“Music is behind the working of the whole universe. Music is not only life’s greatest object, but music is life itself.”
—Hazrat Inayat Khan
For millennia, philosophers of diverse schools and traditions have written on the importance of music for the human spirit; Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in Western philosophy and Hazrat Inayat Khan in the East represent a tiny fraction of the great thinkers who have contributed to this discussion. Randal McClellan, in his book The Healing Forces of Music: History, Theory and Practice (1991), examines in-depth how the significance of music in individuals’ lives seems to transcend social and historical context.
McClellan suggests that, “Music gave expression to those thoughts and emotions too expansive and too deeply felt for our rudimentary languages.” It’s a function that music still fulfils to this day. There is also a vast wealth of scientific research that has revealed the benefits of music in healing patients. For example, Ventre’s 1994 case study showed how music built up an environment of love, acceptance, and trust for a patient attempting to recover from sexual abuse and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). McCaffrey (2008) found that music connects individuals with their emotions and self-awareness, creating a healing environment.
Perruzza & Kinsella (2010) found that music therapy transformed their patients’ lives; empowering them, giving them a renewed sense of self, a means of expression, and a sense of purpose that transformed the illness experience. These valuable studies represent recent contributions to a millennia-old scientific and philosophical discussion, one which observes, studies, and explores the profound effect music can have on the mind, body, and soul.
The healing effect of music may take many different forms, including the healing of a physical, mental, or spiritual ailment. Hinduism has produced and developed a complex set of mantras believed to have healing properties; they lack discernible melody and are not valued for their aesthetic properties, but instead tend to focus on either clearing the mind of unwanted tendencies or cultivating the mind’s desirable tendencies. Single-syllable mantras are usually repeated to, generally speaking, free an individual from restraints or frustrations; whereas, phrased mantras tend to relate to a specific cure of an ailment. McClellan’s in-depth analysis (1991) discusses in detail phrases of mantras that relate to removal of fear, removal of worries and pain, to curing illnesses, and to cultivating qualities such as divine wisdom, intelligence, faith, and more.
The Sufis use music as a form of purification; Hazrat Inayat Khan writes in The Mysticism of Sound and Music (1991) of the dervishes, those who use music as one means of spiritual development. “Whoever among them is moved by spirit may manifest the ecstasy, which is called wajad, in the form of tears, sighs, or dance.”
In Chinese theories of musical healing, the five notes of the C pentatonic scale correspond to five parts of the body: the spleen, lungs, liver, heart, and kidneys (C, D, E, G, and A, respectively). Tones relating, e.g., to C are described as peaceful, soft, steady, and smooth (as can be experienced by playing a C chord on a guitar). It’s worth noting that the C pentatonic—the most important scale in Chinese culture—is also central to much of Western music.
Pythagoras formalized the tonal system as a result of his appreciation of harmony in the cosmos, and we may do well to note the fundamentals of musical theory in general in our evaluation of the beneficial power of music. Not for nothing does the abstract word ‘harmonious’ share a root with the technical word ‘harmonic.’
Michael Kenton went into his family’s retail business in London after graduating from Business College. In 1979, he participated in a meditation retreat, located in the beautiful French Alps, led by Pir Vilayat Khan. During the retreat, he meditated several times a day, attended talks, and in between enjoyed beautiful sacred music, which was a completely new experience for him—and one he found profoundly uplifting. Several years later, Michael trained to perform a service called The Universal Worship Service, designed to attune to and acknowledge the religions of the world. He was aware that comparatively few people attend these services and experience the atmosphere of peace and harmony created. As a result, Sacred Music Radio, and internet radio station, was established to enable us all to experience the beauty and effects of different types of sacred music. Visit the station online at www.sacredmusicradio.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.