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Folk music, mythology and enlightenment. (Music, Creativity and the Transformation of Education).

Editor's note: This speech is a transcript of Hollander's keynote address given March 17 at the Opening Session of the 2002 MTNA National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

There is much to explore today. I also want to perform music for you because it touches areas that we cannot access with words. I feel that what would be most effective here, would be to give you a sense of who you truly are; to empower your realization and acknowledgment of the importance of the work you are doing. This work goes beyond simply bringing music to children--it is about saving their lives. Your work is about more than music in the school curriculum--it is about aligning the study of music by children with the research and explorations that have been conducted globally, which illuminate the ways music empowers the humanity of young people and has the power to prevent the series of devastating crises and dysfunctions plaguing our youth. In fact, empowering the creative process of our children is perhaps the only possibility for saving life on this planet.

The system of education in this country is in a devastating crisis. This has been most recently reaffirmed in a National Commission report issued by the United States government, which explored the state of education in the United States. You may recall, "A Nation at Risk" (1) which appeared in 1982. It speculated that if somehow a foreign government had forcefully imposed our system of education on us, we would rightfully have considered it an act of war. And yet, of course, we did this to ourselves. When money becomes tight, music is removed from the schools. When priorities are set, the arts and music are considered "frills" and removed from the schools.

In 1996, the National Commission report was published by the U.S. government with the same credential and mandate as "A Nation at Risk"; it was entitled "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future." (2) It stated, once again, that our system of education is in such crisis that it will not survive unless a drastic transformation is accomplished; and if our system of education does not survive, the document warned, our society will not survive. If one were to encapsulate what the commission stated is wrong with our system of education, it would be that we are failing to nurture the creativity of our young children. In fact, we are destroying it.

Children are born wildly creative--that is who they are. Their vision, imagination, intuition, dream mythology and capacity to play, are all fully formed. They are born artists: dancers who writhe rhythmically; musicians--singing intervals long before they speak language. As soon as they can wield a pen or pencil, they are bringing forth "Rorschachian-depth" reflections of their inner realms, a most powerful symbolic mythology common to all humanity. They are obviously actors and actresses--that is what children do. They are in their deepest selves, a priori, being the full self-expression of the artist. That is who they are.

Then, somehow, something begins to shut them down. Lawrence Kubie, in "The Neurotic Distortions of the Creative Process," stated (and here I paraphrase), "... The greatest failure of Western culture is that we do not allow our children to resolve their conflicts of the nursery early in their lives ... within the school system ... through education in the arts." Whatever it is that destroys the essence of joyous creativity in them, it is devastating. Our only hope is that an enlightened experience of music and arts perhaps alone can re-empower their sacred curiosity and re-ignite their creative spirit. We can alert them to be aware of the forces suppressing them and support them in the blossoming of the volcanic power of creativity inherent in their humanity, spirit and soul. That is what music is about, and that is the work you are doing. MTNA has kept music alive based on primary realities about human beings, truths that never waver.

In recent years, a series of very sober and real statistics have surfaced. According to the Children's Defense Fund and the National Center for the Study of Children at Risk, right now, in the United States alone, for children between the ages of 5 and 11, (Occasionally, these statistics extend to the age of 18.) every day, a child commits suicide every four hours; six children a day. Why is a seven-year-old girl committing suicide? Every four minutes in the United States, a child is arrested for a violent crime, an alcohol-related crime or a drag-related crime. Scores of millions of children a year. Right now, in the United States alone, a baby is born to a teen mother every minute. A child is reported abused or battered every ten seconds. A baby dies in this country every fifteen minutes. Where is our wondrous medical health care? Why is this happening? Although not yet official, it appears that the number-one cause of infant mortality in this country is homicide--parents and caretakers killing children. This is a society in great pain. Why is this happening? To quote vision statements I created for a series of transformational education institutes:
 Virtually without exception these dysfunctions are caused by an
 ignorance, avoidance or denial of what has always been known in the great
 religions and spiritual traditions, in shamanic and aboriginal mythical
 consciousness, that at the most basic, primal central core of our being
 there exists an experience of "emptiness," "vulnerability," "damage,"
 "wound," or "abyss." We attempt to fill or deaden this "icy horror" in
 inappropriate ways with substances, addictive relationships, accumulation
 of power or material possessions, and other addictive cravings and
 attachments or, in a state of frustration and rage, turn to violence, in
 hopelessness and despair become depressed and tormented.

