What I have discovered in my own art is that sometimes songs that are completely improvised are of such genius that I could never hope to create a song structurally that way. I will never forget spontaneously singing a poem I wrote called “Awakening Woman” with crystal singing bowls and my friend Stephen on electric guitar. We recorded the ten minutes of music that came through and we’re blown away at what happened. When we went back to the song to attempt to transcribe it to play it again for others we were dumbfounded at how many parts, nuances and textures had occurred. The sacred musician bows humbly in those moments, knowing that they could perhaps create such genius through pain-staking analytical effort but that the pure transmission that came through is of a much higher skill.
The sacred musician understands that they are part of an ancient tradition of music-makers that stretches to the beginning of our species. They delve into study of how music has evolved, realizing quite quickly that music has primarily been a medicine to lift spirits in community, pray ecstatically and connect to divinity. As St. Augustine said so beautifully, “To sing is to pray twice.” When we perform music, the vibrations we make with instruments and voice has an immediate effect on our self and others. This effect can be made all the more powerful by the intention to which we make our music. A sacred musician might take time before performing to go into prayer and meditation to connect to the divine realm so that is what is brought through, realizing that they are offering a great service to who they are performing. People are intensely affected by music. It brings suppressed emotions to the surface to be worked toward resolution by the inspired order of harmony, can connect people to the spirit of the dead, create states of altered consciousness, transform moods instantly and inspire divinity.
Music has been a sacred art for aeons. It has only been recently that it (and many of the arts) have been curtailed by commercial interests to be more ‘agreeable to consumers’. This is a sad affair and yet a great opportunity for renewal. It is often when we lose something, like the essence of music, that we find ourselves yearning and reclaiming it with greater love and passion than before.
Singing freely in a surrendered way used to be a traditional religious practice whereby people become utterly consumed by divine, ecstatic energy. However, many cultures the world over outlawed ecstatic singing practices as ‘unsophisticated civilization’, suppressing the wildness of our innately indigenous nature. As we reclaim the ecstatic way of making music we are literally reconnecting with a long lineage of ancestral practices which instantly inspires our lives and our art. So many musicians are disenchanted with modern practices of music and the business hovelling it in commercial prejudice. The sacred musician sees a way through and it is the key to their joy.
The very word music comes from Greek, meaning ‘art of the muses’. The muses were seen to be ethereal creative spirits who would transmit their songs, stories and arts through artists to be brought into our world. When we make music, in whatever capacity, the muses are present—it is the essence of the meaning of music to be connected to the divine. Many musicians and artists taking on the sacred work will realize it is this relationship to the muses, to divine inspiration or whatever we want to call the spontaneous and ecstatic source of our art, as the essential relationship to build and develop in our lives. Many of our healing and wellness self-practices of yoga, meditation, diet and the like help to foster this relationship as they help us become more clear channels for connection and to have a greater capacity to embody the ecstatic states that are natural to bigger realms of beingness. In our healing, we are able to literally become better conductors for divine energy.
It’s at this juncture that the path of the sacred artist truly becomes a life-path in itself, as we become increasingly devoted to becoming better channels for sacredness. The more we channel the sacred the more we understand that this creative realm that we inhabit is infinite and composed of such harmony and beauty that awe will constantly become our prayer. When we relate to reality in this way, our faith in the essential harmony, beauty and goodness of the universe is emboldened. We know it not from reading books but through feeling; feeling the harmonies coming through us in any moment we choose to open and sing. We become conduits and representations of the universe’s harmony and we transfer this to others who experience our art. This can save and restore much in our world that has become so bereft of sacred experience and so disconnected from the innate power and mystsery of nature.
Guidelines for practice for a Sacred Musician:
Here’s a simple list of some ideas to which a musician can utilize to deepen their art into the sacred.
1) Prayer: before performing set time aside to deepen into yourself through conscious breath, awareness and meditation. Have sacred objects to help you ground into mystical terrain. Pray for divine inspiration to be with you and sing through you. Devote your performance to the upliftment and healing of self, others and the world.
2) Daily Song Prayers: take time to begin the day singing freely with long tones with or without simple musical accompaniment (droning instruments are ideal such as singing bowls or the Indian tanpura). This will literally tune one energetically for the day (and can also be done before sleep to inspire better restfulness). Sing good thoughts and prayer with the sound as symbolic representation.This gives more feeling to setting well intentioned thoughts and prayer, making them more powerful. One can also sing into illness states in the body to support healing. It is well documented that the voice activates the vitality of the body in excellent fashion.
3) Improvisation: take time to perform with no goal in mind aside from surrendering to the flow of music coming through. This is also simply called jamming. Try singing without words, using the voice as wordless, sound instrument. Let go. It can help to quiet the mind before hand and to feel the body energetically from within for the whole body is receptacle/antennae for channeling harmony. If one is aware of the chakra centres, breathe into them before sounding notes and you will find elaborate harmonic textures arising.
4) Study the ancient tradition of sound as spiritual and healing practice: study the abundant literature on the ancient and spiritual power of music. Look into knowledge on sound healing of which there are many amazing modern innovations. Much of my own paradigm shifting began as I was studying Chinese Medicine and was encouraged to delve into studies on sound healing to integrate my musical practice. The realm of sound healing is a treasure-trove of inspiration to deepen the practice of music. As Edgar Cayce attests, ‘Sound is the medicine of the future.’ That future is now.
5) Community music through free and communal chant: I always leave time in my performances to engage the audience in making spontaneous song or doing a simple healing chant around the sacred sound of OM for instance. In this way, we bridge the divide between performer and audience that has alienated us from the traditional practice of making music together. When we make simple music together we touch the universal language of sound and brought together in exciting and inspiring ways.