Monthly Archives: July 2016

Songs & Ghosts

Most songwriters have written at least one song about ghosts. Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, Katy Perry, Cat Stevens and Sting just to name a few. I’m sure you can think of others.  But that’s not what prompted me to create Songs & Ghosts my blog and podcast.

 

Religious faith has always eluded me.

 

Repelled might be a more accurate term.

 

No, there is no 666 to be found anywhere beneath my disobedient mess of hair!  OK, I admit that I have never actually looked.

 

In High School, I recall a friend of a friend dragging me to a Buddhist chanting group.  The leader announced that by chanting you may obtain anything you want, even money.  Right away my cult antennae sprung into high alert. As the room full of affluent Upper-East-Siders chanted in unison over and over, nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I felt an anxiety attack coming on and had to excuse myself.  As I made my hasty exit, the host tried to sell me a prayer cabinet; item which I politely declined.  In college, a fellow Barnard student visited my dorm room to cram for an American History of Law exam (what on earth was I thinking studying American History of Law?).  Quite abruptly she began proselytizing about Jesus and salvation and quoting the bible asking me to pray with her.  As panic overcame me, tears pooled in my eyes and I quietly asked her to leave. These were only two of the numerous formative “no thanks organized religion” moments in my life, but I won’t bore you.  Suffice it to say that organized religion doesn’t work for me. At all.

 

It might, then, seem contradictory that I believe in ghosts. Or maybe not.  Like those chanters and the proselytizing college-coed, I seek deeper meaning in life. Especially with (almost) fifty years staring me down each morning in the mirror.  Maybe I’m just a primitive type, as belief in spirits and ghosts certainly predates organized religion. My belief, however, isn’t purely based on fulfilling a need or getting in touch with my inner-prehistoric self. I have had a number of experiences in my lifetime which simply defy scientific reasoning or even rational common sense.  There is much more to this world, to this life, than what we can see and touch.  For the record, I am not negating the possibility of the existence of a higher power.

 

Perhaps my unorthodox belief has something to do with the fact that I am a natural musician. By that I mean self-taught. Playing and listening to music, writing songs and singing have been an essential thread in the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. Through music I have always felt connected to something greater than “self.” Something universal.  At the age of five, I would play a C Major chord on my family’s resonant alto Mason and Hamlin Grand while holding down the sustain pedal. Leaning my head against the dark wood case, I would listen while the chord ebbed and swelled, waiting until the last vibration dissipated.  This was my communion with a higher power.  My religion.

So I recently decided to start a blog and a podcast; Songs & Ghosts.  A place to explore this connection between music and the unknown. No scientific proof needed to acknowledge that music affects how we feel and can change our mood. Sound causes a disruption in the air creating an invisible sound wave. You hear the sound when the wave travels through the air to your ear.”  However, those invisible sound waves are capable of so much more than making us want to dance, or even moving us to tears. Certainly, it is no coincidence that most religions involved singing or some sort of chanting.  In primitive cultures and even modern cultures, music transcends time and generations.

We know that music brings us together, whether at sporting events, in church, concerts, weddings or funerals.  Music is always there to buffer and enhance our human experience. Google the science of music and you will find many articles about the fascinating and unique impact of music on the human brain.  According to one recent study, CNN tells us:
“… researchers studied patients who were about to undergo surgery. Participants were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety drugs. Scientists tracked patient’s ratings of their own anxiety, as well as the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The results: The patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower cortisol than people who took drugs. Levitin cautioned that this is only one study, and more research needs to be done to confirm the results, but it points toward a powerful medicinal use for music.”

 

Often when life goes awry, my religious acquaintances will suggest praying. Personally, I suggest listening to music.

But where and how do music and sound intersect with the truly paranormal?  If you are a fan of Ghost Hunting, you know what an EVP is. Electronic Voice Phenomenon is often dismissed by skeptics as radio interference or other, however, sometimes the evidence captured is compelling and hard to explain.  I myself have never captured – or tried to capture – an EVP.  However, I have heard disembodied, but distinct footsteps on several occasions at my grandmother’s former home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. But that’s another story.

We know how instruments make music and science understands sound, but we are only beginning to understand the scope of how these invisible waves affect our brains.  For those of us who have experienced the paranormal, although science offers few explanations, we know how the experiences made us feel.  We know what we have heard and even sometimes seen, although we can’t yet explain.

No doubt there is science to it.  Paranormal simply means something “beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.”  That does not, however, mean that science won’t catch up.  I’ve heard all the theories about infrasound, carbon monoxide induced hallucinations, electromagnetic fields creating discomfort and other means of “debunking” the paranormal.  No doubt there are logical, creaky-wood-settling explanations for many and maybe even most “paranormal” experiences.  However, just like the C Major chord hovering in the air, I believe that “ghosts” may linger with us long after their chord has been played.  Perhaps seeking connection?  Possibly just a broken record playing over and over the same song?

As music connects us to the divine, perhaps it that quest for connection that draws me to ghost and songs.  Songs & Ghosts.