Although we have come to understand how music has an effect upon our physical state, the ancient philosophers recognized a far deeper importance to music and many cultures recognized a sacredness belonging to music.
Many ancient cultures believed that music had the ability and power to evolve or utterly degrade an individual’s psyche. The degrading aspect of music to the psyche could lead to a breakdown of an entire civilization.
Pythagoras (525 BC) believed that there was a law of harmonic intervals that was the fundamental aspect of the phenomena of Nature. Pythagoras believed that the laws of intervals existed from the minutest element in nature to the harmonic relationship of the planets and constellations. Pythagoras termed this relationship as the 'Music of the Spheres.'
There is an ancient account of how the philosopher Empedocles, a disciple of Pythagoras, by quickly changing the mode of a musical composition he was playing to be more sedate and soothing, was able to save the life of his host, Anchitus. Anchitus was threatened with death by a man holding a sword, who had come to kill him because he had condemned the man's father to public execution.
Stories of Aesculapius, the ancient Greek healer, was said to cure sciatica and other diseases of the nerves by blowing a loud trumpet near the patient. Pythagoras cured many ailments of the body, mind and spirit through certain specially prepared musical compositions played near the patient. Pythagoras was also said to have recited short sections of the writing of Hesiod and Homer, using specific musical meter, to help sufferers.
Pythagoras taught his followers to open and close each day with songs – those in the morning calculated to clear the mind from sleep and inspire it to the activities of the coming day; those in the evening to sooth, relax, and prepare the body and mind to rest.
Iamblichus (275 AD) describes the therapeutic music of Pythagoras has containing certain melodies "devised against despondency and lamentation and other passions of the soul."
Ancient teachers believed that music could become so internalized so as to influence the rhythm of people's thoughts, the melody of people's emotions, and the harmony of a person's bodily health and manner of movement. The ancient axiom was, 'As in music, so in life.'
This axiom related to the belief that the consciousness of a civilization relates to the existing styles of music that is presently being played. In the The Secret Power of Music, by David Tame, he writes, "Each year, in the second month, Emperor Shun of ancient China could be found journeying eastward in order to check upon his kingdom and to ensure that everything was in order throughout his vast land. He did this neither by observing the state of life of the populace, or by receiving petitions from them. For in ancient China there was considered to be a much more revealing, accurate and scientific method of checking on the state of the nation."
"According to the ancient Chinese text, Shu King, the Emperor Shun went about through the different territories and tested the exact pitches of the notes of music. He had his advisors to help him with administering to his kingdom by listening to and checking the five notes of the ancient Chinese musical scale. He had the eight kinds of Chinese musical instruments brought to him and played by the musicians. He listened to the local folk songs, and also to the tunes which were sung in the court itself, checking that all the music was in perfect correspondence with the five tones."
If music can have this varied influence on so many parts of our life, it behooves us to understand the music that surrounds us, comes within us, and we might want to look at the music we create through our steps in life.
To inspire and empower.