By David Eaton
The 19th century French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, asserted that “the art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”
In the process of writing my book, What Music Tells Me: Beauty, Truth and Goodness and Our Cultural Inheritance, I realized Flaubert’s assertion was quite apt.
The chapters in the book span several decades and were written for various publications, including The World & I magazine, the Journal of Unification Studies, the Peace Music Community blog, and the Applied Unificationism blog.
They draw upon many of my experiences as a musician, as well as my interest in music in relation to politics, philosophy, commerce, education, and religion. The influence of music on self and society is a central narrative of my book.
What Music Tells Us
One of my favorite composers is Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Mahler is generally considered to be the last of the great symphonists of the European symphonic tradition. He composed nine symphonies and his third symphony, written between 1893 and 1896, has six movements. He ascribes the following titles to each movement:
1. Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In
2. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me
3. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me
4. What Man Tells Me
5. What the Angels Tell Me
6. What Love Tells Me
For Mahler, nature, angels, humankind, and love all had something to say to him — presumably something imbued with beauty, truth and goodness. He would say that it was through the art of music that he could find answers to many of his questions regarding life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
Mahler intuited, as did those in ancient cultures, that music wasn’t solely about pleasure or aesthetics. Like the philosophers of ancient China and Greece, Mahler believed music possessed moral and ethical implications and could be a gateway to higher truths and deeper understandings of the human condition.
Hebrew and Christian philosophers also shared this perspective and wrote treatises regarding the effects of music on self and society — psycho-acoustics in modern parlance. Any examination of our cultural patrimony reveals that the metaphysical, spiritual and axiological aspects of music, and its potential as a change agent in the spheres of politics and public ethics, has been a constant refrain from antiquity to Mahler, and remains so today.
The Unification movement’s founders, Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Mrs. Hak Ja Han Moon, often alluded to the importance of art and culture in establishing a culture of peace. In their respective memoirs, they each aver that it’s not politics that changes the world, but art and culture that can move people’s hearts and raise consciousness and thereby foster conditions for socio-cultural betterment.
American composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein, echoed that sentiment in a 1972 interview with the Los Angeles Times:
“…Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed. Because people are changed by art — enriched, ennobled, encouraged — they can act in a way that may affect the course of events by the way they vote, the way they behave, the way they think.”
Rev. and Mrs. Moon believed that any particular genre of music could have beneficial aspects if lyrics expressed godly virtues and values and if the musical components of melody, harmony, rhythm, and structure were in accord with universal archetypes (Carl Jung’s concept), and embodied the laws and principles that are reflective of the nature of God.
As former UTS professor Dr. Young Oon Kim observed, the aesthetic experience of art is predicated in large part on the degree to which the principles and laws that emanate from and within God — give and take, polarity, harmony — are embodied in a particular artwork. The more an artwork amplifies or substantiates God’s nature, the greater the response of love and appreciation will be from the aesthetic experience.
Dr. Kim’s perspective speaks to the Unification Thought (UT) concept of “Joy and Creation in Resemblance.” From the view of the Divine Principle (DP), we understand that experiencing joy is the purpose of life. In the hope of realizing joy, God, as the Heavenly Parent, created humankind and all things to be objects of joy. God, in the subject position, attains joy from the stimulation coming from human beings in the object position when their internal form and external character nature resemble those of God. As UT posits:
“God created people in such a way that they resemble the image the dual characteristics of God and created all things in such a way that they resemble Him symbolically. Applied to the theory of art, this means that an artist produces works of art in resemblance to his or her internal character and external form. Also, it means that the appreciator feels joy by sensing his or her internal and external through the artwork.”
Accordingly, we experience joy from aesthetic beauty in art when it is ontologically similar to our Creator’s image and likeness. For instance, in music, when the polar opposites of consonant and dissonant intervals, or major and minor harmonies are well harmonized in a given work, there is a realization of the laws from and within God, and we are moved emotionally as a result.
David Eaton with several of the soloists who appeared with the New York City Symphony concert at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in June 2015 celebrating the UN’s 70th Anniversary.
Like Mahler, certain European philosophers, including Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Emmanuel Kant, maintained that art wasn’t merely a mode of entertainment, but could be a repository of moral knowledge that could provide what Schiller termed “aesthetic education,” and thus could be a gateway to moral and ethical insights due to its transcendental aspects. As Schiller professed, “Only through Beauty’s morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge.”
The Wisdom of the Ancients
In his treatise on music, Le Institutioni Harmoniche, the Italian Renaissance music theorist, Gioseffo Zarlino (1517-90), speculated that hearing was the most valuable of the five physical senses because it allowed for a full “comprehension of science by intellect.” Taking his cue from Pythagoras, Zarlino believed nature was the source of the harmony of the spheres and that everything was dependent on godly principles, therefore the order of things ordained by God resulted in “a silent harmony of the universe.” This understanding is the cosmological antecedent of the beliefs of Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach who believed music was the most efficacious way to offer praise and gratitude to the Almighty, and to “re-create the mind.”
