Sometimes it is aggravating when IT “reads” my posts and sends me links and ads that “they” think I will like (or buy). However, this was not the case when, after I posted the blog involving Darwin, Mozart and Sunny Choi. Quite mysteriously, a YouTube video of Yeol Eum Son’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 popped up. I sat mesmerized by what I was seeing.
As if Ms. Son’s stunning performance were not enough evidence of her virtuosity, she frequently closed her eyes and silently commanded her fingers to find 1000s of notes “in the dark.” The concerto was 32 minutes long, which required her to commit perhaps as many as 30,000 notes to memory. From my highly limited musical ability, I could not detect a single error.
The fact that it is highly unlikely that 99.99% of the world population will ever be able to do what she can do lends credence to the reason why many biological and behavioral scientists call her “gifted.” However, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps the ability to discern spiritual gifts is as well.
A well-known British biologist has spent much of his career (and made millions of dollars) railing that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Poor chap. I wonder if he has ever hiked to the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome or to the bottom of Grand Canyon; walked through the Louvre in Paris, visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, listened to Handel’s “Messiah,” Mozart’s “Requiem,” or Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”
Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, people have been endowed by their Creator with the spiritual gift of “free will.” It may be the greatest human irony that some of them have chosen to use that gift in an attempt to deny their Creator’s existence.
It is a rare human being (especially male) who is not vexed by being shown that his logic is faulty. Charles Darwin did not belong to that group and reportedly became furious when Alfred Wallace pointed out that his Theory of Evolution did not explain the origin of exceptional human talents involving music, mathematics and creative arts.
Over 150 years after Darwin’s, “On the Origin of Species” was published scientists reluctantly concede that the origin of Wallace’s triad is still completely enigmatic.
Like Darwin and Wallace, they understand that the three extraordinary talents are not genetically transferred or controlled by instinct and cannot be predicted. Therefore, intellectually honest scientists are obligated to regard these talents as “gifts,” thereby allowing that they must come from beyond the recipients. For devout scientists, this realization can be quite disturbing and require acquiescing to the real probability that, if “gifts” are involved, there must be a “giver.”
Serious “birders,” meticulously maintain a “life list” that records every species of bird they have observed first hand. Likewise, serious “seekers” maintain a spiritual list of wisdom, stories, and events that point to the existence of the “intelligent design” of the universe. This lofty approach of striving for greater spiritual awareness was reflected in the 1954 Audubon Society statement of their philosophy, which began with:
“We believe in the wisdom of nature’s design.”
All of these thoughts gushed forth as I watched Sunny Choi perform a beautiful interpretation of John Denver’s, “Annie’s Song.” Choi is not only a highly gifted musician; she is capable of using a piano as an extension of her body, mind and soul. And if her recital were not enough, to further showcase her gift, about half way through the performance she closed her eyes and silently commanded her fingers to find the notes “in the dark.”
Although it is highly unlikely that 99.9% of the world population will ever be able to do what Choi can do, her gift is not unprecedented.
Wolfgang Mozart lived only 35 years, but demonstrated a level of musical genius that many musicologists regard as “superhuman” and predict will not likely ever be equaled. Although his lifespan was only half of the average of 70 years, he composed an estimated 600 works of music. His music has been featured in over 300 movies. He composed 50 symphonies, 25 piano concertos, 12 violin concertos, 27 concerto arias, 26 string quartet opuses, 103 minuets, 15 masses, and 21 opera works. Some of his most famous operas include “Don Giovanni”, “Magic Flute”, “The Marriage of Figaro”, and “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or (a little night music)”.
“There is a story that Mozart once said, ‘when the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; but when they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart’”. (Googlesearch.com). There are also reports that some of his works were “note-perfect” on the first draft, which meant that not a single note had to be changed.
Like Mozart, Charles Darwin was spiritually gifted and at the tender age of 19 began to see that the Genesis story of Creation must be allegorical and more profound than man had guessed. He eventually arrived at the conclusion that Creation and evolution must be the result of cybernetic interaction. Evidence of this can be found in, “The Autobiography of Charles Darwin:”
“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with reason and not feelings, impresses me as having more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist”
Although I don’t recall him citing Wallace’s triad, he did accept his failure to explain human evolution, which includes the wonderfully mysterious origin of musical, mathematical and artistic gifts.
“You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in the universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.” – Robin Williams
When our local PBS station announced it was planning a “pledge night” featuring the1981 New York Central Park concert by Simon and Garfunkel, I dismissed it as “been there done that.” In fact, we watched the concert many years ago, made a pledge and received a “videocassette” ;o) of the concert. However, I accidentally surfed by the channel on pledge night and something very strange and wonderful happened. Christie and I were immediately transfixed. Perhaps it was because of our age, but the melodies and lyrics seemed as fresh and poignant as they did 50 years ago. We were in college, in love and their songs and perfect harmony were transcending. This was long before I became aware that music is a spiritual gift, but now I have no doubt that Paul and Art were reconnecting 500,000 fans with their spiritual roots. The results were truly extraordinary. We sat mesmerized as waves of nostalgia washed over us as we soaked up the wisdom, passion and poetry of the brilliantly gifted pair.
They conjured up the great evolutionary debate between Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. Because there is no known genetic cause, Darwin had no clue as to why or how music evolved in humans. Wallace concluded that musical talent, mathematic and artistic genius were spiritual gifts from God. Paul Simon would agree.
