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Nick Page Explains Music 5-11-19
Before I share my understanding of music, I will say that I am the son of a scientific father and a creative mother. My father, Bill Page, was very much in his mind and my mother, Janet Fish Page, very much in her heart. They are both in me so any explanations I make must satisfy both mind and heart. I believe there must be scientific explanations for things we do not yet understand. Finding scientific rationales for beliefs of the heart is a challenge, one I inherited from my parents, it’s in my genes. My father stenciled the words WHAT WHERE WHO WHEN HOW WHY on the walls of our home. I was raised to ask questions. So here is my question: What is music?
It is a common misconception that to understand music one must study melody, harmony, rhythm, form and all the elements of music theory. But these are actually the least important aspects of music. A painter uses palettes to choose and mix colors. A composer has five palettes.
E=MC2 Energy Equals Music Times Consciousness Squared. My equation only works if consciousness includes the emotions.
Scientists like Richard Dawkins, author of THE GOD DELUSION, believe that consciousness is confined to the brain and that emotions are merely chemical reactions within the brain. Yes, chemicals are emitted with emotions, but I believe that there is much more going on.
St. Paul defined faith as a belief in things unseen. He was speaking of God, but one can apply it to consciousness and the emotions.
The whole history of science finds scientists disbelieving one unseen thing after another. They did not believe Newton’s ideas on gravity because they could not see gravitational waves. They did not believe in electromagnetic forces because they could not see them. The same is true of strong and weak nuclear forces, radio waves, not to mention germs and the whole micro world.
Scientists like Rupert Sheldrake, author of THE SCIENCE DELUSION, believe that the study of consciousness is the next great step in scientific discovery. He speaks of Morphic Resonance, a theory explaining consciousness not confined to the brain.
Energy Equals Music Times Consciousness Squared. The squared part of this equation is the phenomenon that happens when many minds form in community. Singing in a chorus is just one of countless examples of people joining their minds and hearts together to feel, to be fully alive. And singing has the added benefit of being a compassionate act, an act of giving. But there is so much more.
My definition of music uses loaded words, words that take on new meaning when looked at in new perspectives.
MUSIC IS THE CONSCIOUS REUNION OF RESONANCE AND TIME.
Before I explain my definition of music, here are a several new paradigm concepts that have shaped my thinking:
In the movie LITTLE BIG MAN (my favorite movie), Little Big Man’s adopted grandfather Chief Lodge Skins explains the difference between how Native Americans and the white settlers think. He refers to his own people as the human beings.
“Because the human being, my son, they believe everything is alive, not only man and animals, but also water, earth, stone, but also the things from them . . . But the white man, they believe everything is dead, stone, earth, animals and people, even their own people. If things keep trying to live, white man will rub them out. That is the difference.” from LITTLE BIG MAN
For me, seeing all things as a verb is akin to seeing everything as being alive, a living system.
MUSIC IS THE CONSCIOUS REUNION OF RESONANCE AND TIME.
NADHA BRAMHA, THE WORLD IS MADE OF SOUND: At the core of the atom is resonance. Resonance is sound. All things are made of resonance and so, metaphorically, the world is made of sound. This resonance seeks harmony. The oxygen molecule finds harmony by forming with hydrogen to create water. I asked a physicist once about the inherit disharmony of the universe. I asked what would happen if every atom and molecule in the universe suddenly formed the perfect harmony. He said that the resonance would stop and the universe would simply cease to be.
I took a workshop with a physicist named Beverly Rubik, a thinker who has pushed the boundaries of science in her theories. She led us in a guided meditation where I found myself hurtling through space. Her words disappeared as stars and solar systems sped by, becoming blurs. Suddenly I was in complete darkness. I had gone beyond where the light of the universe had travelled. My first thought was that there was nothing there, a void. But the second thought shook me. I realized that this void was the same void in which my known world existed and that the only difference was that my known world had resonance, energy, matter. The universe may actually be the opposite of infinite. It might actually be a void, a void filled will resonance giving shape to atoms, planets and the vast verb of Creation.
When the photons of the sun reach our bodies, they do not bounce off. We absorb the light just as trees absorb the light, transforming the energy into oxygen. Likewise, when sound reaches our bodies, we absorb it. Our bodies are a living resonance. The Eastern practice of chakras is based on understanding the resonance within our bodies. If we tone a low Uh vowel, we will feel the resonance in our groin area. Toning a low Oh vowel will cause our belly area to resonate. The Ah vowel on a higher pitch resonates in the heart chakra. Toning Eh on an even higher pitch resonates in the neck area and a high Ee vowel, for me at least, is like a rocket taking off from my brain, a huge volcano of energy.
