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Current Update as of October 30, 2002

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A Book Talk by Gayle W

E-mail: GWOITYRA@aol.com

For years in my high school Humanities class, I began the semester by evoking a discussion of the effects of the arts on individuals and society. By asking open-ended questions, I encouraged students to explore and analyze their own experiences and feelings.  When we approached the medium of music, the discussion often grew hot and heavy. My teen-age students often grew decisively defensive about "their" music as opposed to all other music. Gradually a few students would introduce some thoughts regarding the positive effects of "other" music, such as what we loosely term "classical." Now I wish that I had then been able to use some quotations from a recent, fascinating book that deals insightfully with the issue of the spiritual and sociological effects of music.

What I sensed then, and what author David Tame discusses to a great extent in BEETHOVEN AND THE SPIRITUAL PATH (Theosophical Publishing House), is indeed the spirituality of some kinds of music. This is one of those treasures, a book which serves multiple functions for readers. In this case, it is a special joy for any music lover or musician because the book presents, as its basis, first an insightful biography of Beethoven and the context of his compositions, followed by an enlightening discussion and interpretation of twenty-seven of his greatest works. Without a doubt, the book is educational.
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But it is so much more. The title should give the reader a major clue regarding its main theme. Author David Tame proposes that from an early age Beethoven was a conscious disciple on the spiritual path. He builds his argument carefully, utilizing important quotations from Beethoven's own journals and letters to underscore the composer's intent and state of mind. From this perspective, this book broadens its plane of interest to include not just music lovers, but anyone who is interested in the Spiritual Path and in metaphysical meanings. The reader gains insights into the place of music in the universal Plan and in the author's discussions along the way develops greater enlightenment regarding his/her own walk along this Path.

Early on, Tame points out that the "wisest of sages and philosophers have known that music is among the most potent of all means through which the human consciousness is altered--for better or worse, according to the music. It may be that a civilization can rise no higher than the spiritual and moral level of its music." If Tame and the ancient philosophers are correct, we might need to seriously consider the ramifications of our own contemporary music.

Sound, as sound, plays an important role in many ancient philosophies, religions, and spiritual practices. In the book of Genesis, God creates with sound: "And God said . . . ." The ancient Vedas of India said that the divine vibrational force, OM, "is the source of all matter and all creation." The five notes of the ancient Chinese scale (pentatonic) were believed "to be attuned to the cycles and rhythms of the heavens." Even modern research has shown music to have powerful influences on the health of the physical body and the emotions. "Music can change metabolism, affect the strength of the muscles, raise or lower blood pressure, and influence digestion."

Moreover, as Dr. Howard Hanson, Director of the Eastman School of Music, states, "It has powers of evil as well as for good." Recognizing this fact, many great civilizations of antiquity enacted laws which dictated "what music could or could not be played" because "wrong music" was believed to be more dangerous than war.  "Good music" was believed to originate in God and the ancients often referred to such music as the "music of the spheres." Such perfect music was thought to facilitate the development of consciousness and a society that was in alignment with the Will of God.  "Wrong music" was not an expression of God, but rather of imperfect man, and such an ego-centered, materialistic music was believed to produce undesirable traits in society.

David Tame asserts that in current times "many authorities both within and without the popular music industry . . . are certain the 60's revolution--[permissiveness, drug use, rebellion, hedonism, violence] did not produce the music of the era, but was largely caused by it." Even Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones said, "Music is one of the things that changes society . . . . you get different attitudes to things . . . ."  Greek philosopher Plato would have agreed, asserting that "music molds character, [and] that musical innovation led to political innovation and anarchy." Readers may also be familiar with the experiments with music and plants referred to in several books. In controlled laboratory conditions, rock music stunted or killed plants whereas classical music "enhanced plant growth beyond that of control groups." Plants exposed to classical music even leaned toward the speakers, the source of sound, whereas plants exposed to rock music grew away from the source of sound.

