Music has the special ability to touch the human spirit on an enormously deep level. What is it that makes mere sounds so powerful and so profoundly touching?
The Baha’i teachings encourage us all to make music, so sing, and to harmonize with each other. Abdu’l-Baha said that: “Musical melodies are, therefore, those peculiar effects produced by, or from, vibration. However, they have the keenest effect upon the spirit.”
The melody, which I believe to be the most important part of any musical composition, helps convey a message that words alone cannot. One of my favorite examples is the song Hearing by the band Sleeping at Last. The song doesn’t include any lyrics, and is composed of a repeating melody performed by a piano and violin.
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The song starts off soft and melancholy, but grows to become increasingly intense and passionate. Sometimes words aren’t enough to describe a feeling or experience, especially one as potent as love. This song beautifully represents love, because it allows you to experience the height of the feeling through instruments alone. It actually feels like love, taking you on a journey of love, its loss, and its bittersweet remembrance.
Songs with significance like this have the ability to take people back to an important place or time. They have the power to paint a picture, whether it depicts your 16th birthday or the day you met your significant other. They place a stamp on special moments in your life. As Abdu’l-Baha said, music awakens our true nature:
Some feelings occur accidentally and some have a foundation. For example: some people are naturally kind, but they may be accidentally upset by a wave of anger. But if they hear music, the true nature will reassert itself. Music really awakens the real, natural nature, the individual essence.
That happens, at least partially, because music evokes emotion in the listener. Imagine that you’re trying to articulate your emotions to someone, or even to yourself, and you find yourself unable to – then imagine explaining yourself through the tools of pitch, dynamics, melody, timing, and poetry. All of these components have the ability to convey the emotions you’re trying to articulate. Through this ability, music tells a story in a more beautiful way of expression.
As someone who writes music, I do so for two main reasons. My first reason is for myself. Music allows me to explore who I am as a person and express myself freely. It is, in a way, my form of journaling. The second reason is to write something that others can relate too. As humans, we crave connection and understanding; music creates a community of people with shared experiences. I want to be able to contribute to that community.
Music has the power to bring us back to life.
So often we find ourselves confused in our thoughts. They get disorganized and sometimes even ugly. The power of music allows us the opportunity to reframe something difficult as something beautiful. Maybe this is the appeal of sad music a lot of the time. It’s almost like a shoulder to cry on – it’s comforting. Even if you don’t know the artist, I’m sure that they wrote it with that emotion as a part of their intention.
Music can be a lover to mourn with, a friend to celebrate with, a reflection of yourself to sit with, and more. I find solace in the fact that I can find a song to pinpoint exactly how I’m feeling. Music speaks to you when you don’t want to speak with others. How many times have you turned away from the presence of friends or family to sit with yourself and a song? How many times have you turned on a song as a celebration? How many times have you played a song on a car ride with your friends and family and sung aloud together in joy? What were those songs saying? These songs communicated something to you and your soul.
That’s the beautiful thing about music. It transcends the point of basic language and reaches your higher self. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, said through his secretary that, “It is the music which assists us to affect the human spirit; it is an important means which helps us to communicate with the soul.”
The power music holds in terms of communication is profound. Its significance in regards to how extremely receptive humans are biologically to music is scientifically proven; and not only does it describe emotion in a way words alone cannot, but it speaks to ourselves and our relationship with the Creator. The coming together of lyricism and instrumentation to create music makes it one of the most influential forms of human expression.