Music and Spirituality

To ponder music’s link with spirituality means to think on the entire notion of spirituality itself. You see music in every major religion I’m aware of; in Islam, the call to prayer, adhan, is a key ritual followed several times a day, every day. There are chants abound in religion; Gregorian, Vedic and Buddhist chants are well known. Religious albums are not at all uncommon; the motivating factor for writing this text is my listening to an Alice Coltrane album, Journey in Satchidananda. Alice began delving more deeply into her own spirituality after the sudden and untimely passing of her husband, John. For her, it may be that there is no spirituality without music, and no music without spirituality. The two are inextricably linked.

What is spirituality? The answer seems to me both murky and crystal clear. Spirituality seeks answers and meanings that can’t be found in simple rational analysis; I don’t believe there to be a spiritual computer, because raw data is insufficient. Spirituality seeks to elevate, to increase your capacity for love, and humility, and creativity, and all of the other things we find so essential to being human. By this definition, spirituality doesn’t have to come from religion; it can come from experiences that take you away from the analytic, and put you into the emotional, the ethereal, the places that lie in the corner of the mind beyond linguistic description.

I think that’s why words so often fail us when describing music; every word we use is a metaphor, an approximation of what we experienced. I often say learning music is like learning a language, but there is one key difference; with language, we often attempt to quantify and describe an experience, while music is the experience. Music can, wordlessly, make you laugh or cry; describe why to a friend, and they won’t understand it until they hear the music itself. Even then, it might allude them. Everyone’s spirituality is different; everyone’s music is different.

That may be why playing music is so cathartic; you’re playing your soul, exposing your spirit to the light. Others will hear the music that you play, music that is unique to your own experience, and they’ll affirm it; through their enjoyment of it, you have made this ethereal, indescribable think concrete, real. The more real your spirituality seems, the more tangible, and the more tangible, the better you’ll be able to express it. This, I think, is part of why music is found so often in religion; it creates concrete, shared spiritual reality. As we’ve discussed in the past, music is tied into our biology, and we get a sense for it in our early infancy. A neuroscientist from Princeton, who is an atheist, describes the ways in which he thinks spirituality, music and biology are tied together.

These are mostly my own musings, so I’d like to hear your thoughts on the ways in which music and spirituality are tied in your own experiences. We know the home is a sanctuary, a place where you might feel freer to express yourself emotionally, through music; that’s why we offer in home music lessons, to ensure your comfort and reduce the number of barriers between you and musical expression.