Spirituality of Music - China


Click here to see the original presentation text as presented in the United States.


Chinese 汉语

Bilingual PowerPoint Presentation Caution! The music files total around 210MB! The presentation file is 1.5MB.

A live presentation was recorded 11 November, 2012 in Shenzhen. Sorry, no subtitles, (or even titles, for that matter!) but for the most part it carefully follows the English text below, which is the same as on the PowerPoint presentation.

Spirituality of Music Video -- Part 1

Spirituality of Music Video -- Part 2

Spirituality of Music Video -- Part 3

The Spirituality of Music (English)

A Western Perspective for Eastern Audiences

 What you’re about to witness is based upon years of experience within the realm of Western music and thought. However, that exploration also touched upon the fringes of Eastern music and culture. I hope and trust that you will discover enough in common that you will be touched and inspired by this presentation.


 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


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

For All Ages


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

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

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 the results of 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 Western 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 Western pioneers in the current vanguard of the Mozart Effect, but was written 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, even if the sculpture was good. Similarly, making esthetic judgments about the pottery based upon sculpting standards would simply be unfair. Guess what: this is why Westerners 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 that was popular in the West. You may know it; its called “Name That Tune.” I play a well-known song, and you try to be the first to guess its name. In this instance, I’m going to play a melody from Western music. I’m going to play just 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 Yankovic, 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.” [It may be preferable to say the words of a well-known tune in China.] 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. The American woman 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. Would it not then be easy to write down the tune that popped into your head? 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, an American philosopher, tells the story of a prisoner held in a dungeon during the European 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 Eagles, an American rock band, wrote lyrics to one of their songs that 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.


  • 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 of Westerners 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?

When you listen to song, 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!


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.

December 1, 2007

 Don “Orfeo” Rechtman


Chinese Version

A very special thanks to my friend Leo who provided the translation!

Please note that this is a first draft, and is currently being edited for content.









  Don Rechtman


Don Rechtman作词和曲 (一个幽默的会使观众发笑的音乐家)













我们都听多音乐的音阶和琴健。比如大调和小调.所谓大调就是相邻音之间的关系。在西方音乐文化中,有些音非常的相近,比如E F调之间只有半个音阶。在比如说D E调之间隔的会远一点,这就叫全音阶。在C大调中,第二个和第三个音是全音阶比如说C-D-E。。而在C小调中他们是半音阶,所以我们说大调和小调是全音阶和半音阶的前兆。



即使你沉浸在悦耳的音乐里,每个音符都有它的形似之处。从本质上来说音乐的调式和其他是不一样的。听者对每种音符的感触都不同。有一些音乐会使人们黯然伤心。正如所谓的混合里第亚调式。而其他的调式会使我们放松,会让人心平气和。而且对多利亚调式亚调式都有特殊的影响。弗里几亚调式会激发人们的热情。这个主题被哲学作家认真地研究过。而且他们用事实证实他们的观点是对的。着对于旋律也同样适用。有些是静的而有些是动的。有些动的很粗俗,有些却很优雅。有足够的证据可以证明音乐有一种力量可以形成一个人的性格,所以被推崇为作为教育青少年的一部分。这项研究对于处在青少年阶段的人很有用。音乐对于他们来说有一种特别的感染力。似乎音乐和我们信息相关。难怪有些哲学家说灵魂是调音,它拥有着调音。这种新的调式是由Jonathan Goldman, Don Campbell或者Steven Halpern,他们都是莫扎特效应的先驱和倡导者。但是是由著名的亚里斯多德所编写。


















我们怎么知道音乐是语言呢  ?我们都知道头脑扫描。我们都知道亚里斯多德(视音乐为语言。有些人写了乐曲去描绘音乐中的人和事。问题是这种音乐的描绘不能具体地表现出来。你只可以描绘你的感觉。问题?我刚说了问题吗?在音乐语言中,最微薄的力量也会转换为一种强大的无法阻挡的力量。







 贝多芬的音乐天赋表现在音乐诗词中。在诗中通过有机地措辞他可以把一个极为平凡的人塑造成一个非常非凡的人。比如说你依靠把时间描绘成失去的早得到的也容易。并不是很有诗意。许多年前我的一个熟人(我希望我记得他是谁)作了一首诗。其中有一行词是这样写的“永恒的一瞬间——时间|”。顷刻间,感觉就不一样了,由一种反常世俗的感觉边的非常有诗意。贝多芬也是这样做的。他拿了两首非常世俗的主旋律然后融合在一起。结果他的诗篇很具有魅力。想这样(弹了2段)所以我们就有了很永恒的一瞬间相等的夤夜。当你听贝多芬第7交响乐慢旋律时。你会思绪万千。那一刻其实你很想笑。你在音乐中听见了他的笑声。但是不象巴赫和贝多芬Weird Al Yankovic他是完全没有笑声的。当你在听音乐的时候你会浮想联翩。他们可能非常深奥,但是却很准确。当你听慢旋律时。也会让你思绪万千。你听见了悲恸和眼泪。你听到的故事,纪念被共享。你听到笑声作为一个喜欢记忆体出现。和,因为它结束后,你听到的接受和感人的。


  贝多芬是完全聋时,他写道:音乐。虽然他进行的,这和他的其他作品,表演,与合奏的,他从来没有听过音乐,因为它来自乐团。然而,他听到它在其全部在他的头部。如何是可能的吗?再次,让看的音乐从语言模型。我会说5个字,你会立即听到的调子在你的头上:玛丽有一个小的羔羊” [它可能更为可取说的话,一位著名的调子在中国。 ]现在还注意到,只做不说出来,您可以写下来,最后一行表示,韵文。你可以这样做,因为你有把握您的语言。美国女子海伦凯勒,完全失明,完全失聪,后天掌握,并能够写卷,讲课,并造成相当数量的政治不安。只是假设你也有掌握notating的音乐语言。是不是那么容易写下来的调子认为,出现到你的头上呢?由贝多芬的时间是在他晚十几岁,他知道所有有了解音乐在他的时间。因为他有充分的掌握他的语言,他能够继续音乐的交谈,即使他是聋人。这种意识在任何方式损害天才和灵性,他的工作。他是如此有力,迫使使世界成为一个更美好的地方,与他的工作,甚至没有性失聪会阻止他。





我们从来没有,甚至知道我们的关键。 [ “已经走了,从对边界]

 对我来说,灵性是什么,我们就来帮助我们看到和发现上锁的门。这是一个门户的信仰。它是通往信仰。一些它表现为宗教;他人的,它可能表现为制度的理性思考。在要么例如,灵性增长,最终从心而不是从头脑。如果我们能找到一种语言,就是有能力的发言,直接向心脏而不必一定要经过智力加工的想法,我们会发现语言,最能提升我们的灵性。 1 ,这种语言是语言的音乐


  我想扮演一个更一块。义工是必要的。我会做一出音乐剧读。我请你们想一想这个问题的关注你。它可能是个人,它可能是全球性的。你不妨开放的可能性的问题,新兴您尚未知道。请记住,在我的脑海中发挥您的音乐。在任何时候,我会请你透露什么,问题是。 [播放音乐。 ]










  贝多芬写就的奉献页的第九交响曲从心;可能它到心也是如此,可能你到了从心,唱了一曲爱到心中所有你遇到。请记住:严肃音乐是不是坏的,因为它的声音!有福了, namaste ,沙洛姆,第ES萨拉姆alekum ,阿门。



    Don “Orfeo” Rechtman


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