The word sacred can be traced to roots in the Indo-European word sak which denotes power and also means “to make holy”.’ When we connect with the sacred, we not only feel powerful, but we create power. We feel sacredness or this higher kind of power when we are profoundly inspired, lost in the ecstasy of creativity where time becomes timeless. When we create from sacredness, our creations truly do “make holy” in the sense that they inspire a sense of wholeness and harmony, and this is inherently healing. In our present time, more and more artists are beginning to leave commercial motivations behind to seek a more sacred connection through their art. This is one of the great revolutions of our extraordinary times. The sacred musician endeavours to perform music as an expression of their deepest nature; to connect to the realm of soul where infinite creativity, ecstasy, and union abound.
This Face the Current Music Feature is published in Issue 22 / Winter 2019. Order PRINT here, or continue reading this article below.
We approach these deeper states-of-being anytime we are so present in our experience that the mind becomes more receptive than active. Children at play exude this as they become completely engaged in their experience. The mind gets out of the way yet can still be employed as a critical tool, but it is more about letting the body become fully alive. When this happens, our feelings expand as the relenting mind allows the energy it would normally monopolize to flow more expansively through the field of the body.
The sacred musician understands this, though it may take some reclaiming work as so much of modern music-making has been about refined performance, static recorded songs, and achieving a kind of perfection that is admirable though not the whole picture. This reclaiming need not be difficult to achieve; one can simply recall their first experiences with music as a child when they were more apt to be receptive, less analytical, and less self-conscious. All musicians who wish to deepen their art as a spiritual practice would do well to spend long periods of time reflecting on these memories; there’s a wellspring of wisdom there. Perhaps in time, such memories will be so renewed, that the small child will be alive in us again during performances.
Music is inherently not performed by anyone. It is a receptive process by which music is channeled through us. Any musician who writes songs knows this but perhaps hasn’t deeply considered it. Think of anytime a song comes to us. Where does it really come from?
When music is performed in this way, we are literally getting out of the way to allow something deeper to come through us. This reminds us that music is inherently not performed by anyone. It is a receptive process by which music is channeled through us. Any musician who writes songs knows this but perhaps hasn’t deeply considered it. Think of anytime a song comes to us. Where does it really come from? Most certainly, as songs develop in their composition, there are technical additions of harmonic structures and textures that demand more of our active role as composer, but the initial spontaneous moment of creativity is something inherently mysterious and should be honored. Creativity is always available and ready to bring through more music anytime we feel so inspired. This is a great gift of which to be aware and it is our human birthright to be connected to an infinite creative reality that constantly innovates our culture and personal lives.
As we reclaim this ecstatic way of music-making, we are literally reconnecting with a long lineage of ancestral practices which will instantly inspire our lives and our art.
Many traditional indigenous cultures know and honor this human capacity and many shaman healers make their music in this fashion. Among the Kalahari Bush-people, the shamans “catch songs” from an ethereal realm which they are open to through prayer and ritual. They say this realm is inhabited by the spirits of ancestors, along with many other powerful spiritual masters, angelic, and otherworldly beings and creatures, who are constantly singing powerful healing songs. It is these songs which the shamans catch and then bring through with their own voice and instruments to be shared in community music experiences in which people join in, rousing them into powerful energetic states. The result is dance and robust singing that lift the spirit and even the individual from states of illness. In general, anyone who sings knows this feeling whether they sing in the sanctuary of the shower or before an audience in a great hall; a few minutes of singing can completely alter us.
The sacred musician is more comfortable with improvisation because they understand that they are immersed in a bigger realm where their songs are sourced from a constant abundance of melodies. This relationship with that realm may take time to foster as our culture has not taught us about these realms and how we are to access them. Children are great masters of connecting with these realms of infinite creativity and can teach us much. At the beginning (especially for a trained musician), it will take time to quiet the analytical musical voice that is attached to theories and technical proficiency. This voice is not adept in the freedom of improvised performance and may actually be resistant to it. The key becomes willing the attention to surrender, cleaving to receptivity in a committed and even devoted fashion. The sacred musician also lets go of making mistakes as the transition to a more improvised artist may be clumsy at first, veering between total delicious surrender and thinking about what to do next. In time, there will be a skillful dance between the two and the musician can surrender in one moment to harmonies that sway their being, and then actively and intentionally add harmonic elements with voice or instrumentation. Here, opposites merge, yin and yang come together, and mastery is engendered. Moreover, mistakes become honored as part of the flow and can even surprisingly bring in useful musical elements and humor to lighten the mood which the audience will playfully dip into. As one builds more of a relationship with the deeper realm from which music comes, more and more harmony is brought through. We are literally giving expression to the great harmony of the cosmos which the mystics have always decried, receiving with the antennae of our being, and transmitting through our musical expression.
