How do we experience music?

Beyond the hearing of the tones, music can be experienced in the whole human being. The rhythmic element in music is strongly felt in the limbs. According to Rudolf Steiner, “what people outwardly express in movement they inwardly bring to rest in the soul and thus begin to transform into tones”. (Steiner in the “Study of Man”). External movement is changed into internal movement within the soul and “it even begins to sing when the limbs move in harmony with the cosmic movements of the universe” (Steiner 1996). Such an inner experience is the origin of feelings in us. The internal movement is then finally stilled in the head and experienced as tones.   

“According to Schopenhauer, a blind unconscious will rules the entire world. It forms the stones, then brings forth plants from the stones, and so on,” (Steiner 1983). Tone is a “direct expression of the will itself” (Steiner 1983) and this can be experienced through the movement of the limbs which according to Steiner “have a relationship to cosmic movement”. (Steiner 1996). The connection between the rhythmic element in music and the limbs is made by the blood which is the enabler of movement in human beings.  

According to Steiner, the blood circulation carries rhythm to the limbs and that the breath carries the melody to the head. So music can fill our whole human being. (Steiner 2016)

“When we hear a series of tones, we encounter them as breathing human beings. The cerebrospinal fluid is continuously moving up and down. When we listen to music, the inner rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid moving up and down encounters what occurs within our hearing organs as a result of the tones. Thus there is a continuous clash of the inner vibrating music of our breathing with what happens in the ear when listening to music. Our experience of music exists in the balance between our hearing and our rhythmic breathing”. (Steiner 2001)

“The cerebrospinal fluid continually moves up and down. The fluid moves up and down rhythmically from the brain through the spinal column. Then it radiates out into the abdominal cavity, where inhalation forces it back into the cerebral cavity, from whence it flows back out with exhaling. Our cerebrospinal fluid moves up and down in a continuous process that extends throughout the remainder of the organism; a continuous vibrating movement essentially fills the whole human being and is connected with breathing”. (Steiner 2001)

“That is easily confirmed if one puts one’s hand on the anterior fontanelle of an infant; one can then observe how it rises as the child breathes in and falls as it breathes out. It is, then, in the first instance the rhythm of the lungs which continues into the cerebral region, rather than that of the heart”. (Husemann 1994)

In the experience of the melody, the pure, musical and feeling-bound element (Steiner 2016) is separated from the airborne, acoustical element by the ears and brought into the fluid constitution of Man. The cerebrospinal fluid which is part of this fluid constitution is now infused with this experience of the tone and will move them up the spinal column to the brain which experiences the melody strongly.

Josef Matthias Hauer has also written on the idea that the melody is an experience of the head. “A melody, for example, is not a set of pitches in the external world, but rather a succession of internally generated mental movements or gestures”. (Covach 1990) This is developed from the idea of Hauer where the interval is a kind of “mental-spiritual gesture, a movement of the musical mind”. (Covach 1990)

Music can also directly affect the breathing which in turn will influence the rising and falling rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid. In singing and playing of the wind instruments, the breathing is affected very strongly by the music and the melodic element is experienced acutely in the head with such active participation in music. Often, one realises that the melody in music can conjure up certain images, imagination in our head and communicates in its own language to us. Such a phenomena is often processed and experienced in the head. I have found it most interesting that when I sing or play a tune to a class without the lyrics and asked them what the song is about, different children will have their own imagination and interpretation of the melody. Often their interpretation are not far off from the actual meaning of the song that is carried in the lyrics. Melody has a powerful way to connect to our thinking capacity with its own logic and language. 

The harmonic aspect of music however is experienced strongly in the chest and the feeling realm. Harmonies are created when 2 or more notes are sounded together at the same time. When different notes are sounded together, there then exists a space between them and a new sound is created which is different from the individual tones.

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