The Liberating Power of Music

I often listen to WFMT – Chicago’s classical music station – as background for what I’m doing. Just after Christmas, a loud melody caught my attention. Hey, That’s the theme song for The Lone Ranger !  (a radio broadcast I used to listen to as a kid in the ’40s!) It first aired in 1933. You know the one: Dum, didi dum, didi dum dum dum! (sometimes vulgarized as Rump, titty, rump, titty rump rump rump).

Today’s readers may know it from the Gene Autry film, The Lone Ranger, with the black-masked Ranger, his white stallion Trigger, and his Native American (‘Red Skin’) side kick Tonto meaning ‘wild one’ in a native tongue. (It was changed for Latino viewers to whom Tonto means ‘fool’.) What Kemosabe means is uncertain, but according to it’s probably an anglicized version of a Potawatomi word (a tribe not in the SouthWest where the film originated). If anyone knows Potawatami, please let me know what it means. Just kidding.

Back to the galloping theme of the radio show. I find it comes from the overture to an 1829 opera written by Italian Romantic composer, Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868). The opera – Guillome Tell (William Tell) – was a flop, but the overture has remained very popular, especially the 4th part (the gallop). It turns out that Rossini’s father was a rebellious person, arrested for insubordination and supporting Napoleon against the Pope. According to Wikipedia, Rossini had troubles as well. He had little respect for the tastes of the communities where he worked (e.g. Bologne, Rome, Naples, Venice). He kept his private life to himself, and had affairs with multiple singers he knew.

Much more significant than Rossini’s character though is that of William Tell – the legendary subject of his work. According to this Wikipedia account, “Tell was an expert mountain climber and marksman with a crossbow, who assassinated Albrecht Gessler, a tyrannical reeve of the Austrian dukes of the House of Habsburg positioned in Altdorf, in the canton of Uri.”

“Tell’s defiance and tyrranicide encouraged the population to open rebellion and a pact against the foreign rulers with neighbouring Schwyz and Unterwalden, marking the foundation of the Swiss Confederacy. Tell was considered the father of the Swiss Confederacy”. The political term reeve has a interesting history too in Feudal and even Pre-Feudal England. Our word Sherriff combines Shire and Reeve!

How does this Lone Ranger story relate to ‘liberating’ – the topic of this post? It doesn’t, if our favorite music becomes an obsession, or even causes fights with others who ‘can’t stand it!’. It’s best to keep in mind, De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est – ‘About taste there should be no argument’ (but alas there often is). Like all human creations, music can be used to control or even enslave us. That applies to the sexist/racist extremes of Mick Jagger, e.g. his “Brown Sugar”, and the National Anthems of most  countries, including ours. My opinion that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can describe art, including music, isn’t common today. But I think art can be judged, by its effects, or the artist’s goal, or simply for its “creativity” – a term that’s ambiguous. Here’s my post about Art For a Higher Purpose that talks about art in general – not music specifically.

The categories of music seem countless, as do the subcategories, ‘genres’ and combinations of these. Even what to call them is often a matter of disagreement. We can assume the 2 broadest (and oldest) categories are Vocal and Instrumental. I would think song came first, but making nonvocal sounds must be a close second (e.g. clapping, stamping, tapping with a stick, blowing a reed or animal horn, discovered by accident and then developed. The ram’s horn or Shophar is a big part of Hebrew ritual, as are other instruments. Here’s a ‘Top Ten’ list of biblical instruments, from The God Who Speaks (UK) with pictures.

In contemporary music there are countless genres under the general name of fusion. Among these are so-called Pop music. This video by MusicianWave discusses and gives examples of 12 types under that name. By the way, the editor of the piece is an expert in the Handpan drum – a recent Swiss invention – not something I’d expect in Pop.