 We already know enough about this universal process to begin the
 self-reflective qualitative research that would precisely illuminate the
 workings of the underlying infrastructures of these addictive and violent
 dysfunctions that could lead to the discovery of how to prevent them. The
 qualitative research would enable us to create, when integrated with
 transpersonal psychological paradigms, shamanic, mythological spiritual
 traditions and sacred mystical science, a "preventive education. "The
 spiritual and psychological wisdom also affirms that the inner emptiness,
 which drives the craving, leading to the paralyzing dysfunctions destroying
 so many, h also the arena of the creative process.

What might transform this dismal scenario? What is it that might have the power to truly nurture our children and transform this situation? Without question it is through experience in the arts, and perhaps most powerfully in music.

When music touches from where folk music emanates, we are spiritually aligned with the most basic core of our humanity. Expressing ourselves through folk music, mythology and folklore of our deepest primal selves, is the core phenomena of who a child truly is and the spontaneous entry into that child's symbolic reality of his or her consciousness.

Because music contains and envelops the experience of dance, song and the expression of dramatic emotions and because embodied in music, we find the full flowering and crystalline brilliance of intelligence, a vessel for multiple intelligences, intuition, insight and mythological dream Symbolism, music is the most creative and inspired way we know of empowering and training every modality and capacity of the human mind and spirit. Add to this the process of discovery of the scientist, the structuring of time, the ability to see associations and relationships and to perform the analytical, logical and the quantitative mental processes upon which science depends--music mirrors these as well. Then, there is the truly spiritual mathematical; what is generally referenced as the relationship between mathematics and music does not begin to do justice to the multidimensional interrelationships and infrastructures that illuminate the ways music, through sacred geometry, reflects the "implicate order's and underlying principles of all formation in nature and the universe. Music, through the laws of vibration, is that implicate order. "The universe is shaped the way it would sound!" But, most importantly, music has the power to access what is most truly human, soulful, gentle and compassionate: love and selfless being.

Joseph Campbell is a wonderful resource for understanding and articulating the meaning and importance of mythology. I quote: "Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of [hu]mankind have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophy, arts, the social forms of primitive and historical humankind, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic magic ring of myth." (3) In this realm, folk music and mythology come from the same primal, undifferentiated miasma of what is truly human. Campbell continues: "The wonder is that the characteristic efficacy to touch and inspire deep creative centers dwells in the smallest nursery fairy tale--as the flavor of the ocean is contained in the droplet of the ocean, the whole mystery of life within the egg of a flea, the symbols of mythology ..."--and here again we can include folk music--"... are not manufactured. They cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed. They are spontaneous productions of the psyche. And each bears within it undamaged the germ power of its source. What is the secret of this timeless vision? From what profundity of the mind does it derive? Why is mythology everywhere the same, beneath its varieties of costume? And what does it teach?" He goes on: "Most remarkable of all, however, are the revelations that have emerged from the mental clinic. The bold and truly epic-making writings of psychoanalysis are indispensable to the student of mythology, for whatever may be thought of the detailed and sometimes contradictory interpretations of specific cases and problems, Jung and their followers have demonstrated irrefutably that the logic, the heroes, and the deeds of myth survive into modern times." In other words, who we are, and who our children are, is fully accessible through folklore and folk music. Access to the primal human is through his or her own indigenous musical culture. That is where we begin and is that which blossoms in the full flowering of the creativity of young people.

If we are going to solve the problems that are rampant on our planet, if we are going to end the atrocities of the continuing murders and mutilations in our communities and if we are going to bring forth a golden age, alive with the art and spirit, soul and depth of all humanity, these will be accomplished by creative people with creative ideas. It has always been thus. If we are going to end the diseases destroying so many, heal the holes in the ozone, handle overpopulation, end pollution of the oceans and lakes and streams and the myriad seemingly insoluble devastating series of problems, these will be solved as such crises have always been solved. The solutions will be found by those whose creativity has somehow been nurtured and kept alive, those who have been given the tools.