When we make music together, we receive a full range of these chakra tones, the Ahs, Ohs, Oos, Ees that make up musical timbres. And we receive a full range of pitches from low to high. Many sound healers believe that we need a full range of high and low pitches in order to be healthy. They theorize that the reason men evolved to have lower pitched voices was so that our singing could encompass a full spectrum of resonance.
Do you let the light in? Do you let the light out?
Do you shine? Really shine?
Do you dance with the light?
Does the light dance with you?
Do you shine? Really shine?
by Nick Page
My little children’s song, DO YOU SHINE, asks, “Do you let the light in?”, but it’s asking so much more. The word light can mean the photons of the sun, but it can also mean the light of love or the light of God. Do we selfishly keep it in or is our reaction the same as every other physical verb in the universe, do we let it out? How alive are we? Do we experience the fullness of Creation firsthand? Do we shine?
There are four ways that we receive resonance. The first, as I have said, is in the body itself, feeling it in our skin, muscles and organs. The second and third way we receive resonance is through hearing, both inner and outer. The outer ear hears sounds created outside our bodies. The inner ear hears internal sound, primarily our own voices. When people hear recordings of themselves for the first time, they react that it doesn’t sound like them. They are only hearing half of what their ears normally hear. They are not hearing the sound that reaches their inner ears through bone conduction, inner hearing.
The fourth way we receive resonance, and this is my unproven theory, is through the resonance of consciousness itself. This brings us back to Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, the idea that consciousness has a resonance. He leads a global test on dogs where a video camera is aimed at the inside entrance to a home. The owners will return home, always from different directions, always at different times of the day. The dogs in the tests, come to the door when the owners are still a five minute drive away. Yes, dogs have heightened hearing and far more sophisticated senses of smell, but he theorizes that the dogs sense the conscious waves of their owner.
I return again to the words of St. Paul who defined faith as a belief in things unseen. Rupert Sheldrake is trying to prove that the unseen forces of consciousness and emotions can be scientifically proven. Anyone who has ever felt a love for a dog feels a powerful bond. Similarly, a mother feels the love of their baby in her arms. And the baby feels the mothers love. When parents fight in a room far from their sleeping baby, the baby can feel those waves of emotions and begins to cry. I do a test when I’m on an airplane or in a hotel room. If there is a baby crying I hold up my palm and send love to the child. I know I’m insane for making this claim, but the babies stop crying within seconds. Ysaye Barnwell was a guest of the Mystic Chorale. During the concert a baby in the audience began to cry. Ysaye stopped for a moment and said, “I love babies.” The baby stopped crying, feeling the love. They don’t call them good vibes for nothing.
We are born with no wall to keep out the emotions. Babies feel everything. Over time, our cultures help us build walls to prevent ourselves from both feeling and expressing emotions. Emotions can be overwhelming. The walls we build are our survival mechanisms as dictated by our cultures (not all cultures repress emotions). My friend Todd Emmons sings in JOYFUL NOISE, a New Jersey chorus of singers with disabilities, both physical and intellectual. Todd is developmentally delayed but I have learned that I am the one with the disability. I feel only a fraction of what he feels. He has no walls. I wrote a song for him. He cries every time he sings it. He cannot NOT cry. He cannot turn off his emotions.
You have a heart. Use it. You have a heart. Let it out.
Let your heart dance, Let your heart, sing, Let your heart love.
You have to shine with all your might,
You have to shine with all your light,
You have to shine with your love.
YOU HAVE A HEART by Nick Page (published by Hal Leonard)
My father was a confirmed intellectual for most of his life. As dementia set in in his final years, the emotional walls began to come down. A huge, even infinite, heart was revealed. He did not know what to do with a fork, but he had a huge emotional connection the old songs, remembering every word. The songs were in his heart, not his mind.
The brain doesn’t matter, just endless patter.
We forget almost all that we know,
But the heart is the singer, its melodies linger,
The songs are the last to go.
from ATTACK OF THE WINDMILLS by Nick Page
Our bodies and brains are also affected by the pulse within music. This brings us the word “time” in my definition: Music Is The Conscious Reunion Of Resonance And Time. A fast pulse will excite the mind and body, a slow pulse calms us. Music calms the savage beast. The scientific word for this is entrainment which can be defined as what happens when one pulse imitates another. When a car mechanic tunes an engine, they change the speed of the vibrating cylinders, a shaking noisy machine turns into an efficient humming engine with the simple tuning of these valves. They are matching the number of vibrations per second. If you listen to someone tune a piano you will hear the same thing. The out-of-tune string makes a shaky wah-wah sound which disappears by making it match the number of vibrations of the other strings. People walking together entrain their pulses to each other. Audiences breathe in unison to the music. Tibetan prayer bells are tuned almost identically. They are just out of tune enough to cause a wah-wah beat of about 8 cycles per second. This is the same pulse as the brain waves during times of rest. The prayer bells relax us because we entrain to their pulse.
