The Future of Spiritual Choirs in America
Reverend Michael Beckwith (of Agape Church in Los Angeles) points out that probably the highest music on earth is music that moves the body, opens the heart and inspires the mind all at the same time. Well, as a choir director I would say let’s imagine: for the bottom we have Olatunji style African drummers, who have a long lineage (repetition breeds power) of calling forth powerful energies and spirit. For the heart, let’s have music as soft, innocent and vulnerable as a 6 year old singing “Ave Maria” to the depths of feeling of a Mahalia Jackson gospel to a Hawaiian chant sending love to all humanity. For the mind, endless rich Handel like angelic polyphony with new, unheard of colors of sound and maybe some of those new Shostakovich harmonies Rikkie Byars has been using in her gospel music lately, showing our minds new horizons and visions. And for the soul, let’s add some Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting in a state of macrocosm. Now macrocosm is contagious! So this very state of awareness will naturally vibrate the other musicians into macrocosm while making music. This creates some interesting results. The most common is the experience of musicians “watching” themselves play music rather than playing music. It’s as if the soul takes over. Now, all of this at the same time! To Heal is to Make Whole
- There have been some interesting scientific studies regarding music healing in Berkeley, CA and the Heart Math Institute. What they do is take a group of people and measure the strength of their immune system (white blood cells, etc.) and then put them in a room and play music for them. Afterwards, they measure their immune system again to see how the music has affected them. The results: some of the punk rock and rap actually decreased the strength of peoples’ immune system by as much as 20%. Mozart does nothing for the body, but creates a higher I.Q.. But to make a long story short, they discovered that it is not the form of the music that does the healing, it is the state that the musicians are in while making the music that does the healing. This opens us up to all sorts of new opportunities. Sure, after the ministers rousing sermon, we don’t have to worry much about our state of being. We are pretty much there! However, there are many new discoveries and techniques that can take us even higher. It’s a whole new world!
- Music creates universes. “In the beginning was the word.” Word equals sound that has meaning. Our universe began with sound. Almost all action from you begins with a sound in your head and heart. Music carries smells, thoughts, visions and feelings in ways we are just beginning to understand. Among others, the American Indian, Hawaiian and Tibetan traditions have deep roots in using music to call forth energies, love and spirit and actually consciously create the universe they want to live in with sound. Tina Turner after losing her children, house, money and everything; a battered body chanting “Nam Yo Ho Reng Ge Kyo” every morning and evening, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, visualizing what she wants. Now she has her castle in France. Repetition Breeds Power!
- Take advantage of the now. How many times have I seen in church the whole congregation’s spines lift up when the musicians enter that space where they don’t know what they’re going to sing or play and improvise. It’s like a flat out Quantum leap! You can count the molecules in the air. Maybe a musician creates on the spot a song or chant that describes the sermon just given. That’s also why vamps are so much fun, because it allows the whole church to sing and enter that space. Allow space for this.
- Balance. When making music as described above, be aware that this music not only opens the heart, but at times it can put the congregation into an altered state of awareness and even (as in Maui) create physical plane miracles. It’s a balance. You don’t want to leave the older conservative people behind and yet whenever there is newness to the music, it inspires the listener to new alternatives and growth. Use this music with respect and wisdom. An attitude of service really helps.