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Classical Music and Meditation

December 1, 2010

I was on the phone yesterday with violinist David Balakrishnan, the founder of the Turtle Island String Quartet. One of the most memorable things he said in a conversation that spiraled all over the place was about the relationship between classical music and meditation in western culture.

"I think of classical music as being equivalent to the meditative side of western culture," David said. "You go go to a concert, sit quietly, get inside yourself, stay with the music and be present with it. I don't think enough can be said about this in a bustling world of short attention spans. And, yet we're so drawn to the east for meditation. Why is this when we have our own form of meditation in the form of classical music?"

What David says isn't rocket science. It's simple and blindingly obvious, really. But I'd never really thought of classical music in that way before.

Of course, not all classical music makes you want to connect with your inner Buddha. I don't think Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps or Wagner's Meistersinger could really be thought of as meditative in the traditional sense.

But as classical music organizations become increasingly obsessed with providing "experiences" for audiences that overstimulate all the senses in an attempt to stop people from "getting bored", they should remember David's words. There's nothing wrong, especially in these hectic times, with being as still as a yogi in a concert hall and letting the music wash over you like a mantra. Maybe if people increasingly started thinking of classical music concerts as meditation, concert hall music could truly complement yoga as a means to quiet the mind and breathe deeply in the western world. Or, at the very least, concert halls would sell more tickets and there'd be space in my oversubscribed yoga class for a few extra mats.


  • For the record I am pretty sure that John Cage used the phrase "quiet the mind" in connection with his take on the purpose of music; and he probably attributed the phrase to Daisets Teitaro Suzuki, whose lectures on Zen at Columbia University he used to attend! Personally, I tend to think more in terms of reflection, rather than meditation. This may, at least in part, reflect (play on words intended) the influences of Paul Hersh at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

    By Blogger Stephen Smoliar, At December 1, 2010 at 10:41 AM  

  • nice share, good article, very usefull for me...thanks

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At December 7, 2010 at 7:38 AM  

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