser: I don’t think so.

Thresholds: We have to ask, what’s the answer to that old puzzle about if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Blosser: I think it definitely makes a vibration. If there is a sound receptor to receive it, it would be noted as a sound. It definitely makes a vibration.

Thresholds: How have you used music to enrich your life?

Blosser: Well, I was fortunate when I was a child. My mother was a music teacher and my father had played in a band as a child. He loved it when he was growing up and he sang in the choir. Both of my parents loved music very much, so we had music -- all kinds of music around us. We sang, we listened. So I loved singing in school and I belonged to every choir I could join when I was going through school and that was a really rich experience for me. Through my life and probably some of the highlights of my school days were in choirs.
I remember my choral director in high school. I went to a reunion a few years ago. All the choirs that he taught he invited a few students there and one thing he said was, “Math teachers just don’t realize what it’s like to have this wash of sound going across them all day long.” And I mean it’s true. The teachers who taught the more academic subjects had a completely different experience with their day. He had this wash of vibration and he was very careful. The music he picked, he always he said he picked it because of its beauty. He tried to pick music that was beautiful. We sang modern songs and we sang more classical but it was always something he thought was beautiful.
Probably the way that I use it the most is when I am writing, there are different pieces of music that I like to listen to that help to still my mind and help to stimulate me to think more deeply about things. I think probably the biggest thing is to help still my mind so I can be more concentrated. The music is usually a slow piece. One in particular that I like a lot is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I think the strings are very good for helping to still the mind as well as the tempo of the music. Some of Wagner, some of his overtures.

Thresholds: The overtures?

Blosser: Yes, the overtures, the pieces that were played in the very beginning of the operas. Some of those I like. There is a lot of power in Wagnerian music. It also can be very still. So I look for music that helps to still my mind, and I use it particularly when I am wanting to write. It helps to create an ambience that’s conducive for me to write and that’s how I use it the most.

Thresholds: Do you have any advice to help people bring music back into their lives?

Blosser: Sing. Singing is very healthy for people. So pick out songs that you like to sing. I know sometimes it helps to lift my spirits if I am sad or depressed or reacting. If I start singing a song it lifts my spirits and brings me into a better consciousness and happier consciousness.•
©1997 Vol. 15 No. 3

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