Music and Inner Work

© Richard Hodges

27 June 2012

Guerneville CA


“Music is a higher revelation than all philosophy and science”—these words attributed to Beethoven express an important truth. Music immediately evokes a response in all the organic functions—body, feeling, thought—and certain music directly intimates a connection with higher realities, with the sources of reality and meaning whose nature is unknowable by the ordinary mind except through the shadowed lens of philosophical and religious ideas.

What does music require of us, to receive and do justice to whatever such connections exist in it? We speak, too glibly perhaps, about “listening”—but do we really know how to listen? Don't our attempts to listen often amount to a kind of tensing that casts its own shadow on the impression of the music itself and actually prevents us from experiencing a connection between different levels? Yet some music, under suitable conditions, bypasses all our futile efforts and just comes in. Beethoven knew how to do this in his music, which is perhaps why he had the right to say such a thing.

So what is required of us, if not what we ordinarily call “listening”? Thomas De Hartmann spoke about this: “after the work of Georg Ivanovich [Gurdjieff] we can understand it better, that music helps to concentrate oneself, to bring oneself to an inner state, when we can assume the greatest possible emanations. That is why music is just the thing which helps you to see higher. In this regard I will just play.” Simply to be present, to be simply present, while such a music is being played by one who knows how to convey this help, makes one wish to “concentrate.” But, again, what is it to “concentrate” without a tension that blocks direct contact? Our failure to make real contact by concentration on the music hopefully helps us recognize this problem, and to gradually begin to be taught by music such as Gurdjieff's, to “concentrate oneself,” to contain attention within the central concentration of inner sensation of oneself.

There is the mystery of a certain presence that only appears within the central density of being under the influence of a work of concentration. The greatest of Gurdjieff's music helps us directly with this process because the incarnation of this presence is what it is about. The harmonies and rhythms of such music directly express the harmonies and rhythms of an inner work of self-concentration, and it calls us to deeper concentration. But this can only happen when we are also directly engaged in his work.

This incarnation is precisely what is beyond science and philosophy. It is in the domain of religious experience, though this does not necessarily require the trappings of religious doctrine, belief, scripture, ritual, rules. In this way we understand relationship between certain music and genuine religious experience. Music that is capable of assisting in this concentration can be called “sacred music,” where we understand “sacred” to refer to this function rather than its meaning in conventional religion.

The root of the word “sacred” is the same as “secret”; it means something set apart. A certain set-apartness is necessary to preserve what is really sacred from contamination, dissipation, dilution. It is related to the word “contemplation” whose root refers to the act of a priest in ancient times who would mark out a space on the earth as the “temple”, the space in which a sacred mystery was to be enacted, and which would enclose it and set it apart from ordinary life.

This gives a key to the kind of concentration required for inner work: a concentration which is unknown to the ordinary discursive mind, secret from it. In approaching sacred music we begin to understand this: a listening is required which is not accompanied by commentary, which is not directed toward the music, but which receives its vibrations simply and directly. A concentration which is outwardly passive, but inwardly active, reflecting a question that inherently always must remain open: “who/what am I.”