On my recent visit to Sedona, Arizona, I attended a musical demonstration of flute music by Native American, Wolfs Robe. He is a flute musician, flute historian and flute maker of the authentic native instruments. He is one of only six Native Americans qualified to carry on this art.
All the traditional and original Indian flutes played in minor key. When a woman in the audience asked why this was, he responded by saying, “because, nature is in minor key.”
Having studied the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg and George Gurdjieff, I am quite partial towards indigenous cultures, and their wisdom traditions. So I pondered his statement a bit.
Anyone familiar with musical theory will tell you that the minor key is more suitable for quiet contemplation while the major key is more “flashy” and, “in your face.” Nature certainly offers an environment conducive to quiet meditation, while 42nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan plays more like a major key.
Wolfs Robe stated that when European settlers came to America with their cultural influences they found these traditional instruments unsuitable for “proper” music making. They eventually remedied this flaw in the early 20th Century by making modifications to the traditional Indian flute so that it played in the major key. A musical instrument was not considered legitimate by the “white man” unless it could play such favorite tunes as “Jingle Bells.”
(To make a dancing analogy of this difference would be like comparing interpretative dance with the fox trot.)
While the minor key indeed seems more noble and spiritual than melodies played in the major key, Wolf Robe’s performance in the minor key was still quite subjective. Wolfs Robe simply “channeled” his spirit through the flute—not consciously aiming for any particular goal. Different people would therefore experience this music differently, that is, subjectively.
But music could reach a level well beyond this subjective effect.
Swedenborg and Gurdjieff suggested that ancient music was originally objective. That is, its arrangement made use of universal laws mathematically designed to produce the precise and same experience deep within everyone’s psyche.
I have had arguments with creative people who insisted that anything with mathematical precision or that was planned is not true art. They maintained that true art is something that simply flowed in by chance or serendipity. Continuing my argument against this belief is well outside the scope of this short blog. But Swedenborg insisted that humankind once possessed an angelic knowledge of art that transcended any art known today. This ancient art produced precise theological effects on the higher functions of the human mind, which now are mostly dormant. Gurdjieff made similar comments.
Since many of my readers are Swedenborgians, I will leave you with this quote made by Swedenborg, as a young man, concerning genuine art:
“That is not art which reaches its effect by chance.“
I am one of a few people on this planet who believe—to my very bone marrow—in the ongoing trajectory of the atrophy of the human psyche.