Music plays an important role in my novel Addled because the heroine, Zoe Popper, learns so much about how to be present and in the moment from her musician boyfriend, Jonah and his band Dionysus Wept. She first hears Jonah sing in Chapter 5 and is transported, amazed by the way the individual band members seem to be “perfectly locked together: the way the music would suddenly shift, speed up or slow, subtle changes in rhythm – it was almost like they were mind readers.”
Music can be difficult to capture in words because it’s so abstract and emotional, but here is a beautiful extract from Divine Beauty by John O’Donohue that explores how music pulls you out of time. This is how musicians do it – they’re not mind readers, they simply tap into the timeless realm at the heart of the soul, and the music does the rest:
“In contrast to most other forms of art, music alters your experience of time. To enter a piece of music, or to have the music enfold you, is to depart for a while from regulated time. Music creates a rhythm that beats out its own time-shape. Whilst theatre invites the suspension of disbelief as we enter and participate in the drama the characters create, in music there is a suspension of the world. We are deftly seduced into another place of pure feeling. No other art distils feeling the way music does; this is how it can utterly claim us. Despite the complexity of its content or structure, the tonality of music invades the heart. In music, the most intricate complexity can live in the most lyrical form. Music is depth in seamless form. It is no wonder then that all poetry strives towards the condition of music. As T.S. Eliot said: ‘Poetry like music should communicate before it is understood.’
Feeling is where the heart lives. In claiming the heart so swiftly and totally, the beauty of music crosses all psychological and cultural frontiers. There is a profound sense in which music opens a secret door in time and reaches in to the eternal. This is the authority and grace of music: it evokes or creates an atmosphere where presence awakens to its eternal depth. In our everyday experience the quality of presence is generally limited and broken. Much of the time we are distracted; we might manage to be externally present, but often our minds are secretly elsewhere. Music can transform this fragmentation, for when you enter into a piece of music your feeling deepens and your presence clarifies. It brings you back to the mystery of who you are and it surprises you by inadvertently resonating with depths inside your heart that you had forgotten or neglected. Music can also stir memories, good or bad, and transport you back in time.
Music embraces the whole person. It entrances the mind and the heart and its vibrations reach and touch the entire physical body. Yet there is something deeper still in the way that music pervades us. In contrast to every other art form, it finds us out in a more immediate and total way. The inrush of intimacy in music is irresistible. It takes you before you can halt it. It is as though music reaches that subtle threshold within us where the soul dovetails with the eternal. We always seem to forget that the soul has two faces. One face is turned towards our lives; it animates and illuminates every moment of our presence. The other face is always turned toward the divine presence. Here the soul receives the Divine Smile or the Kiss of God, as Meister Eckhart might express it. Perhaps this is where the mystical depth of music issues from: that threshold where the face of the soul becomes imbued with the strange tenderness of divine illumination.”
from Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue
Image: Video still