This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by Pieter Uys
There’s evidence that sacred sound in the form of pure sounds, music, song and chant has been used as medicine from ancient times. Some consider it the most ancient of all therapies. Pythagoras was aware of this.
Others who wrote about the therapeutic effect of music on the soul include Robert Burton in his extraordinary tome The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) and the Persian scholar Abu Nasr al-Farabi (872 – 951) who discussed music therapy in his book Meanings of the Intellect.
Holy Harmony by Jonathan Goldman is an extraordinarily powerful piece of healing music. The subtitle of this sonic masterpiece is Healing Code Tuning Forks & Ancient YHSVH Chant. The music blends two sounds: the tones of
tuning forks cut to 9 frequencies known as healing codes and the vocal mantra Yod Hey Shin Vav Hey which is the 5-fold name of the Divine, chanted by Goldman and Sarah Benson. Six frequencies (cycles per second) were derived from the book Healing Codes for the Biological Apocalypse by Drs. Leonard Horowitz and Joseph Puleo, discovered in the Tenakh (Old Testament). They are 396, 417, 528, 639, 741, 852. During the recording of an earlier work, Goldman’s sound engineer and coproducer, someone with a mathematical mind, suggested that there ought to be 3 further frequencies to complete the scale. This was confirmed by Dr Horowitz; these Herz are 174, 285 & 963. The chant is a form of the Holy Name (Tetragrammaton), of which one meaning is Life Giver, with the Hebrew sound “Shin” added in the middle. “The energy of Spirit descended into matter” is the mystical meaning of this sound & the letter representing it. It was probably pronounced Yahushua in ancient, and Yeshua (emphasis on 2nd syllable “oo” sound) in later Hebrew. Almost every word in the language has more than one, sometimes many layers of meaning. Two related meanings of this divine name are “Life Saver” and “Divine Healer.” There are two instrumental sounds: a bell-like sound when a fork is struck and a cluster of continuous & interweaving droning chimes of various pitches, obviously the aforementioned frequencies. The psychological effect of the music is immediate – it dissolves emotions like anger, anxiety, depression & irritation, replacing them with peace. I strongly suspect it has physical properties too. The informative CD booklet provides more information on the healing codes and the YHSVH chant, along with quotes from the work of the aforementioned author Dr. Horowitz. The cover contains an inspiring hand drawn geometrical 3
symbol by Donald Beaman, representing the descent of the tree of life and the ascent of the tree of knowledge. Further information on sonic healing and music therapy is available in Sacred Sounds by Ted Andrews, Words of Power by Brian Crowley and the composer’s own Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics.
Kabbalah Music: Songs of the Jewish Mystics by Laura Wetzler contains meditations, devotions and ecstasies from around the world. Three tracks have a marked salutary effect on me: the up-tempo Hymn to Bar Yochai (words by Simeon Labi 1525 – 1585) with many exotic instruments, Shalom Alechem, a 4
slow tender song with only vocals & guitars and the tunefully lilting & distinctly African-sounding Lecha Dodi (words by Salomon Alkabetz 1505 – 1584, Lugandan words by Gershom Sizomu, music by JJ Keki), sung by Wetzler, Keki and Sizomu in a mixture of Hebrew & Lugandan. Sizomu and Keki are members of the AbaYudaya of Uganda.
Another potent source of sonic healing is the sublime work The Sacred Names by Anjani Thomas from Hawaii. She plays keyboards and guitar while bass and percussion round off the sound, which is mostly gentle and acoustic. The 5
moving Kyrie Eleison is sung in Greek & Aramaic, whilst Yoshua is a blend of Hebrew and English and Ari Shemot contains Hebrew, Portuguese and English in a seamless blend of beauty. The song Praise is an invocation of divine and angelic names like Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel and Michael, a gentle but powerful prayer. Other favourites are the comforting and reassuring Yeshurun and the exultant Blessing where her voice really soars on the most beautiful melody on the album, concluding with “It’s a blessing to be, never minding the time. So I take nothing for granted. And I see it’s all Divine.” The last two tracks are quite esoteric, the last one being especially enchanting with awesome comforting and healing emanations. Initially it made my hair stand on end; it is best listened to with a prayerful attitude. The CD case contains a glossary of Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Syriac (Aramaic) terms derived from the book The Keys of Enoch by Dr JJ Hurtak.
