The Magic of Music

(But is it good magic or bad?)

There is much talk in Waldorf schools these days of the need to protect children- to protect children from the harmful images of media, from the hardening intellectual forces that rob them of imagination, from the obsessive trend towards stimulation and entertainment. If you are a Waldorf parent, chances are you’re acutely aware of this and are doing what you can to protect and nurture your own children. Well here’s something else to consider: what about sounds? What about music?

The world of sound is subtler than the images we see around us. Sounds and music creep in almost unnoticed and play around inside our heads. Here they work their magic, for music can heal, uplift, turn a mundane moment into a joyous one.

The positive sides of music are almost unfathomable. Some sacred music has been shown to transform living tissue right through to its DNA structure. Hindu scriptures state that just chanting the name of God with devotion is enough to lead one to enlightenment.

 But music has a flipside. There’s white magic and black. Just as music can be positive, it can also be extremely negative. I remember reading about an extreme example where US marines would plug into explicit and obscene rap music during the war in Iraq to ‘help them in their work’ -with its crazed obsessive trance-like beat and lyrics that speak of hate, rape and murder.

 And then there’s grey-area music… We’re not sure whether it’s uplifting or debasing, but we listen to it anyway. For better or worse, richer or poorer, we just let it play. How does this affect you?

A modern day example: A crowded café: a mobile phone begins to play Bach. Its owner instinctively grabs it, and says ‘hello’.  What was that sound? Was it music?

If we react to that series of beeps with an instinctive urge to pick up a gadget and mutter ‘hello’, what has music become?  Mere noise, for music without soul can only be described as ‘noise’. What has the human become? Like an animal. It receives an auditory stimulus and instinctively reacts, like a chicken that hears the rustle of an insect and pecks.

Music becomes noise. Man becomes animal/instinctive. In the same way we can’t expect a gadget to soulfully express music, we also can’t expect the listener to have a soulful musical experience from it.

 In contrast, the intention of a master musician playing the same piece of Bach is to be one with universal creativity, to elevate himself/herself to the Music of the Spheres, to dance in delight to the perfection of the tonal relationships, the symmetries and primordial patterns, the sacred laws of harmony, as if dancing with God; the instrument has also been crafted with similarly high intentions: lifting matter- wood, ivory, metal- into spirit.

The intention of the mobile phone that plays Bach? Zilch. Its manufacturers’ intention? Bach= pick up the phone.

‘Grey area’ music sells us short. It depletes and deprives us of a soulful experience. We are worthy of something better. We have greater inner resources than that.

The exalted ability of man to flow with universal creativity is a remarkable achievement. Yes, the masters can do it, but so can the infant. The newborn, according to Rudolf Steiner is already attuned to the ‘soul’ in music, much more than the ‘matter’ (vibration). It is the responsibility of the child’s guardians and the task of the music educator to keep the soul of music alive, against the tide of materialization; to support the child’s expanding consciousness through music; indeed, to allow the child to uncover his/her own soul through music.

The task becomes extremely difficult when the child has been exposed to a lot of media. In this age of progress, the modern child hears ‘music’ as: mobile phone tones, advertising jingles, movie music, radio pop/ rock/ rap, computer game themes; there are ‘musical’ cars and fridges/ gadgets that tell you when a door’s been left open or you have a notification; then there’s so called ‘children’s music’ (eg “Baby Shark”), based on rock and roll- (adult music dressed up in children’s clothing).

None of the above is produced ‘live’ let alone acoustically. Each of these musical ‘genre’ have their intention: to alert, to calm and dull, to sell, stimulate, entertain, please the parents. Most media music these days is created not by musicians but predominantly by ‘spin doctors’ who study image, pop trends and what sells. For them, “music is money”. That which is intrinsically spiritual, which nearly all cultures have revered as a gift from the gods, has somehow been reduced to materialism. Music is dictated by gadgets, marketing, money, base instincts, stimulation and dehumanization. Are children inert to the intentions behind such music?

“In reality, music is the human being and indeed it is from music that one may rightly learn how to free oneself from matter.”

Now we have hit ‘rock’ bottom, let’s find a way up.

The tool is listening. The method of humanizing music again is to start listening. Listening, too, is a path, a journey of uncovering. By ‘listening’ I mean becoming aware, letting go of the unnecessary, of getting deeper, closer to the core, the truer nature of things. Wherever we start is right. Listening is a path of Knowledge.

Across the globe there is a healthy trend to get back to basics. In terms of music, there is a trend towards grassroots music- world music, traditional folk, old sacred music- but at a conscious level. Music is being truly listened to, with awareness. Many feel the urge to ‘unplug’- to hear acoustic instruments, to feel the vibration of cowhide stretched over a drum frame- a sensation no synthesizer can reproduce.

Some are becoming aware of certain healing properties of music- pure music, perfect intervals, ancient sacred instruments, chanting.

And some again are reaching to the stars and working with this awareness in far-reaching, futuristic, profoundly healing ways.

It has been just over a century since Rudolf Steiner advocated this way of working with music, even in schools. His teachings were visionary and lofty, yet not beyond grasp. To those already used to working spiritually with the arts Steiner’s teachings make sense and show a way forward for the evolution of man. Whilst Steiner educators are not required to teach children this higher spiritual knowledge, they are expected to work at imbibing it themselves, as a philosophical base from which to work. With this intention behind their work, much is communicated to the child on a subtle level that will serve them well for the future. When teachers are steeped in a deep understanding and an inner nourishment from music and the arts, something precious is awakened in the child. Like all subtle, life-giving processes, this takes time until fruition. The teacher will carefully find ways of bringing out a child’s innate musicality, helping the child to evolve, uncovering the soul through music.

Steiner also introduced a new art form, known as Eurythmy, which requires the teacher to have a profound understanding of the secrets of music and speech.  When these secrets are ‘brought down’ into the realm of movement and gesture and experienced by a child, seeds of great cosmic wisdom are planted. Steiner was acutely aware of the effects certain tonal relationships (intervals) have on man and what sort of music supports the evolving child. These indications were passed on to the teachers of the first Waldorf schools, always with the message that teachers should endeavour to experience these truths for themselves, and work artistically from their own understanding. Working in this way, with awareness, music’s inaudible subtleties become apparent. It’s as if music is ‘lifted up’. One learns to hear, not with the ear, but with the heart. The art form is raised once again from the material to the spiritual. It returns home, to where it belongs.

Children learn that music is a gift. It is something magical, something to be revered. And in the hands of true magicians (Waldorf teachers!), music becomes a dynamic, healing, socializing, spiritualizing power.

It’s not beyond any parent to tap into this wisdom. It’s all common sense and intuition, really. And an ability to really listen to your own child’s needs. What music will best nourish them?

So please consider what music your child is exposed to. Is it supporting their development and well-being? Is it nurturing, nourishing, magical? Is it permeated by soul?

Listen to it. Truly listen. Not with your ears, but with your heart. Listen to the inaudible. What is it saying?

 Only then will you know whether the gift of music is worth giving at all.

“What is Music? It is what one does not hear….  The more one is able to make use of what cannot be heard, the more one uses the audible simply as a vehicle of the inaudible, so much the more is music permeated by soul.”

Paul Lawrence, 2004, edited 2020

All quotes from Rudolf Steiner’s book, ‘Eurythmy as Visible Tone’.

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