Spirituality of Music
 

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Spirituality of Music - China

The Spirituality of Music has been presented to many churches and groups throughout the United States. It is a spectacular presentation suitable for religious gatherings, civic clubs, and schools. It changes forever the way people listen to music.

It is an exploration of the nature of music as language, specifically as a language of emotion. This unique characteristic of music gives it greater potential than any other language of communicating directly to the heart.

It has been presented to churches and other groups from Colorado to Florida, from Alabama to the Carolinas. You are invited to explore the possibility of having this presentation for your group or organization. Please contact Don for additional information.

Spirituality of Music for China

China is officially an atheist state. This does not mean its people are not spiritual; indeed, because they depend upon themselves and their interaction with Nature, Chinese people are deeply introspective and spiritual. Click here to discover a version of the Spirituality of Music written expressly for China. It is in English, and there is a Chinese translation as well. There is also a video of a live presentation, in English, to a Chinese audience.


The following is the typical format outline when it is incorporated into the service at Unitarian Universalist and Unity churches. The complete text may be seen here.

Welcome and Greetings

Ringing the Chimes

Lighting of the Chalice

Affirmation

Words for Gathering

[read by moderator/church member; may also be printed.]

Music is the language of the goddess; laughter the language of the universe. The goddess and the universe are One.
    Don Rechtman

Prelude

Words and music by Don Rechtman [a humorous ice-breaker]

Hymn

Here We Have Gathered (360 in UU Hymnal)
            or
In the Stillness of the Silence (97 in Unity Hymnal)

Introduction of Speaker

For All Ages

[Children look at the piano; one or two who have never played before play a piece.]

Singing the Children on Their Way [Optional; remainder of presentation is suitable for all ages]

(Congregation Singing)
Go now in Peace, Go now in Joy.
May the Spirit of Love surround you,
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go.

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Readings   [Don]

Silence is very hard to hear,

At best it scarcely fills the ear.

But I know it exists, because I've found

If it weren't for silence, there'd be no sound.

Grandma's hearing and vision loss was already in full swing. She asked me to play piano for her. I eagerly complied, and played from the happy place within the heart. In the midst of my musical expression I felt a warm hand gently grasp my left shoulder and in turning me around to her, it stopped the playing. With true sadness in her voice, she apologized and said, I'm sorry, I just can't hear it any more.

Offering and Offertory

Second movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata in C minor, abridged.

Sermon

  • The Spirituality of Music
  • Music Quote from Aristotle
  • Music Myths debunked: "tone deafness" and "not musical" and the question of Beethoven’s deafness
  • Music defined
  • Music v Avant Garde
  • Pendercki: Trenody
  • Music as language
  • Beethoven’s deafness explained
  • Contest: Name that Tune!
  • Beethoven's 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement
  • Mozart Affect and Political Policy
  • Where to from here?

Extinguishing the Flame

Hymn

Sing and Rejoice (395 in UU Hymnal, as a round)
            or
Keep the Hear Singing (33 in Unity Hymnal

Benediction

Beethoven wrote on the dedication page of the Ninth Symphony "From the Heart; may it go to the Heart." So too, may you go forth from the heart, and sing the song of love into the hearts of all you encounter. Please remember: Serious music is not as bad as it sounds! Blessed be, Namaste, Shalom, Es salam alekum, Amen.


The Complete Spirituality of Music Text

The Spirituality of Music

[The following is the typical format when it is incorporated into the service at Unitarian Universalist and Unity churches.]

Welcome and Greetings

Ringing the Chimes

Lighting of the Chalice

Affirmation

Words for Gathering

[read by moderator/church member; may also be printed.]

Silence is very hard to hear,

At best it scarcely fills the ear.

But I know it exists, because I’ve found

If it weren’t for silence, there'd be no sound.
   Don Rechtman

Prelude

Words and music by Don Rechtman [a humorous ice-breaker]

Hymn

Here We Have Gathered (360 in UU Hymnal)[1]
            or
In the Stillness of the Silence (97 in Unity Hymnal)

Introduction of Speaker

For All Ages

[Children are given a tour of the piano; one or two who have never played before are guided to play a piece.]

