Musical traditions of all genres put a high emphasis on generating the strong emotional feeling bordering between trance and ecstasy. We’re still not entirely sure why sounds of different frequencies and timbre make us feel like this.
There have been many theories – we evolved music as a novel way of attracting mates, or music served as a way to build communion with other tribe members.
But there is something deeper than that. It looks like some types of sounds and tonalities can move us to tears or make us forget ourselves and enter into the state of flow. These tendencies have been richly exploited by cultures around the world.
In one of his lectures, psychologist Jordan Peterson describes how awe-struck he was when listening to one of Mozart’s symphonies.
This experience is not uncommon. It almost seems like music at times encourages deeply meditative states and brings creative ideas to the fore.
Here’s how music and the feeling of ecstasy are interrelated:
The Rich Spiritual Context of Middle Eastern And Asian Music
Middle Eastern and Asian music are vastly different from traditional Western music. By listening to Chopin’s Nocturne, you may admire its mathematical perfection, tonality, and emotional content.
Middle Eastern and Asian music, however, does not rely purely on musical notation. Some of the most powerful instrumental performances are based on Taqsim which can be roughly translated as an improvisation on a theme (Persian Dastgah and Indian Ragas are similar in that respect).
The theme always has a certain emotional feel to it and it might be compared to some of the melodic modes of Western music. There is also the idea of microtones that add more flavor to the music by enabling musicians to modulate notes “on the go” (while the string is still vibrating).
The concept of Tarab
What really distinguishes Arabic music from other traditions is the concept of Tarab, which is conducive to trance-like states. The musical piece might start very slowly, then there is the rhythm, then the melody becomes more elaborate, then there are the powerful drums, and then, when you’re ready, it explodes with extreme speed and complexity which generates an ecstatic state in the minds of the listeners.
The ecstatic ensemble
The instrument which seems to produce the desired state in the Arabic tradition is mostly Ney, a short reed flute, which is often accompanied by drums. There’s also Oud, Tar, Setar, Tanbur, Sitar, and Sarod – all of the string, lute-like instruments of the Orient.
The connection between spiritual dance and music
I once saw the ceremony of Mevlevis (or The Whirling Dervishes) while in Turkey, but it was more of a tourist show – definitely no ecstasy there. But there are many other ceremonies that enable devotees to connect with some kind of spiritual source. One of them (also in Islamic tradition) is called Zikr which might be translated as The Remembrance of God. It’s based on chanting different names of Allah.
Even the call to prayer in Islam is the holy writ put to beautiful music, and there are whole schools of recitation of The Quran active throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, we can notice quite clearly that Islam (especially in its mystical forms like Sufism) puts a high emphasis on the concept of ecstasy.
Once when listening to Raaga Piloo played by Ali Akbar Khan, the great Sarod player from India, I felt something I’ll never forget. I completely melted into the world, and there was no room for earthly preoccupations. I wish you get a chance to feel something similar.
How did you like this article about the connection between music and ecstasy? Do you know any types of spiritual music? Please share below – I’d be happy to listen!