Cantillatory Music

By John Diamond, M.D.

Something suddenly happened to me in the concert hall. I felt as though I had been shaken awake. It was as if I had become totally dissociated from the musical activity before me. I was totally detached, as if it had nothing to do with me. I was in no way involved. I was just an observer. And what was I observing?

There on the stage before me was an orchestra of some eighty musicians. They had practiced and studied for years and years to arrive at this point in their careers. Each was being paid for the night’s performance. Behind them was a choir of about two hundred singers who had worked similarly hard at their craft, and who were also being paid. In addition there were four soloists, who had studied and studied, and they too were being paid. In charge was the conductor in all his glory, and I thought of all the money that he was being paid for this night. Years and years of work, and thousands of dollars.

I looked around me at the audience, some three thousand of them. Many had come a long distance. It had not been easy for them to get here and they had all paid to attend. Lots of effort, lots of time, lots of money. The concert hall in which we were sitting had itself been built for just such a purpose.

We had all come for a performance of what is called a religious oratorio. But it did not cantillate. It was not even high energy. The performers were really singing and playing “I hate my mother.” And our bodies, minds and souls resonated with that message, as had the walls of the concert hall through nearly every performance.

This could not be the reason for the existence of music. So much work, so much expense, so much effort. All for this?

I broke away from the music. I wanted to love my mother and I wanted to know and feel her love. I did not want all this activity before me. I just wanted her to hold me in her arms, stroke my hair, smile at me, and then sing her song of love to me. That is the true purpose of music.

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Lucky and His Magic Broom

By John Diamond, M.D.

Someone in Austria told me about Lucky — he played the broom! I eventually found him in a tiny village where he’d farmed all his life.

We spent some hours with him while he played and showed us how to. You hold the broom in your left hand, the stick tilting back at an angle over your left shoulder. As if you were holding a rifle at attention. Then with your right hand, using a little stick, you tap the lower part of the broom and then reaching up and back over your head you tap the upper part which is behind you.

And the tapping is just-so, especially as Lucky did it. Always right on the pulse of the many songs he sang and sang. And all the time he was smiling, as were his family and us. Always smiling — you couldn’t help it when he was playing. He was so happy — we all were.

Sometime later I was to give a lecture of the Healing Power of Music at a very prestigious conservatory in Vienna. And I invited Lucky to give a demonstration to this august group. Mischievous? Yes, I admit that was part of my intention.

Well Lucky turned up — late. And somewhat fortified by schnapps — this was a very big day in his life: to play his broom before all these professors and students of classical music!

And there he stood on the little stage. Playing his broom and singing — and smiling. Utterly incongruous. He in his old clothes and the nattily dressed professors, one even with a bright silk cravat. Two Steinway grands, a harpsichord and a spinnet — and Lucky’s broom!

Some of the students were also smiling, and singing. But not the professors.

And none of the smiling students accepted his offer to teach them. Too afraid of their professors.

Well, Lucky eventually left — he had become increasingly animated, as did the professors — but for a different reason.

Then it was time for the piano professor to play. Not a smile from him or the audience.

I’ve never seen classical pianists smile except when they make a mistake — as if to pacify the audience they fear. (Lucky, of course, never had fear.) I’ve seen many self-satisfied smirks — but never a smile.

Fats Waller of course smiled — and laughed. But that was jazz — and that was Fats.

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Loneliness and Detachment

By John Diamond, M.D.

For over fifty years I have listened intently to music. Hundreds of conductors, hundreds of orchestras, thousands and thousands of performers, composers and compositions. And millions upon millions of musical phrases and gestures, and maybe billions of notes. Each and every one of them has induced specific feelings in me. So many feelings over so many years.

Some time ago, a strange and wondrous state befell me. For the first time in my life, when I put on a record I heard only the music.

I was no longer aware of the personalities of the composer and the performer (yet I doubt that anyone had ever been more aware of them than I used to be). I have been a hifi aficionado for many years, going back to the days when we were thought of as freaks. I have made many recordings, monitoring intensely through headphones, and I have investigated the effects of notes, phrases and musical gestures. But I did not hear any of these now.

Now none of this existed. I listened and heard just the music itself. Furthermore, no feelings were aroused in me by the music, nor did I want to move with its pulse. I listened calmly. I now knew the music for what it was, not for what it did to me. I allowed it to be itself.

It was not that I had turned away from the music. I had not become coldhearted nor indifferent quite the contrary. In a way I felt much closer to it, more connected. By allowing it to stay “out there” I was able to know the music as it was, and thus to respect it for its own being. I was starting to move from attachment to detachment. To know its very essence, its thusness.

When I look at flowers in the garden my first response is to think how wonderful they make me feel. Then I put myself in the same frame of mind as when I last listened to music. Now I look at the flowers again, and I see them as they are. They are there and I am here. We are strongly linked, more so than before, and I see them much more clearly. But there is something else. I seem to know them. They are.

I have no wish to touch them, let alone to take them in my hand.

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Two Choices

By John Diamond, M.D.

This is a story about Sam and Maria who had been dear friends of mine for many years. Even when I first met them they were obviously having problems with their marriage. The details need not concern us here. Every time I visited them, it seemed that there was more hatred.

On one occasion, we were sitting on their terrace under the big palm tree which sheltered us from the glorious Florida sun. It was a beautiful day and the setting was so serene, but all they could think of was hurting each other.

I had never tried to interfere in their marriage they had never asked me to but this particular day I could no longer bear to stand by. I interrupted them and asked if they would sit opposite each other, and each make just one nice remark about the other. Not even loving, just nice.

But they both confessed that they could not think of anything to say, not one nice word. So I asked each one to say something nice about himself, but again neither of them could think of anything.

I felt so sad. I said, “If only you could love yourselves, if only you could be sure that God The Mother loved you, then there would be no reason for each of you to hate the other.” But Maria did not love herself, and could not love Sam. And it was the same with Sam for the moment.

Later that afternoon, Sam began to play his guitar. It was an old one that they had bought at a garage sale. His playing was very rudimentary, just picking out chords as he struggled through a few simple melodies. Yet regardless of his technique, the love was still coming through. I looked at him and his face was at peace. He knew that he loved himself and that God loved him. I had seen him like this occasionally when the two of us were alone, but never when Maria was there.

Then Maria put him down with, “Your playing’s so sleazy, Sam. Perhaps one day you’ll get a job in a bar. That’s where you belong. You’ve got no class at all.”

If Maria had felt good about herself she would not have had to do that to Sam. I asked her if she had ever played an instrument and she told me that she used to play the recorder but had not done so for a long time.

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