Singing the Children on Their Way [Optional; remainder of presentation is suitable for all ages]

(Congregation Singing)
Go now in Peace, Go now in Joy.
May the Spirit of Love surround you,
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go.

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Reading [Don]

Grandma's hearing and vision loss was already in full swing. She asked me to play piano for her. I eagerly complied, and played from the happy place within the heart. In the midst of my musical expression I felt a warm hand gently grasp my left shoulder and in turning me around to her, it stopped the playing. With true sadness in her voice, she apologized and said, I'm sorry, I just can't hear it any more.

Silent Meditation or Offering and Offertory [May occur at end if preferred]

  • Second movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata in C minor, abridged.

Sermon

  • The Spirituality of Music

Does music affect us spiritually? It’s an easy question to ask. But to answer… There are immediately two problems that arise with this question: how do we define music, and how do we define spirituality? We’ll also briefly explore those two questions.

  • Musical Example

 [Improvise a group reading.] Were any of you moved by what you just heard? While listening, did any of you experience images? Did any experience specific thoughts? While listening, did any of you resolve any issues or solutions to problems? What I played I improvised; I made it up, just now. It was a musical conversation with you. It was what I call a group reading, meaning it was a musical portrait of all of you together, of the energy of this space, of this moment.

 What happened just now? Why were some of you moved? Why were some of you not touched or even impressed by what you just heard?

 One rarely gets to make a promise about a presentation, but experience has shown that what you’re about to hear today will alter the way you listen to music for the rest of your life. I invite you to hold me to this promise.

  • Aristotle

I’d like to read a quote, but as it contains some less common musical terms, I’d like to clarify them for you.

 We’ve all heard of musical scales and keys, such as major and minor. All a scale is is the relationship of the pattern of adjacent notes. In Western musical culture, some notes are very close to each other, such as E and F [play], called a half step; some, such as D and E, a little further apart [play], called a whole step. In the case of C major, the second and third notes are a whole step [play C-D-E]; in C minor, they are a half step [play C-D-Eb]. Thus the major and minor scales are pre-defined combinations of half steps and whole steps.

 There’s a special class of scales called modes. If you start on C and play without any black keys, you have played a major scale [play]. But if you start on D and play without any black keys, the half step – whole step relationship is altered. If I make the necessary adjustments and start on C, it sounds like this [play C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C]. Again, they are [play both modes]. Each letter name begins its own mode. The C mode, which you just heard, is called the Ionian mode. The one that starts on D is called, the Dorian; E, the Phrygian [play mode, then chords F6-E], F, the Lydian, and so on.

 Now the reading. One well-known writer summarizes our experience of music this way:

 …even in mere melodies there is an imitation of character, for the musical modes differ essentially from one another, and those who hear them are differently affected by each. Some of them make [people] sad and grave, like the so-called Mixolydian [mode], others enfeeble the mind, like the relaxed modes, another, again, produces a moderate and settled temper, which appears to be the peculiar effect of the Dorian; the Phrygian inspires enthusiasm. The whole subject has been well treated by philosophical writers on this branch of education, and they confirm their arguments by facts. The same principles apply to rhythms; some have a character of rest, others of motion, and of these latter again, some have a more vulgar, others a nobler movement. Enough has been said to show that music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young. The study is suited to the stage of youth, for young persons will not, if they can help, endure anything which is not sweetened by pleasure, and music has a natural sweetness. There seems to be in us a sort of affinity to musical modes and rhythms, which makes some philosophers say that the soul is a tuning, others, that it possesses tuning.

 This very modern assessment was not written by Jonathan Goldman, Don Campbell, or Steven Halpern, all pioneers in the current vanguard of the Mozart Effect, but was written way back in 350 B.C.E by one we know as Aristotle.