The cultures of antiquity, particularly Chinese and Greek cultures, also placed a great deal of importance on the axiological aspects of music. Their writings regarding the moral and ethical power of music are well-documented and elucidate how they emphasized the need for artists to use that power with a sense of moral responsibility. As Confucius writes in The Analects: “If a person be without the virtues proper to goodness what has he to do with the rites of propriety? If a person be without the virtues proper to goodness, what has he to do with music?”
Chinese politician, Le Bu Wei (291-235 BCE), also alludes to the effects of music on the human psyche and society in his Spring and Summer Annals. He makes the point that the values, morals and ethics of a particular cultural sphere could be known by the music it enjoys.
Similar views about music were expressed by Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. In The Republic, Plato cites the cautionary utterances of Damon of Athens, one of the first Greeks to expound on the effects of music on the human psyche. Damon went as far as to suggest that altering the songs of a country would result in altering the laws of a country. He warned that the changes might appear innocent at first, but over time, music born of questionable motives and aesthetics could have deleterious socio-cultural consequences.
In recent decades, we have witnessed in our contemporary culture the toxic effects of music that has morally questionable lyrics. There has been a normalization of depravity offering proof that Damon of Athens was quite prescient in his concerns regarding the effects of music to debase a particular culture.
A significant aspect of our cultural inheritance vis-à-vis the attitudes and outlooks of the cultural spheres of the past is that the goodness feature in the beauty, truth and goodness paradigm (axiology) remains a salient factor. Western music is the progeny of the Judeo-Christian ethos that evolved over the past 2,000 years. The religious underpinnings of that tradition should not fall prey to the secular, materialist, nihilistic, or politically correct conceits that have had the effect of diminishing the Judeo-Christian moral principles and virtues that might allow us to fashion a culture of peace.
In I Cor. 10:23, we read that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. Our artistic choices, whether we are artists or appreciators, ought to be predicated on ideals that are rooted in Godism. Rev. Moon often said that “religion and music go hand in hand.” Religion and music in their best iterations can assist in the “re-binding” of humankind to our Heavenly Parent. Mother Moon reiterated that sentiment in her Rally of Hope address on November 22, 2020, when she cited her admiration for the art of the Christian cultural sphere:
“In the past, as the Christian cultural realm waited for the Messiah to come again, an ancient, beautiful culture was formed with the European continent at its center. It is still loved today by all peoples of the world. That culture is the culture of longing for the Messiah. What I want to say now is that although due to the Fall, people have been lacking in filial devotion to our Heavenly Parent, who has endured and waited six thousand years for us, I wish to see their beautiful arts — which express the love, joy and praise they return to their Parent — shining forevermore through the revolution of the culture of heart. The arts are also a swift path by which the world can become one.”
Artists have a considerable role to play in that endeavor, therefore our understanding of what we might inherit from past cultures regarding the beauty, truth and goodness paradigm when it comports with the ideals of Godism remains an essential factor.
As Mother Moon noted, the aesthetic of beautiful music and art can be a profound unifying force when it resembles God’s divine nature in image, and then amplifies and substantiates the laws and principles of which God is the chief author and propagator. When that occurs, art can assist in our quest for truth and love in deeply meaningful ways.♦
David Eaton has been the music director of the New York City Symphony since 1985 and is currently an artist-in-residence in Korea serving as the Director of Music at the Hyo Jeong Cultural Foundation and conductor of the newly-formed Hyo Jeong Youth Orchestra. He received an honorary doctorate from Unification Theological Seminary in 2016. His book on which this article is based is available here.
I enjoyed this meditation on the mission of music, from a person who is a musician, composer and conductor aligned with the Providence and an educator in Unificationist aesthetic judgments.
The central piece of his essay, for me, was this:
“Zarlino believed nature was the source of the harmony of the spheres and that everything was dependent on godly principles, therefore the order of things ordained by God resulted in ‘a silent harmony of the universe.’ This understanding is the cosmological antecedent of the beliefs of Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach who believed music was the most efficacious way to offer praise and gratitude to the Almighty, and to ‘re-create the mind.’”
David Eaton suggests that the ear would be the most important of our five senses for our spiritual elevation and that music would thus be the paramount form of art. I would define music as the art of combining sounds in the most harmonious way, in order to convey an auditory enchantment or catharsis in the listener. It is challenging, for cultural reasons.
Therefore, I would like to invite David to think of two possible topics, which could be slogans. (1) God heard that it was beautiful (2) In the beginning was the note.
(1) God heard that it was beautiful
Genesis 1 describes the act of Creation as a divine composition. In the narrative, we find elements such as the inspiration, the motives and the themes, the patterns, which characterize art. One should notice, however, that the central role is played by the word, and the word is incarnated through substantial forms in space. The element of time is omnipresent, of course, and the Principle makes clear that the Origin-Division-Union Action is at work throughout the creative process. However, most Unificationists are more familiar with the Four-Position-Foundation, which is a spatial notion, than with the O-D-U action, which contains our whole philosophy of time.
