The universe is a giant hurdy gurdy

The universe is a giant hurdy gurdy

Have you ever heard of the Harmony of the Spheres? It’s not only a very imaginative theory. It also presents the universe as a giant hurdy gurdy.

… or heptachord lyre. Just a huge string instrument. Distances corresponding to the harmonic lenghts of intervals separate heavenly bodies from one another. The movement of the spheres, where the trajectory looks like strings, gives rise to musical chord: the harmony of the spheres.

Pythagoras was the philosopher who introduced this theory in ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks had unique and alluring way to think about music. I find their ideas particularly beautiful. Today we’ll take a quick look at some of them. I’m pumped!

The gift from the Muses

For the ancient Greeks music was the gift from heavens. People were able to create it only with inspiration from the Muses. The word itself – “music” – translates as “art of the Muses”. Every area, where Muses stepped in with their inspiring touch, counted as mousikḕ. Poetry, dance and theater are the obvious ones here. Historical poems have had musical accompaniament. To explain astronomy ancient Greeks used musical examples, like the harmony of the spheres.

Every civilised person had to be educated in the fields of the Muses: history, comedy, poetry, song, hymns, epic poetry, dance, astronomy and tragedy. Therefore, music – gift of the goddesses – pervaded the world of ancient Greece.

How music controls you

Ancient Greeks believed, that music could affect people’s thoughts, actions and ethos – moral character of the soul. So the crucial task of school was to teach children to like the proper kind of music – the music that enhanced courage and bravery. Old wise men decided, which music is good and bad.

Plato held that different kinds of instrument have different effects on emotions. He prefered string instruments over wind instruments. Kithara and lyre were the favorites of the gods and should inspire the soul. I’m sure they would dig the hurdy, too.

Educated and finest men judged every new piece of music. No mercy for anything that differs from traditional, sacred music. As Plato said – “Our songs are our laws”. He recommends the musical education to start from infancy. Mothers should sing and dance for their children, rock them constantly, avoid stillness and silence.

The most vital part of education are choric songs, a combination of singing and dancing. In ancient Greece vocal education equals virtue education.

Aristotle – our dude

Amongst all of the philosophers pondering on music, I find Aristotle to be the closest to contemporary view. Not only does he state that music belongs to the field of pleasure, he also notices its cathartic influence. According to Aristotle, music purifies soul from excessive feelings, such as exalted excitement, fear or pity.

He also argued, that technical and mechanical abilities should not be overpriced in musical education. Feelings must balance out the technique, this is the key for a good performance. He warned musicians from perfectionism: (remember the last post, where we smashed perfectionism, too?)

“So much time is spent by so many teachers on the mechanical dimension of performing, that music experience (…) is often not enhanced by performing but is instead diminished”.

It is not to say that you can screw technique and practicing. It’s just a reminder for balanced skill enhancement.

So I really appreciate, how Aristotle pointed out the purifying abilty of music. I feel like pleasure and stress (excessive feelings) release are the main reasons, why we listen to the music nowadays. I myself find infinite joy in playing the hurdy gurdy and listening to the music that swings me and lets me feel free with that rocking groove. “Ancient made present” in full glory.

7 Replies to “The universe is a giant hurdy gurdy”

  1. Love it. We need to teach more of the art and freedom of music in schools well here in America don’t know how it is around the world but her its last on the list… It’s hard for me to find people to play music with cause I don’t know anything but to just play based off of a feeling. I never wanted to repeat besides the learning of old mountain songs and Celtic tunes. I have always wanted original thought in what I do and if someone comes by and our thoughts are the same at that moment that’s a magical session.
    That’s one reason I don’t like music that comes from Hollywood land because it affects people in not a good way in my opinion. But yeah I could go on for hours on the topic you posted. Love the article and keep Creating…Peace

    1. Hello! Thank you for leaving such a long reply, I appreciate it! I understand what you mean, both with wanting originality in music and American music having a bad influence on people… I think that American music culture is not that bad nowadays after all and I’d love to go on tour in America! 😀

  2. Really interesting post. Music is feeling, music is our mood and music is magic. It does change lives, as you you very well. 🙂 In our case it comes from an instrument that has a freaking wheel, which makes it all the more interesting in terms of symbology.

  3. Fascinating read, every time you post an article I learn something interesting. Cheers for that.
    Completely unrelated to the topic, the facebook link doesn’t work. Have you changed your facebook page?

  4. Really Michalina ?!?!
    Plato, Aristotle?!?
    All this musical accomplishment and you study philosophy too?
    Are you some kind of polymath, renaissance goddess?
    I am evaluating a very interesting proposition on atomic structure, whilst dipping into Xenephon (re: Socrates) and listening to you play hurdy-gurdy…
    I also work alot.
    You are totally inspiring!
    Thank you.

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