All sound is vibration. Vibrations at different frequencies make different sounds or pitches. And this week, we experienced the different frequencies on which faith traditions call out to or praise God.
Under the roof of Christ Church Cranbrook, which Rev. Dr. Bill Danaher said was meant to be a house of prayer for all people, we came together in music to share the beauty and meaning of our sacred sounds.
“We can build a community, woven together by empathy, love, compassion, and justice,” said Rev. Dr. Danaher. “When we are engaging in musical offerings, we are pulling them together. Music is meant to pull us together.”
Christopher Wells, the Music Director and Organist at Christ Church Cranbrook helped us understand the mechanism by which the pipe organ creates sound. A wind instrument, originally provided with air manually by bellows, and now electrically, it is played at a console containing 1 – 7 keyboards and 30 or more notes for the feet. The keyboard opens and closes a variety of pipes, which can be in a stand-alone organ or built into the walls of a chamber organ, which might contain thousands of pipes. Wells demonstrated the pipes by blowing into them, and then played for us on a stand-alone organ.
“This, to me, is God,” he said.
In Islamic tradition, God is not portrayed in paintings, sculpture, or any kind of visual image.
“Words or poetry, spoken or song,” said Professional Rudolph Ware. “This is how Muslims paint pictures. The poetic tradition is an amplification of the musicality of the Quran, which is a rhythmic and rhyming text.”
To demonstrate, and to honor the venue, Professor Ware chose a surra, or verse, on Mary.
“Music and poetic recitation,” said Ware, “make an appeal directly to the heart and bypass reason.”
Muslim music is often created with musical instruments, but, said Ware, the primary instrument for the traditional Muslim is the human voice.
“Humans were created by God breathing his own breath into the human form,” said Ware, ”and you can tap into the holy breath inside.”
The rhythm of drums, he said, can create the condition which moves the self out of the way, so the individual can be closer to God.
The musical group Seven8Six demonstrated the rhythm of the drums, the power of four human voices in Sufi devotional Qawwali call and answer, and the beauty of guitar strings vibrating, with a presentation that had heads bobbing and toes tapping around the room. The first American Muslim boy band, Seven8Six has released two albums with their unique Islamically inspired blend of English pop, Arabic Nasheed, and Urdu Qawwali music.
The first Jewish instrument was the ram’s horn, and Hazzan Steve Klaper used it to kick off a lively lecture on the history of Jewish music, in which he demonstrated thousands of years of Jewish music by singing the explanation in each successive mode and accompanying himself on guitar and tamborine.
“That’s impressive,” remarked an audience member. To which Klaper replied, “My father would be pleased.”
Starting with the pentatonic music believed to be the original mode based on the spacing of the holes of ancient flutes, he moved on to culturally diverse north African Sephardic music and northern European Ashkenazic music, and to the nigun, or wordless chant created by the Jewish mystic the Baal Shem Tov in the 1700s.
“They don’t need any more words in Heaven,” Klaper said the Baal Shem Tov explained, “They need the cry of a broken heart.”
That cry was combined with Slavic folk music to produce klezmer, and eventually with American folk music to produce modern liturgical expressions.
Following up the history, geography, and culture hopping Jewish presentation, classical and jazz musician Bob Schneeweis demonstrated Baha’I music. Like Jewish music, Baha’I music drew from surrounding cultures as the Baha’I faith spread around the world. Schneeweis demonstrated the range with a beautiful orchestral and choral recording of traditional Baha’I music, and a performance of songs from South Africa, where he studied, and the intro to a piece by jazz legend and Baha’I Dizzy Gillespie.
The Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’I faith, wrote extensively about the importance of music. Persecuted for his beliefs and thrown into a foul pit to die with some of his followers, he led them in songs of profound love and joy for God, the spiritual light that can come out of the darkness, said Schneeweis.
As many of us followed the suggestion of natural healer Christopher Davis to close our eyes, the light came from the vibration of the four huge gongs that Davis stroked into rumbling vibrational tonal landscapes, walking the room with them, and letting the sounds overlap, trail off, join together and fill the room. It was a sound without words, big and powerful, massaging the atoms of animate and inanimate alike with soothing force as we all assimilated the afternoon’s many magnificent expressions each in our own way.
This session was the first of a two-part series which concludes with Sounds of the Spirit – Dharmic Faiths on Sunday, June 11, 3 – 6 pm at the Mata Tripta Ji Gurdwara Sahib in Plymouth. It will include Native drumming, Sikh Kirtaan, Buddhist music, Hindu Veena, and an encore Sacred Wave Gong Immersion.
Click here to register.