Moreover, the Bible says, “and God saw that it was good.” Our whole culture might be different if Genesis had said, “and God heard that it was beautiful“.
Somehow, our imagination still associates the Creation with visual arts, as if God had acted mostly as a potter, painter, sculptor. When Michelangelo painted the Creation, he not only represented the Creation of the universe by God. Unconscious in his mind was probably the idea that the greatest art forms come from human hands creating forms in space. In his era, the Western culture was already extremely rich in painting, sculpture, frescoes, as well as in poetry and stories, but the time of musical geniuses would come later.
In the theory of art of Unification Thought, the examples chosen by Dr. Lee mostly come from painting, sculpture and novels. He hardly speaks of music.
Therefore, I would like David to go even more deeply into the philosophy of music. We would need detailed discussions about notions such as notes, melodies, rhythm, tempo. When, and how, and why are our ears and soul enchanted by music? Why can music be a channel to the divine? What are the purely physico-chemical, biological, psychological, sociological reasons for that? Why are sounds so important in our lives? In which way is music the best material to express some our deepest emotions? What kind of music would enchant the creator’s ears the most?
(2) In the beginning was the note
John 1 insists on the centrality of the word, in God’s Creation. The Logos is given utmost importance. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was in God, and the word was God”. This equivalence between God and the Word can do much damage. And it did.
In the chapter on Logic, Dr. Lee explains that the main thing is not to know how to think well (laws of formal logic), but why we think and what for? Dr. Lee explains that, within the logos, the element of pathos (emotion), is always there. In other words, we speak not only to express logical things, but to convey our feelings.
Our Western Culture is heavily intellectual and visual. We believe in what can be seen and touched, and what can be demonstrated logically. Our ears remain uneducated.
I remember that, when I converted to God, at the tender age of 18, the Divine Principle brought me to accept God’s heart. But not only that. The songs I heard played an important role. When I saw a film on the Little Angels, I had a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven. The sound of music, as much as the logical explanations, turned an atheist into a newborn person. I remember how often I shed tears upon hearing “Suffering Jesus”, “Suffering Heart”, “Heart of the Father”. It was not just the deep and poignant lyrics, but the melodies.
I am always impressed to watch a concert of classical music. First, there is a complete silence. You cannot hear anything. The conductor is gazing at the musicians, with the audience in his back. And suddenly, the very first notes are heard.
We need to spread this culture more: being able to be completely silent, and then ready to hear with our whole being carried away by the notes.
I remember feeling emotionally moved by the mythical, poetic beauty in the first portion of “The Silmarillion” by J.R.R. Tolkien. It tells how the Ainur, a class of angelic beings, perform a great music prefiguring the creation of the material universe.
Laurent, thanks for the feedback.
In chapter 13 of the book, I reference several arts conferences sponsored by Artists Association International that were held from 1988-91. The central themes of those conferences included the spiritual aspects of the arts and the role of the artist in creating a culture of peace. Notable artists, journalists and producers representing the realms of dance, music, literature, the fine arts, and the news media offered various perspectives on the matter of art in the pursuit of peace.
In a rather perspicacious witticism on the issue of spirituality, sound and music, American pianist Lorin Hollander cited the biblical verses John 1:1 and 1:14: “In the Beginning was the word, … and the word became flesh.” Hollander hypothesized that since “words” are manifested as sound, the Almighty may have used sound to carry out the task of creation. Hollander suggested that if we follow this hypothesis to its logical conclusion, then it could be argued that instead of the Big Bang having been the primary energy force that initiated the creation of the cosmos, it may have been the Big Twang!
Thank you, David, for quoting Lorin Hollander. I could not think of a better answer to my comment, especially coming from a musician.
Now, tell me: In my comment on your beautiful essay, I also suggested, and I may be wrong, that geniuses in music (at least recognized as such) appeared rather late in the “providence of the arts”.
How would you explain that, even at the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, one cannot really identify the equivalent in music of giants such as Giotto, Fra Angelico, Da Vinci, Dürer, Michelangelo, or Dante, Cervantes, and Shakespeare? It seems that geniuses first appeared in visual arts and literature. Only later music produced those who really educated our ears. How, as a Unificationist musician, would you explain that? Is it a technical matter? When can one locate the birth of great modern music and composers?
Thank you, David, for sharing about the revelatory and uplifting role of music for sentient beings in a disenchanted world. Music has definitely an important role to play in mobilizing the best in ourselves for peace.
At the same time you pertinently mentioned:
“In recent decades, we have witnessed in our contemporary culture the toxic effects of music that has morally questionable lyrics”.
Sirens have indeed always been using beautiful melodies to ensnare unaware listeners.
