Can Music Shape Your Soul?
Music expresses the quintessence of life and its events. It is precisely this universality that gives music the high worth that it has as a panacea for our woes.
Recently, while in New York, I hailed a cab. The entire vehicle was pulsating with a Jay-Z track. The thumping was so loud that my heart started to feel like a beatbox. When the fillings in my teeth felt as though they were becoming dislodged, I begged to be let out.
Sound is a form of energy. Energy can build or destroy. More than 20 years ago, Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist, began researching the effect that sound has on water. After playing various kinds of music over water, he flash-froze the water molecules in petri dishes. When they were placed under a microscope, one could see the difference between the crystals that had been formed in the droplets of liquid when Bach, Mozart, and heavy rock had been played. Each piece of music had caused crystals to form in completely different constellations. The first two created geometrically intricate and marvelously symmetrical shapes. The water responded to heavy rock by showing no organization, merely chaos.
Given that most living matter consists of fluid—our bodies are 60 percentwater—we, too, are affected by the sounds we hear.
What the Ancients Thought About Music
In his “Republic,” Plato tells another ancient philosopher, Glaucon, that “musical training is a more potent instrument than any other because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated, ungraceful.”
Plato averred that this training was the true education of the “inner being.” For this reason, one so trained would most “shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature,” and with a true taste, would “praise and rejoice over and receive into his soul the good.”
In short, he would become noble and good. Plato also observed the effect that music had on society in his day.
Music, he said, is a moral law. He observed that it “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; it is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just and beautiful.”
The wrong music is full of danger to the whole state.
Aristotle said that since music communicates emotion, immoral music can shape our character for the worse. One becomes imbued with the same passion as the music to which one listens. “If over a long time he habitually listens to music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form.”
According to researchers at the University of Missouri, hip-hop, rap, and pop music promotes problematic behaviors. They analyzed the lyrics of more than 400 Billboard hits released between 2006 and 2016 for themes of violence, profanity, misogyny, and gender-role references.
Professor Cynthia Frisby suggests that parents have discussions with their teens about what they are listening to and how it is impacting their identity. A respondent to the story cautioned: “Besides violence and aggression, overtones of control and possessiveness (e.g. “You’re mine”, “Never gonna let you go”) and emotional blackmail (“Can’t live without you”) are all too common and seem to go unquestioned. Yet it is often those very attitudes that lead to violence and abuse.”
Music is like religion. It is never neutral in its spiritual direction.
It is said that ultimately, all uses of tone and musical lyrics can be classified according to their spiritual direction: upward or downward.
Think of the Gregorian chants and how perfectly they reflect the architecture of the cathedrals in which they were sung.
Consider the majesty of Handel’s “Messiah”; its noble purpose was the glorification of the Highest God. Spiritually, it elevates the listener.
As long as sublime and beautiful music prevails, so will civilization flourish, both spiritually and in material aspects.
Jani Allan is a South African journalist, columnist, writer, and broadcaster.