On Music, Humanities and Religion in Our Lives

“Monday Musings” for August 12, 2013

Volume III, No. 30//123

Jan-VERMEULEN-after-1654-«Still-Life-with-Books-and-Musical-Instruments»-panel-33-x-38-cm

Down Memory Lane…

124,000 Prophets, 5000 Music Composers…

Music, Humanities, and Religion in Our Lives

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

As a child, I grew up memorizing the 114 Sura(s) of the Islamic Bible, the Holy Quoran. Along the way, we were tested on all 6666 verses, and 77,457 words of the magnificent text. Also, we learned passages from the Hindu Holy Book, Bhagavad Gita (Ghandi read it every morning upon arising and every night before retiring to bed), Zoroaster’s Avesta, and chapters from the Jewish Bible, the Torah. In addition, the Jesuit school, College Saint Louis where I attended, emphasized instructions about memorizing the Western and European literature beginning with French. We learned that the Christian Bible has 66 books, 39 in Old Testament, 593,493 words; 27 books in New Testament, 181,253 words; a total of 774,746 word in the entire Christian Bible (not hard to memorize!). Just an aside, Shakespeare has 118,406 lines and 884,647 words…Astonishing!  Did Shakespeare know more words than God? Sheer blasphemy!

Faithful readers of this space recall my love affair with Mother Simone of College Saint Louis, awe of Father Bertunesque, and sheer terror of Mon Pere Superior, the school Headmaster. Mother Simone was a toughie! She was to teach us “Les Literatures Francaise de dix-huitieme siècle” (18th century French literature) but she began the year with 15th century Francois Rabelais (1494-1553), then crisscrossing  all époques and periods, she covered Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755), Voltaire (1694-1778), Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1754), Alphonse Chateaubriant (1877-1951), Alfonse de La Martin (1884-1947), right up to Marcel Proust (1871-1922), Emil Zola (1840-1904), Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Note that some of those writers were still alive in the 1940’s when I was going to that school, but just the same, they all came in purview of Mother Simone’s course of 18th century literature!  In addition, she somehow succeeded in ‘horseshoeing’ foreign philosophers, such as British John Locke (1632-1704) and German Philosopher, Friedric Hegel (1770-1831) and others because their thoughts and teachings were consonant with the French authors she was tackling. The closeness of John Locke with Montesquieu is a good example.  She used to say Montesquieu and Locke go together like oeufs et jambon (ham and eggs!)

Mon Pere Bertunesque was a tall wiry priest with a long pointed beard/goatee, and deep set brown eyes that invited a lot of dark shadows in the sockets making his eyes appear to be set deeper. He had a penetrating gaze that ‘pierced a hole in granite.’  He would not inflict corporal punishment. His gaze was enough…

We had additional memorizing to do: every Persian child from educated families memorizes Persian poets whose books asymptotically approach the popularity, if not the holiness, of the Holy Quoran. They are the collected work (Kolliat) of Hafiz (1337-1406), Saadi (1210-1290), Rumi (1207-1273), Kahjeh Abdollah Ansari (1006-1088), Baba Taher Oryan (around 1000-1055—accurate dates are unknown) and of course the epic poets such as Ferdowsi (940-1020). British scholarship holds that John Milton (1608-1674) followed Ferdowsi’s style and metrics in writing Paradise Lost. To all this add the basic sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, trigonometry and astronomy, plus the arts  (music, painting or calligraphy, Naskh and Nastaaleegh), and you will have the rich curriculum of College Saint Louis.

Composers Parallel Prophets

With all this exposure to so many religions, we learned that there are 124 thousand prophets sent by God, starting with Adam, and ending according to the Christians with Christ who will appear on the Day of Judgment (book of Revelation). In Islam it is Imam Mehdi (Imam ASSR-or contemporary Imam) who will appear on the judgment day…  These prophets have been sent to make human lives more righteous (the word righteous means tuned), to make life peaceful, without friction, just like a toned engine, with no friction and no inefficiency or waste. I have been seeking parallels between religious prophets who brought us righteousness, all 124,000 of them. My conclusion is that a handful of music composers, people like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, including Chevalier de Saint George, known as the Black Mozart (1745-1799), and the British Mozart, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), nephew of the famed theologian John Wesley, founder of Methodist Church, who brought us music, basically accomplished the same thing as the prophets. They brought us harmony, joy, and peace.

The list of these 5000 world famous composers, far shorter than 124,000 prophets, start with French composer Adolph Adam (1803- 1856) through Russian composer Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) provides the reader with an astonishing source of power and sublime beauty. Music like religion is life changing. Composers of music, like prophets, have brought God’s gift of peace and joy and promise of redemption to mankind. Having music as a part of one’s life and vocabulary is a privilege. Music, especially Viennese/Northern German classical music with its rich harmony, and melismatic Italian/Southern European music with its rich melody, are necessary for life like food and oxygen.  Symphonic music elevates the majesty of human soul.  As psychiatrists, we fight addiction.  But here is a case where I advocate addiction: addiction to reading the Holy celestial books, and drowning one’s self in a sea of classical music and Opera.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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