Music then appears to be an amazing and mysterious tool that can either free or enslave its public. It can echo celestial spheres and lead one to a kind of ecstatic rapture without however delivering the guarantee to the listener he/she will ultimately reach the originally targeted realm.
It has been proven that advertisements and their unrealistic seductive promises greatly benefit from using music. Furthermore in the political sphere, music is alas actually a very useful medium for the delivery of propaganda.
Since music is often viewed to be a leisure activity, it is usually not considered to be as threatening as other propaganda techniques which can then operate without even being noticed.
In Hitler’s Germany, the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once stated: “Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect. Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home?”
Communist parties in the Soviet Union and China understood this perfectly.
So if religious hymns do help us focus on Heaven, thrilling national anthems and revolutionary hymns can truly send us there (or at least to the spiritual world) faster than we would think.
In the past, religions, and most particularly Catholicism, have traditionally been using music to exalt followers in a powerful way. The “Messiah” from Händel or the “Ave Maria” from Schubert can’t but universally impress human hearts and minds.
Consequently such timeless musical masterpieces can also be “recycled” or “hijacked” without the composer’s consent on today’s religious free market. Hundreds of modern day self-appointed messiahs can then use Händel’s “Messiah” for their own aggrandizement, in order to be divinely worshipped by their followers.
It’s a bit like if an exceptional French champagne vintage were misleadingly decanted into the labeled bottle of an ordinary sparkling wine.
But as the poet Alfred De Musset wrote, “The bottle does not matter as much as the drunkenness” (This English translation can’t be but a betrayal of the beautiful original alexandrine: “Qu’importe le flacon, pourvu qu’on ait l’ivresse”).
This being said, I personally consider however that spiritual drunkenness remains of course preferable for both composing music and writing poetry.
There’s a great deal to cover here, but in the book I write about an experience I had when I was in Taiwan to conduct a concert there. I visited the national art museum in Taipei and in every case when I viewed a painting, sculpture or tapestry, there was no mention of the artist who created the artwork; only the king, emperor or the dynasty from which the artwork came was acknowledged. This is obviously a cultural issue. Individual creativity was not celebrated in the same manner that happened in the Western Judeo-Christian cultures, especially since the Renaissance.
With regard to the evolution of musical style and syntax, this was a long process — thousands of years. From what we know, the music of antiquity, whether in Mesopotamia, China, or Greece, did not possess the type of harmonic grammar that became so prominent over that past 500 years in Western music. (Leonard Bernstein does a deep dive into this in his Harvard Lectures of 1973.)
We can make the analogy of painting and music. When we see the paintings of antiquity (Egyptian art comes to mind), there is generally little perspective evident. The images are flat, without depth. The point has been made that the development of harmonic grammar in music was akin to the development of perspective in painting; the spatial dimension. As the various intervals in the overtone series (the sonic etymology of all music), were absorbed into musical syntax, there became a new, rich and highly expressive musical language that allowed composers to be far more creative and expressive.
The full flowering of the musical syntax as we know it didn’t really begin until the Renaissance. Then, in 1722 Johann Sebastian Bach’s invention of “equal-temperament” opened the harmonic gates to what became known as “the common practice” in musical composition. In my view, all of this was the preparation for the second advent. There was an explosion of great art, music, scientific discovery, architecture, literature, medicine, et. al. The fact that these breakthroughs happened in the Judeo-Christian sphere since roughly 1600 is an important consideration.
Thank you, David, for this very deep explanation.
It is the first time on this blog that I really received such a good and precise answer to a question which is on my mind. You gave many technical explanations that are really needed (the grammar of music), and you made a powerful analogy with perspective in painting).
But besides providing all this technical and philosophical background, you insist that it was a preparation for the second coming. I really feel delighted with your explanation. I appreciate all sorts of music, but I don’t play any instrument. Therefore, all my intuitions about music are very naive and uneducated. I am glad to receive this education.
Personally, I enjoy songs, I enjoy opera, I enjoy musical scores in movies (Ennio Moricone was a genius), I enjoy musical comedies (Stanley Donnen, Vicente Minelli), but what I enjoy the most is pure music, especially symphonies (mostly Beethoven) or great standards in jazz or even rock music, when it is really well composed and written with proper arrangements.
I also like virtuosity in music, but it should not be excessive. In jazz and rock music, the band sometimes reaches a climax, and a powerful improvisation can be thrilling, but it should not be egocentric nor too long. It should serve a purpose.
I am also deeply impressed by the passion that I see in great musicians, for example Glenn Gould on the piano. He was criticized for being eccentric, but on the other hand, I think he wanted to convey something about music that is used to described Michelangelo’s art, called Terribilità.
Art, just like science and religion, should have this Terribilità which transforms our life, challenges us at the deepest level of our existence, and gives us rebirth. Besides being pleasant, music should urge us to become taller, wider, and bigger in heart. Let this year be the year of heavenly Terribilità for all the Water Rabbits.