After that thought passed, a magical synchronicity occurred. They launched into a sprightly rendition of “Mrs. Robinson!” Immediately, I was struck by wonder, irony and humor. Here were two Jewish young men, singing a ballad about a 45-ish-year-old, sexually liberal woman having an adulterous affair with a young man less than half her age. The musical intensity rose as they joyfully leaped into the chorus:
And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson Jesus loves you more than you will know wo wo wo God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson Heaven holds a place for those who pray Hey hey hey, hey hey hey
If the movie “The Graduate,” (1967) represented behavior that many regarded as provocative, Simon’s lyrics invoking Jesus’ love and the importance of praying were conversely shocking.
Simon wrote nearly all of the songs the duo sang and all of these thoughts prompted me to refer to Wikipedia to gain a better understanding of his talents.
In an in-depth interview reprinted in American Songwriter, Simon discusses the craft of songwriting with music journalist Tom Moon. In the interview, Simon explains the basic themes in his songwriting: love, family, social commentary, etc., as well as the overarching messages of religion, spirituality, and God in his lyrics. Simon goes on in the interview to explain the process of how he goes about writing songs, “The music always precedes the words. The words often come from the sound of the music and eventually evolve into coherent thoughts. Or incoherent thoughts. Rhythm plays a crucial part in the lyric-making as well. It’s like a puzzle to find the right words to express what the music is saying.”
His description was a perfect metaphor for the Biodesign Class. It was truly a puzzle and for 24 years, we tried to find the right words to express what Nature was saying.
I have been a fan of Simon and Garfunkel for over 50 years. Biodesigners used several of their songs in the beautiful slide-shows they created. These include: Scarborough Fair, Homeward Bound, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sound Of Silence, 59th Bridge Song and El Condor Pasa. We did not use Mrs. Robinson. LOL
It seems clear to me that Paul Simon is a musical genius. He also encourages me to celebrate the obvious, that some musicians are able to create bridges, stairways, pathways, ladders, channels and mandorlas that connect heaven and Earth. Some of their songs have lasted over 50 years and there is no reason to believe that they will ever be forgotten.
It was fun to discover that Paul Simon was born one day before me in 1941.
“You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.”– Robin Williams in August Rush (2007)
It may be surprising for music lovers to hear modern biologists describe music as superfluous, biologically useless, or the result of random collateral events associated with Darwinian evolution. In 1859, when Charles Darwin published, On the Origin of Species,he was irritated with Alfred Wallace who suggested that his theory did not explain the origin of music. Wallace claimed that music, along with artistic and mathematical talents were “gifts” with a spiritual origin. Although Darwin did not agree, in 1871 in, “The Descent of Man,” he acquiesced by writing:
“As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least direct use to man in reference to his ordinary habits of life, they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed.”
The terms “gift” and “endowed” are similar and suggest that a “giver” is involved. The subtle distancing himself from his own theory was probably prompted by Wallace who spent years working with native tribes in the Amazon Basin and Malay Archipelago. His studies showed that those people possessed musical talent, even those who Darwin described as “the most savage.”
Music is one of the truly mysterious spiritual gifts and it is impossible to imagine the Biodesign Class evolving without it. We think we understand it, but we do not. The wavelength of the sound from a drum is determined by the drum’s diameter, depth and type and quality of the tympanic membrane stretched over its head. Although those are variables, the sound is not and is mono-tonic. This raises two splendid riddles. Why does the human ear drum not send a mono-tonic signal to the middle ear? We should be only able to hear a tap-tap-tap, boom-boom-boom or tum-tum-tum. And, conversely, how can a single tympanic membrane sort out over 300,000 tones and send each to the brain? Darwin didn’t have a clue and according to Meister Eckhart (13th century mystic) the answers will not be found by science. Not surprisingly, the human ear is regarded as an organ of “extreme perfection,” however, hearing does not occur in the ear, but in the auditory lobe of the brain. Therein lies the mystery.
It is possible that the evolution of music is, in itself, a perfect audio record of the physical, mental and spiritual evolution of man. Newton said that he described the motion of the planets, but not how the planets were put into motion; perhaps the same can be said about music. Who turned on the tunes and why? It began with primal grunts, groans and screams; banging sticks together, banging on hollow logs, making primitive drums and flutes, and eventually led to mastering the mathematics of music enough to be able to create a Stradivarius violin, 6600-pipe organ or an opera diva’s voice. The evolution of music recapitulates the boggling evolution of the modern human brain. Starting from elementary rhythms and tones, according to Wikipedia, music has evolved into 1650 genres.
The Biodesign Classes used music for many reasons; instruction, inspiration and slide-shows, but the most common use was as a welcome to the students for each new day. With over 400 CDs, LPs and cassette tapes, I literally had over 5000 songs, musical solos, concertos and opera arias to choose from. With only 175 teaching days, I had to be very selective. The students entered the room hearing Clark’s “Trumpet Voluntary,” Pavarotti singing the magnificent aria from “Turandot,” or Johnny Cash croaking out, “Ring of Fire.” Or they may have heard Vivaldi’s, “Four Seasons,” Nat King Cole singing, “Nature Boy,” or Bob Dylan’s, “Blowing in the Wind.” The greater the variety the better as each selection became an elixir that helped them become more aware that they were creatures of excellence and that each day’s lessons were mystically launched by music.