I am not a lover of classical music but Steve Reich’s Tehillim unleashes a torrent of hope & divine power. Still in the minimalist tradition, it may initially sound repetitive but repeated listening will reveal subtle and intriguing variations and shifting textures that become more prominent the more familiar one becomes with the music. There is no repetition of short patterns in Tehillim as the meaning and rhythm of the Psalm texts themselves determined the chromatic, harmonic & modal shifts, the rising & descending melodic lines and the constantly changing meters. It’s an inspiring, even rousing listening experience that is good for the soul. The vocals sound like massed angelic choirs in places although consisting of only two lyric sopranos, one high soprano and one male alto, over hypnotic percussive patterns. The original Hebrew text is provided side by side with the English translation and one is overwhelmed when you notice the massive arsenal of instruments employed: maracas, marimba, tuned tambourines, flute, oboe, vibraphone, organs, violins, viola, crotales and cello to mention a few.
Literally, Tehillim means "praises." The word is derived from the root H-L-L (Hey Lamed Lamed) which is also the source of the word Halleluyah. The Hebrew word for a single psalm is Mizmor. The four tracks on Tehillim are Psalms 19: 1 - 4, 34: 12 - 14, 18: 25 - 26 & 150: 4 - 6. The first and fourth tracks are the most exuberant & celebratory whilst the third is the slowest. My favorites are the second ("Who is the man that desires life and loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil & your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil & do good, seek peace & pursue it") and the 4th which opens with the line "Praise Him with drum & dance," an immensely powerful track that is the most beautiful expression of spiritual ecstasy I have ever experienced.
Sufjan Stevens’ talent for gracefully articulating spirituality is in the same category as Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen. Banjo and acoustic guitar are prominent throughout Seven Swans but often get overwhelmed by organ, synthesizer or electric guitar in the course of a song so that what begins as minimalist voice & strumming may end in a rousing symphony, with variations in between. Profoundly mystical, both the lyrics and the music remain accessible at all times. Though fragile in places it is never precious.
Despite the intricate and complex arrangements of many of the songs, two distinct styles seem to characterize the album. The acoustic guitar type includes That Dress Looks Nice On You, the yearning To Be Alone With You, the somber Abraham, Size Too Small and A Good Man Is Hard To Find. They at least all open with guitar before evolving into multilayered soundscapes and are generally of a slower tempo, often containing brooding vocals. One hears faint echoes of Nick Drake or even James Taylor - the introspective singer-songwriter archetype. The melancholy track Sister is in a category of its own: electric guitars with echo and twangs are joined by choral voices for a long intro on a 8
gently lilting beat until the almost whispered male vocal arrives and the arrangement takes another turn.
The Banjo-driven tracks exhibit a more ecstatic type of devotional expression, tending to be on the mid to uptempo side with gripping melodious and percussive textures. The music reflects many moods, from the exultant praise of All The Trees Of The Field through the eerie In The Devil's Territory with its ominous synth patterns to the hopeful We Won't Need Legs To Stand with its atmospheric synth-scapes. Then you get the comforting and reassuring He Woke Me Up Again, the frighteningly apocalyptic Seven Swans*1 with its eschatological imagery and the pure ecstatic joy of The Transfiguration. My personal favorites are He Woke Me Up Again*2 with its other-worldly oneiric tone, stirring organ and haunting backing vocals, the title track where the still, small voice of the Lord triggers a rousing choral exuberance, and the majestic Transfiguration.
I love Seven Swans much more than the admittedly brilliant Illinois. This is not rock music, nor folk, nor even gospel. I would say it has a multifaceted devotional essence which expresses itself via a rich variety of styles whilst remaining perfectly cohesive. The effect is uplifting and inspiring, a balm to the soul. *1 Extract from: Seven Swans: “We saw the dragon move down My father burned into coal My mother saw it from far She took her purse to the bed I saw a sign in the sky: 9
Seven horns, seven horns, seven horns …”
*2 Extract from: He Woke Me Up Again “He was, He was in the churchyard My Father was in the first part He came, He came to my bedroom But I was asleep And He woke me up again, to say: ‘Halle, Halle, Halleluyah, holy is the sound’ …”
Cymatic Therapy is a means of restoring health advanced by Sir Peter Guy Manners. It is based on the principle that life is sound and illness is any deviation in its pattern.
Harmonograph: A Visual Guide to the Mathematics of Music by Anthony Ashton. Walker & Company.