Spiritual Significance of Music
ANCIENT ARTS & SCIENCES
from the pages of Thresholds
The Spiritual Significance of Music
by Dr. Pam Blosser
Several years ago, in response to Vatican Two, a Benedictine monastery in France stopped its practice of Gregorian chant. The six to eight hours of chanting could be replaced with other activities, they thought. A period of time passed and the monks became lethargic.
Upon noticing this, they had a meeting to try to identify the cause of their fatigue and propose a remedy. They decided to go to bed earlier. This change only brought additional weariness to the monks. They invited a nutritionist who upon investigating their diet declared, These men are starving. They need more food. So the monks abandoned their vegetarian diet. As a result they became even more lethargic. Their life was becoming more and more like the life of those living outside the monastery.
Dr. Alfred Tomatus, a French neurolinguist, was asked for his expert opinion. After investigating the lifestyle of the monks and examining them, his prognosis was to reinstate the chanting. As soon as chanting was reinstated, the monks revived and became more alert. As a result the monks were able to go back to their former monastic practices.
What Dr. Tomatus discovered as a result of researching the effect chanting had on the well-being of the monks was that there are certain frequencies within sounds that recharge the brain. When we hear a sound its not just one vibration or tone. Its many many different vibrations. The collection of these combined vibrations is what creates the richness of the sound. Scientifically these vibrations are called overtones or harmonics. The overtones are not usually recognizable to the human consciousness. What Dr. Tomatus discovered is that the higher frequencies are the ones that feed the brain energy. The human voice is rich in these overtones. Thats one reason why it is healthy to sing. My choir director in high school once told us at a class reunion, Your math teachers dont know what its like to have this wash of music flowing over you all day long. I believe that it was not only the beauty of the human voice and the music selected that he was referring to but these overtones that recharged his brain during the day, leaving him refreshed rather than drained.
I believe the sounds found in cities are made up of frequencies that create a discharge in the brain and drain the brain of energy. The tones are dull. They lack life or brilliancy. In the country the sounds are of the birds' songs, crickets, locusts. I believe these sounds are rich in the frequencies that recharge the brain. I also believe the wind, and sounds of running water such as ocean surf, waterfalls and babbling brooks are also rich in tones that recharge the brain.
The Gregorian Chants of the Benedictines or the guttural sounds of Tibetan Buddhist Monks are filled with rich overtones that feed the brain. This charged sound is created by a special kind of resonance where the harmonics of higher frequencies within the sound are audible to the human ear. If youve ever listened to Tibetan chanting, it sounds like somebody is singing lower than the human voice can go. And thats not whats going on. The person is singing a certain low pitch that creates a resonance that sounds lower. When people are chanting theyre trying to make the harmonics audible in their voice.
A good way to create this resonance is by sounding a French U, the lips in the form of an oo and the inside of the mouth in the form of an ee. In making two sounds, an ee and an oo at the same time, they vibrate off each other and create that third sound. You can identify when you are creating these overtones because a tinney quality will be added to the sound.
In other spiritual music there is often whats called a drone, which is a low sustained sound. The bagpipe is a good example. The Buddhist drone is another, where you hear a low sound with a melody above it. The drone helps to create the resonance for harmonics and charged sound as well as create a repetition. Repetition of sacred words is a universal practice. The repetition enables the meditator to still the mind, going into the sound, as it were, and the sacred image represented there. The further objective for these harmonics and charged sounds is to still the mind, aiding in creating a highly attuned consciousness and helping with clarity in praying, meditation or contemplation.
Creating and being able to listen to these usually inaudible harmonics is representative of causing the outer consciousness to resonate to the higher divine Being within. This requires a highly attuned state and the ability to enter into the silence. experiencing an expanded consciousness within. There is space between every sound thats made so there is audible silence that can be found within sound. More importantly silence exists eternally, underlying all sound. Maybe this is what the drone is meant to symbolize. Think of the scene in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when the ship was floating suspended in space to a Strauss waltz and you can begin to get a feel for the silence I am describing. Being able to hear the silence along with the sound is a precursor to being able to exist on more than one level of consciousness at the same time. What we are trying to accomplish is to cause the outer consciousness to resonate with silence.
Listening to the silence underlying all sound requires the consciousness to expand beyond the spectrum of physically audible sounds. It is at that point that we can begin to question what part of Self truly does the listening. The ears receive vibration as does the skin. The nerves transport the sound to the brain so it can register the piece of information. How does the brain know how to catalogue the sound? How does it know the difference between Mac as in Big Mac, a mack truck or mac-aroni and cheese? It is the image transported along with the sound that is perceived by the consciousness of the individual. So it is the consciousness that truly does the listening.
Something Ive been experiencing recently is listening through the solar plexus in the sense of letting the vibration of music enter there, directing the vibration there and seeing what kind of effect I experience. Since the solar plexus is the seat of the conscious and the subconscious minds, listening through the solar plexus allows still another way to exist on more than one level of consciousness at the same time. Listening through the solar plexus means we no longer identify listening solely with the ears, physical body and brain but with the consciousness. I think listening through the solar plexus is going to be a key in listening for Intuitive Man.
Its important to keep your solar plexus open as you listen. You know that when you start reacting, when you dont want to hear something, if youre at all aware of your body, you notice that your solar plexus starts to stiffen. And when the solar plexus is open is usually when youre in a more receptive mental state. Listening requires being in a mentally receptive state. It is an open consciousness that causes the solar plexus to be open and receptive and a closed consciousness that causes it to be closed and hard.
Many spiritual practices contain listening to or watching the breathing, the in-breath and the out-breath. Sometimes a word of spiritual significance is mentally sounded along with the breathing. This practice is a precursor to listening through the solar plexus because it is the breath which ties the soul to the body. Observing the breath causes the outer consciousness to resonate with the vibration of the souls consciousness so both become one. It is from this vantage point that listening will be through the solar plexus because what is being listened to can be received directly by the soul.
The new millennium marks a milestone in the growth and age of our planet and in the progression of the evolution of human consciousness. As we seek to transform our consciousness we will elevate how we use all of the senses. Presently our senses are used for enjoying physical life and gathering information and experience for reasoning. In the future they will be used for consciously receiving experiences as part of unfolding creation. Music is an exquisite aspect of creation, at its best coming from the soul of its creator. By transforming our understanding and use of listening, music will be used as a primal step in entering the portal of our inner mind, the next step in human evolution.
Among Dr. Pams many talents, are the sensitive touch of the harpist, the empathetic ear of the psi counselor, and the expansive sight of the minister. She was interviewed in the August 1997 Thresholds Quarterly.
©1997 Vol. 15 No. 4
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