Readings and Quotations on Music
This page has a collection of readings and quotations on the topic of music in general. They can be great for flute circles and music workshops.
For readings specifically on the aspects of Silence in Music, see the next page (click the button).
For Carlos Santana
Artists paint with canvas and brush,
Musicians paint with sound.
With pain and passion
Each note to fashion
To color life, profound.
Vibrations flood the conscious
And elevate the soul.
All beginnings, all ends,
And makes the Spirit whole.
-- Kathleen Dahill, 2/28/02
There are many, many citations to various versions of this wonderful poem that attribute it to Plato (428–348 BCE). However, while attempting to locate the primary source, I found myself deep down the rabbit hole and found no full citation.
I finally found a paper by Australian Music Terapist Denise Grocke ([Grocke 2006] ), who had apparently been diving even deeper down the rabbit hole than I had.
Here are two versions from various sources, with the attribution as Denise Grocke suggests:
Music is a moral law.
It gives soul to the universe,
wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination,
and charm and gaiety
to life and to everything.
A longer version:
Music is a moral law.
It gives a soul to the universe,
wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination,
a charm to sadness,
and life to everything.
It is the essence of order,
and leads to all that is good,
just and beautiful,
of which it is the invisible,
but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.
-- Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations, 1991, page 45, attributed to Plato (428-348 BCE)
Where Everything is Music
We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.
The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and if the whole world's harp
should burn up,
there will still be hidden instruments
This singing art
is sea foam.
The graceful movements
come from a pearl
on the ocean floor.
Poems reach up like spindrift
and the edge of driftwood
along the beach
They derive from a slow
and powerful root
that we cannot see.
Stop the words now.
Open the window
in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly
in and out!
-- Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Jalalu'ddin Rumi, Maulana), 13th century Persian poet, founder of Mevlevi order / Whirling Dervishes of Sufi tradition. Tanslation by Coleman Barks.
We all sit in the orchestra of Tao.
Some play their fiddles,
Some wield their drum sticks.
Tonight is worthy of music.
Let's let loose with compassion.
Let's drown in the delicious ambience of love.
(Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, Persian: خواجه شمسالدین محمد حافظ شیرازی),
1325/6 – 1389/90, Persian lyric poet and Sufi master
A beat is like a footstep.
It begins a journey.
Beats are beginnings.
You don't need an interpreter to understand a groove.
You don’t need to speak a people’s language to dance to their drum.
There is a whole world out there making music.
I listen, my mind open and my ears ready.
They say a drummer is never without a drum.
A percussionist can play on anything.
But like any artist, my true instrument is myself.
My song is my soul.
Create your own path.
Keep on walking and don't look back.
-- Bashiri Johnson
Playing Flute to the Geese
I close my eyes,
hear my song,
feel it's unsung words
in the easy rhythm
of my breathing,
of fingers rise
When at last
I open them,
I see invisible geese –
dark birds against
dark hay bales under
dark, autumn sky.
I can feel them;
they are still here.
-- Carl Bludts, from Feathered Pipe Memories ([Bludts 2000]).
The Star of Love
Music, be thy sails unfurled,
Bear me to thy better world;
O'er a cold and weltering sea,
Blow thy breezes warm and free;
Take me to that far-off shore,
Where lovers meet to part no more;
There doubt, and fear and sin are o'er,
That star of love shall set no more.
-- Margaret Fuller, from Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 ([Fuller 1843]), excerpt from her poem, page 244. Margaret Fuller describes the Winnebago courting flute earlier in this publication.
It Was the Wind
It was the wind that gave them life.
It was the wind that comes out of our mouths now that gives us life.
When this ceases to blow, we die.
In the skin at the tips of our fingers we see the trail of the wind;
It shows us where the wind blew when our ancestors were created.
-- Anonymous Navajo poem, from [Matthews 1897], page 69.
Notes soar like eagles riding the thermals high above the earth.
Notes giggle in laughter and joy like children at play.
Notes cry releasing pain, sorrow, and longing for healing and peace.
Notes dance in your ears reminding you of the joy and delight of life.
Notes softly caress your being lulling you gently to sleep.
Notes for all moods, emotions, experiences in life's journey,
and just for being closer to God and nature.
Notes sing through the night carrying love, respect, respite, and joy to others.
Notes transport our souls to their new home after death.
Notes welcome the birth of new life into a world of potential, hope, and growth.
Notes reflect our soul's deepest desires and secrets that words cannot convey.
Notes are the heart and soul of our soul's expression to others.
Notes from within, beyond the mind, beyond the physical into our inner recesses
and back out into the universe.
Notes, notes, notes.
So much from just six holes.
So beautiful from nature's instrument of wood.
Even in death, nature's trees communicate to us through notes.
So simple, so beautiful, so heartfelt.
Just simply notes from the soul – our soul, nature's soul, and God's soul to us all.
-- Patricia B. Smith, Ph.D., written 2006, contributed at Flute Haven 2010.
“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life, as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in the world, sang while pounding grain and paddling canoes, or walking long journeys.
Can we begin to make our lives, once more, all about peace? Finding the right song and singing it over and over is a great way to start.
And when one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a new harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”
-- Pete Seeger – American Masters, PBS – broadcast June 13, 2010
Tao Te Ching
“The space between Heaven and Earth is like a flute:
empty, and yet it does not collapse.
When moved, more and more emerges from it.
But many words exhaust themselves on it.
It is better to regard the ‘within’.”
-- Lao Tsu, from [Tsu 1985], chapter 5
Beloved of My Heart
“There are few things which grow only in sharing. Music grows in sharing. If somebody is there, a sympathetic listener, then even just his presence helps you go deep into your effort … then a subtle love affair happens. The energy of the player and the energy of the listener meet and create a circle, and that circle is fulfilling.”
-- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), excerpt from [Rajneesh 1981] , pages 32–33
Play Your Own Way
“I say, ‘Play your own way’. Don't play what the public wants.
You play what you want and let the public pick up on what you're doing –
even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years.”
-- Thelonious Monk
Your Own Experience
“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.
If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn.”
-- Charlie Parker
“The highest music is where the sound does not destroy the soundless moments in between. As the musician becomes more and more refined, he can manage to create sound, and between two sounds he can give you an experience of soundlessness. That soundlessness touches the heart.”
-- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)
“You cannot hold your love hostage to what you actually play. You have to love it a second before you play it, and that creates a sort of vibration of trust that even reflects in the physiology of how you drop the finger and how you play a note on a saxophone and how you hit a cymbal. When there’s so much anticipation that you’re going to love the next sound, you touch it so much differently than if you’re anticipating that you’re required to reach a certain level of beauty. So it’s very much a mindset. I always say, if you want to love the sounds, love the sounds you play and very shortly after they’ll be followed by a lot of sounds that you really do love.”
-- Kenny Werner, from [Werner 2005]
The African Song of Soul
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. Then the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.
When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child's song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child's song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song.
Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person's bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.
In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.
You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not. When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn't. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well. You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you'll find your way home.
-- Alan Cohen, author of The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.