There appears to be a wave of spirituality gaining force in the classical music world. And it is in part in reaction to our heavily technologized modern lifestyle. As Lincoln Center’s Artistic Director Jane Moss sees it, the ubiquitous cacophony of cellphones, smartphones, and other digital gadgets is not only enormously seductive, but it is also a
barrier to having a full interior life: “People are looking for larger experiences in a cyberworld” that has become more and more “like eating candy.” She has organized an annual White Light Festival in New York as a way to give
audiences a chance to experience “transcendence.” Moss stressed that the festival is not about sacred music but about transcendence. This year’s festival offers seventeen offerings from various international individual performers and groups from a French Baroque ensemble to Indian Sufi mystics to contemporary American composers, along with many classics from the Western tradition.
Other organizations are joining in: The annual Salzburg Festival, now the summer home of the Vienna Philharmonic, this year added a 10-day Spiritual Overture to its program while the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland has created a summer festival simply called “Faith.” A “Credo”series in that program explores religions of seven different spiritual visions from the perspective that every religion is legitimate and each is only an approximation of what ultimately remains unexpressed. And the Pittsburgh Symphony is expanding its offering of a program it calls Music of the Spirit, an annual set of performances that is designed to show the symphony’s “deep commitment to
promoting and spreading a spiritual and universal message.”
Joseph Campbell, writing from the 1950s through the 1980s in the field of comparative mythology, could not possibly have foreseen how technology would permeate our lives as it does today, yet he did observe even
then that people had generally lost the ability to think and feel in metaphorical terms: “Our thinking is largely discursive, verbal, linear,” he told Bill Moyers in the conversations that were eventually aired on PBS and
published as The Power of Myth. “One of the problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour.” Were Campbell alive today, he might in addition have observed that we are so tethered to our digital machines and gadgets that we have no time for an inner life at all and may well be losing the capacity to ever develop one.
Campbell did not believe that contemporary society had a living functioning mythology. And it is myths, as he points out, that provide “clues to the spiritual potentialities of human life.” The deep vitality of a culture’s mythology comes from the power of “its symbols as metaphors, delivering not simply the idea, but a sense of the actual participation in such a realization of transcendence,” he wrote late in his life in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. If we were to have a new mythology in the future, he believed it would be up to the artists to create it, and he also believed that it would have to be a global mythology, taking into account and trying to express the rapture and the wonder of what it is like to be alive as human beings on this planet Earth within our solar system and “the cluster of twenty galaxies of which our galaxy is a member, which local cluster, in turn, is represented as but one of thousands of such local clusters of galaxies, themselves gathered in superclusters in a universe whose limits are not yet known.” Although Campbell focused primarily on the art of literature and story-telling, I think he would see good signs in how various musical organizations in the US and Europe are starting to offer programs that combine
Western and Eastern spiritual traditions, offering transcendence and the richness of a strong inner spiritual life through art in their own medium.