So where does this "good," or what we more commonly term "great" music come from? Tame asserts the esoteric tradition that much great music is inspired by spiritual sources. He gives multiple examples for this, including the fact that "Robert Schumann wrote music which he said had been dictated to him by angels" and that Handel believed that the Messiah had been revealed to him. Tame clarifies that this doesn't mean the music is just "given," like a message through a trance medium. In any of the arts and especially in music, the composer "truly must be a great artist in order to receive great art." The person must be a master of his medium to be able to receive the inspiration and then to process it into a final great product. The major part of David Tame's book then proceeds to build the case of how, when, and why Beethoven did just that.  Again, his emphasis is never on a passive receiving of inspiration, but rather on an active, conscious attempt to achieve oneness, alignment, and at-one-ment with the Mind of God.

Clearly, Beethoven made conscious efforts daily to achieve this alignment. One of the most practical pieces of information from this book, one that could be useful to any creative artist, or in fact to anyone just trying to hear the messages from one's Higher Self, was Beethoven's habit throughout his life of carrying a notebook or sketchbook with him at all times. He would jot down ideas whenever they came to him because he recognized how fleeting such "ideas" tend to be. Surely we have all experienced moments of great insight or idea, only to find them gone, like a dream, when we try to retrieve them, perhaps only a few hours later. Beethoven advised other composers to do the same, noting that by so doing one learns "to pin down immediately the most remote ideas."

In the biographical portion of the book, Tame builds a fascinating paradox. While he acknowledges and reiterates the commonly known aspects of Beethoven's physical life: his temper, his sad and solitary social life, the loss of his "Immortal Beloved," and most seriously, his growing and profound deafness, such aspects of Beethoven's physical existence are matched with insights into his soul and his obvious spirituality. Many of these insights come from Beethoven's own writings. That he felt he had a destiny: "I would have ended my life--The only thing that held me back was my art." That he aspired to serve God is clear: "Almighty God . . . you see into my heart and you know that it is filled with love for humanity and a desire to do good." That this was a lifetime process for Beethoven is expressed: "Ever since my childhood my heart and soul have been imbued with the tender feeling of goodwill; and I have always been inclined to accomplish great things."      

That Beethoven held great spiritual aspirations to serve humanity is also clear: "There is no loftier mission than to approach the Godhead more nearly than other mortals and by means of that contact to spread the rays of Godhead through the human race." (Letter of 1823). Such words from Beethoven give the reader a whole new perspective on the man who has so often been portrayed as an ill-tempered, ill-mannered social outcast. Tame says instead, "Beethoven was a disciple treading the spiritual path. His life and his music can only be understood and appreciated correctly when seen from this perspective."

The other half of David Tame's discussion of Beethoven refers directly to specific masterworks. Tame, a long-time student of esoteric traditions, apparently through intuitive meditation and by research into writings by other esoteric authors in regard to Beethoven, develops metaphysical interpretations for many of these great Beethoven masterpieces. He discusses them contextually in relation to Beethoven's life experiences, and also metaphysically as symbolic representations of the various experiences of anyone on the Spiritual Path. For example, in reference to the great Third Symphony, known as the Eroica, Tame says that "the symphony told of the individual soul's tests and trials on the Path and of its courage, determination, and triumphant overcoming." He also says, "Each major composition [depicts] a certain stage on the Way" [to union with God]. He emphasizes the value of using Beethoven's music for meditation and asserts that "Beethoven's music can change us. Ultimately, this music is capable of revolutionizing our consciousness."

I would recommend David Tame's BEETHOVEN AND THE SPIRITUAL PATH to all readers, and especially to music lovers.  As a musician reading this book, I found my appreciation for Beethoven and his music enriched beyond measure. I feel inspired to listen to every one of his great works, some once again, and some for the first time, and to do so in quite new ways. Tame's book not only opens one's mind, but also opens one's soul to the message which Beethoven tried to capture in notes, the message which only he was able to hear in"the music of the spheres," the eternal music present in the Creator of All, and the music which he gave to us for all time.

The book, Beethoven and the Spiritual Path, may be purchased from Amazon.com. Just Click Here!


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