Friday, December 09, 2011

Thoughts on Spirituality & Music

My Damsel and I talked about music at one point since our tastes in
music are widely divergent. She grew up in a strict fundamentalist
Christian home and while she doesn't exactly believe the same way her
parents do, her tastes reflect her upbringing; she prefers Christian
rock and pop over most other forms of music, and while she has some
knowledge of pop/rock from exposure to it in the general culture, she
doesn't get metal. She also states she feels a strong spiritual
connection to music.

In contrast, despite having had my own exposure to Christian
fundamentalism--I attended an Assembly of God in the early 80s and
subscribed to their beliefs for a time--I'm definitely a metalhead and
have been for over a quarter-century. But I used to play 'cello, too,
and even without that experience my parents had a few classical albums
at the house. In fact I listened to all the albums my parents had,
from Glen Campbell to Jimi Hendrix, from The Monkees to The Beatles.
Then there was my mother's love of Golden Oldies, my father's love of
country, and my own curiosity in everything from the history of jazz
to 20th Century compositional schools like Musique Concrete,
Formalism, Expressionism, Minimalism, etc.

But with all of this perspective, I told her I didn't feel so much a
spiritual connection as an emotional connection.

It's a conversation I've thought about much lately, and it occurred to
me that there may be a disconnect that's keeping me from making clear
where I stand. After all, if one is willing to accept that black metal
is the spiritual side of metal, given my love of the genre, you'd
surmise that there must be a spiritual element to my love of music,
albeit one that may seem highly unconventional and, from a humanist
point of view, nihilistic. (I don't see it as nihilistic, personally,
as much as complete; it doesn't forsake the darker side of humanity
nor does it fear death, but seeks to combine the whole of our
experience into a well-integrated gestalt. The emphasis of darkness,
evil, and death in black metal is more a matter of balance than
conviction that these things outweigh light, good, and life. But I

Perhaps I should state that in music I find a fusion between the
intellectual and the emotional--the Apollonian and the Dionysian, as
Nietzsche might put it, or as William Blake categorized it, Heaven and
Hell. Music is mathematics and physics--frequencies, harmonic ratios,
energy expressed as dynamics and rhythm--which attempts to express and
invoke feelings in ways words cannot. It is very powerful, and engages
the mind in a rather broad way.

But to focus on this alone is to ignore that spirituality transcends
both the intellectual and the emotional, that it goes beyond the
merely ineffable--that which cannot be expressed in words--to
encompass the inscrutable, that is, things that cannot be comprehended
at all, but only experienced directly. If I could be assured that my
readers were fluent in Qaballah, I could easily describe this in terms
of the Tree of Life, and state that one must be able to perceive the
whole of the Tree rather than linger on the lower Sephirot, where
intellectual and emotional impulses lie. But it will need to suffice
that, in my view, the heart of spirituality is in unity with the

This is why I feel the most spiritual when in the woods, or when
looking at the night sky. The knowledge of how big it all is, and how
intricate, and how full of energy, combined with the emotionally
overwhelming realization that I am so small in comparison, and yet
still part of all of this, are only facets of the unity, and thus the
spiritual connection, I perceive. The experience is so massive that no
words, no song, no work of art, could compare. It's like comparing a
map to the territory it represents; there is no way for the map to be
complete without being the territory itself.

So in a sense, I think music *is* spiritual, but only as a fragment of
a much greater holiness.

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