Trying to reach a more or less trustworthy (and fair) view of spiritual music, we should go back to prehistoric times. Spiritual music cannot be separated from a profane world as it forms its component part. It follows that our view cannot be based just on the spiritual music as such, but that we should explore the spiritual dimension of music and the arts in general and understand the spiritual dimension of all human endeavor in particular. After all, the very existence of a man in the world has a spiritual character. Consequently, to get to the core of the matter, it is necessary to go back to the prehistoric times when a man became aware of himself as an independent human being, nonetheless, still closely connected with the animal world.
At this point I have to digress from the subject. The claim that a man differs from the animal world first and foremost by his culture and the ability to create the arts cannot be proved. It is actually impossible to prove that in the animal kingdom there is no culture or sense of the arts, either. There are several reasons for this:
we are not able to draw a dividing line between what represents culture and what does not.
We are not able to get over human narcissism and superiority (we treat the animal world in an evidently racist way)
we are not able to understand the psyche that differs from that of a human being although a few facts about the animal psyche are known nowadays. The concept of „spiritual music“ poses problems similar to those with the definition of „culture“ and „the arts“. I do not respect the view that a composition containing religious texts is automatically spiritual. To utter the name of Jesus does not produce spirituality and nor does the exclamation „good heavens“. Let’s have a look at the spiritual music, culture and the world through the eyes of a so-called primitive man. What was „spiritual“ for a primitive man? Everything. Absolutely everything. There was nothing at all that would not be connected closely with the spiritual world. There was no difference (dichotomy) between „the spiritual“ and „the secular“. In Slavonic languages the word „spirit“ is derived from the word „breath“.
In archecultures (Palaeolithic cultures) the words „breath“ (dech), „soul“ (duše) cannot be set apart, and, consequently, nor can „the world“ and „the heaven“. Similarly, the area of the arts (culture) cannot be separated from the area off the arts (off culture). All the arts, including all music, have a spiritual dimension. It only depends on the extent to which the spirituality occurs in a certain kind of music. So what is left to answer is the question what can be considered spiritual music. It is the music, which fascinates the audience emotionally, on the condition that it evokes lofty feelings, i.e. it „edifies heavenwards“. This, however, can be achieved in two ways:
The way it is done in the West (Occident) that stakes on comforting music. The induced peace in turn enthralls the audience with the ever-changing world and gives them a fit of a „pious“ feeling.
The majority of oriental and ancient cultures have a different „mechanism“: to induce a sacral experience: they use music which is very exciting. To sum up: A work of art that is not able to induce spiritual concentration or ecstasy in the target audience and to move them „heavenwards“ has nothing to do with spirituality. Moreover, such music, in my opinion, cannot be considered art at all.
Prof. Pavel Slezák
composer /Professor Emeritus of Conservatory Kromeriz, CZ /