Friday, January 1, 2010

Book Review--Spirit and Music

  • The Spiritual Significance of Music
    Justin St. Vincent 
Justin focused on mainstream entities such as metal, Christian, pop and new age musicians and authors. This leaves me to wonder who was included in the other nine hundred interviews that did not make the cut. Voices such as Native American musicians Sharon Burch, R. Carlos Nakai and Mary Youngblood are missing from the pages, though Native American percussionist Will Clipman contributes his take on spirituality and music.  I am pleased to see Will contribute his reflections, as I am pleased to see Ravi Shankar represented his views in the book.

And while you would think the new age authors who focus on the significance of spirit in their personal and professional quests would contribute the most profound insights in this regard, instead provided similar rhetoric or in the case of the German new age couple, Reinhard and Cornelia Flatischler used the opportunity to promote their workshops. And author of The Mozart Effect, Don Campbell merely offered an excerpt from one of his books, rather than responding to the question directly.  

And surprisingly the most thought-provoking responses came from the Ohioan band Devo, “True spirituality seeks to re-unite a thread that connects us to the rest of life and thus, brings us together.” Ron Thal, guitarist for Guns N’ Roses mentions Beatle lyrics that lifted him up during dark times--the essence of spirit working through music is that it connects with people when they need it most.

Personally, I could do without the self-promotion of some of the new age folks, the shock value of the metal musicians (especially the dark ones), and the religious fervor of the Christian musicians (though I can see this group represented by two or three interviews instead of dominating the conversation). Where are the musicians representing earth-based spirituality (outside of new age) and other religious traditions? Where are the Tibetan Buddhists?

I suppose with this line-up of folks representing the mainstream for the most part, the book will attract readers that normally don’t equate music with spirituality. I was surprised today with a response I received on a forum on music, that at least one musician had never equated music with healing. So in that respect, I feel that The Spiritual Significance of Music will at least get readers thinking and even recalling how music has affected them on a deeper level. And certainly this book will reach people that will never read my blog so it’s a step forward for humanity.

I would like to mention that many of the musicians in the book, especially the ones that perform heavy, hard and angry music were confusing rhythmic entrainment and resonance with spirit. And as someone with shamanic tendencies, I would like to remind people that not all spiritual entities are of a higher vibration. Many disembodied spirits (formerly addicts, criminals, etc), wander around looking for low vibration situations and bodies to possess so if someone enjoys that kind of spiritual experience then listening to low-vibration music will provide that for them. Low vibration is based on fear and high vibration on love.  Since we are all of spirit we attract both low and high vibrational experiences so I think discernment and mindfulness play a huge role in protecting our boundaries.

The way entrainment works is that bodies align to the rhythm of music and when you get a room full of bodies entraining to loud music, then they experience an adrenaline rush (fight or flight syndrome). If a singer shouts out angry lyrics then the audience members will absorb this anger and even express their own anger—sometimes through violent means (and I have witnessed this), and this can cause a feeling of oneness with the music and the other audience members, but should we confuse this with a connection to Spirit? It appears that many of the musicians interviewed did confuse the two.  Oneness is not alway a positive experience as we have seen with various cult behavior throughout history and the rise of Hitler's Nazism--all accomplished through entrainment and other tools of manipulation.

However, there are many musicians that did understand and articulate the power of music and spirit throughout the pages of the book. There were mentions of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and a spirituality that comes from jazz. And for me composer and pianist Kathryn Toyama’s words resonated in my soul—“I believe that music not only can comfort and heal the mind, body, soul and spirit, but it can also spiritually influence humankind to evolve beyond the need for violence.” I have experienced this too.

My hope is that Justin St. Vincent's exploration into the frontiers of spirituality and music will open up meaningful dialogue with musicians and their fans, alike.  And through this dialogue musicians will take responsibility for the words and energy they launch out into the world. 

Xtreme Music

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