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Creating A Sound Spirit

Excerpt from "Sound Spirit: Pathway to Faith"

by Don Campbell

The following excerpt is taken from the book SOUND SPIRIT: Pathway to Faith by Don Campbell. It is published by Hay House (June 2008) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com . 

Creating a Sound Spirit

It’s timely that I begin to write more intimately about my relationship with music since my baby-boomer curiosity and exploration of faith have now become primary in the way I approach sound. So much of my professional life has been based on bringing music’s healthy powers to our world. My 20 books on music, health, education, and acoustics have always been supported by my own strong faith, which is grounded in sound. Having a family who sang around the piano was my foundation; and I was taken to a church that worshipped through the essentials of great congregational singing, choral masterpieces, and wonderful organ music. The transformation that took place every time I was “inside music” as a child is still the basic inspiration for my work and daily life.

Now, after traveling and studying in 45 countries and living for extended periods in Asia and Europe, I sense that the thread connecting sound to spirit is beyond art and entertainment. Music’s power can be raw, startling, and empowering. It need not be just calm and complacent to soothe us; it can dig much deeper to our soul’s source of faith and inspiration.

As a young student, the statement “Music is a container; it’s an envelope that delivers the spirit” perplexed me. I was busy learning the essentials: notes, techniques, scales, and phrasing. Yet I could sometimes feel “spirit” in a presentation, almost as if the performer or conductor uttered some kind of magical invocation. Why did I sometimes feel spirit when I played or accompanied a choir, yet at other times I felt mechanical or distant from the music? Was this special moment just an emotion, a chemical reaction in my brain, or was it something outside normal consciousness? Maybe there’s no answer to this kind of subjective question.

Nothing I write will necessarily make a radical shift in your perception or sensations, but perhaps the music on the accompanying CD will awaken that part of you that resonates to a spiritual state. Each piece may trigger a difference response. The first two selections have text that can focus the mind, while the remaining three don’t awaken the verbal part of the brain and may be more inspiring or meditative for you.

Take a moment to recall musical experiences that lifted you to an expanded awareness. Reflect on your most profound spiritual moments and notice if there was music or supreme silence at those times.


One of the most important aspects of spirit is its relation to breath and wind—in fact, many languages use the same word for spirit and breath. There’s the constant power in life of breathing in and out. The basic definition of spirit from French and Latin means “to blow,” and we use the term to imply courage, vigor, and the life force. It can reflect that which holds the essence, the supernatural and mystical consciousness. From divine animations to alcoholic solutions, “spirits” abound.

Spirit is greater than an individual; it’s tangible whether seen or unseen, heard or unheard. It’s commonly referred to as “the source out of which all things are created”—for example, when God hovered above the waters and the earth. It brings order out of chaos; it has potential. It connects us with others who have an intuitive knowing about the mystical, the religious, and the invisible.

Spirit brings us to a state of wonder and can scare, spook, or soothe us. It’s truly about “otherness.” The word covers the gamut of definitions with a meaning that seems ineffable at times.

Music is quite the historical handmaiden of Spirit. The primitive utterances of grief, celebration, and invocation all use the breath and voice to call down, call up, and recall episodes of connection. Every culture, religion, and society uses rhythm, song, and chant to “incarnate” or “make manifest” a reality. European soccer matches are a grand chorus of rhythmic prayers and chants for enhancing the spirit of a chosen team. Balinese choirs exorcise the evil spirits and call upon the good ones.

One of my Haitian friends believes that “all night drumming can be heard throughout the universe and gets the attention of the invisible ones.” While living in Port-au-Prince for six months, I worked as a volunteer in a children’s tuberculosis hospital and played the fine organ at the cathedral. One of my Haitian friends took me to evening Christian-voodoo prayer meetings where I witnessed trance dances in which the spirits seemed to take over the participants during drumming and chanting. At times, there was ecstasy and bliss expressed in the movements; at other points, pain, stress, and panic overtook them. They seemed possessed and out of their rational minds. Sometimes there were reactions similar to Pentecostal prayer meetings with exorcisms and instant healing. I was emotionally affected by these powerful experiences—and somewhat relieved to return to the Episcopal cathedral, where tears of joy were coming from the eyes of my dancing choir.

Music as a gateway to spirit is undeniably an ancient and worldwide phenomenon. Whether we look at vast experiences that are transformational, transcendent, or “magic,” music is a bridge from one level of awareness to the next. From one brain state to another, the altered breath, along with spirit, opens our perceptions and sensations to both the hallowed and the haunted.

The Museum of Spirit and Music

How often do we visit a museum and discover a “spirit being” trapped in an “art object”? I think of myself as intuitive at times, although not particularly psychic. Yet on dozens of occasions, I’ve looked at a room of sacred objects such as icons, figures, sculptures, or carvings and seen vibrations, as if they were singing a tone or making sounds. Some museums display such forms by jamming them together like knickknacks in a crowded market stall, while others give them an honorable environment with plenty of air, space, and fine lighting.

There exists just such a special place to view and experience amazing sacred objects at a museum that opened in Paris in 2006, which holds some of the most unique collection of indigenous power beings on Earth. This institution awakens us to new ways to look, listen, and deepen our experiences with les objets spirituels. The Musée du Quai Branly specializes in the master crafts and spirituality of African, Asian, American, and Oceanian art. Most of the pieces were created for religious or ceremonial purposes.