Yet we continue to close down creative people, with marks and grading, invalidations that ever more imperiously impose from without, an institutional mentality that squashes who these little angels truly are in a way that forces them to give up the expression of their souls and, instead, begin to worry about winning the approval of the authority figures, living up to what the grownups want. This violation of self, insulting and injuring who we are deep in our hearts, triggers rage that can turn to violence, or, in hopelessness and despair, we become tormented, depressed or suicidal. In adult life we worry, "How are the supervisors judging me?" "What are the bosses thinking?" "What are their bosses thinking of them?" Meanwhile, the supervisors are worried about what their supervisors are thinking, and their supervisors are worried about what their bosses are thinking, and the bosses are worrying about what the superintendents are thinking. The superintendents are worrying about the district, the district ... the president, and the president is worrying about world leaders and the media. When do we ever realize that it's not a "they" who we experience as judging us, but it is part of "me"? It is a part of me that I call "they." How do we gain that insight, awaken the spiritual path to truth and the ultimate realities? It is through art, and perhaps most specifically, through music. That, and nothing less, is the importance of what you are doing.

Music has always been understood as the highest reaches of the human soul. There is nothing beyond it; as we reach for God, there music is also. In the search for truth, we find music. The essence of what science has taught us about the universe is that all being, all that exists is a manifestation of electromagnetic vibration. Vibration! Of that, we are made. It imbues all of nature; the beat of wings, the heartbeat, brain waves, planetary movements, the moon and its effect upon the tides and upon us, the birth and death of suns, our own birth and death, our breathing, the seasons--they are all vibrations, cycles, periodicities. Even the Big Bang, its explosion and ultimate collapse to the point where it likely explodes again, resembles more a "big twang" than a big bang. An indigenous understanding of the creation of the universe is, "God struck a drum, and it's vibrating still." And that's who we are--we're made in our quantum reality of that vibrating energy.

Music, of course, is the art and science of the vibration that includes rhythmic pulse as one of the rhythms (vibrations) of life. Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland: "Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?" (4) On the psychological plane, we know when we are experiencing rhythmic pulse even in life away from music, when everything is going along swimmingly, and we are "in the zone" and synchronous things fall our way. Then someone "hurts our feelings," or we are in a state of overwhelm, and the pulse stops. Yes, that is what stops. That is what locks or "gets stuck." It is the very experience of being upset, the feeling of being stuck. What few recognize, however, is that what gets stuck is our experience of rhythmic pulse. That is why dance and music therapy are so effective. Music is also communication through "singing" (instrumental or vocal). When we are in a state of upset, we cease communicating. Music also has within it the expression of the emotions. What do people do when they war or divorce? They stop communicating their emotions, they stop sharing any sense of pulse and keep trying to dominate the other to avoid domination. In other words, the experience of upset is the cessation of musical expression. Conversely, music has the power to bring new life to one who has been insulted or injured.

Music really is a mystical force, a deep psychological wisdom that has the power to heal what is happening to human beings on this planet. You are the force that keeps music in the lives of children. I acknowledge you for allowing people to discover this power and master the tools of self-knowledge and self-healing.

Music, as we have seen, has as its substance the very essence of the universe, the vibration, and we then experience somatically the ways vibrations come together into harmony, dissonance and cadence, where, finally, some sense of resolution can be reached, a sense of satisfaction of having arrived where the tensions in our spirits and our lives are resolved. The Masters make clear--it's not going to happen out there in the "wasteland." What every myth teaches, the hero's journey demands the abandoning of life "out there" with its never-satisfying false gratifications, totally letting that go to move within ourselves and find our own truth, a truth that rises from that place of deep pain with which we all live, but pretend we don't--that "primal inner wound," sense of "brokenness," "shame" or "humiliation." "If people knew I felt like this down there, they could never love me, they wouldn't take care of me, they would have nothing to do with me. So I'll hide it. I'll create all of these personas, these masks, all of these acts; and I'll desperately try to win their approval."

Have you ever noticed that you are a different person with virtually every different person you meet? We are so concerned about what other people think of us, that as soon as we meet someone, we'll create who they are and what they think right then. We'll cram into their hypothetical heads all the attitudes that we really believe they have, and then we'll desperately try to live up to what we just stuck in their heads. And on what do we base our assessment of who they are? We never see who they truly are, because they are doing the same thing to us. They become an impoverished worm, buckling under the power they have attributed to us because they are trying to figure out what we are thinking in our heads, so that they can live up to what they just attributed to us and created us as what they really believe we want them to be. So we have this "baklava of illusion." (I call it the "Baklava-Gita." Sorry.) That is what we do, yet we are mostly not awake to this. Where might we learn it?

When you were a child, did you ever notice the difference between the way it felt when you were practicing your music alone, and then the way it felt when your parents were home? "What are they thinking?" and "What are their attitudes?" and "I'll show them." "Why don't they get out of here so I can pay attention to what I am doing and not worry about what they're thinking?" We go from the wild creativity we feel when we are alone with our sounds to, "what is the person in the next practice room thinking?" It gets insane.