  • Two myths

Before we go further, I’d like to “demythify” a couple of things. Are any of you tone deaf? [Hands always go up.] If any of you who raised your hand [talk in monotone] talk in a monotone like I am talking now, please keep your hand up. [All hands go down. Talk normally.] It is really quite simple: if you talk with inflection in your voice (your voice goes “up” and your voice goes “down”), that is prima facie evidence that you are not tone deaf. Tone deafness does exist, but very few people are tone deaf. It is a myth.

 Another myth: Are any of you not musical? [Hands always go up.] If any of you who raised your hand don’t enjoy listening to any type of music please keep your hand up. [All hands go down.] Aristotle suspected that music is language, but it was not proven until about twenty years ago. Brain scans show that music that is understood is processed in the speech centers of the brain right along with spoken language. If you enjoy listening to any kind of music, then you understand that musical language, therefore you are “musical.” Another myth exposed. We’ll explore this language component of music a little later, as it has everything to do with music’s spirituality.

  • the question of Beethoven’s deafness

A quick history: Aristotle, Pythagoras, Middle Ages, Dark Ages, Renaissance, Bach, Mozart, and along comes Beethoven who writes his last few symphonies while totally deaf. Completely deaf! Is that amazing or what?!? I’ll tell you how he did it a little later, but first, lets define music.

  • Music defined

What is music? [Interact with attendees.] The conventional but very inadequate definition is sound produced with an integrated structure of rhythm, harmony and melody. To further understand what this means, lets explore a bit what it sounds like when sound is produced that intentionally avoids rhythm, harmony and melody.

  • Music v Avant Garde

My experience in music school was not a happy one. In addition to my personal immaturity, I was intent on being a classical composer but the schools were intent on promoting an avant garde approach. The called it avant garde music, as distinct from classical, romantic or modern music. Just as early 20th Century composers experimented with the elimination of conventional tonality, the avant garde movement experimented with the elimination of the elements of rhythm, harmony and melody. It was a clever and innovative idea, but over all it did not work. I’ve since learned that it really is not a musical sonic experience, and I instead call it an avant garde sonic experience. This name change is not an esthetic judgment; just as there is good and bad music, there is good and bad avant garde. Here’s a brief improvised example of a bad avant garde sonic experience. [Improvise brief avant garde piece.]

 It used the keyboard, right? Therefore it is music, right? Wrong! Lets look at the potter and the sculptor, for further clarification. They both use clay. If you were to go to a pottery exhibit and all you saw were sculptures, there’s a likelihood you would be disappointed. Similarly, making esthetic judgments about the pottery based upon sculpting standards would simply be unfair. Guess what: this is why people get upset when they go to a music concert and a piece of avant garde is sneaked in under the guise of modern music. They didn’t go to see sculpture; they went to see pottery. And the esthetic standards simply don’t hold up. The reason bad music and bad avant garde is bad is because they fail to communicate something meaningful within the limits of their respective standards. If it is good, it communicates. The distinction between music and avant garde, between pottery and sculpture, is the same as the difference between French and German. It is a matter of language and communication.

  • Pendercki: Trenody

I would like to play part of an avant garde piece that does communicate. Pendereki’s “Trenody: Tribute to the Victims of Hiroshima” is an avant garde tone poem. You hear the early morning of the city of Hiroshima, the waking up, the hustle and bustle, the traffic, the conversations. You hear something impending. You hear the plane as it approaches, you hear the bomb drop. Then you hear the tragedy.

 Like good music, this is a powerful, compelling work of art, and like music, it uses a large string orchestra. But it lacks conventional melody, harmony and rhythm. The medium may be the same, but it is not music.

 Here is Pendreki’s “Trenody: Tribute to the Victims of Hiroshima.” [Play recording.]

  • Music as language

How do we know music is language? We now know about the brain scans. We already heard Aristotle saw music as language. Wagner incorporated what he called leitmotifs, themes that represented people, places and things. Others wrote tone poems to paint musical pictures of people, places and things. The problem is that you can’t describe concrete things musically; you can only describe feelings. Problem? Did I say problem? It just happens that this seeming weakness turns out to be the greatest strength of the musical language.

