I am not sure about what the soul is, so I begin with a definition. Apparently the soul is “the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being regarded as immortal”…. But there is another definition, and this is different and yet completely compatible and it is “emotional or intellectual energy, as revealed in a work of art or artistic performance.”
Music creates a direct route to the soul, because there is no great need for words, and we are lumbered with thinking in words. Words may form part of the mix, but when one listens to somebody like Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, you realise that the words she’s singing are just part of the experience, so a song like “I’m in Love” which is both wistful and optimistic, has a zillion things going for it, in terms of soul, and taking one to a place of the soul.The Queen of Soul is producing a sound of massive richness…. which starts with her stupendous technique… that’s to say her internal knowledge of knowing exactly what note she wants to hit (she must have perfect pitch) plus there is the emotional quality of her voice, which is something of her own, but it’s also born out of her history within the Afro American community (generations and generations here) her history as a gospel singer from childhood, coupled with her intention to express emotion at the deepest level… So a lot of depth, technique, creativity and intention are all going into one song lasting just 2mins 51 seconds… providing a direct path to the soul. Most importantly perhaps, she is using her voice as much as a musical instrument as anything – she is after all, an accomplished pianist.
A lot of great art resonates with the soul, but I believe that music does it most immediately because of the time element. Music moves as we are moved.
Recently, it was drawn to my attention, that there is this wonderful research going on with people who have dementia and other mental problems who immediately reconnect with the world through music. They respond to music, when words won’t do, and I’ve come across this in life, first hand. Music is a very, very high way to connect to the higher self, when it resonates with us…
I think one connects with the soul through music very much on the principle of treating like with like, like homeopathy. So when one is very sad, or low, the best music to connect with seems to be things like Leonard Cohen, weepy Puccini, or you may wish to be deeply miserable to Barber’s Adagio, the most depressing piece of music in the world …
We are all unique, the preferred music that speaks to our soul will be always differ from person to person, so, in the hour of powerful emotions what may be achieved by Elgar or Bach say, can equally be achieved by Dusty Springfield, Eric Clapton, John Coltrane, Miles, Bill Evans or my wonderful friend, Tom Kirkpatrick… in other words one man’s Lady Gaga is another man’s Joan Sutherland, and that’s what makes music so divine, its uniqueness and our own sacred singularity. As I mentioned before… we ‘think’ in words, but music reveals that we can ‘think and feel’ without any need for language. Just listen to Vaughan Williams “Fantasia on A Theme by Thomas Tallis” and meditate on the idea of fracking being carried out on The South Downs, and then… tell me what you feel; I would be really interested to know. I tried this one out while I was writing this, and it affected me physically and mentally, to great effect. Words are not needed.
The power of music to move us is exquisite and mystical. It is for this reason I’ve had to collect music all my life from Ambient to Dance, Classical, Easy Listening, (forsooth) Electronic, Folk, Film Music, Gospel and Religious, Jazz, Latin, New Age, Rhythm & Blues, rock and pop, World music and even sound effects – twittering birdsong, wind, sea and watery noises to name but a few. I believe that all of this harmony, in all its beautiful variations provides doorways to the soul that are heavenly.
When we listen to music we are often most closely connected to our true selves, our immortal selves. It’s like the time when we were babies, and we thought and felt without understanding language. And there’s another very valid reason for accepting music as a pure way of thinking and feeling. When people are close to death, and have near death experiences and out of body episodes, we are told that they don’t need language to communicate – but they do hear music – heavenly music… and this is important, so important… and quite lovely.