How do we awaken to what is really "I-me" and not "them"? We're: dealing here with music as a tool for self-knowledge and self-mastery. Music, in fact, leads us inevitably on a spiritual journey. If we want to master the profoundly complex issues of stage fright, distinguishing clearly what is real in our compulsive, "What they are thinking?" or "They are really digging what I'm doing here," or yet further, feeling with every wrong note, "They are dismissing me. I've shamed myself. I'm not worthy. They know I'm a fraud," and so on. We must awaken to what's real.

I can tell you when I recognized awakening was possible. I was about 19 years old and was preparing a recital at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I was on stage practicing, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw in the back of the room a little man, standing, holding his hat and coat, and listening to me. What went through my head was, "Oh, my God, it's Eugene Ormandy!" (one of the great conductors of the Philadelphia Orchestra). But I had to practice, so I told myself that I was going to just ignore that Ormandy was there listening to me and simply concentrate and practice. So, there I was telling myself, "I am ignoring Eugene Ormandy and concentrating on my music." But the fact that I was telling myself that I was ignoring Ormandy and concentrating on my music meant that I wasn't really concentrating on my music and ignoring Eugene Ormandy. So I acknowledged that I was not concentrating so that I could really concentrate and acknowledged that I knew that Eugene Ormandy was there, but that now I was concentrating.

So there I am concentrating on not thinking about Eugene Ormandy, and concentrating on concentrating, which meant, of course, I really was not concentrating, but thinking of Ormandy while telling myself, "Here I am, not thinking of Ormandy so I can concentrate on not concentrating on concentrating, but really concentrating on the concentration of not concentrating." I was driving myself nuts. I even tried the Judo approach. I tried concentrating on Ormandy and purposely not concentrating on concentrating, so that I could really not concentrate on not concentrating. After about half an hour of this I was going out of my mind. Finally, I figured the only thing to do was to invite Eugene Ormandy on the stage for ten minutes and have a conversation. But I couldn't take my hands off the keyboard; I couldn't stop myself playing because to turn away meant I had to get in touch with something I was feeling inside that I didn't want to feel. So, finally, I got up enough courage and turned to speak to Ormandy ...

Only it wasn't Eugene Ormandy.

It was a coat rack!

And to add insult to injury, it was a coat rack with my hat and coat on it. I tell you, with the Eugene Ormandy I had created in my head, I could actually feel that the coat rack wearing my clothes had an exquisitely deep musical understanding of the subtle dynamic colors of each of the inner lines of the music I was practicing, a masterful awareness of the subtle Schenkerian cohesive forces that were leading from tonality to tonality. "He" was aware of the spiritual content of every note. I was projecting my entire musical sensibility onto that coat rack, and I made of it a Eugene Ormandy who was more Eugene Ormandy than Eugene Ormandy ever was.

So music can help us awaken, because as musicians--unlike painters, writers, dancers or even actors--we are always audible. We can be heard even in the "first drafts" of our creative process. It's right up front. Music can be the key to the ability in children, if they are wisely guided, to realize who they are, who they are not, what's real and what is not. All this, naturally, brings us to Johann Sebastian Bach.

If we are seeking perfect metaphors for the innumerable ways in which music is a guiding principle and symbol for what is real and alive in nature, we can penetrate a remarkable archive of sacred teachings. In Pythagorean "Law of Harmonics," Kepler's "Music of the Spheres" in sacred geometry and higher esoteric knowledge, we come to realize that these very vibrations are the underlying causative principle in virtually all formations in nature. We discover these formations are shaped by what lies behind Fibonacci spirals and the other golden ratios found in the multifarious forms in nature. Music really is a key to the forces that shape life. Overly simplified, if one graphs the cycle of fifths (or the overtone series) as a mathematical path curve, it forms a precise Fibonacci spiral. There are other mathematical/musical relationships when graphed whose path curves resemble other life forms, and we recognize the same turnips, radishes, onions and acorns that adorn the minarets of mosques and orthodox churches. Why do we find those shapes atop these sacred buildings the same interwoven spirals that we find on pinecones, sunflowers and pineapples? The answer, of course, is because these shapes are sacred. They can be glimpsed internally, in states of contemplation, prayer and meditation. The point is, these shapes are all manifestations of the vibratory reality of nature, out there, and also of our internally glimpsed infrastructure of abstract thoughts in here, which are both shaped by the same reality and the same laws of vibrations we find in our music.