Composers use pulse the same way great public speakers use pulse; to excite us, to calm us, to wake us. They are playing with time and our perception of time. There is only now, but the pulse of this now affects us in profound ways.
Time is relative. We have times when we can get a day’s work done in under and hour and other times when the work drags on and on. Whales live over a hundred years while mice live less than two, but they have the same number of heart beats per lifetimes. So, in relative terms, they both live the same amount of time, the whale just lives it slower. If you take recordings of whales singing and greatly speed them up, they sound like birds.
“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality.”
I was with friends on a rocky island as the sun was going down. I said to the woman next to me, “This is going to be a beautiful sunset.” She turned to me and said, “Nick, this IS a beautiful sunset.” She was gently reminding me to be in the present. To my father, in his final years of dementia, there was no concept of past or future, only now, but this now was vast, bigger than all illusions of past or future, an Eternal Now.
“I opened my eyes when I was born to discover the light.
I opened my mouth when I was born to discover my voice.
And the light and the voice will always be new
And the voice of the light will always be true.”
from ATTACK OF THE WINDMILLS by Nick Page
The challenge for me as a conductor of choruses is to make NOW constantly new. It is so easy for us to live in auto-pilot, not really present, not really aware. I can test singers’ awareness levels by asking them to repeat phrases back to me. If their repetition is a blurred version of what I asked them to repeat, then they are not fully present, not fully in the now. But, as always, there’s so much more. How conscious are we of breath, of vibration in our bodies, on how the resonance of those around us are affecting us? How conscious are we of the meaning of the words and the expressions of our hearts? The title of Buckminster Fuller’s epic poem is NO MORE SECOND HAND GOD. Is the NOW we experience first hand or is it second hand?
I was trained to teach good vowels to my singers, but I have learned to teach good emotions instead. Ellen Dissanayake is a behavioral scientist who has developed unique perspectives on the evolution of human behavior, focusing on our creative expression, both visually and musically. The first known art was carved stones buried with the dead. These stones had meaning to the early humans. She calls this “making special,” the idea that the objects we create can be more than what they are. The first sounds our voices made were the expression of emotions from the gentle Ah of a mother’s love to the frantic cries of fear or rage. In a scientific field dominated by men, Ellen Dissanayake’s woman’s perspective is very welcome. She says that singing evolved as a mother/child dialogue. These emotions, expressed through vowels, were sung from mother to child, eventually taking on meaning, language. She points out that these vowels are universal. Every mother, regardless of their culture expresses her love for her child through gentle Ah and Oh vowels. The Oo vowel expresses the same sense of wonder in every language of the world.
As I said earlier, we build walls around our hearts. As a song leader, my biggest challenge is to tear down the walls that prevents people from both feeling and expressing themselves. I will work with middle school singers and there will always be a bunch of them, usually boys, who sit like statues refusing to sing. I will find two or three of them that have some hint of life in them and bring them to the front. I will get them moving to an infectious beat. I will have the rest of the students mirror what these boys are doing. Soon the emotional walls begin to come down. My “volunteers” give permission for the rest of the students to let the light in and let the light out. I cannot do that. It has to be one of their peers.
Barry Green took his book THE INNER GAME OF TENNIS and turned it into a fascinating book on music, THE INNER GAME OF MUSIC. He points out that we are far more heart centered than we are brain centered. If I am teaching the Shaker song SIMPLE GIFTS, I might use his techniques. On the phrase, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free,” I do not say, “I want a gradual crescendo leading up to the second time we sing gift and then I was a forzando,” Instead, I create an image as a guide; “Imagine an angel slowly flying toward you and gently lifting you off the ground on the final gift.” The first explanation was in the head, while the second was in the heart. I ask singers in my choruses to memorize their music so that there are walls between their hearts and the audience.
I asked for a soloist to sing Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” in rehearsal. He sang the words, but made them sound like driving directions, devoid of emotion. I explained that the first word, Love, has a gorgeous Ah vowel in it. Sing Ah as if you were flirting with everyone in the room, reach out to them with your heart with every emotion of every vowel of every word. He sang it again and everyone screamed with delight.
As my song, THE SONGS ARE THE LAST TO GO says, the heart is the singer. Years ago, I taught middle school music. The students were learning about the Holocaust in history class so I taught them some songs from that time of horror. The teachers invited parents and grandparents to a presentation of stories and songs, but there was something huge missing. This changed when an older woman, a grandmother of one of the students, told of taking a train trip in her native Poland when she was a child. She remembers singing a song similar to the one the middle school students had just sung. She remembers that her aunt and brothers and sisters and parents were there and she remembers being very happy. And then she said to the students, “And that was the last time I ever saw them.” Up until that moment the students understood the songs and stories of the Holocaust in their minds, but they hadn’t understood them in their hearts. There were tears, including mine.
