NOTE: everything that follows can be applied to whatever creative expression matters most to you – art, dance, nature, yoga, whatever. I am writing from the perspective of a musician because that’s what I am.
Courtesy of Project Conversion (whose subject this month is Mormonism), I read a blog post from a Mormon music promoter that included this powerful statement:
…we need to change our paradigm of thinking in regards to spirituality in music. It is not just the responsibility of musicians to write spiritual music, but rather it is incumbent upon the listener to listen spiritually to all music. The writer is already thinking spiritually when he or she sits down to write the song, no matter what the content is. Our question should not be, “What spiritual ideas did this musician place in his/her song?” but rather, “What spiritual ideas can I glean from his/her song?”
If you look at my Suggested Music page (which you should, there’s some really great stuff there :), you can see a few examples of what I think the writer is talking about.
I have written before about my belief that creativity flows as much in the perception of music as in the creation of it. Now I’d like to expand on that a little, to observe that the kind of perception that I’m talking about is NOT a passive listening; not just bopping to the car radio or listening to your iPod while you work.
In my experience, in order to really engage with music, in order to touch the flow of Awen and find the spiritual aspects of it, you have to give it your full kavanah, your prayerful attention and intention (because make no mistake, music is prayer)… you have to study it and get inside it, float in it and let it wash over you and carry you away. Then – and only then – can you truly own the experience of that music, and see what it has to say to you: about God, about the universe and about yourself. (Right now, at least.)
And all this, of course, is the prelude.
When you have truly internalized the music that matters to you most, and seen what it has to say to you, then you can try to understand your response to it – figure out what in it speaks to you, and why, and what that tells you about you – letting the flowing light of Awen illuminate your inmost self. Then, and only then, can the only real work of your life begin – the transformation of your self, bringing it into line with its own highest ideals, and making that transformation manifest. This is the work that never ends, and that I suspect many people never really begin.
For me, the response to this creative perception is inevitably a creative expression: to sing, to write, to make, to do… whatever understanding I may have gained doesn’t really come together consciously for me until I see what I produce as a result. I really do have to give it to get it.
Let me close with this highly suggestive lyric from the excellent Jewish rapper Eprhyme:
it’s a thin line
between poetry and prophecy
in between the rhyme
is where you find
silent like a snowman
only here for a minute
if you really wanna get it
then you’re gonna have to give it
To which I must add (even though I realize my rhyme probably stinks) :
I’m giving it to get it
It’s the only way to let it
sing through me
even if it has to undo me
shake me break me
let the music remake me
turn me inside out
til I see what it’s all about
five minutes at a time
beat, meter and rhyme
gonna fill up the whole
at the bottom of my soul
Interesting. Once I got over my “What annoys my parents most? Let’s learn to play that!” phase, I found that my relationship to music deepened and changed over time. I heard more, and heard better, as I left the struggle for adolescent self-definition behind, and began to be able to listen curiously to many kinds of music.
I’ve never lost my love for blues – the answer to the question in the first paragraph – though my tastes in that genre have matured over time as well. However, putting the metaphorical needle down on any work of Howlin’ Wolf’s still gives me shivers in ways that no one else’s does, except perhaps Ali Farka Toure.
Ugh, for me, there’s a whole toxic paradigm that can be unpacked from the music promoter’s quote that makes me just throw up in my mouth. I see that you had a good take-away from it, and on a certain level I agree that, of course the listener contributes significantly to the spiritual experience of art by the way the listener engages with it. But in the context of my Mormon experience, the guy’s quote makes my skin crawl.
Thanks for stopping by! What is it about Howlin’ Wolf that speaks to your soul?
I think I see where you’re coming from, but I’d be curious to see you expand on that thought a bit…
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I’m not much of a musician myself (though I enjoy singing and am learning to play an instrument), but I absolutely agree about the prayerful approach to listening to music, and in fact music is essential to most of my worship and even a lot of my spirit-work. That music comes from many sources, most of which are not overtly spiritual in the least, and yet I take away something spiritual from all of them.
I thought about you (and about Sannion’s endless playlists!) as I was writing this, actually…
Erik, in Mormonism it’s really common for people to swing hard the other way. It is presumed that the music (or meeting, or talk, or ritual, etc.) is spiritual because, as a theological tenet, they believe the Holy Ghost is present for those things. So if you aren’t overwhelmed by the presence of the spirit, it is your fault for not being open to it.
Ah, gotcha… I’ve been to revival meetings like that.