Music Ministry: An Instrument for Sacred Experience

Published on: April 13, 2016

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Music is a divine art to be used not only for pleasure but as a path to God realization.
Music that is saturated with soul force is the real universal music, understandable by all hearts.
—Paramahansa Yogananda

In our years of experience as music ministers, we have served diverse communities in various celebrations, worship services and meditations, as well as directing music for global conferences representing a multiplicity of cultures, faith traditions and languages. We also have been called to support spiritual communities during times of transition and challenge. Music speaks the universal language of the soul.

As music ministers, we are entrusted with consciously creating a positive experience through music. We know the power of conscious orchestration of music in creating an experience of oneness, connection and transformation. This conscious orchestration of sound requires deep awareness and practice.

From the age of eight, Lisa served in the Catholic Church as a cantor leading the congregation in song. She did this for decades. As a cantor, she gained insight into the subtle energies of music and its effect on people as they sought oneness with God. The spoken lesson, the ritual, and the songs anchored the message. In most services, the minister speaks the lesson, the congregation sings songs supporting the lesson, and the song leaders sing again, underscoring the primary message. Of all mediums used in sacred service, it was and still is the vibration of music which awakens the heart.

Awakening the heart through music offers the experience of oneness congregants seek because music resonates with the language of the soul. Why is this so? In his book The Music of Life, Hazrat Inayat Khan says, “There is no greater and more living resonator of sound than the human body. Sound has an effect on each atom of the body, for each atom resounds.” Music is heard, absorbed, and continues to echo long after first listening. How many times do you find yourself humming or singing a song all day? As the song echoes through your mind so does its message, emotion and the gift of its transmission.


Orchestrating the Energy of Light and Sound

It has been said that a song can communicate in three minutes what it takes a speaker thirty minutes to express. Sounds a little harsh but consider that spiritualized music has the power to move beyond the linear or mental plane and communicate to the whole being at once. Music creates a dimensional experience and invites the listener into a field of expansion. The science of cymatics illustrates this beautifully.

For example, if a pebble tossed into a lake is the seed of thought, the ripples represent the music and dimensional expression. In other words, by putting words to music, letting the lyrics ride on a wave of melody, the musical message enters into our consciousness on many levels simultaneously rather than a linear string of thoughts which appeals only to the intellect.

Something spoken can make you think “I know that!” But when that same line is sung, the wisdom of the heart says “I remember this!” Why does this happen? There is a divine remembrance when music lands on the heart. Music elicits images and feelings, engaging the whole being while words alone can be misunderstood.

Music Synchronizes Souls

Music ministers must be humbly aware that individuals enter the sanctuary seeking an experience of oneness. One of the most valuable aspects of spiritual community is offering the experience of connection. So how do we shift a group of individuals into a field of unity? It’s the job of the music minister to meet the congregation energetically, recognizing that congregants arrive from different places in various states of mind.

The first task is to match the restless and disparate energy with a song that equals their elevated heart rate. Once everyone is singing together, an energetic entrainment occurs. A room full of individuals becomes a single pulsing field of energy. Music synchronizes souls and shifts energy. It creates space for deepening and lifts hearts in celebration.

When people gather in spiritual communities and begin to sing, they breathe together and their hearts begin to beat in time. The only other time this happens is when we kiss! The sense of oneness is not only palpable it is experienced as a deep remembering.

After meeting the congregation energetically with upbeat songs, the intention is then to transition the music seamlessly into the next piece. How do we know when we’re ready to move to the next song? By tuning into the energy of the room one can feel that there’s nothing poking out, much like combing one’s hair. You know when you’re finished.

This must be approached from a “feeling” place instead of a “thinking” place. In other words, you can’t have a preconceived idea of how many times you’ll repeat a song. The song is sung until the energy has shifted. It’s done when it’s done. There’s a sense that the room is united. The soil of the mind and heart has been tilled with the vibration of sound and is now ready for a new seed of thought from the speaker.

Songs should be chosen to align with the theme. Congregational singing then prepares the mind, body and spirit to receive a new idea or support a familiar one. When moving into prayer, playing music often helps generate the feeling of what the prayer is saying. If you’ve ever been to a full gospel church, you have witnessed how the organist underscores the preacher’s entire message, emphasizing the emotional components with musical accents. For the climactic summation, the choir enters and sings passionately, infusing the room with energy and putting everyone in a mode of receptivity and sacred anticipation.

Preparation and flexibility are essential in creating an energetic opening for spiritual learning. Music ministers need to be prepared for whatever happens in the moment to meet the energy of what’s present and guide it effectively. Music is an art and a science—a sacred science whose scope stretches beyond the measurement of frequency and vibration.

Water under 12.5 Hz vibration

Water under 12.5 Hz vibration

Consciously Creating Space for Deepening Awareness

Vibrations resulting from devotional singing lead to attunement with the cosmic vibration, or the word.
–Paramahansa Yogananda

One of our most cherished sacred musical experiences is leading music meditations or Taizé-style services combining songs, chanting, sacred poetry and silence. We offer these globally at spiritual centers, conferences, and Circle of Love Gatherings. These meditations can be as short as thirty minutes or extend to over three hours. Participants are led on a musical path into deep stillness, awareness and connection in the field of love.

In guiding this journey, we carefully choose poetry and music that creates a safe and respectful place for the heart to open. Each note is infused with sacred presence or pranava, the Sanskrit word for “divine stream of sound.” We are in a state of complete surrender and service to the One in all. The power of this particular musical experience has transformed countless lives.

Music ministry is not about performance or seeking of accolades for one’s voice or delivery. A true minister of music recognizes they are an instrument offering an experience of expansion from the little I to the infinite I AM. The musician is in service to the music and the congregation, not to their own ego. Too often, music programs become vehicles for entertainment rather than spiritual service. Spiritualized music must inspire the God in all, and, when incorporated with deep love, awareness and attention, create an experiential field through which spiritual learning blossoms.

Lisa Ferraro
Lisa Ferraro and Erika Luckett have served together as music ministers for nearly two decades, consciously creating sacred spaces for love, healing and awakening through sound.
Erika Luckett
Lisa Ferraro and Erika Luckett have served together as music ministers for nearly two decades, consciously creating sacred spaces for love, healing and awakening through sound.

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  • Elizabeth Mora

    Wow, what a powerful article. I cannot wait to share with my MD and my friend the cantor. As a minister, I learned so much from this and am so inspired. i see us shifting some things thanks to this.