Reflecting on your as much inspired as thoughtful essay and your own comments, has led me to these questions that you (or anyone else) might be able to answer on this blog.
– According to the Divine Principle, Korea has been the specific providentially long-prepared nation to receive the Second Advent and the First Advent of God’s Only Begotten Daughter. Do you know if Korea has then been particularly privileged with exceptional music composers during the past 400 years?
– One would naturally tend to think that outstanding artists in the field of musical composition would rise within the True Family or among Unificationists who are among the most blessed people on earth and closest to the divine heartbeat. Did you notice encouraging signs toward the validation of such an expectation?
– Concerning the mysterious activating of the inspirational and creative process: We have been taught that over the past decade, spirit world has been unified under Rev. Moon’s divine authority. Such providential achievement coupled with the successful liberations and blessings of billions of ancestors should certainly permit most providentially aligned Unificationist artists to break through in the musical field. Do you notice early beginnings of that?
– In the past, some composers — even among the greatest ones — are said to have resorted to taking drugs and/or alcohol to reach a state of unmatched creativity. Do you know if this is pure legend or an explainable but dangerous tempting phenomena that contributes to entertain confusion in the artistic world?
Regarding your first question, even though Korea has been “chosen” from a providential viewpoint, the nation did not have the same cultural DNA as the Judeo-Christian West. The merit of the age with regard to music and its Christian roots had a great deal to do with the emergence of great classical composers since the Renaissance. Because Judaism had the blessing for a time, there was foundation for many great musicians with Jewish ancestry to become great artists: Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, Jasha Heifitz, Artur Rubenstein, Itzahk Perlman, Pinkus Zuckerman and Yehudi Mehuin come to mind.
Christian composers would include Mozart (who was also a Freemason), Handel, Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, Bruckner. Mahler converted to Catholicism in order to get around the anti-semitism that was present in Austria. He became a very successful conductor after doing so.
There have been some wonderful Korean artists like sopranos Sumi Jo and Hye Kyung Hong, violinist Kyung Hwa Chung and her brother, conductor Myung-whun Chung, and pianist Yun Chan Lim. The only composer I know of who gined some international notoriety is Unsuk Chin, but her style is very much in the atonal Schoenberg mode. There have been several notable Japanese artists including conductors Seiji Ozawa and Eji Oue, violinist Midori and composer Toru Takamitsu. China has produced international stars such as pianists Yuja Wang and Lang Lang, composers Tan Dun and Chen Yi, and conductor Yu Long.
Regarding UC artists, we have some talented individuals, but I always tell people that of the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of composers, instrumentalists and singers in history, it’s but a handful who reach the zenith — not even .0001%.
As for breakthroughs, there have been a few, but not on a significant level that I’m aware of. In my next book (What My Faith Tells Me), I will tell my personal story about being a conductor in New York with ties to the church. I had some successes there including garnering a few “to-die-for” reviews from the New York music press.
As for the drug scene vis-a-vis the arts, most of the stories do not have happy endings.
Rev. Moon used to say that God is the greatest artist, scientist, etc. God is of course also the greatest composer and musician. In my extensive studies of the spiritual realm, people who had NDE’s (Near Death Experiences) and other open channels to this realm, everything in that Eternal Creation makes music. The grass makes music, as do the flowers, the trees, the forests, the waters, etc.
I very much liked the original comment by Laurent that in the beginning there was the note. You hit one aspect of Creation right on the head! I believe it is safe to say that even before the beginning of time, there was/is music, because music is an inherent aspect of our timeless God.
On earth, there is much music in nature as well, such as the songs of birds, the different sounds animals make, the sound of the wind, thunder, etc. Can you ever do or image being without them?
Astronomical observers like Richard and Robin Heath, as well as John Martineau, in their books about the behavioral patterns and distance ratios between the planets in our solar system revealed to be very much like the musical ratios discovered by Pythagoras. I can easily agree that there is music hidden in our solar system (and beyond!). And a harmony of parallels in Creation, which DP/UT affirms.
It was Peter Plichta who made us aware that for us to hear anything at all there must be such an intelligent order in the way sound waves and thus air particles behave, so that the expected chaos of air particles literally crashing into each other and bouncing off walls nevertheless makes it possible for us to perfectly hear the sounds of music, voices and nature as intended. The mathematical modeling necessary to make this possible is nothing short of absolutely astounding. Thus, not chaos, but beautiful order.
Musical sounds also create beautiful wave patterns when recorded with a so-called harmonograph. And furthermore, there is the miracle of the dual nature of octaves: from the lowest note on a piano to the highest note we not only notice the pitches getting increasingly higher and higher, but we additionally hear repeats, called octaves. We see a parallel phenomena in the reciprocals of prime numbers, like 1/7. What we see (0.142857…) and what goes on behind those numbers are two different things and are related to DP/UT’s Sung-Sang (what is essential in this case and thus subject) and Hyung-Sang (what is phenomenal in this case and thus object). The entire world of numbers actually can be understood from the perspective of dual characteristics (SS/HS as well as Yin/Yang).
The Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto is well-known for his studies of the effects of spoken or written words on water crystals. Human emotional intentions play a crucial role in how the crystals will form: either beautifully or distorted and ugly. They respond to love or hate very differently. It’s too bad that his studies didn’t include the effects of classical and hard rock music on water, for then we would be so much wiser as to which music to avoid and which music to enjoy for our benefit.
Music is also used in natural healing methods. And we are aware how beautiful music can make cows give more and better quality milk, and how it affects plant growth. On YouTube you can find many videos on how animals respond to music. For example, cows from far in the opposite corner of a field will come running towards someone playing a musical instrument behind the fence. Dolphins and other fish will flock together and jump out of the water when someone plays an instrument on a boat. A guitarist playing and singing “Blackbird” by the Beatles had an actually crow come and sit on top of his guitar.
Yes, to paraphrase a famous movie, “The hills of creation are alive with the sound of music with the songs they have sung (and added to over time) for a thousands years”.
There are many people who think they are not very musical, which, spiritually speaking, is not true. God has imbued every soul with musical and artistic abilities, and learning how to play a musical instrument in the spiritual realm is much easier than on earth, and is also a way you can serve others and grow spiritually. The idea that amateurs can become professionals is very heartening.
The hardest, if not perhaps an impossible question to answer would be: if you had to choose between losing your hearing or your eyesight, which one would it be? I personally would choose to keep my eyesight (I am a photographer besides a number theorist and musician), because music can (and does) continue within my consciousness. At any rate, God has endowed us with the incredible blessings of sight (so I can read those musical scores) and hearing (so I can check whether I am playing them correctly). And I could just keep on improvising, which is my real joy and passion.
Thank Heaven for Music!
The ancient Chinese philosophers intuited that there was a link between music and health. The Chinese word for medicine is “Yao,” which is derived from the Chinese word for music, “Yue.” The overtone series found in nature — the sonic etymology of all music — suggests that nature does call the tune in many respects.
As I mention in my book, the noted British neurologist, Oliver Sacks, wrote a book called “Musicophelia” in which he shares testimonies of how music affected the psychological dispositions of his patients in beneficial ways. Music therapy has gained quite a bit of credence in recent decades. The study of pyscho-acoustics by composer Fred Lerdahl (Columbia University) and Ray Jackendoff (Tufts University) has also revealed the power of well-organized sound properties of pitch, rhythm, intervals, meter, etc., to have important cognitive benefits.
Thank you, Adrian, for your insights. Each commenter is bringing very interesting elements.
Today, I reflected on the concept of tone, in music and in other arts. I know too little about tones in music, and the differences between the pitch, tone, tune and key. But somehow, I intuitively feel that it is a central notion.
We also use “tone” in painting, and the best synonym is certainly the shade. But I am neither a musician nor a painter. It seems to me that the tone of a painting, the tone of a musical score have to do with a “general impression” and also the particular style or mood. It creates an atmosphere.
I am more familiar with the tone in literature. In Marcel Proust’s work, the tone is almost everything. He was in search of the perfect tone to talk about the inner life. Through reminiscence, he thought that a person could arrive at the perfect tone about his/her biography. Proust had a rather mediocre existence, and his art is a passionate effort to redeem the narrator’s life into some sort of idealized existence. His extremely elegant style and tone are the more poignant that his whole existence was about regret and failure to love. Even though the research of the lost time consists of several books, it is finally but one book about this one theme, with a very captivating tone.
In a way, what I find most fascinating in Shakespeare is the tone. In his plays, all action is induced by the verb. People act as they speak, and the tone they use largely determines the consequences of their actions. Julius Caesar is first moved by the tone of his wife and decides not to go to the Senate. But another man comes and finds the right tone to convince him to go, despite the predictions about his death. Here, the tone decides life and death.
Recently, I saw again the monumental “Julius Caesar” directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1953), with stars such as John Gielgud (Cassius), James Mason (Brutus), and Marlon Brando (Mark Antony). The dilemma of this play is always the same: which character is the most central? Is it Cassius, Brutus or Antony? Gielgud was regarded at the time as the leading Shakespearian actor in world, with the perfect tone to play Cassius.
Mankiewicz tried something really daring. First, the whole movie uses exactly Shakespeare’s language. Second, Mankiewicz decided to make Mark Antony the central character and gave the role to Brando. Brando was famous for his stage presence but his diction was deemed mediocre for such a role.
He knew that, and he humbly asked Gielgud to train him into being a Shakespearian actor. The result, for me, is mesmerizing. Brando’s speech to the people of Rome is a great moment of acting, and I believe it is mostly because this actor could find exactly the right tone to play the very manipulative Mark Antony. Some specialists consider this as Brando’s best role ever.
