- Daniel Barenboim - pianist, conductor and internationalist
The Power of Music
Music is all around us; providing powerful stories, inspiration, and joy in its messages. On the emotional level, few can deny itís intrinsic power. Its ability to influence and enhance moods is, in fact, one of musicís greatest attractions. Moving from the gut to the brain, music helps determine the way we perceive and think about the world. It could be considered a shortcut to the subconscious levels of our minds. Dr. Adam Knieste, a musicologist who studies the effects of music upon people noted: "Itís really a powerful drug. Music can poison you, lift your spirits, or make you sick without knowing why."
As a universal language, music unites people across cultures and can comfort people in times of need and sadness. Musicians see musicís tremendous power not only as a personal spiritual experience but also as a force for change, serving as a a voice for social advocacy and/or enhancing mutual understanding between differing cultures.
As detailed below, from personal or cultural expression to a unique ability to stop the "innner dialog," harvesting and harnessing the power of music can be a potent tool.
Music as a Mirror
Music suggests much about the society in which it is created. Whether it is a traditional song of an Indigenous people, a Beethoven Symphony, a gospel song or a popular rock tune; music reflects a culture. It expresses experience and creates experience, fueling feelings and responses in the listener.
Nearly everyone shares some connection with music. Whether seniors reminiscing to the sound of Bing Crosby or Benny Goodman; to Baby Boomers blasting the Beatles or Joni Mitchell, they all glean messages and memories from music and the artists who create it.
Music can reflect the mood of the times and certan songs eventually become symbols for a particular group of people, a place or historical event. "When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)" was popular during World War II and "We Shall Overcome" was a favorite thoughout the 60s civil rights protests.
An Emotional Connection
Music finds its primary purpose as a spiritual expression of our affections. We have all likely heard the statement, ďMusic is the language of emotion.Ē Music gives expression to our hearts when words are often not enough.
Science all but confirms that humans are hard-wired to respond to music. There is something going on when listening to music besides sound waves, the mechanism of the ear, and synapses firing in the brain. Apparently, music and mood are intimately connected in some non-physical way. Studies show that infants prefer "consonant intervals, the smooth-sounding ones that sound nice to our Western ears in a chord, as opposed to a jarring combination of notes." In fact, the cries of babies just a few weeks old were found to contain some of the basic intervals common to Western music.
The conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim believes that our early connection to sound is another reason for its power ó one that in today's world we sometimes forget. He thinks that because we live in a very visual society we're more aware of what we see than what we hear. But he reminds us that the latest scientific evidence reveals that the ear, which we now know is active in the womb, has an advantage over the eye. He also says: "The ear has a head start over the eye, which doesn't see anything until it comes out. The eye is also something that one can control more fully. If you don't like the way I look, and you don't want to see me, you close your eyes and I disappear. But if you don't like my voice and you're in the same room, then you cannot shut your ears in a natural way. Sound literally penetrates the human body."
Stopping the "inner dialogue"
Certain kinds of music have the power to pull an inner curtain aside, so to speak, so that we become temporarily aware of parts of ourselves which are usually inaccessible. What is experienced in these moments is rather like a message or a non-conscious visual film clip made conscious through the music. Music has the uncanny ability to stop the "inner dialogue."
Legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, told Life magazine in 1969, "I can explain everything better though music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state, and when you get people at their weakest point, you can preach into their subconscious what we want to say."
The term inner dialogue was used by Carlos Castaneda to describe the constant mental dialogue we have with ourselves. It is at first glance what we "think about," but when we consider it more closely we realize it is rather something that controls us because we often can't direct it and, what is worse, we normally can't turn it off.
It consists literally of everything we think about during every waking moment: worries about countless everyday events, planning what to eat, how to do a task, what to wear, how to spend an evening, a tune running through our heads, what others think of us and what we think of them. Think about it and you'll realize you're always thinking about something.
So why would anyone want to stop their inner dialogue? Most people don't ever think about what they think about, which sounds fairly ridiculous except that it is of supreme importance for people who wish to "stop the chatter" and delve into states of greater awareness of themselves and the world.
Altered states of consciousness
Music has also always had a sacred purpose. The transcendent power of music has long been recognized as a vehicle for spiritual practice and a path to spiritual fulfillment and enlightenment. For all of eternity, spiritual music, a universally powerful form of prayer, has provided human beings with a sense of the greater spiritual universe. Chanting forms part of many religious rituals, and diverse spiritual traditions consider music as a means of opening the individual to spiritual experience.
"Among the many forms in which the human spirit has tried to express its innermost yearnings and perceptions, music is perhaps the most universal. It symbolizes the yearnings for harmony, with oneself and with others, with nature and with the spiritual and sacred within us and around us. There is something in music that transcends and unites. This is evident in the sacred music of every community - music that expresses the universal yearning that is shared by people all over the globe."
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Great popular songs inspire soul searching and often act as a springboard—reflecting and fueling the
a listenerís deeply personal spiritual longings. Comforting the lost of a loved one, making sense and reordering the chaos of the complex world around them, binding commonality in an ever more divergent society; these are just a few of the powerful positives of popular tunes.
And yes the filp side... one measure of the imaginative power popular music exerts on modern culture is the semi-religious fervor that permeates much of the pop culture madness. Rabid fans rant and rave about their favorite pop musician and cravenly swoon at their concerts. Emotional frenzied mobs scream en masse and parrot their favorite's latest hairstyle or clothing accessory, treating it with the religious reverance of a maniac.
Granted, media marketing may churn up much of this manufactured "devotion" but a clever pop hook endlessy repeating itself over and over during the height of its popularity has a hypnotozing effect even on the most resistant!
The Power of Music - Further Reading
International Society for Music Education
ISME is a worldwide organization that seeks to celebrate the diverse ways that people engage with, and develop in and through, music.
The Mozart Effect (good references)
The Power of Music
Interesting essay replete with historical anecdotes on the devil's tritone, etc.