Music can do incredible things. We all know the ways in which it can lift us out of a dark mood or heighten a good one. Certain snatches of a song, heard on the radio or caught from an open window while we’re doing something else, can transport us back to experiences in our past or fill us with a joyful sense of familiarity.
Interestingly, science also has a lot of things to say about the beneficial emotional impacts of music. Scientists have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to discover that blood flow in the brain is greater in those areas associated with positivity when listening to certain types of music.
All of these thoughts in mind, there’s also another dimension. What could perhaps be called the “spiritual side”. The Estonian-born composer Arvo Pärt has had his work described as a “continuous prayer”. This description touches on a certain power that some pieces of music hold, power to lift us to a new type of experience.
In this post, we’re going to look at eight pieces of spiritual music, across a range of styles and genres. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the transformative power of music yourself, then you need look no further.
1. Inside the Taj Mahal by Paul Horn
The story behind this album is a fascinating one. Paul Horn secretly carried a recorder into the Taj Mahal and began to improvise with his flute. The ancient structure acted as an echo chamber with a 28-second delay, something that was impossible to create in any studio at the time. The story goes that the guard on duty was so moved by Horn’s music that he allowed him to stay. He was, in a sense, “playing” the Taj Mahal. The effect is beautiful.
Paul Horn was a central figure in the founding of New Age music. After working as a jazz musician in Hollywood, well-regarded but little-known, he moved to India to study under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the creator of Transcendental Meditation. Whilst there he associated with, amongst others, The Beatles, Donovan and Shirley MacLaine.
2. Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt’s entire musical oeuvre has been inspired in part by his experience of mystical chant music. His style, which shines through in Spiegel im Spiegel, is characterized by an unusual blend of simplicity and emotional depth. Unlike all of the other entries on this list, which are albums, this one is a single piece of music, intended to be played with a piano and a violin. Translated, “Spiegel im Spiegel” means “mirror in the mirror”.
Born in Estonia under Communism, Arvo Pärt was taught by Russian composers before going on to develop his own experimental techniques. His work has been described, as mentioned above, as a “continuous prayer”, and this analysis mirrors Pärt’s deeply religious feelings.