Needless to say, Brando had a very messy life, and he was not offered the most interesting roles by other directors, but Mankiewicz in this movie turned him into a fantastic interpreter of Shakespeare’s unique tone.
I’m reminded that Rev. Moon once said that the reason that music is such a powerful art form was because it has certain properties that correspond to those of the incorporeal realm, namely, it’s invisible, vibratory and it connects to the heart.
In his book, “The World is Sound, Nada Brava,” jazz musician Joachim-Ernst Berendt, offers the perspective that our ears are concave receptive organs and thus are similar to female genitalia; they are receptive organs. Though music is invisible and vibratory, it is tangible and palpable. We can analyze music on a mechanistic level (harmonic grammar, e.g.), but music’s salient elements — spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, emotional — are generally “understandable” only in terms of experiencing the music itself in real time.
Conductor, Daniel Barenboim avers that sound vibrations “change the body directly, more so than the patterns of light that lead to vision.” Citing the early development of ears in the womb (the eyes are developed much later in the gestation period), Barenboim contends that our culture’s penchant for prioritizing seeing over hearing belies the importance of hearing as it relates to the art of music, both as a performer and listener.
In our increasingly video-oriented contemporary society, the act of listening has diminished and this is to our collective loss. British musicologist Joscelyn Godwin, who has written extensively on the concept of “the music of the spheres” and mysticism in music, has articulated certain ideas that comport with Unification Thought’s Theory of Art, specifically the importance of the listener (appreciator) of music. Shorter attention spans and the penchant for instant gratification in contemporary culture have had the effect of diminishing our listening and comprehension capabilities.
Developing our listening faculties is essential to the process of understanding music to its fullest extent. Nietzsche proffered that the profound understanding of the appreciators of a particular art form was as important as the profound abilities of the creators of such. Our ability, or inability, to listen to music well has evolved with the advent of technology. The preponderance of recorded music has made us different listeners than our parents and grandparents.
The nineteenth-century English art critic Walter Pater wrote, “All art aspires to the condition of music.” I believe he was referring to the direct, “wordless” communicative aspect of music that many find to be appealing and that, in Pater’s estimation, is a highly desirable condition for art in general. In a very real way, music suspends rational thought and momentarily puts us in an altered state of consciousness. Music’s direct and immediate effect on the listener confirms the idea that it possesses profoundly spiritual potentialities.
Thank you so much, David, I rejoice that the discussion on this blog allows us to go deeper into the topic. The insights of Daniel Baremboin are amazing. I was also struck by the sentence, “music suspends rational thought and momentarily puts us in an altered state of consciousness”.
Still, I wish you may elaborate a bit more on the tones in music, if possible.
Adrian asked: “Technical prowess without soul is in essence a materialistic external approach, but what could be more spiritual than music?”
This reminded me of conductor George Szell, who when asked about the the technical proficiency of many young, up-and-coming pianists said, “They have amazing technique, but they play too much the piano but don’t make music.”
Virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake is often emotionally unsatisfying. Getting to the heart of the music (expressivity) is — or should be — the goal of a performer. Of course, having technical prowess is important, but the great performers know how use their technique to deliver an emotionally satisfying rendition of a given composition.
Thank you for this very interesting essay about “tone”. If I understand you correctly, this would be analogous in music to what I would label as “character of sound or timbre”. The reason why a Stradivarius violin is considered to be superior to a cheaply made violin, apart from the way it was constructed, is this particular “character of sound/timbre”, also expressed in words like “sonority”, “overtone richness”, and from a spiritual perspective the ability to give us goosebumps or not.
The phenomenon of goosebumps I have always found to be fascinating as a question to Darwinists: how to explain them? They are obviously a response of the heart and soul of a person to all the cells of his body and point also to an intelligence and spiritual sensitivity of the individual cells. This reality is confirmed by people like the enlightened biologist Bruce Lipton.
A good luthier listens to the wood he uses to make a violin: all the necessary pieces of wood need to have a pitch and character that harmonize with each other. In organ building, the mensuration of the pipes (the ratio of length to width) as well as the alloy of the metals of the pipes are crucial to the sound character. Furthermore, instrument building, voicing and intonation are very important: how to make a pipe, an instrument or a string sound optimally. A harpsichord or guitar strung in brass or iron will sound very different, for example. The quality of the brass/metal will make a difference.
For example, one particular 18th C. organ was retuned higher to modern pitch in the 19th C., and thus these mensuration ratios had been changed drastically, but it sounded dull and lifeless, despite its higher pitch. When the pipes were lengthened again and the instrument was thus restored to its original pitch did it actually suddenly sound brighter and more alive, strange as this may seem. In other words: when an instrument as a harmonious entity is changed to suit modern tastes, it often has detrimental effects on the “tone”. Tone character is highly influenced by the metal alloys used in organ pipes and for that matter also any metal instrument. Same for wood. Flutes made from bamboo, wood or plastic all have different timbres or tones.