You cannot say “the cat chased the dog” in music. But you can describe the emotions of the dog and cat, and of those watching the chase. If you were to listen for the first time to Smetana’s “Moldau” or Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony, and didn’t know which was which, you’d have a hard time telling which was which. Neither describes a river, and neither describes a pastorale scene, but both describe the related emotions one would experience in the presence of Nature, of the river and of the pastorale scene.

Music has grammar and syntax. It doesn’t always manifest the same as in spoken language. But it can ask questions [play a question], it can express things like “Well, there you have it” [play a conclusion], and it can have a subject [play first phrase of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star] and a predicate [play second phrase].

  • How music communicates: Name That Tune!

Let’s explore how music does its communicating. Let’s play a little game. You know it; its called “Name That Tune.” I’m going to play the melody, but as the rhythm might give it away, I’m going to play it with a steady rhythm. [Play E 11 times.] No guesses? Hint: it is classical. Still no help? Here it is with the rhythm. [Play first 11 notes of slow movement of Beethoven’s Symphony #7.] A few have it. Here’s the whole melody. [Play main theme.]

This is from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Hardly something you’d whistle to yourself while walking down the street. [Demonstrate.] But he did write a secondary melody, too. It goes like this. [Play secondary theme.] Again, its unlikely you’d be caught humming this to yourself. [Demonstrate.]

The truth is Beethoven couldn’t write a pretty melody to save his life! Even the Ode to Joy from his Choral Symphony is a borrowed German folk song. So what’s the big deal about Beethoven? What makes his music so great? Why have spiritual leaders said that his music is on the highest spiritual plane?

Beethoven’s genius is in his musical poetry. In poetry, the writer takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary, by combining words in new and profound ways. For example, you can describe time as something that seems to go on and on forever, and suddenly its all gone. Not very poetic. Years ago an acquaintance (I wish I could remember who!) had written a poem that contained the line “an infinite instant—time.” Suddenly the very mundane becomes very poetic. This is what Beethoven did. He took two very mundane themes and put them together, and came up with magic. It sounds like this. [Play two themes together.] Suddenly we have the musical equivalent of an infinite instant.

When you listen to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, you are carried through a wide range of emotions, including a brief moment bordering on laughter. You actually hear laughter in the music. (Brahms is unique in that he had lots of joy in his music, but unlike Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Weird Al, he never had outright laughter.) When you listen to music, images arise. They may be abstract, or they may be very concise. When you listen to the slow movement, for example, you can imagine it documenting the emotions experienced at a memorial service. You hear the mourning and the tears. You hear the stories of remembrance being shared. You hear the laughter as a fond memory emerges. And as it ends, you hear the acceptance and the moving on. [Play recording.]

  • About Beethoven’s Deafness

Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote that music. Although he conducted it and his other works, and performed with ensembles, he never heard the music as it came from the orchestra. Yet he heard it in its entirety in his head. How is that possible? Again, lets look at music from the language model. I am going to say five words, and you will immediately hear a tune in your head: “Mary had a little lamb.” Now also note that without saying anything out loud, you could write down the last line of that verse. You can do that because you have mastery of your language. Helen Keller, totally blind, totally deaf, acquired mastery and was able to write volumes, give lectures, and cause a fair amount of political upset. Just suppose you also have mastery of notating the musical language. Then it would be no problem to write down the tune that popped into your head, would it? By the time Beethoven was in his late teens, he knew all there was to know about music in his time. Because he had full mastery of his language, he was able to continue musical conversation even though he was deaf. This awareness in no way detracts from the genius and spirituality of his work. He was so powerfully compelled to make the world a better place with his work, that not even deafness would stop him.

  • Spirituality

We are now on the cusp of understanding the spirituality of music. But I’m afraid I must momentarily interrupt your warm and fuzzy feeling by briefly looking at what spirituality means. Instead of looking at specific definitions, I’d like to share with you what it is for me, what my spirituality is.

