Many musicians and artists have grown increasingly disenchanted with the ways modern culture exploits art for commercial interests. The profit motive is detrimental because it siphons artistic expression into a limited context that must be agreeable for ‘consumer interests’. If the art is deemed unprofitable (often by business people who don’t have the most artistic understanding) it is not given blessing as something significant. This is all changing rapidly as our contemporary culture becomes increasingly interested in deepening many of its cultural expressions. The awakening to traditional and alternative healing has opened many new possibilities for art to be applied in therapeutic and even spiritual contexts. Moreover, the masses are responding as they are hungry for art that nourishes deeper levels beyond mere entertainment, which is far too often the measure of art’s worth.
The word sacred is significant. It can be traced to roots in the Indo-European word sak which denotes power and also ‘to make holy.’ When we connect with the sacred, we not only feel powerful but we create power. We feel sacredness or this higher kind of power when we are profoundly inspired; lost in the ecstasy of creativity where time becomes timeless. When we create from sacredness, our creations truly do ‘make holy’ in the sense that they inspire a sense of wholeness and harmony, which is healing. In our present time, more and more artists are beginning to leave commercial motivations behind to seek a more sacred connection through their art. This is one of the great revolutions of our extraordinary times.
The sacred musician endeavours to perform music as an expression of their own deepest nature at the level of the soul and to connect also to the realm where soul exists. This is a spiritual or subtle realm of infinite creativity, ecstasy (intense feeling states), rapture and union. This need not be perceived as something esoteric. In fact, one of the travesties of our modern era has been that spiritual states have been far too often explained as something mysterious, mystical and otherworldly. The truth is they are commonplace and earthbound. It is really a matter of degrees as they are seemingly limitless in how ecstatic they can be.
We approach these deeper states of being anytime we’re so present in our experience that the mind becomes more receptive than active. Children at play (and adults too!) exude this as they become completely engaged in their happiness. The mind gets out of the way and can still be employed as active tool but it is much more about letting the body become fully alive. When this happens our feelings tend to expand as the relenting mind allows the energy it would normally covet to flow more expansively through the field of the body (and beyond the body into our bigger energetic self).
The sacred musician understands this, though it may take some work of reclaiming as so much of modern music making has been about refined performance, static recorded songs and achieving a kind of perfection that is admirable though not the whole picture. This reclaiming need not be too difficult to achieve: one can simply recall their first experiences with music as a child when they were much more apt to be receptive, less analytical, and less self-conscious. For instance, I recall very deeply being a small child and fumbling simple melodies on my family’s piano for hours, in utter rapture as the harmonies flowed through me, inspiring immense beauty. All musicians who wish to deepen their art as a spiritual practice would do well to spend long periods of time reflecting on these memories. There’s a wellspring of wisdom there. In time, such memories will be so renewed that perhaps during every performance that small child will constantly be alive in us again. This is wonderful work. Often when I perform a sacred kind of music, flashes of myself as child innocently engaging music come before me and I feel tender weeping within, beautifully so. It gladdens the soul (our deep self) greatly. Subsequently, this inspires a much more beautiful performance.
When music is performed in this way we are literally getting of the way to allow something deeper to come through us. This reminds us that music is inherently not performed by anyone. It is a receptive process by which music is channelled through us. Any musician who writes songs knows this but perhaps hasn’t considered it deeply. Think of anytime a song comes to us. Where does it really come from? For certain as songs develop in their composition there are technical additions of harmonic structures and textures but the first spontaneous moment of creativity is something inherently mysterious and should be honoured. It is always available and ready to bring through more melody. This is a great gift to be in awareness of and is our human birthright to be connected to an infinite creative reality.
Many traditional, indigenous cultures know this and the shaman healers of these cultures essentially focus on making music in this fashion. Among the Kalahari Bushpeople, for instance, the shaman ‘catches songs’ from an ethereal, mystical realm which they open to through prayer and ritual. They say this realm is inhabited by the spirits of ancestors, along with many other powerful spiritual masters, angelic and otherworldly beings and creatures, who are constantly singing powerful healing songs. It is these songs which the shaman catches and then brings through their own voice and instruments to be shared in community music experiences in which the people join in and rouse themselves into powerful states. These songs inspire people into dance and robust singing that lifts the spirit from states of illness. Anyone who sings feels this, whether in the sanctuary of the shower, or before an audience in a great hall. A few minutes of singing can alter us completely. Try it the next time you feel down or in foul mood. Singing cures all disorderly moods.
The sacred musician is, thus, more comfortable with improvisation because they understand that they are immersed in a bigger realm where songs are sourced that is constantly abundant with melodies. This may take time to make a relationship with as our culture has not taught us about these realms and how to access them. The good news is it isn’t that hard at all. Children (and the children we were and always are) are great masters of connecting with these realms of infinite creativity and can teach us much. At the beginning (especially for a trained musician) it will take time to quiet the analytical musical voice that is attached to theories and technical proficiency. This voice is not adept in the freedom of improvised performance and is actually resistant to it. The key becomes willing the attention to surrender, cleaving to receptivity in a committed and even devoted fashion. With this, the sacred musician will have to also let go of making mistakes as the transition to a more improvised artist may be clumsy at first with a veering between total delicious surrender and thinking about what to do next. In time, there will be a skillful dance between the two and the musician can surrender in one moment to harmonies swaying their being and then come active and intentionally add harmonic elements with voice or instrumentation. Here, opposites merge, yin and yang come together, engendering mastery. Moreover, mistakes become honoured as part of the flow and can even bring in surprisingly useful musical elements. As one builds more of a relationship with the deeper realm from which music comes, more and more harmony is brought through. We are literally giving expression to the great harmony of the cosmos which the mystics have always decried, receiving with the antennae of our being, and transmitting through our musical expression.
READ PART 2.