The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan
The Psychological Influence of Music
In the field of music there is much to be explored, and the psychological influence of music seems little known to modern science. According to modern science we are taught that the influence of music, or of sound and vibration, comes to us and touches the senses from without. But there is one question which remains: What is the source of the influence that comes from within? The real secret of the psychological influence of music is hidden in its source, the source where sound comes from.
It is more plain and easier to understand that the voice has a certain psychological value, that one voice differs from another, and that every voice expresses its psychological value and has its psychological power. Often one feels the personality of the one who is talking at a distance over the telephone. A sensitive person can feel the effect of the voice alone, without seeing the speaker. Many do not depend so much upon the words as upon the voice that is speaking the words. This shows that one's psychological development is expressed in speaking, and more especially in singing.
In Sanskrit breath is called prana, the very life. And what is voice? Voice is breath. If there is anything in life, in man's constitution, which may be called life, it is the breath. Breath manifested outwardly - the sound of the voice - is called prana. Therefore a person can best express himself in song, or in what he says. If there is anything in the world that can give expression to the mind and the feelings it is the voice. Often it happens that a person talks on a subject with a thousand words, and it has no influence. Another person expresses a thought in three words, and makes a deep impression. This shows that the power is not in the words, but in what is behind the words; that is: in the psychological power in the voice which comes from prana. According to the strength it has, it impresses the listener.
The same thing is found in the fingertips of the violinist, and comes from the lips of the flute player. According to the influence coming from his thought the musician produces that influence through his instrument. He may be very skilful, but if his fingertips do not produce a feeling of life, he cannot be successful. Apart from the music he plays, there is the value of the prana, or psychological power that he gives to what he plays.
In India there are vina players who do not need to play a symphony in order to have influence, in order to produce a phenomenon. They only have to take the vina in their hands and strike one note. As soon as they strike one note it goes through and through. In striking one or two notes they have tuned the audience. It works on all the nerves; it is like playing the lute that is in every heart. Their instrument becomes only a source, the response to which is found in the heart of every person, friend and foe alike. Let the most antagonistic person come before a real vina player, and he cannot keep his antagonism. As soon as the notes have touched him, he cannot prevent the vibrations which are created in him, he cannot help turning into a friend. In India, therefore, such players are often called vina magicians, instead of musicians. Their music is magic.
No doubt the power of the music depends upon the grade of spiritual evolution that a person has touched. There is a story of a Hindu musician, Tansen, who was at the court of the great emperor Akbar. The emperor asked him: 'Tell me, O great musician, who was your teacher?' Tansen replied: 'My teacher is a very great musician - but more than that. I cannot call him musician, I must call him music'. Said the emperor: 'Can I hear him sing?' The musician answered: 'Perhaps. I may try. But you cannot think of calling him here to the court'. 'Shall I go where he is?'
'His pride may be revolted even there, thinking that he is to sing before a king'. 'Shall I go as your servant?' 'Yes, there is hope then'.
So both of them went up into the Himalayas, into the high mountains where the sage had his temple of music in a cave, living with nature, in tune with the Infinite. When they arrived the musician was on horseback, the emperor walking. follow the crowd instead of following the great souls. All that is general is ordinary, because the great mass of people is not highly cultured. Things of beauty and good taste are understood, enjoyed and appreciated by few, and there is no way for the artist to reach those few. In this way, what is called uniformity has become a hindrance to individual development.
What is necessary today is that in the education given to children the psychological value of music should be taught. That is the only hope, the only way in which, after some time, we can expect better results. Children learning music should not only know the music, but they should know what is behind it and how it is presented.
Of course there are two sides to this question: outward conditions, and the presentation of the art. Outward conditions may be more or less helpful. I myself have seen in my musical life that music, or a song, performed before two or three persons who are congenial, sympathetic, harmonious, understanding and responsive, brought quite a different vibration, created a different effect from the same music played before five hundred people. What does this mean? It means that some persons are like instruments. When good music is presented to them, they respond, they become attuned to it, they are all music, they take a share in the music, and so a phenomenon is created. This phenomenon can reach even that highest ideal that is to be expected of music, and that is the realization of the soul's freedom: what is called nirvana or muskti in the East, and salvation in the Christian world.
There is nothing in this world that can help one spiritually more than music. Meditation prepares, but music is the highest for touching perfection. I have seen wonders happen through the psychological power of music, but only when there were congenial surroundings. Five or six persons, no more, a moonlight night, or dawn, or sunset. It seems that nature gives its help to make the music complete, and music and nature both work together, for they are one.
If a great opera singer, or a violin soloist has to play before ten thousand people he cannot, with all his ability, touch every soul there. Of course it depends upon the greatness of the artist. The greater the artist, the more he will reach. But he has to consider what will please his audience, not what will be pleasing to God. When music has become commercial, its beauty is lost; it has lost much of its value.
