VII. Music Opens Doors to New Ways of Being
Music is one of the most direct routes we have to accessing the non-verbal, intuitive knowing of the right hemisphere of our brain. Music has long been associated with healing and was an integral element in the wellbeing of primitive societies, where it was ritually used as a means of altering states of consciousness for the purpose of healing and spiritual direction. Participatory music making was an integral part of feasts and celebrations.
Originally there were probably no distinctions as to who was a musician. Everyone in a tribe or village could sing, drum, pluck or blow on something. With the rise of the patriarchy, music became a "specialized" art relegated to entertainment.
It became more and more complex and expensive to produce and play, and had to be subsidized by the church and courts of royalty. Expensive and complex instruments, such as the harpsichord or pipe organ, and the massing of instruments in orchestras produced a style of music that was written, played, and heard by relatively few. The split of "serious music" from folk music was thus accomplished and the value of music as an instrument of healing was, for many people, lost.
Today's so-called "popular" music is actually controlled by major recording studios who choose a select few of the vast numbers of compositions produced today. They make them "popular" by playing them repeatedly so that relatively few "hits" pervade the consciousness of great masses of people over the planet. The advent of ubiquitous "elevator music" has taken music from its value as a channel for healing, to an opposite extreme.
New Forms of Music
The sixties saw a resurgence of interest in the use of music as a healing and spiritual force. The public witnessed the Beatles' growth from relatively ordinary entertainers to explorers of consciousness in their later works, both as a group and as individual artists. They and hundreds of other musicians of the flower generation plowed new ground. "Underground" music surfaced everywhere, sometimes to be caught up in what had become, in true patriarchal form, the high-stress world of competitive performance, with consequent high substance abuse and mortality rates.
Another kind of music, healing in nature, began to arise in the mid-seventies. Steven Halpern was one of the first to explore sound and music for health and wellbeing in his album Spectrum Suite. Most Western music follows predictable sequences of sounds, so that the left hemisphere is usually at work processing and anticipating the next note. Halpern's music prevents that type of background mental activity, thus relaxing mental processing. He creates sounds that are unpredictable, yet soothing. Many other artists, too numerous to mention, also began producing music for healing. A nationally syndicated public radio program, the Hearts of Space ("Slow music for fast times"), acts as a showcase for composers in this field of music, often called New Age Music.
Also in the early seventies, Emmett Miller, MD, began working with his patients using a sensitive combination of spoken visual imagery with relaxing music. He was a major developer of this now popular form of autosuggestion and deep relaxation and continues to produce a wide variety of audiotapes designed for self-healing.
With the advent of cassette tapes and inexpensive recording gear, it is now possible for individuals to self-publish recordings. Many tapes have been made available (of varying quality) for the purpose of relaxation, healing, and inner exploration.
Dance (a silent form of music using, as notes, the movements of the body) has undergone a similar development. A leader in this field is Anna Halprin who does workshops around the world to awaken people's awareness of the healing potential of movement.
Today we see a growing recognition of music as a self-healing modality. It is a tool accessible to almost everyone for improving wellbeing--mental, physical, and spiritual.