Sacred music does not connote improvisation all the time. Improvisation can be invited within already composed songs or can be utilized in its fullness to bring through entirely uncomposed songs in the moment. Improvisation is one of the essential practices of the sacred musician. It teaches us to connect to the source of music but it need not be the sole expression, merely a very profound tool. What I have discovered in my own art is that sometimes songs that are completely improvised are of such genius that I could never hope to structurally create a song that way. The sacred musician humbly bows in those moments, knowing that they could perhaps create such genius through pain-staking analytical effort, but the pure transmission that comes through is of a much higher skill.
Saint Augustine said so beautifully, “To sing is to pray twice.”
The sacred musician understands that they are part of an ancient tradition of music-makers that stretches to the beginning of our species. They delve into the study of how music has evolved, quite quickly realizing that music has primarily been used as a medicine to lift spirits in community, to pray ecstatically, and to connect to divinity. The Greek God Apollo was the God of both medicine and music, harkening to this notion. As St. Augustine said so beautifully, “To sing is to pray twice.” When we perform music, the vibrations we make with instruments and voice have an immediate effect on our self and others. This effect can be made all the more powerful by the intention to which we make our music. A sacred musician might take time before performing to go into prayer and meditation, connecting to the divine realm to centre themselves. It’s the realization that they are offering a great service to those for whom they are performing, as people are intensely affected by music. It brings suppressed emotions to the surface, so they may be processed toward a resolution by the inspired order of harmony. Music also creates states of altered consciousness, instantly transforms moods, and even inspires a sense of divinity.
Music has been considered a sacred art for eons. It has only been recently that it and many cultural expressions have been sabotaged by the profit-motive which limits outcomes to be more agreeable to “consumers”. This is a sad affair and yet a great opportunity for renewal. It is often when we lose something, like the essence of music, that we find ourselves yearning and reclaiming it with even greater love and passion than before. Freely singing in a surrendered way used to be a traditional religious practice whereby people became utterly consumed by divine, ecstatic energy. However, many cultures the world over outlawed ecstatic singing practices when “sophisticated civilization” genocided much of the wildness of our innately indigenous nature. As we reclaim this ecstatic way of music-making, we are literally reconnecting with a long lineage of ancestral practices which will instantly inspire our lives and our art. So many musicians are currently disenchanted with modern music practices and the business saturating it in commercial prejudice. The sacred musician sees a way through and it is the key to their joy.
The very word music comes from Greek, meaning “art of the muses”. The muses were seen to be ethereal creative spirits who would transmit their songs, stories, and other art into artists to be brought into our world. When we make music, in whatever capacity, the muses are present as it is the essence of the meaning of music to be connected to the divine. Many musicians and artists taking on this sacred work will realize it is this relationship to the muses, to divine inspiration, or whatever we want to call the spontaneous and ecstatic source of our art, that is the essential relationship to build and develop in our lives. It’s at this juncture that the path of the sacred artist truly becomes a life path as we become increasingly devoted to becoming better channels for sacredness. The more we channel the sacred, the more we understand that this creative realm that we are inhabiting is infinite and composed of such harmony and beauty, and the more our prayers will be awe-inspired. When we relate to reality in this way, our faith in the essential harmony, beauty, and goodness of the universe is emboldened. We know it not from reading books but directly from the expression coming through us. We become conduits of the harmony of the universe and we transfer this to others who experience our art. This can save and restore so much in our world that has become so bereft of sacred experience and so disconnected from the innate harmony of nature. Furthermore, this can transform all aspects of our lives and the world, aiming all that we do to a higher and consummate purpose that can nourish inspiration, beauty, and truth for a lifetime and for lifetimes to come.
Darren Austin Hall is a sound healer, ceremonial musician and spiritual teacher. He tours internationally, sharing his healing music with the crystal singing bowls and his array of spirituality and wellness workshops and courses. His performances, workshops and teachings are devoted to evolving human consciousness and inspiring a sense of universal truth and unity as well as invoking spiritual activism. He was a featured performer at the TEDx Conference in Toronto and is the creator of the 75HR Source Resonance Training in Sound Healing, Sacred Music & Vibrational Philosophy. His new album, ‘Songs of Source’ is out now.