Does it really take two?

When Hazrat Inayat Khan came to the west, among the many cultural differences he encountered was a misunderstanding about the presence of harmony in eastern and western music.  Western music is very commonly polyphonic, meaning there are several ‘voices’ – human or instrumental – sounding at the same time. Anyone who has sung in a choir knows the exhilaration of being immersed in a series of living musical chords, feeling the different parts vibrate around one.  Classical Indian music, on the other hand, is monophonic: a singer or instrumentalist performs alone, supported only by a tampura sounding basic notes of the raga.  Because of this difference, Hazrat Inayat was astonished to find that some westerners assumed there was no harmony in Indian music.

This, of course, is a misunderstanding of ‘harmony.’  There are, for example, some people who have difficulty singing–and if one asks them to sing even a simple nursery song they will do so inharmoniously; some notes will be ‘wrong’ or out of harmony with the structure of the melody, and we need not hear it sung ‘correctly’ to be aware of this.

The same is true of spiritual matters. We tend to think that harmony has to do with the interactions between individuals.  We may say, ‘that is a harmonious family, they get along very well together,’ or ‘it was a very inharmonious meeting, everyone was arguing!’  The related assumption is that if we would only be more open to each other we could find some accord, some agreement.  Certainly there is some truth to this–but if we ourselves are not in harmony, it will be very difficult to find harmony with others.

And how does one find harmony within oneself?  It must begin with finding one’s key note.  Here again there is a distinct difference between eastern and western music.  In the west, the key note is standardised.  The ‘A’ is typically 440 hz, and before an orchestra can perform, all the instruments must tune themselves together.  Without this preparation, there would be no harmony, and the music would be unlistenable.  In Indian music, a student practices for years to learn and develop their own personal ‘Sa’ or keynote.  Without learning that, the student can never produce harmony.

Much of the disharmony of the world exists because we individuals have not found our own key note, our own basic tone.   If we are not aware of our key note, then tuning to the demands of a situation, as we inevitably must do every moment of our busy lives, will leave us feeling dissatisfied, and sooner or later will result in disharmony.   If we have found our fundamental tone, we will have an inner certainty, a conviction, that helps us to adapt to all the demands of life.


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