 Emmet Fox tells the story of a prisoner held in a dungeon during the Middle Ages. The daily diet: bread and water. The only contact: the jailer. After 20 years of this, the despair was so great that the plan was made to attack the jailer in the hope that the jailer would mercifully end the unhappy life. As the prisoner prepared for the attack, the discovery was made that the door was not locked, and in fact that it had never been locked. The prisoner opened the door, sneaked past the jailer, went home and lived happily ever after.

 Emmet Fox then explains “The prisoner could have done this anytime through those long years if the prisoner had known enough, but did not. The Prisoner was a captive, not of stone and iron, but of false belief. The prisoner was not locked in, except in thought. Of course this is only a legend, but it is an extremely instructive one.”

 The lyrics to one of The Eagles’ songs expresses it this way:

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key. [“Already Gone,” from On The Border]

 For me, spirituality is what we take on to help us see and discover the unlocked doors. It is a gateway to faith. It is the gateway to faith. For some it manifests as religion; for others, it may manifest as a system of rational thought. In either instance, spirituality ultimately grows from the heart and not from the mind. If we could find a language that is capable of speaking directly to the heart without having to necessarily go through the intellectual processing of the mind, we would find that language most capable of elevating our spirituality. One such language is the language of music.

  • Spirituality of Music

I would like to play one more piece. A volunteer is needed. I am going to do a musical reading. I invite you to think of an issue that concerns you. It may be personal; it may be global. You may wish to be open to the possibility of an issue emerging that you’re not yet even aware of. Please keep that in mind as I play your music. At no time will I ask you to disclose what the issue is. [Play music.]

Again, there is no need to disclose the issue. Did the music bring up any thoughts about it? Was there any resolution, or at least some progress about resolving the issue? Did anyone else listening experience progress about resolving an issue?

What you just experienced is a communication to the heart that had no intellectual baggage. What you just experienced is a spiritual growth, an opening of doors, as a consequence of communication through music. What you just experienced is the spirituality of music.

Offering and Offertory [Alternate location]

Improvisation

  • Spiritual Music

If you enjoyed that Beethoven selection, you’ll want to listen to the rest of his Seventh Symphony. You may also want to discover that his Violin Concerto and his Fourth Piano Concerto can take you on emotional rides from tears to laughter and back again. I believe that Beethoven, more than any other composer put his humanity into his music, which no doubt contributes to its high spiritual content.

  • Mozart Effect and Political Policy

Because music communicates without intellectual baggage, it also easily opens other channels of communication. This is why the Mozart Effect takes place. Interestingly, this accounts for the flaw in the reasoning that music and art should be the first things cut from education. Without music and art, the intellectual channels of communication are not sufficiently opened, and the math and science is not efficiently learned. If you want to get your money’s worth out of education and out of math and science, you must make music and art a priority in the schools.

  • Where to from here?

As we sing our closing hymn, listen to the words, and listen to the music. Notice how they work together. Then notice that you do hear the music as well as the words, and notice that you are indeed musical. Then notice that as you listen to and sing the language of music, you are indeed growing spiritually, and that you now know that your spiritual growth is only a hum away!

Extinguishing the Flame

The flame of the chalice dances in a complex rhythm, a miniature of our rhythms and of the rhythms of the universe. The chalice may be silenced, but it continues to dance brightly within us, in our hearts, in our minds, and in our spirit.

Hymn

Sing and Rejoice (395 in UU Hymnal, as a round)
            or
Keep the Hear Singing (33 in Unity Hymnal)

Benediction

Beethoven wrote on the dedication page of the Ninth Symphony “From the Heart; may it go to the Heart.” So too, may you go forth from the heart, and sing the song of love into the hearts of all you encounter. Please remember: Serious music is not as bad as it sounds! Blessed be, Namaste, Shalom, Es salam alekum, Amen.

[1] Hymns are suggestions only; final congregational music selection may be made by Don or the Church to accommodate the circumstance.

 

October 10, 2006

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