Music as a Force

Music can be experienced as a force, whether it is the vibration on the feet coming from the low notes of the cello, in the disco with the bass and drums’ sound thumping on the body or the shamanistic drumming inducing a trance-like state. Music can move the whole human being.  

It is natural and inviting to dance to the music one loves or to music with a strong beat. Music not only stirs and brings emotions into movement but it has the ability to move bodies as well. “The embodied nature of music, the indivisibility of movement and sound, the anthropologist John Blacking writes, characterizes music across cultures and across times”. (Levitin 2008)

Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks has been working with Connie Tomaino at the Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx, New York amongst patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The 2 have developed a very successful music therapy program to help the patients gain some level of mobility. According to Sacks and Tomaino:

“For people who have motor problems, music acts as a catalyst. Hearing a beat can be enough to carry a person from thinking to moving,” says Tomaino. Even patients who previously couldn’t walk have been able to “bound out of their chairs and start dancing as long as the music was present.” (Gaynor 2002)

Music is always in movement and changing. The soul or inner emotional world is also always moving. When the soul is heavy and stagnant, it is like depression and there is the feeling of weight and immobility. Music can stimulate inner soul movement through its effects on emotions.

The chinese character for music is 乐 (yue) which also means joy pronounced as “le”. Music is believed to have a strong connection to the joy and emotions of people since ancient times. In the pre-Qin dynasty before China was united, Confucius has been travelling the various warring states and compiled 6 ancient scrolls with writings preserved from ancient times for the royal family for their own personal education. These 6 scrolls contain wisdom for the rulers and there was 1 which was about music. Unfortunately, this music scroll has since been lost and cannot be found. However, in the scroll on “Rites”, it contains some of the ancient Chinese writings on music. It was believed that music has the power to control the hearts and minds of the populace and is used as a governance tool. Music was believed to originate from the hearts of Man due to the internal movement of emotions and is produced by imitating the harmonies within the world. The condition of society will shape the music of the times depending if the society is in peace or war. In the ancient Chinese text, it is believed that a learned and wise man is one who knows and can appreciate music. The nature of music lies in creating unity and helping people love one another. To this aspect, the ancient royal courts created music to shape and influence the hearts and minds of the populace. Interestingly, Plato also mentioned something similar: “Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited. When modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them”. (Amazing Discoveries, 2010). The modes mentioned by Plato are the musical modes for example the dorian, phrygian and mixolydian.

This regular soul movement was also described by Augustine of Hippo as follows:

“The last Book of “De Musica” adopts a more philosophical and less of a descriptive approach. Written as a conclusion/ morality of the Treatise, St. Augustine analyzes the movements of the heart and the soul, those of the body, and those of the universe. He introduces the concept of a mystical ladder, escalating several levels of harmonies until it reaches the “mother of all harmonies”, the eternal and immutable harmony of God, the source of all movements; but more importantly, the source of energy taming all these movements and making harmony and peace prevail”. (Chami, 2010)

Too much emotional movement on the other hand may cause hysteria. So there needs to be a rhythmic, regular movement within the soul life to maintain the balance.

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