Whenever we see music described as “just” a stress-reliever, we tend to bristle at the dismissive tone of the comment. It betrays a lack of understanding and appreciation of music’s value. On the other hand, music can be a real life saver when the world threatens to become overwhelming.
Our featured music lover this month contacted us because she wanted to introduce us to music that has truly transformed her life. The music she shared with us helps her focus better, be more creative in her work and more accepting of things she can’t change. Above all, it has exponentially increased her capacity to be happy and peaceful and to serve others, which are her greatest desires.
You may relate to her situation. She is in her early fifties, a psychologist and gerontologist. She has a 2 hour commute to work and another 2 hours’ drive home. In between she works 8 hours conducting research on aging that includes a focus on end of life care. She grew up loving music typical of her generation: Arrowsmith…The Rolling Stones…Carly Simon…Pat Benatar. She played guitar when she was young. A few years ago, during her mid-forties, the daily grind and growing stresses at home really began to wear her down. (By the way, recent research suggests that the period from age forty to the mid-fifties is one of the most challenging and even unhappy times of life for many Americans.)
She started taking yoga to deal more directly with stress. She experimented with various kinds of yoga and settled on the Kundalini form, whose mantras and meditations were deeply calming for her. (See Ang Sang Waha Guru below for more on Kundalini Yoga.) That led her to discover the music she surrounds herself with nowadays. She listens in the car, in the gym, at home. She was raised a Catholic, but doesn’t see any conflict between religion and this kind of nondenominational “spiritual awakening.”
YouTube videos of a few of her favorite performers are offered below, with Josh’s comments. As you will see, this music comes in a wide variety of interesting forms. Let us know how you respond to what our interviewee calls “my music.” Tell us about the music that helps you deal with stress, that calms and frees you too.
Ang Sang Wahe Guru
This famous kirtan or “praise eulogy” expresses a universal truth. Its essential message is that dynamic, loving energy, which is the Source Of All, dances within everyone’s cells. This piece is an example of a Kundalini Yoga Mantra Meditation. Kundalini Yoga is called the “Yoga of Awareness” by its practitioners. It draw heavily on ancient sacred lyrics, or mantras, and aims to”cultivate the creative spiritual potential of a human being to uphold values, speak truth, and focus on the compassion and consciousness needed to serve and heal others.”
This performance unfolds with a hypnotically gentle rhythm of 48 pulses per minute presented in a recurring series of four phrases, a peace-inducing rhythm reflecting a body at rest. The voices of the chorus are deeply moving as they sing in a narrow range that evokes a sense of warmth and intimacy, with the pure sound of duetting recorders providing contrast.
Heart is thy Name, O Lord
Krishna Das, sometimes called the Rock Star of Yoga, performed this song at the 2013 Grammy Awards. The title refers to one of the seven chakras in the body while at the same time invoking Narayana, or God. His rendition has been described as a fusion of Kirtan (see the previous video) and the music of the Yardbirds. In a gentle high baritone Krishna Das chants the praise melody to the accompaniment of tabla and drones sounding a perfect fourth, a signifier of cosmic harmony. The narrow-range melody, sung in unison with the other musicians, pivots around a central pitch to communicate a state of blessed peacefulness at about 60 pulses per minute.
Your Light is My Guide
Hans Christian has been called “a supreme multi-instrumentalist ranging widely and worldly.” Speaking through his many instruments–which include the cello, deeply resonant crystal bowls, the sitara (a small sitar), the sarangi (a Northern Indian fiddle), and the nyckelharpa (a Swedish fiddle)–he invites us to join him on musical journeys that often fuse Western Classical with Indian and other musics. His improvisations take on an otherworldly quality through the use of live looping onstage, as you will hear in this video. This technique is common to much modern electronic music and uses technologies such as digital samplers, synthesizers, sequencers, tape machines, and delay units. A repeating section of sound material can be used to create recurring patterns that serve as a counterpoint to other melodic lines, building up a multi-layered texture that taps into deep feelings in the listener, taking you beyond the here and now.
Here is an example of Hans Christian’s artistry using just the cello with feedback looping.