As a keyboard playing person I improvise a lot. It is indeed this timbre, this character of sound, this “tone” that determines the outcome of an improvisation, i.e., the level of inspiration that an instrument does or doesn’t provide. It’s a symbiotic giving and receiving action between instrument and the musical abilities of the player. Likewise, this is the very reason why e.g. renaissance music doesn’t sound good on a piano, but great on an instrument from that period (e.g. organ or harpsichord). When I heard Handel’s Messiah performed on so-called period or original instruments, it was an “ear-opener” and never would I wanted to listen to such baroque music on modern instruments ever again. Indeed, it has everything to do with timbre, with tone, with character and richness of sound. And of course also the original intention of the composer and his time period.
Add to this the tone character produced by tuning systems. You may have heard about Pythagorean, meantone, well-tempered, Kirnberger, Werckmeister, Young , equal temperament and many other tuning variants. All of these tuning systems, as a way to get around the circle of fifths, whereby certain intervals of especially thirds and fifths are tuned pure or are compromised (as in our equal temperament) have also a direct effect on the tone, timbre, and sound character of an instrument in relationship to the music at hand. A triad based chord (e.g. C-E-G-c) in meantone, whereby the thirds and fifths are tuned pure (thus without any tension) sounds totally restful, while the same chord played in equal temperament, whereby all intervals are all compromised and made equal, sounds quite different. There are no pure, non-beating intervals on a piano, except for the octaves.
In music, the room in with the music is performed also plays a crucial role. Certain concert halls and churches are famous for their excellent acoustics. An organ sounds better in so-called wet rather than dry acoustics. A choir sounds fantastic in a room with good reverb and just the proper ambiance and ability for voice clarity. Additionally, the building materials of a musical space is crucial for the “tone” of the music. All wood, all stone, or a combination thereof has an immediate effect on the different pitches of instruments. Some rooms enhance the bass more while other the treble more, etc. Thus the music space also affects the tone.
All these factors are thus crucial to how the human spirit will perceive and respond to music. Both the quality of the instrument(s) and the space in which it/they are played play a crucial role. Plus of course, the quality of the composition played.
It’s interesting to ask a Darwinist whether it is just a coincidence that all these elements can be combined so perfectly and harmoniously as to give us goosebumps?
Adrian, I am very inspired by all these details. It is highly informative and makes me reflect and want to know more. I also like the expression “ear-opener”. Your detailed explanations all confirm some fundamentals of the Divine Principle. I am grateful that David’s essay and your own contribution contain so much good education for our ears and our taste.
Thank you for that poignant reply to Laurent.
In musical education there ought to be several additional ways to inspiring the musicality and musical soul of a student: apart from learning how to play a piece of music, the teacher should always point out good performances found on CDs, YouTube, etc. as examples of good musical approaches to the music at hand. In other words, learning has to be, to use Unification Thought terminology, be both receiving and giving in nature.
Receiving is done by listening carefully to others, to the music itself first, by also following along with the score and writing down annotations. Receiving is also done by taking the time to listen to the music within yourself and trying to express it. In other words: listening should never be limited to the audience.
Giving is simply the playing itself, and this giving will become more perfected as the student becomes more technically proficient and personally unified with the music, i.e., makes the music his/her own. This giving combines your internal talent and personality with the learning and can also come totally from within as in improvisation. And the audience can give a lot back to the performer by applause, standing ovations, shouts of bravo, etc. After all, what is a musician without an audience? And what is an audience without a performer?
Secondly, I believe, except somewhat in the case the musician is already also a composer, a deeper sense of music can be developed by emphasizing improvisation, even no matter how simple or primitive it may be at the start. It should start early on. Dutch improviser and teacher Sietze de Vries emphasized that music education makes the mistake of teaching to read notes first, which is counter intuitive. After all, we learn how to speak before we learn how to read. As with singing, there should be no barrier between internal hearing and actual music making. But this is what happens in music education centered on the ability to read notes: a wall is created by the note-grab association, which negates internal hearing.
Any new music student can first just play around with a keyboard or other musical instrument to develop a sense of music first. Music must first come from within before formal learning. This is an art form whose fundamentals can be taught, but ultimately belongs to the realm of pure creativity. When one improvises, one has to look within and allow music to flow out of you. One learns to become a channel through which music can flow. It has to be done on the spot, unlike composers who can spread their work out over time periods and often even make changes. Many composers have different versions of the same symphony, like Anton Bruckner. Improvisation, on the other hand, is a spontaneous art, luckily still practiced by jazz musicians and organists, but less so among those playing other instruments. This is most regretful.
True music education treats a student as a total person and fosters musical development foremost from within. Technical prowess without soul is in essence a materialistic external approach, but what could be more spiritual than music?