Music isn’t just physical though.  It can elevate or depress our ‘spirits’, psychologically, but also in a religious way. For those of us who believe people on earth heard ‘Choirs of Angels’ over two thousand years ago, we might hope to hear them again if we get to heaven. Alas, anyone who reported that kind of experience today would be ridiculed, dismissed as delusional, or even institutionalized, were it not for freedom of religion and speech laws.

Emanuel Swedenborg speaks of music in Heaven. E.g. in True Christianity #745 he describes the quality and effect of individual singers on their communities: “Every morning from the houses around the public squares you hear girls and young women singing songs of great sweetness. The sound fills the entire city. Each morning the [local] song embodies one particular feeling related to spiritual love. That is, the way the voices sound and the mode the song is in convey a given feeling so well that we experience the song as that feeling itself. The song flows into our souls as we listen and stirs in us the feeling it corresponds to. This is the nature of songs in heaven. The singers tell us that as those listening become more receptive, the sound of the song becomes more inspired, inwardly alive, and beautiful.” But Swedenborg continues:

“When the song is over, the windows of the houses around the central square and also on the side streets are closed, and then so are the doors. Silence fills the entire city. No noise is heard anywhere, and no one is seen out of doors. All are then focused on doing the work that their jobs entail.” I emphasize this point because in Swedenborg’s theology, heaven is all about the useful work people love to do. Entertainment has its place. There are concerts, parties, public feasts and suppers with loved ones. But in the grand order of Heaven, useful work is how we express real love for our neighbors, and join ourselves to the Lord God. One fellow Swedenborg follower used to say, emphatically, ‘What’s the Use?!’ And we all understood, and smiled.

There are 3 levels of Heaven, each suited to the degrees of love and wisdom the angels receive from the Lord. This from Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell #227: “The doctrines in accordance with which the preachings are, all look to life as their end, and none to faith separate from the life [the typical Christian view]. The doctrine of the inmost heaven is more full of wisdom than the doctrine of the middle heaven, and this more full of intelligence than the doctrine of the lowest heaven. For, in each heaven, the doctrines are on a level with the perceptions of the angels. The essential of all the doctrines is to acknowledge the Lord’s Divine Human.” [That’s why the Lord came to earth – to give everyone on earth access to Jehovah God – to whom we could not be joined directly, any more than we could get close to the sun without disintegrating.]

The first words of John are “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The Hebrew here is Dabar Yahweh – the Word of God.

“All truth belongs to the Word”, Swedenborg says in the passage below. In Heavenly Secrets 10454 (Swedenborg’s 8 Vol. Magnum Opus), he writes “‘And Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted’ means contemplating and discerning what the interiors of that nation were like. This is clear from the meaning of ‘hearing’ as contemplating and discerning, for the subject now is what that nation was like inwardly, thus what their interiors were like; from the representation of ‘Joshua’ as the truth of the Word … He was Moses’ minister, and Moses represented the Word, …so that his minister represents truth, for all truth belongs to the Word, … and from the meaning of ‘the noise of the people as they shouted’ as what that nation was like inwardly, thus what their interiors were like. In the Word ‘noise’ or ‘voice’ means the inner voice, which is thought, consequently what the interiors are like as regards either truth or falsity, for the one or the other gives rise to the thought…. But ‘shouting’ means the utterance of sound, whether that of speaking, singing, or crying out, which emanates from thought (or the inner voice). So it is that ‘hearing the noise of shouting’ means discerning what the interiors are …. For the sound, whether that of speaking, singing, or crying out, emanates from inner affection and thought, [Here is Mahaliah Jackson with Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, showing that inner affection and thought] both of which are present within the sound and are also discerned by those who listen to it, …to see for example whether it is angry, threatening, friendly, gentle, joyful, gloomy, and so on. In the next life such discernment is so sharp that angels can discern what someone’s interiors are like from the sound of just one of the words he uses.” 

Joshua 6:27: “So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”
That is the liberating power of music, in the Bible’s inner symbolism. Reading the Word of God only as history misses it’s true inner meaning that is spiritual, heavenly, liberating and forever.

Leave a Reply