This place is unlike any other in the world. A widely traveled public with constant access to television and the Internet arrives at the doors with an intuitive and practical knowledge, as well as an appetite for more than bones and pottery. They want to know about the psycho-spiritual energy behind the creation of a ritual object.

In a way, the Musée du Quai Branly is theater. It moves us, dances with us, and enchants us into the living mythologies of world culture. As a large, 560-foot-long, abstract ship of a museum, it stands on massive columns in a growing arboretum. Thirty multicolored, boxlike rooms radiate out from the sides as viewers from within can glimpse the Eiffel Tower just a block away or the banks of the nearby Seine.

From the amazing garden of 15,000 plants on the ground level, visitors begin to ascend a spiral ramp around a glass wall protecting hundreds of magical musical instruments from every corner of the globe. It’s a singing tower of a sacred, shamanic Babel. The ramp leads into a leather-clad grand gallery, where more than 4,000 decorative or sacred art pieces are displayed as part of the 300,000-piece collection, which is divided into works from four distinct geographical areas.

The power of the museum lies in its display of fascinating invocations, songs, and dances. Each of the little box rooms protrudes from the museum; some have four walls of ritualistic cinema, while others contain fine ethnographic and decorative art. After a half-hour of meandering through the dimly lit open hall, the power of these ritual objects begins to take hold of the viewer’s unconscious and intuitive reactions to the visual and auditory powers of spirit and art.

Along many of the leather walls are ledges where we can sit in front of small video screens that show sacred rites, complete with narration in English, German, Japanese, or Spanish. We can touch the screen and navigate to footage of a birthing ceremony or a funeral, hear crop songs, or witness the weddings or coming-of-age rituals from a village near where the sacred objects were found. The Sound Spirit is evident everywhere, yet it never overpowers the space—except in some of the small, boxed rooms that extend from the main gallery and feature art, music, or special videos of sacred rites. Never has there been such a worldwide representation of spirit and ritual that can be viewed through a keyhole with our own sense of timing, understanding, and reverence.

Throughout the museum, dozens of languages are sounding. Prayers, drums, chants, and rituals are all alive with style. We aren’t intruding, except in the sense that these grand objets rituels have been taken from their home people. Still, these objects are honored here, and with the ears of our hearts, we can feel their beauty and inspiration.

Spirit Music

From the chants of each society and religion, we can learn how these groups heal, soothe, and save. From the dances, we can learn how they move, love, and fight. Spirit is at work and ever ready to transform the experience of common life into either a more introverted reflection or an outward expression of that experience; it moves us and sings us.

People have an insatiable appetite to praise creation and plead with the saints and spirits for better health in this world and the next. The songs and chants of the most conservative Hindus, Christians, or Muslims constantly appeal to the Great One and Its intermediaries for help and special blessings. Even the most radical cheerleaders of gospel music or African drumming call down the Holy Spirit to cast out evil.

Songs of the spirit assist the dying process as well as the marriage ceremony and address the many ills of mind and body. Whether formal or informal, improvised or clinical, music is the constant expression of prayer and empowerment for metropolitan, rural, and solitary supplications.

Ancient and mystical folklore still exists alongside our postmodern age of science and organized religion. Music, sound therapy, and music medicine give little attention to the long lineage of spirit sounds. Yet during their most effective procedures, there’s a physical and mental shift that takes place.

The familiar story of David playing his lyre to cast out the evil spirits from Saul describes a form of musical exorcism. This isn’t as peculiar as it might seem; in mental-health-care facilities throughout the world, music therapists play the harp and guitar to quiet delirium and states of panic. This beneficial effect can also create another reaction, however—one that releases fury. If the evil spirit isn’t pacified, it’s enraged. It may also be in a state of catharsis when the psycho-physical explosion releases the pain and disorder; a state of calm, quiet, and peace follows.

To open the doors of Spirit with sound is not only peaceful and beautiful, it can be terrifically purging. Some newer faiths tend to ignore harmful energy with uplifting, positive music and prayer, while older and traditional faiths may cling to sin and the fear of negative spirits. Music and hymns can invite a higher, clearer, and more harmonic state of mind and body. Other songs can overtly accent the destructive state of humanity.

My goal isn’t to shift or defend any particular faith (or absence thereof), but to enhance your sense of connection to the unseen through music. The current interfaith dialogue and scientific debate allows the real spiritual archeologist to survey the emotions, brain response, and deep sensing that can challenge your faith. Through profound listening and meditation with sound, you can begin to navigate these dilemmas of the conscious mind.

My exploration toward the deepest nature of consciousness is through voice, sound, music, and focused intention. By tone, melody, text, or drumbeat, auditory stimuli organize the brain and body for an experience, through which we connect with the unseen.

The will to manifest, to express, and to live is basic to the Spirit. This is the breath of life, the impetus to grow. Our body, emotions, and minds may not always be in harmony, but together they create the drive to express and communicate. Sound, music, the rhythm of speech, and the repetition of auditory patterns set the foundation of our understanding of the world around us.

Music was alive in more spiritual ways 100 years ago than it is today. Recordings in all their forms of digital and analogue delivery give more sonic stimulation to children than any of our ancestors could imagine, but it isn’t the same as hearing or making live music or beautiful tones. We spend more time filtering out unwanted noise around us than actually listening to great sound. Ubiquitous headphones, computers, cell phones, air conditioners, heaters, and automobiles create so much spiritless energy that we have to completely reformat our minds and bodies to prepare to receive the magical spirit from music.

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