There was a time in the East when every effort was made by the aristocracy of India to keep the art of music from being commercialized. They were successful for some time in doing so. Musicians were not paid a certain sum of money; their needs were supplied, even though they were extravagant. Musicians felt that they should have surroundings of harmony and beauty; they were generous; their doors were always open to others. They were always in debt, but their debts were paid by the kings.
Besides this, the musician was not restricted by his programma. He was left to feel by his intuition what the people wanted. He had to decide at the moment he saw them, and as he went on playing or singing he knew more. The chemical effect of the minds of the listeners told him what they wanted. So at the end it was a spiritual treat.
The secret of all magnetism, whether expressed through personality or through music, is life. It is life which charms, which is attractive. What we are always seeking for is life, and it is the lack of life which may be called lack of magnetism. If musical teaching is given on this principle it will be most successful in bringing about psychological results.' It is on the health of the physical body, on thought, on imagination, and on the heart - which is often cold and frozen!- that the psychological power of music depends. It is this life which the musician puts through his fingertips when playing the violin, or through his voice when singing.
What the world is seeking, what human souls yearn for, is that life - whether it comes through music, color and line, or through words. It is that life which everyone desires. It is life which is the real source of healing. Music can heal, if life is put into it. There is no great secret about it, if a person is able to understand the truth in its simplicity. When a person plays mechanically, the fingers running about the piano or violin almost automatically, it may create a temporary effect, but it soon passes.
Often one hears disagreeable music. At the time it does not seem so disagreeable, but afterwards one realizes the bad effect. It is exciting, it is harsh. The music that heals the soul is music with a soothing effect. One can have the soothing effect, or one can have the harsh effect. This depends not only upon the musician, but upon the composer also - upon the mood that has inspired him. A person awakened to the psychological effect of music will find it easy to understand what mood the composer was in when he wrote it. Every page shows his mood and his development at the time when he was writing. He can put life and beauty into his music, and after a thousand years it will still prove to be beautiful and life giving. No doubt, study and qualification help him to express himself better, but what is really needed is life behind it, which comes from the expanded consciousness, from the realization of the divine light which is the secret of all true art, and which is the soul of all mysticism.
Composition is an art rather than a mechanical arrangement of notes. A composer of music performs his small part in the scheme of nature as a creator. Music being the most exalted of arts, the work of the composer of music is no less than the work of a saint. It is not only the knowledge of technicality, of harmony, of theory that is sufficient: the composer needs tenderness of heart, open eyes to all beauty, the conception of what is beautiful, the true perception of sound and rhythm, and its expression in human nature.
By composing music a composer must create his own world in sound and rhythm. His work, therefore, is not a labor, it is a joy, a joy of the highest order. If the composer writes music because he is obliged to write something, that is not the thing to do. The composer should write when his heart feels like writing, when his heart is singing, when his soul is dancing, when his whole being is vibrating harmony. That is the time that he should write music.
Question: Could you please explain what you mean by listening to music spiritually? Can one listen to common music spiritually, such as tunes played on a street organ? Answer: But we do not sit and meditate in the street! Do we? Besides, there is a technical stage. As a person develops in technique and in appreciation of better music, so he feels disturbed by a lower grade of music. But then there is a spiritual way which has nothing to do with technique: it is to tune oneself to the music, and therefore the spiritual person does not care about its grade. No doubt, the better the music the more helpful it is, the higher the music the better. At the same time you must remember that there are Lamas in Tibet who do their concentration and meditation by moving a kind of rattle, the sound of which is not especially melodious. They cultivate thereby that sense of perception which raises a person by the help of vibrations to the higher spheres. There is nothing better to use than music as a means for the upliftment of the soul.
Question: Is it a distinct disadvantage for a human being to be born without a good ear. Answer: It is, because what is received through the ears goes deeper into the soul than what is received through any other way. Neither by smelling, or tasting, or seeing does beauty enter so deeply into oneself as by hearing.
Question: As music is the means to perfection, are unmusical persons imperfect. Answer: To play or sing oneself, and to listen to music are two different things. A person may become a musician by learning music theoretically and mechanically. But only he is really a musician who lives in music and loses himself in music.
All people have music in them, in the rhythm and harmony of their actions and life. If a musician has the desire for spiritual perfection, I think that he can perfect himself much more easily and quickly than another person.
Question: Why is it - if music is rhythm - that so often musicians are temperamental and easily disturbed. Answer: But is it not beautiful to have a little temperament? Life is unmusical when there is no temperament. A person who does not get angry once in a while does not live! It is human nature to have all kinds of minor faults. The joy is in overcoming these faults. Music is not all sadness. There are higher octaves and lower octaves. Music is all. That is why music is even greater than heavens.