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21. Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from Book 1






                    Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!


I remember when I was still a teenager discovering the Duino Elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke in German. There was no way that my German was up to reading his poetry and understanding it conceptually. But this poetry had an extraordinary effect on me, opening up new landscapes and new depths. Years later I remember attending an Orthodox service in Oxford for the first time. The service was all in Church Slavonic and conceptually I understood very little. Yet the overwhelming sense of the acceptance of the dark alongside the light in our experience came through the language at a much deeper non-conceptual level. More recently in my life two other experiences with languages have confirmed my view that the resonance of language communicates at different levels. At the Drubchen in Holy Isle in 2006 I had very little idea or understanding of what was going on. Continual chanting in Tibetan formed the backcloth of an intense experience of ‘re- ordering’. The whole ceremony was dedicated to the removal of obstacles both seen and unseen. It was in the middle of this chanting that I experienced my own ‘re-ordering’ and removal of obstacles. I had a sudden awareness of and connection with someone who was dying that day around 400 miles away. I found out later in the day from the lady’s daughter that the lady who had died had been talking about a special island during her last few hours. I had been granted an experience of something way beyond my understanding. But somehow the chanting in Tibetan had opened up the liminal space within which it could happen. More recently still I attended workshops on the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer and Beatitudes with Neil Douglas-Klotz. Neil is a great scholar and has done a lot of work on the Aramaic language, unravelling layers of meaning which expand the horizons of the more familiar English - or Greek - texts enormously. But for me the experience of chanting the Aramaic was and remains different from chanting in a language which I understand conceptually. The Aramaic opens up a different layer, a different field of energy, which brings the inner living content of the prayers to life in a new way. My experience of music runs parallel to these experiences of different languages. Music speaks to different layers of the psyche, and it is not necessary to understand music conceptually in order to experience its power. Indeed the opposite may be true - that too much emphasis on trying to ‘understand’ music conceptually actually inhibits the human ability to receive the deeper layer of connectedness. To some extent this is true even for the creator of the musical experience, the composer. There is a qualitative difference between mastering various musical techniques of composition and having anything to really say through the musical medium. Good composers will use the techniques they have mastered at the service of a musical vision which goes beyond what can be conceptually explained. In the case of the Bach ’48’ this is particularly relevant and explains why the famous Donald Francis Tovey analyses of the pieces can appear so dry and soulless to anyone interested in articulating their experience of the inner vision of the music. There is a considerable unanimity of experience amongst people who have repeatedly listened to certain pieces of music such as the slow movement of the Schubert String Quintet, the slow movement of Beethoven’s A minor string quartet or the sixth and final movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. With works such as these music functions as a meta-language in the way that meta-physics shows people the possibilities and depth of physics. During the last fifty years - since maybe the writings of people like Fritjof Capra in the 1970s - we have become much more aware of a deep congruence between the languages of contemporary physics and mystical non- dual consciousness. If we move through life as a flow with open mind and open heart then non-dual consciousness is always present as a possibility. If we approach composing, playing, listening to music with the same openness then here too there is always the possibility of breaking through. I have been very conscious when teaching adult music classes that often what people think they want to or need to know or understand is very different from what they actually want and need at a deeper level. So many people are still put off by the world of ‘contemporary classical’ music because they don’t think that they will be able to ‘understand’ it. Yet often the breakthrough comes by persuading them to ‘stand-under’ the music, allowing the music to flow over them and let go of the ‘trying to understand’. Reflecting back myself, this was exactly my own experience with the German, Slavonic, Tibetan and Aramaic examples I have given. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ as Hamlet says to the philosopher Horatio in Shakespeare’s play.