Music Is The Conscious Reunion Of Resonance And Time.
To consciously create sounds is to express our full range of emotions as an act of compassion. In our non-zero sum universe, compassion is a building block. And as always, there is so much more.
“The universe evolved for billions of years to create the child and the voice of the child became the unlimited expression of the universe.”
To paraphrase Brian Swimme again, “We are the stars made aware.” Our conscious expression of sound is the conscious song of the universe itself.
When we wake up to the dream we see a world beyond belief
We see the wonder of a child, unfolding wisdom in a leaf.
We see the vastness of Creation, in each moment made anew,
We see the vastness of each moment, The smallness will not do.
from ATTACK OF THE WINDMILLS by Nick Page
In his years of dementia, I would take my father for drives in the countryside. One day we stopped by a field of flowers on a sunny day. I asked him what the flowers were telling him. He thought for a minute and finally said, “Shine.” This naturally brought out a song in me.
SO MUCH MORE
The flowers’ simple message,
Shine just like the sun,
Give back the light,
the love that you receive.
And so it is with music,
Songs are like the sun,
We sing because
there’s so much light within.
So sing out with your soul
and sing out with your light,
There’s so much more
than music going on.
This song, SO MUCH MORE, is in my musical, sung by a woman who is a flower beginning to blossom. Her song continues:
I often sing of things unseen
of spirit fire, of love supreme
Is it air? Or is is prayer?
If you cannot see it, is it there?
I’ve lacked the faith in things profound,
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
Those doubts are gone, my voice is strong,
I’m not the singer, I’m the song.
There’s so much more than what we see,
So much more than what we know,
So much more than me going on.
The resonance of sound changes us, but the resonance of hearts transforms us. We become so much more. A song is so much more than a song. It is the stars crying out. It is the sound of every mother comforting her child.
Before my ashes flow to the sea,
I will sing with the waters,
dance with the sky,
For everywhere there is life, there is music,
Where there is music, there is life.
The song never ends just as life never really ends.
from BEFORE MY ASHES by Nick Page
The final piece of our equation is the word “reunion.” Scientists love to remind us that there are as many molecules of water in a cup of water as there are cups of water in the ocean. In each cup are molecules of water that have been everywhere on this planet, in clouds, in glaciers, in every conceivable life form. In every cup there is a molecule of water that passed through the body of Jesus or Buddha or the first mother of us all in the plains of Africa. And this is true of the water that is in us. Drinking water is a communion with the Universe, a reunion of atoms.
I understand what the brook is telling me.
It is singing a song both ancient and new,
the song of molecules
both mine and the brooks
a reunion of energy,
a communion of consciousness,
a unity of time and spirit.
from I UNDERSTAND WHAT THE BROOK IS TELLING ME by Nick Page
I love to swim. When I am under water it is a reunion of the water in me and the water surrounding me. We are all recycled water and carbon, “million year old stardust “as Joni Mitchell sang. When I swim, I am returning. This vast verb of Creation is constantly reshaping itself, eternal in its creativity and compassion, a constant reunion of atoms. And when we sing, it is a reunion of the resonance, a reliving of the song that is life. It is an eternal song.
My life goes on in endless song;
Above Earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real though far off hymn
That hails the new Creation:
Above the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?
Hymn by by Robert Lowry and Ira Sankey
We are musical beings, resonant beings, capable of great Magnificence. We humans have created the interlocking wonder of West African classical drumming, the splendor of Bach’s B Minor Mass, the mystery and spiritual inspiration of a North Indian raga. There is wonder in each sound we create. There is so much more than music going on.
And we must never forget what slam poet Regie Gibson tells us, “We won the lottery. We’ve been given the gift of life.”
I end with two quotes forcefully reminding us of this gift.
“By discovering precisely how music is created and appreciated in different social and cultural contexts, and perhaps establishing that musicality is a universal, species-specific characteristic, we can show that human beings are even more remarkable than we presently believe them to be – and not just a few human beings, but all human beings – and that the majority of us live far below our potential, because of the oppressive nature of most societies.” p 116
from HOW MUSICAL IS MAN? by John Blacking, 1973.
“Our Republic teases us with the possibility of Democracy, but citizens are raised like military apple-orchards, pruned down to their predictable minimums, yielding controlled fruits that lack the ecstasy of nature.” from THE ECSTASY OF NATURE by Peter Schumann 2009