Let us contemplate one of the most famous of the sacred ratios, the Christian cross. We generally encounter the cross in spatial terms, as a thing, but suppose we were to translate that ratio into time, paying attention to where the horizontal crossbeam falls. In other words, if I begin a work of Bach and proceed in time to where that crossbeam falls, something remarkable happens in the music at that precise moment in time, something that is analogous to entering into the darkness that is the critical moment of what the sacred symbol of crucifixion would signify: an entry "into the mystery of death." Then the piece continues to the end, completing the ratio in time. It is often very clear in the shorter works where that crucial point is--one can hear it. Even in larger works, St. Matthew Passion, for example, approximately three hours and thirty minutes of music, that crux point comes exactly, measured in the time elapsed from the beginning of the work to where the "crossbeam" would fall in time in the sacred symbol.

We also find the ratio in small fractal iterations: every three, five or eight movements or every three, five or eight bars. Also, as if Bach had splashed it against the far wall of the work, it comes back at us in retrograde; we find those ratios operating in reverse, coming toward us. Bach did not have a computer or a slide rule on which to work this out. He, perhaps, never even knew it was happening. He gives us few tempo indications, but gives us repeats that we can arbitrarily take or not. Even if he were oblivious, something critical happens at the intuitively ordained sacred point, at the perfect moment in the music. This seems to me to be very close to being divinely inspired; an unutterable brilliance and contemplation.

But that is not why Bach's music is important, nor is his music important because it seems to have "come through" Bach fully formed, with no corrections, as if Bach was some kind of conduit. There may be places where he changed a note, but we have manuscripts of hundreds of works of Bach, which seem to have no corrections. They were written down perfectly, as if he had heard them, and yet ...

Bach's music is important because it is a personification of Absolute Beauty, Perfect Truth and Divine Love. It is the gentleness, compassion, sensitivity and beauty of the music that touch and transform us; it is that this music is of visionary joy and unconditional love. Bach invokes these emotions within a structure so crystalline that we can't begin to fathom its perfection.

This miracle is what you are keeping alive in the schools for our children; that is what you are empowering. Without it, our children would go the route of vapid mediocrity, which is fed endlessly to them, impoverishing and stifling them, and ultimately manifesting itself in Columbine High slaughters and the other violent dysfunctions destroying so many.

So, to pull it all together--you are it! If there is any hope to pull us out of the series of crises that have officially been declared virtually insoluble, it lies in nurturing the creativity and humanity of our children. Music is, perhaps, the most powerful force we know of that can accomplish that. Without music there is little hope. The universe as we understand it, is music. And "they," who believe music should be removed from the schools, are telling us that the art form that is most congruent and aligned with what we have discovered is true about reality, is expendable, that it is a "frill"! That is dangerous. Who are these people? How dare they? Music was here before "they" were. Music was here before "here" was here.

Also, since it appears that the average person is going to change careers six or seven times in their lives, how do you train kids for that? If it is true that for those children entering school now, 60 to 90 percent of the jobs that will be available to them when they enter the job market have not yet been invented, how do you train kids for that? It is only through music and through art; studies that empower every capacity of human be-ing, all modalities of thinking, imagination, creative vision, intuition, mythology, analysis and discovery, allowing them to master every aspect of their soul. Music alone can do that, and the world is finally awakening to that truth. Nothing else works. If we are going to end the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars on prisons, drug reform, suicide crisis control and the handling of all the horrors that are sweeping the planet, it will be through music taking its rightful place at the very center of education.

So, if I can do anything valuable today, it is to allow you to recognize and acknowledge yourselves, since the hope for salvation may well rest in your hands. Nothing less than that. You have that power as those who keep music alive for children.

Music! There are simply no words.


(1.) The National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education, April 1983.

(2.) The National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, September 1996.

(3.) Campbell, Joseph. Hero with a Thousand Faces, (Princeton University Press, 1949).

(4.) Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, (England: Macmillan, 1865).

Lorin Hollander is in the fifth decade of a career as a professional pianist. A veteran of nearly 2,000 performances worldwide, he has played with virtually every major symphony orchestra. For more than thirty years, he has led community outreach programs and held university residencies. Hollander is a frequent lecturer, speaking about human consciousness and creativity transpersonal psychology transformational education and mentoring, spiritual and personal growth and integral health.
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Author:Hollander, Lorin
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Transcript
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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